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  • Writer's pictureArmstrong Williams

Celebrating Juneteenth at the Library of Congress: A tribute to progress and perseverance

PUBLISHED: June 19, 2024 | www.baltimoresun.com

Black leaders gather Tuesday at the Library of Congress for a Juneteenth celebration. From left are National Museum of African American History and Culture Kevin Young, former HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson, Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott. (Courtesy Armstrong Williams)

A nation lives by symbols. Juneteenth symbolizes the emancipation of 250,000 slaves in Texas ordained by the United States Army. The Battle Hymn of the Republic was ever-present: “In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea. With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me. As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free, While God is marching on.” It marked the beginning of the end of Black subserviency which remains an unfinished challenge.


On Tuesday, June 18, Sen. Tim Scott, the South Carolina Republican, hosted a Juneteenth celebration at the Library of Congress. The event, attended by a packed audience, was a poignant reminder of the journey of Black Americans and their indomitable spirit. Ja’Ron Smith, former Trump Administration official and aide to Sen. Scott, served as the moderator, guiding the audience through a series of inspiring moments and speeches.

The program commenced with a video message from Lonnie Bunch, the first African American to lead the Smithsonian Institution. Bunch’s words set the tone for the event, emphasizing the importance of Juneteenth in the historical and cultural tapestry of America. Following Bunch’s message, a brief yet powerful video encapsulated the history and significance of Juneteenth, providing a profound backdrop for the celebration.


Scott took the stage to share personal anecdotes from his own life, particularly focusing on the experiences of his grandfather, who was born in the 1920s. Scott recounted the struggles and triumphs of his grandfather as a Black man in South Carolina, highlighting the momentous occasion of his own rise to Congress. His speech resonated deeply with the audience as he spoke about the progress Black Americans have made and the continued need for excellence and perseverance. Scott’s words were a call to action, urging everyone to strive for greatness and move beyond the valleys of despair.


Following Scott, retired Johns Hopkins pediatric neurosurgeon and former HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson delivered his remarks. Carson’s speech was a testament to the power of education and determination. He shared the story of his mother, who, despite only having a fourth-grade education, instilled the importance of reading and learning in her children. Carson’s journey from a disadvantaged background to becoming a renowned neurosurgeon is a powerful example of overcoming adversity. He then mellifluously went through a memorized litany of Black scientists and inventors who created things as a reminder to the youth of the rich history and heritage and the significance of striving for excellence as a tribute to the perseverance of their ancestors.


Senate Chaplain Barry Black followed with a speech that echoed the themes of resilience and determination. With his deep and resonant voice, Black shared his own childhood experiences, which paralleled Carson’s. He spoke about his mother, a domestic worker, and his life journey, intertwining these personal stories with the importance of Juneteenth as a moment of celebration and reflection.


The event concluded with a fireside chat featuring Carla Hayden, the former CEO of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore and the first African American (and first woman) to serve as the Librarian of Congress, and Kevin Young, director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Their discussion delved into the rich history of Black Americans and the significance of Juneteenth. They highlighted the importance of understanding and celebrating this day as a cornerstone of Black heritage and resilience and of American resilience and progress.


Scott’s Juneteenth celebration at the Library of Congress was more than just an event; it was a tribute to the progress, perseverance and excellence of Black Americans. It served as a reminder of the strides made and the challenges that remain, urging all to continue climbing the mountains of opportunity and excellence.


Armstrong Williams (awilliams@baltsun.com; @arightside) is a political analyst, syndicated columnist and owner of the broadcasting company, Howard Stirk Holdings. He is also part owner of The Baltimore Sun.

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