If Juneteenth becomes a national holiday, most of the credit must go to “Doc” Myers. Until his death in 2018, Dr. Ronald Myers was the leader of the campaign to make Juneteenth a National Day of Observance. Today 46 states have made Juneteenth a state holiday or observance because of Doc’s relentless campaign.
Doc earned his medical degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1985 and when I first met him he had just recorded his first jazz record. He played both the trumpet and the piano, but music was just one of his many talents. He was also a renowned civil rights activist, Baptist minister, founder of numerous medical and cultural organizations and committed physician serving the poorest Americans through clinics in Tchula, Belzoni, Yazoo City, Indianola, Greenville and Tupelo, Mississippi.
The New York Times stated, “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.”
Before he moved to Mississippi, he went back to Milwaukee where he grew up and attended Rufus King High School. He called me out of the blue to come meet him to talk about launching a national campaign to make Juneteenth a national holiday. I think this was in the early 90s and only two states recognized Juneteenth back then.
He had read an article that Judy Davidoff, current editor of Isthmus, who was a freelancer at the time, wrote about me, for one of the Milwaukee papers. I had founded the Multicultural Publishers Exchange (MPE) which was a national organization of small publishers dedicated to publishing books by and about people of color. Doc and I met at the Black owned Perkins Restaurant and over a huge plate of spareribs discussed how we could make Juneteenth a national holiday.
He liked the way that I had organized MPE and we spent hours brainstorming on how he could adapt that model at the national level. I told Doc I would write a book, but it was up to him to carry out the national campaign. I take no credit for the amazing job Doc did in traveling the country over the past 20 years, meeting with state politicians and community leaders. I have no idea where he got his energy from, but every time we talked, he was in another state convincing their governor and elected officials to make Juneteenth a state holiday. He’d always ask, “Chuck can you send me some more books?”
Doc would give a copy of my Juneteenth book to every governor who made Juneteenth a holiday or observance. He even gave Sarah Palin a copy when she was the governor of Alaska after her state recognized Juneteenth. Rabbi David Baron, founder of the Beverly Hills Temple of the Arts at the Saban Theatre said, “Reverend Dr. Ronald V. Myers is an outstanding living model of all the values for which Martin Luther King stood.”
Now that there is a renewed interest in making Juneteenth a national holiday, I just want to make sure that we remember the extraordinary contribution that Doc Myers made to this effort. It is time for us to finish Doc’s heavy lifting in the remaining states of Hawaii, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana.
I’m hoping that any legislation that is passed will recognize the work that he dedicated his life to and championed. Thank you, old friend. Rest in peace!
To learn more about Dr. Ronald “Doc” Myers, visit http://nationaljuneteenth.com/Founder.html.
To discover ways to help Juneteenth become a national holiday go to http://nationaljuneteenth.com/.