As a person of color, I feel embarrassed and ashamed that I did not know what the term Juneteenth meant. I did not know the significance or meaning of it. I must thank President Donald Trump for providing this awakening — the postponement of his Tulsa rally — for the motivation to research the significance and impetus of this day. Due to this awakening, I am proposing that Juneteenth be declared a national federal holiday for the United States and its territories. It would be celebrated effective June 19, 2021, and henceforth observed on the next working day if the date falls on a weekend.
I am writing this thesis from an economic perspective, as this is language universal to leaders in the U.S. and around the world. This is not to negate the savagery and inhumaneness of slavery but to present the issues in an order to accomplish the goal of forging a national federal holiday which would more easily be understood in economic terms.
For future historical perspective, let us address the current situation as it exists today. 2020 is a leap year, and by all measures at the start of the year, Americans could not have been in a better position economically. On Jan. 1, 2020, the stock market was at one of its highest levels. The Dow was 28538.44. In fact the Dow peaked at 29551.42 on Feb. 12, 2020.
Unemployment levels were at its lowest in decades (3.5%) and it seemed like Americans in general had a very positive, optimistic and upbeat perspective of their futures at this point. However, COVID-19 entered the U.S. at the end of January 2020. Then from one case on March 13, there has been exponential growth since then.
With all this negativity and disaster around us, one would think it would forge humanity to unite and be better humans. However, police brutality as a negative force in society, specifically toward minority black men have come to high point with the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota on May 25.
With the technology available today, especially the cellphone video recording of Mr. Floyd being killed, the entire world was able to see firsthand the injustices inherent in American society.
The BLM Movement was not formed to say that all lives do not matter.
It is the cry of Floyd for his mother with his last breath that his life matters.
It is a survival, primal cry because minorities are on the ground and the weight of dehumanization of Black people are on their necks. All they are crying for is the emancipation of dehumanization. All Lives Matter, but in the case of Black Americans it has not mattered. All they want is recognition that their live matter also. This has become significant because of the dehumanization of Black lives as a result of slavery over the last 300 years.
We will look at slavery, dehumanization, emancipation and reparations and put all in the context of providing this holiday as a compensation for some of the evils and labor of Black people for building America:
Slavery in the U.S.Slavery of Africans started around 1619 in Jamestown, Va. The slaves were seen as an abundant cheap source of labor. Enslaved Africans worked mainly on tobacco, rice and indigo plantations in the 17th and 18th centuries in the South. In 1793, when Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, the south transitioned from tobacco production to cotton, which reinforced the regions dependency on slave labor. While most northern states abolished slavery between 1774 and 1804, slavery remained extremely important to agriculture in the south. And, while U.S. Congress outlawed the “African Slave Trade” in 1808, the enslaved population increased dramatically to about four million by 1860. Slaves were prohibited from learning to read or write, and movement and assembly of the enslaved were extremely restricted. In 1820, with the Missouri Compromise — the state was admitted to the Union as a slave state and Maine as a free state — all territories north of Missouri, southern border were to be free states. The national rift over slavery between the northern and southern states led to the American Civil War in 1861.
Although, it is thought that the movement for abolition of slavery was out of enlightenment, the reality was that economically it was a very ineffective system. In addition, the enlightenment was really an introspective reality of the treatment of the British colonists to the American patriots. This treatment was an exact mirror of the African slaves by the American patriots.
Dehumanization/Re-humanizationThis is the stripping and deprivation of human attributes and characteristics of others with the accompanying mental and physical cruelty and suffering to accomplish this goal.
Slavery accomplished the goals of dehumanization so that the enslaved Africans were of no more value than the crop he cultivated or the tools they used. Dehumanization was inflicted on slaves for over 300 years and still continues today. Re-humanization is saying that Black lives matter! It is restoring or reintroducing worth, self-dignity and humanness to Black Americans.
Juneteenth and EmancipationPresident Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Sept. 22, 1862. It was not until June 19, 1865, however, when Major Granger reached Galveston, Texas, and read aloud, “The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free” that the Emancipation Proclamation was completed. Texas was the first state to make Juneteenth a state holiday in 1980.
By 2019, a total of 47 states and the District of Columbia recognized Juneteenth for ceremonial observance. In 2020, the governors of Virginia and New York signed executive orders recognizing Juneteenth as a paid day of leave for state employees, and the governor of Massachusetts forwarded legislation to make it a state holiday. Several major corporations including Twitter, Target, Nike, NFL, Time Magazine and Google have made Juneteenth a paid company holiday.
Repatriation“The action of making amends for a wrong one has done by providing payment or other assistance to those who have been wronged.”
In war, making the defeated party pay a war indemnity has been a common practice with a long history. In World War I, Germany was asked to pay 132 billion gold marks in the Treaty of Versailles.
In World War II, Germany, Italy, Japan and Finland agreed to pay reparations for damages incurred by the Allied Powers. In 1946 Congress created the Indian Claims Commission that awarded about $1.3 billion to 176 tribes and bands. In 1988, under the Civil Liberties Act, $20,000 and a letter of apology was given to 80,000 Japanese Americans for their internment during World War II.
Although these examples indicate the U.S. government has been engaged in reparations to some disenfranchised groups, it has not addressed reparations for Black Americans for slavery. While federal holiday for Juneteenth will not fully address the issue of reparations for Black Americans, it will certainly be a move in the right direction.
What would a national federal holiday mean in 2020 in dollars? The GDP for the U.S. was $21.43 trillion in 2019; the U.S. population was 329 million; the population of Black Americans was 13.4% or 44,086,000 and the average life expectancy of Black Americans is 75.1 years of age. It means that one day of economic activity in the U.S. equals 21,423,700. Multiplied by 365 days it equals $58,706,027,400.
The contribution of non-Black Americans would be as follows: (100-13.4)/100 x 58,706,027,400 = $50,839,419,700. This means 50,839,419,700/44,086,000 = $1,153.20 will be contributed via the June 19th federal holiday to Black Americans per year or ($1,153.20 x 75.1 age) = $86,605 over an average lifetime. Creating a national federal holiday for Juneteenth will allow America to acknowledge the legacy of slavery; apologize for this legacy; offer some meaningful form of reparation to the descendants for this legacy and create a memorial so that this generation and future generations will understand that slavery and the dehumanization of fellow citizens should never be part of our destiny.
The year 2020, thus far has had a lot of challenges in the U.S. and indeed the world. As Americans we relish these challenges because we know that we will overcome them. Let us embrace our challenges for growth and to get to the other side. Let us make Juneteenth a federal holiday. What do we have to lose?
— Joel Mahepath of St. Croix is president/CEO Sterling Optical U.S. Virgin Islands.