Two Texas lawmakers, Republican US Sen. John Cornyn and 14-term Democratic Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, joined forces in leading the charge last year to honor this day — Juneteenth — as a national holiday.
It was a process — but Americans have just been given another scheduled reminder (Christmas and Thanksgiving come to mind) to try a little harder at living with one another as we ought to.
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The overall intent of the initiative bears heft: Some architects and supporters from both sides of the aisle have referred to Juneteenth as a celebration of slavery’s end in our country.
Cornyn, whose father flew B-17s in World War II and retired as an Air Force dentist with 31 years’ service, was thus raised as a “military brat.”
While I don’t know that Jimmy Kimmel or Stephen Colbert will invite the GOP headliner to guest on late night television anytime soon, I’m prone to believe that the sheer variety of places where the senator was reared (including a tour in Japan and a wide array of American base housing neighbors and classmates wherever his Dad was posted) has positively impacted his views on the human condition.
And I’m guessing that both he and Rep. Jackson Lee were very pleased to “once more vigor” reminding their fellow Americans that Texas is celebrating Juneteenth for the 41st year in a row.
The holiday has its origins in the eyebrow-raising discovery of 1865 that slaves in the Lone Star State “never got the word” vis-à-vis the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863.
That was until Union Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger of Joy, New York rode into Galveston as the Commander of Headquarters, District of Texas on June 18, 1865.
The next day – Juneteenth – Granger issued General Order No. 3, which began: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”
Similarly, my beloved US Marines have been, over the years, sometimes “Tail End Charlie” on the long push to truly make America’s military force a meritocracy and a solid example of what equality could look like.
Example: In 1942, Marine Commandant, Maj. Gen. Thomas Holcomb, testified before the General Board of the Navy that “there would be a definite loss of efficiency in the Marine Corps if we have to take Negroes in.”
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Holcomb was following the pattern set by a previous commandant, Major William Ward Burrows, who told recruiters in 1798 that they could “make use of Blacks and Mulattos … but you cannot enlist them.”
Well, times have changed.
And so have the Leathernecks, whose Black Marine heroics and other significant contributions now include a multi-war roster of Medal of Honor recipients, Navy Cross holders, Sergeants Major, commanding officers up and down the line, fighter pilots and astronauts.
Add to the list abundant graduate school selections and postings as active duty Professors of Military Science at some of America’s leading colleges and universities – in addition to faculty, staff and coaching assignments at the United State Naval Academy in Annapolis.
And on June 9, the Corps became the last of our nation’s Services to make way for a black, four-star general or admiral.
The president has nominated Lt. Gen. Michael E. Langley for promotion to that highest rank attainable and, with Senate approval, General Langley would then take charge of the US Africa Command in Stuttgart, Germany.
The University of Texas graduate is currently stationed in Norfolk, Virginia where it leads both Marine Corps Forces Command and Marine Corps Forces Atlantic.
Inasmuch as Senator Cornyn and his colleagues have the last word on my fellow Marine’s historic promotion, we’ll give him the last word here, too:
“Now more than ever,” he stated when making the Juneteenth holiday push with Congresswoman Jackson Lee, “we need to learn from our history.
“And,” Cornyn added with emphasis, “continue to form a more perfect union.”