U.S. Senator Ben Cardin

Letters From Ben

June 17, 2023

Freedom and Independence

Dear Fellow Marylanders,

Summer is typically marked by celebrations on July 4th or Independence Day. There is another important day, Freedom Day or Juneteenth, that now is another summer celebration. This year, for only the third time in our country’s history, we are recognizing Juneteenth as an official federal holiday. African American communities have celebrated Juneteenth as Emancipation Day or Freedom Day since 1866, so it is about time that every American understand and celebrate this holiday that truly represents freedom for all.

Juneteenth celebrates the liberation of the last remaining enslaved Black Americans at the end of the Civil War. On this date in 1865, U.S. Army Major General Gordon Granger arrived at a confederate outpost in Galveston, Texas, where he delivered the news to 250,000 still-enslaved Texans that all slaves were free. Though President Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation two and a half years earlier in 1863, the final emancipation of African American slaves was not reached until Granger brought this word to Texas, and later ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

This Freedom Day comes at a time when there has been a targeted attack on facts and truth. Censoring textbooks, banning conversations about race and gender, and misrepresenting the truth systematically sanitizes our nation’s history. As a society, we must stand together to resist hiding from the darkest part of our past. Not just through textbooks, but through our national celebrations.

Holidays are another way of deciding whose stories we tell and why we tell them.  July 4th is only part of our nation’s story of independence. Juneteenth helps complete the narrative and is a celebration of American freedom from the chains of slavery.

As we gather to celebrate a holiday that proclaims our fundamental right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all Americans, it is important to remember that those rights have not and are not always applied equally to every American. Redlining, health disparities, police brutality and other areas of disenfranchisement are relics of the nation’s original sin of slavery and the Jim Crow laws that followed. These inequities shape the African American experience today.

Celebrating Juneteenth, or Freedom Day, means not only celebrating victory, but also understanding and reconciling with hard truths. 

As we join the country in recognizing the importance of this anniversary, we also celebrate how far we’ve come. In Maryland, for the first time ever, we have the first Black Governor, first Black Attorney General and first Black Speaker of the House of Delegates all serving at once. The election of Vice President Kamala Harris and appointment of Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson show that the country, more broadly, supports the diversity of America reflected at the highest levels of government. Embracing diversity is in the best interest of the country. It’s how we get landmark legislation like the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act and theHistoric Executive Order to Advance Effective, Accountable Policing and Strengthen Public Safety.

My faith teaches that we all have a responsibility to make the world a better place. That can only be done through civility, understanding and respect for each other. As we come together to participate in a long-standing tradition of celebrating freedom, let’s also celebrate knowledge, hope and continue to work toward a more perfect union and a better future for every American.

Thank you for your time. Please feel free to reply back to this email with any feedback on this or any other topic.


    Ben Cardin