A 1985 graduate of the University of Wisconsin Medical School, Dr. Myers is a leading national advocate for health care to the poor and disenfranchised. Also, an accomplished jazz musician, Dr. Myers serves as Artistic Director of the Mississippi Jazz and Heritage Festival and is the founder of the National Association of Juneteenth Jazz. The New York Times says, “There aren't many doctors like Ronald Myers, a jazz-playing, Baptist-preaching family practitioner whose dream has always been to practice medicine in the kind of place most other doctors wouldn't even stop for a tank of gas.”
Rev. Dr. Ronald Myers, Sr. is a leader in the campaign to make Juneteenth a National Holiday in America. The founder and president of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation and the National Juneteenth Christian Leadership Council, his efforts along with other similar organizations have resulted in the recognition of Juneteenth as a state holiday or state holiday observance in 36 states. He is also the founder of the National Day of Reconciliation and Healing from the Legacy of Slavery, observed on the third Friday in June. As the chairman of the National Juneteenth Holiday Campaign, Dr. Myers is pushing to get legislation passed in the U.S. Congress to make Juneteenth Independence Day a National Day of Observance.
As thousands of patriots get ready to celebrate Juneteenth and the Fourth of July, ADT caught up with Rev. Dr. Meyers about the observance of Juneteenth as a national holiday.
ADT- Explain why you believe another Independence Day is necessary in America.
Rev. Dr. Meyers- Juneteenth Independence Day is needed to complete the cycle of bringing all Americans together to celebrate our common bond of freedom. Juneteenth should be a day of celebration for all Americans, both black and white. Because the first Independence Day in the US, now celebrated on July 4th, did not mean freedom for slaves, Juneteenth would serve as an addendum. Black people were still in bondage when America gained freedom from Great Britain with many of our founding fathers owning slaves themselves. We need Juneteenth because it is a celebration of the end of slavery, which was a victory for slave masters as well as slaves. Observance on the 19th commemorates the day that Union soldiers went to Texas, announced that the Civil War had ended, and read a general order which freed the 250,000 slaves living in the state. Even though Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation went into effect two years prior, in January 1863, many were still enslaved until June 19, 1865.
ADT – You have gone to Washington for the past ten years, and you are going again this year. What are some of the things that you will be doing while there?
Rev. Dr. Myers – Washington is the meeting place of many leaders of the Juneteenth Movement where we are asking Congress to enact legislation to make Juneteenth a national day of observance in America. There will be the annual Congressional Juneteenth Reception, hosted by members of Congress at the U.S. Capitol, which was established as a part of the Washington Junteenth National Holiday Observance. Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), a historic co-sponsor of Juneteenth legislation in the U.S. Senate in 1997, will serve as the U.S. Senate Host for the annual 2010 Congressional Juneteenth Reception. Many leaders, including non-blacks from around the country and some from other nations, will participate and support us. We have already petitioned President Obama, as of yet to no avail. We will be celebrating Juneteenth in the heart of the nation again to bring attention to this matter. There will be meetings, symposiums, receptions and networking in support of national recognition. Of course, there will be the parades and other festivities in our nation’s capital in celebration of Juneteenth.
ADT- Tell us more about including a National Day of Reconciliation and Healing from the Legacy of Enslavement as a part of the observance of Juneteenth nationally.
Rev. Dr. Myers- Juneteenth is a vehicle for reconciliation for the nation because the wounds of slavery have never been healed. Juneteenth is the best time for an official national day of reconciliation. In 2000, during the historic 1st Annual Washington Juneteenth National Holiday Observance, House Concurrent Resolution 356, a formal apology for slavery was introduced in Congress by Congressman Tony Hall (D-OH). Juneteenth speaks to the fact that we can no longer ignore the aspect of slavery and its effects in this country. We are petitioning President Obama to issue a Presidential Proclamation to make Juneteenth a National Day of Observance to include reconciliation efforts and healing from the legacy of slavery. This is something we have to do in order for our country to move forward as a nation. We must make amends to bridge gaps and move toward understanding. This makes Juneteenth important for all Americans.
ADT- How much progress do you think you have made in the last ten years since you have been going to Washington?
Rev. Dr. Myers – The idea of Juneteenth as a day of reconciliation is an idea whose time has come, as evidenced by related events around the world. I was encouraged by the actions of French President M. Jacques Chirac who addressed the people of France and acknowledged the atrocities of slavery. Some other world leaders are doing the same with international days of healing. In 2008, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation for an Apology for Slavery and Jim Crow, sponsored by Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN). In 2009, the U.S. Senate passed similar legislation sponsored by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA). Since our first historic meeting in Washington, several national Juneteenth organizations were ignited. Thirty-six states are now officially observing Juneteenth in some way. We have a National Juneteenth Congressional Committee where this year Congressman Danny K. Davis (D-IL) will serve as chairman. Congressman Davis has been a tremendous supporter, the heart and soul of Juneteenth in congress for many years. In terms of progress, I am hoping that Juneteenth as a National holiday is passed by government this year.
ADT- In closing what has serving in the capacity of the national leader for Juneteenth meant to you, being that your profession is a medical doctor?
Rev. Dr. Myers – I grew up in Milwaukee where there has been some type of celebration or acknowledgement of Juneteenth for the past 40 years; so I was exposed to it as a teen. As the first ordained and commissioned Medical Missionary in the history of the African-American church, I went to work in some of the poorest counties of the Mississippi Delta. There, I became familiar with plantations, and how some people were still living lives of servitude. It was back in 1989 when I was doing some serious reflecting on conditions of the people that I received a divine revelation about the legacy of slavery and the need for healing. I feel that I am being led by the Holy Spirit which is why I won’t give up until Juneteenth becomes a National Holiday for the entire country.
Rev. Dr. Myers believes that the annual observance of Juneteenth provides America with the greatest opportunity to bring about a constructive resolution to the history of the brutal enslavement of Americans of African descent and the racial conflicts that plague the nation. He says that Juneteenth Independence Day is not just for people of African descent. “It can serve to bring Americans of all races together to promote greater understanding and racial healing.” Rev. Dr. Myers is patient as Congress continues to demonstrate sensitivity to issues surrounding the legacy of enslavement in America. He says he learned the importance of patience from the late Dr. James Cameron, a lynching survivor, founder of America’s Black Holocaust Museum, and in whose honor the Senate Apology for Lynching was passed during the week of Juneteenth in 2005. "Dr. Cameron taught me the importance of forgiveness, patience and reconciliation by his remarkable life.”
For more information, visit www.njof.org.