Juneteenth is now a federal holiday. Many Americans still get the history wrong
Juneteenth became a federal holiday this week, but as Vice President Kamala Harris noted at the bill signing, there's a lot Americans don't know about its history.
An incredible thing happened this week in Washington — lawmakers passed legislation.It is no small feat in this highly partisan era that politicians, who cannot agree on a commission to study the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection or what should go into an infrastructure bill, came together to create a holiday commemorating the moment people in Texas learned the emancipation had finally come.
On Thursday, the nation’s first Black vice president, Kamala Harris, spoke ahead of the bill’s signing, highlighting the significance of the holiday and the misconceptions surrounding it.“Let’s be clear about what happened on June 19, 1865 — the day we call Juneteenth. Because you see, that day was not the end of slavery in America,” she told lawmakers and advocates who had long pushed for the federal recognition. “On that day, the enslaved people of Galveston, Texas, learned that they were free.”
AdvertisementAs Harris noted, most Americans don’t actually know what Juneteenth is, and what it is not.Why Juneteenth?The holiday is about the moment on June 19, 1865, when Union Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger told Texans that the Civil War was over and shared news of emancipation, reading aloud an order declaring “absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves.” headtopics.com
News of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender to the Union at Virginia’s Appomattox Court House over two months prior had traveled slowly.When those who had been enslaved finally got the news, they deemed it proper to celebrate the moment.It was an iconic one for many Black Texans, said Brandon R. Byrd, a historian at Vanderbilt University. And the celebration became increasingly popular over the decades.
As Black Texans moved to neighboring states, so did the holiday, Byrd said, and as they continued their migration northward during the early 20th century, it became known nationwide.Byrd noted, however, that people should be cautious about elevating one date as the end of slavery.
Why emancipation can’t be pinned to June 19Emancipation unfolded over time across this hemisphere. And Black Americans have long celebrated in different ways.For Haitian Americans, Jan. 1 marks the anniversary of when their enslaved ancestors were emancipated. The first Black republic’s Declaration of Independence came around 60 years before the American Civil War, after a slave rebellion bested the French army.
AdvertisementIn the U.S. capital, April 16 commemorates the day in 1862 that President Lincoln approved legislation that freed around 3,000 enslaved people and compensated slaveholders for their financial loss.And although slavery was officially outlawed by the 13th Amendment in 1865, a new kind emerged after the Civil War. headtopics.com
The amendment made slavery illegal “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted” — but when Union troops left the South in the 1870s, Southern lawmakers exploited its loopholes by criminalizing much of Black Americans’ existence, said Douglas A. Blackmon, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and professor at Georgia State University’s Creative Media Industries Institute.
“Statutes that made it a crime to be unemployed were rarely enforced on anyone except Black people,” Blackmon said. “Tens of thousands of Black people were charged and forced to labor for counties, white-owned business and white landowners.”Advertisement
Full emancipation of those descended from enslaved Americans didn’t come until the 1960s, he added.“We want history to move along in a nice neat chronological order, but the struggle against racism has gone backward and forwards for decades,” Blackmon said.
So why make Juneteenth a holiday now?In 1980, Texas became the first state to make it a holiday. But Black activists wanted national recognition, and have lobbied Congress for decades.AdvertisementFort Worth resident Opal Lee, 94, who walked from her hometown in Texas to Washington in 2016 to bring attention to the effort, was at the White House for Thursday’s signing ceremony. headtopics.com
Attempts by Washington lawmakers to make it a federal holiday stretch back to at least 1996, when Rep. Barbara-Rose Collins (D-Mich.) put forth a successful House measure.The response to George Floyd’s murder by police last year is the main reason the law finally passed, said Hasan Kwame Jeffries, a historian at the Ohio State University.
“One of the unique things about last summer is that 25 million people marched and demanded not just an end to police brutality but also systemic racism ... and discussed how it’s connected to American slavery,” Jeffries said.AdvertisementSome protesters demanded police accountability, the elimination of the racial wealth gap and formally making Juneteenth a holiday, he said.
Last summer Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) introduced legislation in their respective chambers, and it was finally approved this week.What Juneteenth means for Americans todayCreating holidays is “meaningful but it’s also modest,” said Jeffries. “The question is, what will Washington do beyond making Juneteenth a holiday?”
“But for those who are serious, it becomes a point of entry to talk about America. We’ve as a nation ... never paused to do that,” he said.AdvertisementNiambi Carter, a political scientist at Howard University, was more critical.“At the end of the day, what Black people want is equality,” she said. “A holiday is just a show.”
Carter juxtaposed the federal holiday’s creation with some states’ attempts to ban the teaching of critical race theory, a framework academics have used for decades to analyze how laws impact people of color.“You can’t create the holiday and then refuse to talk about how Black people got here,” she said.
AdvertisementPresident Biden said before signing the bill that Juneteenth “doesn’t just celebrate the past. It calls for action today.”He called on Congress to pass legislation addressing voting rights and limited Black homeownership, and to study how reparations could solve the racial wealth gap.Read more: Los Angeles Times »
Help or 'get out of the way,' Biden says to governors on combatting pandemic
The president took aim at local officials, including the Florida and Texas governors, over laws that prevent public health measures in the wake of surging COVID-19 cases.
Great pic! 👍👍👍 LOL Check out all of the token black people around Biden, looks like they know all about the struggles of being slaves. Hope he doesn't think he is being swarmed by cockroaches.
4 things you need to know about Juneteenth, a new federal holidayJuneteenth is American history, not just Black history. nice
D.L. Hughley Says Passing Juneteenth Holiday Doesn't Level Playing FieldD.L. Hughley says passing Juneteenth as a federal holiday doesn't level the playing field. Yup...when you think of African-Americans...think BBQ and holidays. What more do they want? Juneteenth baby...Malcom X fought against it and Martin begged for it. This is DONKEY backwards!! go on vacation Never happy
'Grandmother of Juneteenth' celebrates federal holiday -- but there is more work to do. Here's how you can helpBefore Juneteenth became an official federal holiday, 94-year-old Opal Lee was on a mission. 'I'm not just going to sit and rock, you know?' the determined 'Grandmother of Juneteenth' said. 'The Lord is going to have to catch me.' Trump and racism.. This is CNN she looks great for 94 wow Freedom of Texas slavery was June 19, 1865, it’s a Texas State holiday, slavery was still legal and practiced in Delaware and Kentucky until December 6, 1865. Indian Territories that had sided with the Confederacy, namely the Choctaw, were the last to release the slaves, in 1866
Federal Workers Will Get Friday Off To Observe JuneteenthPresident Joe Biden will be signing the law Thursday to officially make Juneteenth a federal holiday. VP HARRIS beaming... 😄 It's wonderful that the working class will have a day to remember just how they got here What a bunch of crap
President Biden Signs Bill Making Juneteenth Federal HolidayPresident Joe Biden signs bill establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday. Wow racism is solved hooray thanks biden I feel Joe is Fugazi This fool and his free handout followers. Free fried chicken and Hennessy 👺
Here’s how big tech companies are celebrating Juneteenth, the new national holidayTech companies say they've planned observance programs amid the newly official federal holiday Juneteenth. No day off = They don't really care 😂