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EDITORIAL: Juneteenth: The ‘other half of the Fourth of July’

President Joe Biden last year signed legislation making Juneteenth America’s 11th federal holiday. The celebration, also known as Emancipation Day and Freedom Day, marks the day, June 19, when slavery was finally abolished in Texas in 1865.

Most Americans remember that President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863, ending the stain of slavery in the United States. But there’s more to the story.

While the proclamation decreed that “all persons held as slaves” shall be “forever free,” it was ignored in the Southern states and did not apply to slave states that fought with the Union. More than two months after Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, effectively ending the bloodiest conflict in American history, the practice of slavery continued in the Lone Star State.

But on June 19, 1865, Union Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger entered Galveston, Texas, and shared some welcome news. “In accordance with a proclamation from the executive of the United States, all slaves are free,” Gen. Granger said. The next year, former slaves celebrated their freedom on June 19 — Juneteenth.

Recognition of these events is long overdue and can help Americans better grasp the most troubling aspect of this nation’s history.

In addition, this should be a celebration for all Americans, helping to further understanding of the power of this country’s founding ideals when they are applied to all people and the brilliance of the Founders in crafting a Constitution that creates a framework for justice and freedom.

“Juneteenth asks Americans to recognize that our nation’s principles are neither grossly hypocritical nor naively aspirational,” Opal Lee and DeForest “Buster” Soaries wrote last week for The Washington Post. “We have inherited lofty yet practical ideals, and it falls to us to implement them as best we can.”

Ms. Lee and Mr. Soaries see Juneteenth as “the other half of the Fourth of July” and “a day that celebrates America’s incredible capacity to self-correct by applying the timeless principles at our country’s core. … What could be more American than remembering the forward march of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?”

Juneteenth is a reminder of how the Founders ensured that this nation has the constitutional framework to correct its mistakes. It is a reminder that progress is possible and, indeed, has been achieved.

Slavery was a grievous moral evil that inflicted unspeakable horrors. Ending that hideous institution brought freedom to thousands and bolstered the ideals upon which this nation was created. That’s worth commemorating, even if African Americans’ centurylong struggle for civil rights showed that much work remained — and remains.

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