Recently on WHRV radio’s Black-perspective “Another View,” host Barbara Hamm Lee declared Sheri Bailey, of Portsmouth, Virginia’s “Queen of Juneteenth.”

She’s right. And for me, there’s a story in it.

Juneteenth celebrates emancipation. Historian David Brion Davis called slavery’s eradication “probably the greatest landmark of willed moral progress in human history.” The conservative Wall Street Journal columnist Jason L. Riley said, “What makes America unique is not slavery. It’s emancipation.”

Those American history statements also address world history. That’s how much Juneteenth matters. And that’s where my lesson from Bailey comes in.

In 2012, Bailey and I co-wrote a Virginian-Pilot guest column about the emancipation importance of May 23, 1861. We were emphasizing what I now put this way: “Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that Americans will esteem the Civil War’s multitudes of freedom-striving, emancipation-forcing slavery escapees.”

We’re both longtime history activists for Fort Monroe on Hampton’s historic Point Comfort, where British North American slavery began in 1619. In 2005, the Army announced Fort Monroe’s 2011 retirement.

Many then advocated a substantial national park for Point Comfort’s Chesapeake Bay shoreline, including the stone citadel that Fort Monroe contains and that slavery escapees called “Freedom’s Fortress.”

But overdevelopment-obsessed politicians balked. Despite national parks’ prosperity-generating record, officials claimed public financial necessity. They deftly sidelined voices such as Bailey’s and mine by contriving only a severely limited, bizarrely split, somewhat fake national monument.

The official “Reimagine Fort Monroe” webpage still proclaims politicians’ 2005 vision: “to redevelop this historic property into a vibrant, mixed-use community.” No mention of the national monument or the National Park Service.

I think that’s part of why national memory still mostly omits awareness of — and esteem for — what began at Fort Monroe on May 23, 1861. Only weeks into the Civil War, enterprising slavery escapees Frank Baker, Shepard Mallory and James Townsend came to that Union stronghold in Confederate Virginia, asking for federal sanctuary.

Henry Louis Gates Jr. said that on May 23, those three three self-emancipators started “the movement of slaves emancipating themselves with their feet.” By war’s end, other historians say, hundreds of thousands of self-emancipators across the South had voted with their feet that same way.

Among the Union’s 180,000 Black volunteer soldiers and 20,000 Black volunteer sailors, more than a 100,000 came from slavery. Their actions and spirit, said emancipation historian Ira Berlin, persuaded politicians and citizens alike that the war for union had become a war for union and freedom.

So a decade ago, as awareness of Juneteenth grew, so did my belief that a better day for celebrating emancipation was May 23, not June 19. I said so in a 2016 Richmond Times-Dispatch guest column, “Obsolete Juneteenth disregards Black role in emancipation.”

In 2017, at William and Mary’s Lemon Project Symposium, I proclaimed it again. Bailey was front and center in the audience. In the Q&A, she challenged me hard. I held my ground, but I was wrong.

Mind you, even today others call for replacing June 19. A Baltimore Sun opinion column recommended choosing from among the dates of the Emancipation Proclamation, the Appomattox surrender and the 13th Amendment. A North Carolina newspaper essayist recommended that 13th Amendment date, Dec. 6, 1865, when abolition entered the Constitution.

I still say it’s five-alarm obvious that Juneteenth should finally begin foregrounding those multitudes of self-emancipators. It’s not just about America. It’s about the whole planet.

Their risk-taking, enterprising gumption calls to mind Chinese human-rights activist Liu Xiobao’s Nobel Prize speech assertion that “no force … can put an end to the human quest for freedom” — as also seen now in Ukraine.

But the chosen celebration date doesn’t matter. Emancipation does. The self-emancipators’ story does.

We’re blessed to have the example of those who began celebrating Juneteenth years ago, as the Queen of Juneteenth knew all along.

Steven T. Corneliussen of Poquoson writes the Substack online newsletter “The Self-Emancipator.”