THIS ARTICLE was originally PUBLISHED IN Austin lawyer, volume 30, number 7, https://issuu.com/austinbar/docs/al_sept21-digital/18?ff
Holidays are a reflection of our collective values. As a society, we hope holidays signal what – and sometimes who – we, as a nation, should celebrate. Labor Day, for example, a holiday our nation began celebrating almost 130 years ago, recognizes the works and contributions of laborers in the development and success of the United States. As we observe this Labor Day, a pause to reflect on the struggles – and evolution – of our national holidays can add to a greater understanding of our country’s larger struggles, and – I hope – our collective progress.
Prior to this past summer, the last addition of a federal holiday occurred in 1983 when President Ronald Reagan signed the bill to add MLK Day in recognition of Martin Luther King Jr.’s contributions to the civil rights movement. What is often lost is that this was a 15-year journey that began four days after King was assassinated in 1968 – and the day wasn’t actually observed officially until 1986. Even then, it still took nearly two more decades before all 50 states also recognized the holiday.
Then, around this time last year, America was ensnared in a social and racial reckoning unlike any seen in recent history. As uncertain a time as it may have been, 2020 was also a time of immense growth and necessary vulnerability not only in the United States, but around the world. Ultimately, 2020 served as a resounding rallying call to simply do the right thing. For what seemed like the first time in a long time, people were inspired to change their perceptions, and the world was challenged to prioritize understanding over judgment – including the timely creation of a new federal holiday.
As many of you may now know, “Juneteenth” commemorates the official end of slavery in the United States. The name stems from June 19, 1865, when Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger issued General Order No. 3 in Galveston, Texas, announcing that “all slaves are free” in accordance with the Emancipation Proclamation (issued some three years prior). This summer, America celebrating yet another important milestone. For the first time, Juneteenth was observed as an official federal holiday. For reference, there have only been four new holidays added to the national calendar in the past 100 years.
Fortunately, much has changed since 1983. However, much of the work and healing leading up to Juneteenth’s observance was expedited by the racial and socioeconomic disparities highlighted by last year’s events. This past year’s events should serve as a reminder that our commitment towards a truly equal and equitable nation is just that: a commitment.
In a time where corporate initiatives and well-intentioned pledges rooted in diversity are the norm, public displays of solidarity generally have an expiration date and are not easily sustainable. The main focus of these efforts should not be on the acts themselves but the long-term impact these acts have on those within an organization’s sphere of influence. As members of a largely self-policed profession, the expectation for attorneys is not different. Let this new holiday of Juneteenth be a constant reminder that our responsibility to be kind to one another never ceases. In fact, kindness may be the most important charge we have as human beings.
As a citizen, veteran, and African American, I am proud of the progress I have seen in just twelve short months. Nevertheless, reflection serves as a reminder that we as a country still have far to go. Allies are still needed in spaces where the voices of diverse communities have historically not been heard. Until we all advocate in some capacity against overt, systemic, or subconscious injustices, we will all suffer as a result. The annual observance of Juneteenth can – and will be the constant spark that ignites a renewed American spirit, and I am hopeful for the change and growth it will undoubtedly bring.
Holidays are a reflection of what we value. This Labor Day, I am thankful that we as a nation have done the work to show the world just one more thing that we value: progress.