With the ascension of Juneteenth to federal holiday status along with it being so close in proximity to the Fourth of July holiday, some Black folks may find themselves wondering whether they should still be celebrating the nation’s Independence Day. After all, Juneteenth has been referred to as Black Freedom Day or Emancipation Day.
So whose independence should Black folks be celebrating? That answer may not be as cut and dry as Dr. Umar Johnson apparently thinks it should be.
The noted psychologist recently took to social media to share his thoughts on the matter.
According to Johnson, there is no choice and there is only one correct answer for Black people in America: Juneteenth.
“There’s nothing worse than a negro who will celebrate his ancestors [sic] freedom on Juneteenth and then turn right around and celebrate the slave masters who owned them on July 4th! Please pick a side and stay on it,” Johnson implored Black America in an Instagram post that began with a hashtag, “#UNAPOLOGETIC.”
To be sure, the topic of pitting the Fourth of July and Juneteenth against each other is nothing new.
But Johnson seems to be pointing to the concept of an undying allegiance to a holiday that not only marks the abolition of slavery in the state of Texas on June 19, 1865, but is also a historic moment in American history as well as the culmination of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation that was written three years prior.
After all, it’s been nearly 171 years since iconic abolitionist Frederick Douglass delivered a speech at an event commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence that questioned Black people celebrating the Fourth of July.
“This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn,” Douglass said on July 5, 1852, before asking rhetorically: “Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak today?”
Opinion writers have particularly been chiming in on the topic for the last couple of years since Juneteenth became a federal holiday.
Peniel E. Joseph, an African American scholar on race, wrote for CNN that “it is worth remembering that Juneteenth, as much as the Fourth of July, represents American democracy’s true birthday.”
Others have accurately pointed out that the July 4 holiday was established at the same time that Black people were considered three-fifths of a human.
“Too many Americans think of the Fourth of July as a day marking the triumph of freedom and equality in America, as if everyone enjoys the same liberties and opportunities,” Ethan Kytle, professor of history at California State University Fresno, told Yahoo News.
An op-ed in one of America’s oldest Black newspapers said there’s no need to choose between Juneteenth and the Fourth of July “doesn’t have to be either/or: it can be BOTH/AND!”
From the Chicago Crusader:
We can enjoy the incremental recognition of the new federal holiday, which will bring additional focus to the trials and tribulations faced by us as a people and at the same time observe the nation’s independence as represented by the 4th of July holiday!
Perhaps a Washington Post op-ed co-authored by Opal Lee, widely recognized as “the grandmother of Juneteeth,” summed it up best.
Juneteenth is “the other half of the Fourth of July,” the op-ed says in part. “These two holidays, which fall a mere two weeks apart, represent the best of America. One celebrates the Declaration of Independence, which contains what the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass called “saving principles.” The other celebrates America’s journey to live by those principles.”
This is America.
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