I strongly oppose the proposed Washington State Bill 1016, and I strongly oppose the passage of Ordinance 19209 by the Metropolitan King County Council, both designed to designate Juneteenth as a state holiday. To date, 46 states have approved June 19 as a paid or legal state holiday. No problem. The issue is the historical reason used to justify their efforts to remember. Many have stated that June 19, 1865, ended slavery in America, which is, historically speaking, grossly wrong.
The state of Washington in their proposed legislation of Bill 1016 stands as a perfect example: “… The legislature intends to designate Juneteenth as a state legal holiday to celebrate the end of chattel slavery.” In addition, the language of King County Ordinance 19209 also uses similar language to justify the miseducated belief that Juneteenth is a historically appropriate day to celebrate the end of chattel slavery.
Other states have used similar language/justifications to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday. In Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam stated, “It mattered then because it marked the end of slavery in this country.” However, a historical fact that many people either are not aware of or choose to ignore is that the 13th Amendment, when it was ratified by the state of Georgia on Dec. 6, 1865, ended chattel slavery as it was passed by Congress and ratified by the required minimum of 27 states (Georgia was number 27) needed for its formal adoption. It must be noted that in the six months leading up to the ratification by Georgia — June 19, 1865, and Dec. 6, 1865 — there were at least 225,000 Black people enslaved in Kentucky alone. Chattel slavery was still LEGAL and practiced in Delaware and Kentucky.
The bill, ordinance, and others like it speak to why Black history should be taught. Blacks got it wrong, Whites got it wrong, Americans of all hues got this wrong. If indeed Black Lives Matter, then the historical actions of these governmental entities are historically saying those still enslaved don’t matter. I am in favor of celebrating and remembering June 19, however, I am not in favor of celebrating the notion of ALL or how EVAH you think, when I remember those 225,000-plus who were not free.
It is historically clear that Black Liberation Day should be Dec. 6. Those Black legislators and supporters of the current actions, I applaud your intent. However, if your intent is pure, then put aside your ego and replace it with truth and honor. America would never allow anyone to designate July 3rd as Independence Day. Not one person reading this article would accept any day other than their birthday as fact. So why should we accept what is a bold, and now popular, historical error in the spirit of acknowledging America’s Original Sin?
I’ll tell you why: ignorance. Ben Franklin once said, “the only thing more expensive than education is ignorance.” Franklin once owned slaves, he corrected his error. Out of respect for my ancestors — all my ancestors — remembrance, honor and history is loudly calling upon you, in the words of Spike Lee, to do the right thing!
We all remember 9/11. In the aftermath, America wanted retribution. Republicans and Democrats alike voted to go to war with Iraq because the nation was told they had weapons of mass destruction. I remember Washington state Rep. Jim McDermott attempting to tell the nation the facts as presented were inaccurate. He was labeled unpatriotic and “Baghdad Jim.” History is clear that Rep. McDermott was “American Jim.”
I understand the shame America has about her original sin, which is, in part, why the Black Experience, aka, Black history is not taught in schools today. There is a price for our ignorance, and today, following the “wokeness” of America because of the murder of George Floyd, we have sat quietly by and watched 46 states dishonor those quarter-million Black people.
Indeed, the pen is mightier than the sword, so as a simple fix, let’s use the pen. For those who have passed the legislation, simply change the date from June 19 to Dec. 6, and ALL will be honored. True leaders, when faced with new accurate information, change course. Those who don’t … in the words of “A Few Good Men,” “You can’t handle the truth!”
Carl Mack is former president of Seattle King County NAACP and former executive director of the National Society of Black Engineers.