TGIF: Celebrating freedom shouldn’t be limited to July 4
Your weekly columnist has been writing on the topic of Independence Day since July 1977, when a community Fourth of July celebration actually inspired these recurring Friday visits. But even 44 years later, I’m still learning things about the historic actions America’s founders took in 1776.
The recent vote by Congress to designate Juneteenth as a federal holiday helped me appreciate the distinction between personal freedom and political independence. A blogger concerned about the holiday criticized it as a “second Independence Day,” potentially deepening already existing racial divisions. That’s one viewpoint. There’s another to consider.
A reading of the Declaration of Independence shows it to be largely a list of grievances against the king of England that left the Colonies no choice but to revolt. True, the second paragraph states it’s “self-evident” that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But America has been slow to live up to these noble words by extending such rights to everyone.
Nevertheless, even as certain populations in America still struggle to gain equality in personal freedom, political independence from the British had to happen first. The Declaration set the stage for documents like the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Some may recall that Texas observes a Celebrate Freedom Week in September when public schools teach the importance of the founding documents mentioned above. It’s held around the date the Constitution was signed, which was Sept. 17, 1787. Of course, the Declaration was adopted on July 4, 1776.
It’s appropriate that this hypothetical patriotism month would come to its conclusion on July 4. While the reasons for these observances stretching from late May to early July differ significantly, each remains important to our national independence, our individual freedoms, and our history.
Memorial Day and D-Day are sober remembrances, while Flag Day, Juneteenth, and Independence Day are times for celebration.
That’s the disconnect we encounter these days. We too often focus on the “holiday” part, taking a day off for fun, and forget the “observance” part. Have you ever heard people say “happy” Memorial Day and felt uncomfortable about it? Memorial Day is set aside to remember the men and women who died in military service defending our way of life. While it’s appropriate to honor their sacrifice, there’s not much to be “happy” about. Thankful, yes. Appreciative, yes. Blessed, yes. But it’s not a happy day, especially for the families and friends who mourn that ultimate sacrifice as others reflect on their unselfishness.
D-Day is much the same, with some extra thankfulness for those who survived.
Several other patriotic observances — Armed Forced Day, Flag Day, Juneteenth, and the Fourth of July — are indeed celebratory. I consider Flag Day as a time not only to appreciate what it symbolizes, but also to refresh our understanding of the ways people unintentionally disrespect it. That’s another column entirely.
In recent weeks, area residents have appropriately honored veterans who died in service to our nation and its people, and then celebrated the Emancipation Proclamation with the designation of Juneteenth as federal holiday. This weekend, it will be capped by the Fourth of July.
John Adams initially thought the day of ongoing national celebrations would be July 2 because that was when the vote for independence was taken. However, it wasn’t until two days later that the text was ratified, so July 4 it is.
To paraphrase a statement by Adams, who signed the declaration and later became the principal author of the U.S. Constitution and the nation’s second president, Independence Day is a time for pomp, parades, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other — from this time forward, forever more.
Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column “TGIF” appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.