Guest opinion: Juneteenth holiday is long overdue

Mark Olbert



In a rare act of near unanimity, Congress voted to recognize Juneteenth as a national holiday and President Biden signed it into law this week.

This is belated recognition of an important event in American history. Imagine, for a moment, what those former slaves in Texas must’ve felt when the Union Army showed up in 1865 after winning the Civil War and told them they were free.

It’s easy to take something for granted if you’ve always had it. But like air to breathe, you quickly feel the lack of freedom. In fact, it can kill you.

But there’s another reason I hope Juneteenth gets celebrated in the way it deserves.

Most white Americans grow up accepting or believing the version of post-Civil War history portrayed in books and movies such as “Gone with the Wind.”

The Confederacy is painted in noble terms, a doomed effort to preserve something special against a domineering federal government.

There’s only one problem with that view. It’s complete and utter nonsense. The so-called Lost Cause was one of the only successful attempts I know of where the losers got to rewrite history. To hide what they’d done and award themselves a moral high ground they most definitely did not deserve.

‘A blow at commerce’

The Confederacy was not created to protect states’ rights, or to keep the federal government from excessive interference in local affairs. It was created, purely and simply, to preserve the right of white people to own black people.
As the Mississippi Articles of Secession stated:

“Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun.

“These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.”

A more callous disregard for the sanctity of human life would be hard to imagine. Like the infamous 30 pieces of silver, the right to make money from slavery was deemed far more important than the freedom of one’s fellow man.

Hard work and sacrifice

It’s way past time for us to recognize the evil many of our forefathers wrought. That doesn’t mean we should ignore the great good we’ve done elsewhere. But we need to stop fooling ourselves about the dark parts of our own past. How we will come to terms with it, and how we’ll redress the wrongs, will take hard work and sacrifice.

But there’s a simple thing each of us can do to get started, and it costs nothing. Let’s stop referring to “the Confederacy” or “the rebels.” Instead, call that community and its defenders what they truly were: the Slavers. Whatever their other motivations were, that name far more accurately conveys the real motivations of the people who sought to reject our Constitution to ensure they could continue treating black people like animals.

Don’t repeat the past

Such a change would also serve as a useful reminder, to all of us, that we don’t have “Confederates” in our collective past. Instead, we have Slavers.

And we need to always remind ourselves both just how horrible that part of our history was, and just how critical it is we stay as far away from repeating it as we can.

Mark Olbert is a former San Carlos mayor and councilman.


  1. Congress should make the Juneteenth celebration fall on either the closest Monday or Friday to June 19, so that it can become a three-day weekend (four for government employees). That will give everyone more time to think about the subject of slavery and the 600,000 American lives that were lost in the Civil War fighting over it.

  2. Do we really need yet another holiday? I haven’t heard anyone complain that government employees were getting too much done, and that we needed to inhibit their productivity.

  3. I don’t agree with the current mania for everything racial. Everyone’s a racist and if you’re not black, you’re surely guilty of something. Ironically, this all seems to have started towards the end of the first ever black President (who won two terms from voters of all colors, even white). People are working overtime to force feed the nation a new idea about races – skin color – not the content of your character – is what matters. There’re going to give you extra public assistance (that you won’t get if, for example you’re a white or Asian or Latin farmer or small business owner, the big companies and what used to be your local school board are going to require lessons on something called Black Lives Matter (a new and special carve out exception to the old concept of everyone matters), they’re going to teach your kids that white people are oppressors and black people are victims (that should give the kids a good start in life) and they’re even going to give one racial skin color another, new holiday ( in addition to MLK holiday, black history month, and the Black museum on the mall in Washington). What we all need to do now is remember the Civil War every year. That wasn’t a good time for anyone so we should make it a point now to drag it out every year so that all Americans can feel miserable instead of joy that Spring is here. No one seems to be making the point that Americans continue to acknowledge their sins and omissions but also that we have made great progress mixing the world’s skin colors and cultures into a free and prosperous whole. We could celebrate that. We could be proud of the fact that most Americans welcome each other and try to be supportive. Most, except those in the business of politics and those profiting from racial division. Most of our existing holidays were (before the haters who say you are the haters, etc began to ruin them) ..were joyful moments when we came together to celebrate – not occasions to share guilt. We don’t need this new and empty holiday – not at all.

  4. Ned’s reply is a modern mischaracterization of racism in America. Why do blacks live in segregated, poor neighborhoods today? Because they were not allowed to earn fair wages, buy into white neighborhoods or have the same quality education as whites. Furthermore, the most polluting industries are located in poor neighborhoods and their residents are not wealthy enough to afford health care, so are more inclined that whites to have serious illnesses.

    US laws have kept the progeny of slaves out of the free market economy intentionally. Until we intentionally change our laws and truly provide equal opportunity we will continue to live with the sin of slavery. Let’s wash ourselves of this sin, and make up for the years of abuse. Let’s make things right. Give equal opportunities to all. We can do it. Just look and all the wonderful things the U.S. has accomplished. Why does this stubborn refusal to create justice in our courntry prevail.

    Every single person needs to ask themselves what they can do to change U.S. laws and customs so that we all can be free of this negative part of our history.

    • Claire- I was a poor white child in an inner city mixed race, mixed everything neighborhood, years and years ago, There are a lot of unfair circumstances for many in those neighborhoods. I have never known a time in America when the subject of what to do about America’s inner cities and what to do about underachievement, crime, single parents, drugs and decay in black communities wasn’t a big topic in public policy. There have been appropriate concerns about removing barriers to housing, to equal opportunities in schools and employment. Despite black city councils, school boards, state representatives and administrators black neighborhood and school achievement haven’t improved much. 70% of black kids still grow up without fathers. Black crime still frightens everyone. Black leaders – in control of many inner cities – haven’t changed circumstances much. It’s all very complicated but the cause can’t always be white people aren’t doing enough. I know something about this first hand and a great deal of it has to come from families, good modeling, and personal effort. If there are then barriers to opportunity then those are fixable.

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