We are at a critical juncture in racial reconciliation, and it is not easy to speak openly about such matters.
There is resentment on all sides, and it will continue as long as we avoid the topic of race. Talking about reconciliation will mean past wrongs will be acknowledged, says the Rev. Dr. Ronald V. Myers Sr., national adviser chair of America's Black Holocaust Museum in Milwaukee.
Juneteenth marks an opportune time to focus on healing, adds Myers, founder and chair of the National Juneteenth Holiday Campaign.
The holiday, which takes its name from the blending of "June" and "19th," symbolizes the end of slavery as a formal U.S. institution. Myers hopes to make Juneteenth a national holiday.
Iowa was the seventh state to make Juneteenth an official holiday. Last week, Kansas became the 31st.
Texas gave birth to Juneteenth, commemorating June 19, 1865, the day the Emancipation Proclamation was enforced in there. (It went into effect elsewhere Jan. 1, 1863.)
Juneteenth celebrations began in Texas in 1866, according to the state's archives. It became an official state holiday in 1980.
Today, Juneteenth is about tradition. The Iowa Commission on the Status of African Americans notes that blacks couldn't celebrate on public property. As a result, events were conducted in rural areas, centered on church, barbecues and outdoor activities.
Many of varying cultural groups refer to Juneteenth as the United States' second Independence Day.
Some erroneously consider it a black holiday. The day the United States ended the formal, federal institution of slavery should be widely commemorated by all. Doing so reminds us that the Declaration of Independence did not widely confer freedom.
A Black Holocaust Maafa Memorial Service is part of 2009 Juneteenth activities in Washington, D.C. "Maafa" is a Kiswahili word that means great catastrophe or tragedy, accurately describing much of U.S. black history, Myers notes.
Myers also hopes Juneteenth 2009 will cause national leaders to ask forgiveness for the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, when thousands of blacks were killed or displaced from their homes.
"Just like Juneteenth, … America's dark history of domestic terrorism through the lynching and murder of thousands of Americans of African descent should never be forgotten," Myers explains.
An apology will lead to reconciliation, he adds.
"We humbly request all Americans of consciousness join us in the remembrance of the thousands of Americans who have been victims of racial violence in America," Myers says. "We hope that President (Barack) Obama will personally acknowledge the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 as a remembrance of the Maafa as has been done for the loss of life and tragedy of 9/11 and acknowledge the significance of the National Day of Reconciliation and Healing from the Legacy of Enslavement."
The national Juneteenth observance also will include a special message on biblical reconciliation by the Rev. Jack Gaines, director of reconciliation ministry for the National Juneteenth Christian Leadership Council.
An apology appears imminent. Myers is encouraged by the U.S. Senate's 2005 apology for the failure to institute federal anti-lynching laws. In 2008, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the official "Apology for Slavery and Jim Crow." Myers hopes the Senate to pass similar legislation during national Juneteenth this year.
Acknowledging what happened in Tulsa is a logical next step, Myers adds.
"The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 should be embraced by all Americans as a part of history that demonstrates how far we have come and yet need to go to bring closure to decades of racial violence from the legacy of enslavement," he says.