Juneteenth: A Franchise of Freedom

To own land, and to have freedom and liberty not subject to monarchy, was the primary purpose of every settler’s adventure to America – with slaves often in tow. It is astonishing and deplorable that man would enslave another and brutally treat that human being as property. 

 It is also astonishing that man, owning slaves for commerce, inheritance of wealth, and ease of life, would vote against his own interests and end the horrible industry of slavery. Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, a slave owner himself, struggled with all of these paradoxical sentiments. Jefferson marveled at the fact that English settlers, who had endured beatings, starvation and imprisonment at the hands of their British oppressors, could inflict “on their fellow men a bondage one hour of which is brought with more misery than ages of that which he rose in rebellion to oppose.” Much in Jefferson’s personal life did not match his lofty rhetoric. Yet, his words, like flint to steel, hit hard against our formative documents, resulting in friction that exploded in the hearts of those same men, changing not just America but the world.

The ideas of freedom and liberty, and the appeal to man as equal by divine authority, were the very foundation of the abolitionist republicans. As a leader and speaker, the escaped and emancipated Frederick Douglass asked his white fellow Americans: What is Independence Day to the slave who is not free? Likewise, we must ask today: What, to the American conservative and liberal alike, is Juneteenth?  

Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. It dates back to June 19, 1865, when the news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free arrived in slavery-practicing Galveston, Texas. This was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863! It’s a necessary reminder that 157 years later, the speed and accuracy at which news travels is critical in the life of Americans.  

Observing Juneteenth and all that it represents helps to ensure the civil rights of all Americans, including African Americans. From the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution in the wake of the Civil War to the adoption of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the charge to franchise freedom and liberty for all citizens has made the words of our Founding Fathers manifest into meaningful action.

Established last year as a federal holiday, Juneteenth is now also a state holiday signed into effect with a paid day off for Georgia employees. The legislation signed by Gov. Brian Kemp was filed by state Rep. Lauren McDonald III in keeping with Georgia’s protocol to recognize all federal holidays.

We are not all descendants of American slavery, but to be an American is to have inherited its legacy, and its lessons. 

Today, people are pouring into the streets because divisive rhetoric, media and radical violence are being used as tools of oppression to devalue and destroy the benefits of freedom. The tools of oppression come in all shapes and sizes. But on Juneteenth, let’s remember three positive freedom franchise tools we must assert.

The first tool of freedom franchising is reducing roadblocks to transparency and delivery of executive decisions made on behalf of our citizens. In today’s social media and the instant messaging world, we know that information is power.  

Second, we need real accountability from all political influencers, corporations, media and politicians, left, right or other, to deliver the truth. While information is indeed power, had the order that freed slaves been incorrectly delivered or interpreted, emancipation in Texas would have been delayed even further. Freedom franchising requires truth.

Third, in the face of those who wish to divide us, we need to recognize that any political party that makes freedom franchising its north star is guiding our democratic republic toward a brighter future. We are thankful for the blessings of Juneteenth, and for the abolitionist republicans who helped make it a celebration of democratic ideas, well applied.

Leo Smith is formerly the Minority Voter Engagement Director for the Georgia Republican Party. He is President of Engaged Futures Group, and founder of After We Vote. He can be found online at leojsmith.com.

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