Juneteenth Should Be a Federal Holiday

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Growing up in the Daniels household was like going to school 24/7.

There were no textbooks or desks or ringing bells — so not school-school — just me, my brother, and two of the best, most informed teachers on Black history that you could ever come across: Mom and Dad. 

Those two … they didn’t need textbooks! Their lessons? What they were looking to teach us? That came from real-life experience.

We were raised in Jersey, where my dad had grown up. And my mom had grown up on a farm in North Carolina. He’s from the city, and she’s from the country. They were the perfect team when it came to educating us about the world around us.

Dad, he understood what it meant to bring up sons — he was going to raise strong Black men and wanted to impart certain knowledge to us. From as far back as I can remember, he talked to us about slavery, oppression, systemic racism. He broke it all down for us at a young age.

And then, any time he’d miss something, or didn’t have a good example to share, Mom would step in with her own personal stories of that Deep South, Confederate-style racism.

“I grew up in a place where Black people were being lynched,” she’d say.

I’ll never forget her telling my brother and me about how her granddad would sometimes get word that the Ku Klux Klan was going to be marching through their town.

“Quick, quick, hide under the front porch,” he’d tell my mom and her sister.

He’d go inside and grab his shotgun. Then my granddad would sit out on that porch, gun cocked, protecting his family.

That was their environment. That was what it was like growing up down there.  

My granddad would sit out on that porch, gun cocked, protecting his family.

Mike Daniels

Looking back on it now, both my parents were instilling the warrior spirit within me when I was a young boy. They made sure that I had the knowledge and understanding that I needed to move through life and survive.

My parents fully realized that racism doesn’t know any ages. It can hit you at any time, even when you’re a little kid. They believed that people like my brother and myself, we were going to face racism even as small children. But they also believed that when you’re made aware of that reality, and stay informed, you can handle it, move on and still be prosperous — instead of allowing it to cripple you.

They never let an opportunity to teach slip by. And it wasn’t usually sit-down talks, either.

My dad had me always keeping my eyes open, always noticing. My mom, too.

They taught me and my brother to analyze the world around us in a more critical way. By doing that, they believed they were actually raising us to be more functional. Because then, when we saw racist things going down, we could operate through it — not around it, but through it.

They really set me up in that way, and I cannot thank them enough.

The thing is, though, no one can know everything, right? No one can teach their kids every single important thing there is. And, with me, there actually ended up being one blind spot that somehow escaped all those lessons as a kid.


Mike Daniels | Cincinnati Bengals | The Players' Tribune
Courtesy of Mike Daniels

It’s weird, when I look back on my childhood now, I’m pretty sure that I went to a few Juneteenth celebrations in my day — cookouts or block parties or what have you. But, somehow, I never knew what those gatherings were all about. I actually didn’t learn about Juneteenth until I was 25 years old.

I’m talking 2014. Not all that long ago.

My wife, almost in passing, mentioned that she was going to take the kids to a Juneteenth celebration. And I can still remember my response.

“A what?”

I’m shaking my head right now. But, like I said, you can’t know everything. Sometimes you have to learn as you go. And in this case, my wife, she broke it down for me — that Juneteenth is a holiday celebrating the freeing of slaves in the U.S., that communities all over the country get together to honor that day … basically just everything. She let me know.

Now, mind you, my wife is from Iowa — not necessarily the Blackest place on the planet. So for her to school me on Juneteenth? On Black culture? It was like….


It really shook me for a second, you know what I mean?

How did I totally miss something like that? How did I not realize?

Since then, of course, I’ve dug in and learned a ton. Now we go to celebrations as a family every year. We’ve made it a tradition, and I couldn’t be happier about that.

No one can teach their kids every single important thing there is.

Mike Daniels

At this point in my life, I want to do more than that, though. I want to do more than just celebrate with my family and friends. I want to raise awareness.

I’m pretty sure that there are a lot of people out there who are just like I was before my wife brought me up to speed seven years ago.

Like you might have gone to some cookouts, or maybe you vaguely remember hearing about Juneteenth on the radio or something. But you didn’t know that it has to do with people, human beings, literally gaining their freedom and no longer being chained up and treated worse than animals — that this celebration only exists because of the destruction of pure evil that was the institution of slavery in the United States.

I understand. I was right there with you for a while.

But now? In 2021? Rather than sweeping all that stuff under the rug, I believe we should go the opposite direction. There’s so much more we all should know about that period of American history. And expanding the prominence of Juneteenth is a perfect way to help spread that knowledge far and wide.

We all learned in school when slavery started. But nobody mentioned when it really ended. We were taught that Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery, but we never learned anything else beyond that.

Lots of us didn’t — or don’t — know that after the Emancipation Proclamation, slavery persisted all over the country for years. It wasn’t just as simple as the president signing a sheet of paper and then it was over. It had to be done away with state by state, and town by town. By the time that the last slave was notified of their freedom, the message was late by almost three years. And that date was June 19.

That stuff … it’s not common knowledge. Not even close.

It’s time to change all that.

And the best way to do it is by recognizing Juneteenth as a federal holiday all across the country.

Mike Daniels | Cincinnati Bengals | The Players' Tribune
Aaron M. Sprecher via AP

We’re making progress toward that goal right now.

Several states have already declared Juneteenth a holiday. I like what I saw last year, in terms of so much more acknowledgement and attention being given to Juneteenth. But we need to do more. We need to go deeper.

By creating a federal holiday, the prominence of Juneteenth will continue to grow. And with each new gathering there will be an increased opportunity for people to learn about this country’s history. In addition, with a holiday in place, we’d be ensuring that more and more schools will dive in and teach kids about the history behind that day. And then those kids can help teach their friends, and when all of them grow up they’ll be able to teach their kids. And on and on.

As parents, we have a duty and obligation to make sure that whatever our kids are being taught in school is accurate and complete. This guarantees that we’re making things better and not worse.

I’ve got that covered in my family. I’m sure if you’re a parent and you’re reading this you can do the same.

It’s time for this to happen, though. There’s no good reason not to have Juneteenth celebrated on a national level. So I hope that you will join me in getting your friends and family behind the idea, and that you’ll support the movement to make Juneteenth a federal holiday.

Together, we can make things better and shine more light on an incredibly important period in American history.