Monday marks the observance of Juneteenth, the day that news of emancipation finally reached and freed slaves in Galveston, Texas, in 1865.
The occasion has been marked, in recent years, by the issuance of presidential statements every year on June 19.
This year was a bit unusual, however, as multiple database searches (including Nexis) appear to show that Donald Trump has never used the word “Juneteenth” before, and his first time out didn't go so well.
Trump's statement (via email from The White House) focused on the actions of President Abraham Lincoln and Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, and very little on the slaves who were freed:
Statement from President Donald J. Trump on Juneteenth
Melania and I send our warmest greetings to all those celebrating Juneteenth, a historic day recognizing the end of slavery.
Though President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, news traveled slowly from Washington, D.C., to the southern states. More than two years later, on June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger stood on the Ashton Villa balcony in Galveston, Texas, to deliver the belated message of the then-deceased President: all slaves were free.
Granger’s astonishing words inspired soulful festivities and emotional rejoicing. Over the years, as freedmen and freedwomen left Texas, they took Juneteenth and its meaning with them. Today, we celebrate this historic moment in 1865, as we remember our Nation’s fundamental premise that all men and women are created equal.
On Juneteenth 2017, we honor the countless contributions made by African Americans to our Nation and pledge to support America’s promise as the land of the free.
Aside from learning that a white guy said “astonishing words” that “inspired soulful festivities,” Trump's statement says little about the meaning of Juneteenth that has been passed down over the years.
It's also exactly what you would expect from someone who spoke of slavery this way on the campaign trail:
It is the Democratic Party that is the party of slavery, the party of Jim Crow, the party of opposition.
Right, and then it became the party of Ronald Reagan, “Welfare Queens,” and Jesse Helms, who switched parties when Republicans picked up racism in the draft. But honestly, Trump is so ignorant, he probably thinks Jim Crow is some guy who trolls Frederick Douglass on Twitter.
As USA Today points out, President Barack Obama's final Juneteenth statement (via email from the Obama White House) was a great deal more focused on the lives of those who experienced it:
Just outside the Oval Office hangs a painting depicting the night of December 31, 1862. In it, African-American men, women, and children crowd around a single pocket watch, waiting for the clock to strike midnight and the Emancipation Proclamation to take effect. As the slaves huddle anxiously in the dimly lit room, we can sense how even two more minutes seems like an eternity to wait for one’s freedom. But the slaves of Galveston, Texas, had to wait more than two years after Lincoln’s decree and two months after Appomattox to receive word that they were free at last.
Today we commemorate the anniversary of that delayed but welcome news. Decades of collective action would follow as equality and justice for African-Americans advanced slowly, frustratingly, gradually, on our nation’s journey toward a more perfect union. On this Juneteenth, we remember that struggle as we reflect on how far we’ve come as a country. The slaves of Galveston knew their freedom was only a first step, just as the bloodied foot soldiers who crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge 100 years later knew they had to keep marching.
Juneteenth is a time to recommit ourselves to the work that remains undone. We remember that even in the darkest hours, there is cause to hope for tomorrow’s light. Today, no matter our race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation, we recommit ourselves to working to free modern-day slaves around the world and to honoring in our own time the efforts of those who fought so hard to steer our country truer to our highest ideals.
There probably isn't a day that goes by when most people in this country don't miss the hell out of President Obama, but on days like this, the contrast can become truly painful.