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For Many, Today Is Independence Day

U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.), foreground, and the Rev. Ronald V. Myers Sr. seek a national Juneteenth observance.
U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.), foreground, and the Rev. Ronald V. Myers Sr. seek a national Juneteenth observance. (By Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)

Juneteenth advocates want the day to be established as a national observance. Myers, a physician and ordained minister from Mississippi, began a petition drive urging President Bush to participate in this year's events and to establish a presidential commission on the observance. The group is not seeking a paid holiday, but rather a national observance similar to Flag Day, Myers said.

A presidential greeting from Bush about Juneteenth was posted on the White House Web site this week extolling the contributions of African Americans, but the president said he has a scheduling conflict for today's events, Myers said.

"There is no personal acknowledgment from the president of the significance of Juneteenth or the need for healing from the legacy of slavery in America . . . even though the White House and the U.S. Capitol were built from slave labor," he said.

Myers said Bush's lack of response was particularly disappointing because of his acknowledgment of Cinco de Mayo, a Mexican holiday.

In Congress, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.) have sponsored resolutions asking for a national Juneteenth observance.

"Just like the day when the greatest civil rights leader of our time was born or the day we finally gave African Americans a ballot and a voice, Juneteenth is a day when we look back on a time when everyday Americans faced the most daunting challenges and the slimmest odds and still persevered," Obama said at a luncheon Thursday.

Beyond the national efforts, many black families celebrate the day with friends and a barbecue. In Prince George's, Bingham said the countywide event will be family-centered because of the importance of passing the history down to children.

"Somewhere in the Scripture it says that people who continue to celebrate their culture thrive," he said. "That's why it is important to continue to teach our children about their history -- so they won't lose it."

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