On June 17, President Joe Biden signed a bill recognizing Juneteenth, the final day of chattel slavery in the United States, as an official federal holiday.
June 19, 1865 (Juneteenth) marks the day when U.S. soldiers marched to Galveston, Texas, to ensure the freedom of the last of its slaves. This happened two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
Biden sympathized with African-Americans at the signing of the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act briefing, held in the East Room of the White House. “We must understand that Juneteenth represents not only the commemoration of the end of slavery in America more than 150 years ago, but the ongoing work to have to bring true equity and racial justice into American society, which we can do,” said Biden at the signing of the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act.
Juneteenth, for many, marks the start of change in the U.S. and its relationship with African-Americans. However, for others it only serves to alleviate its dark history with Black people, not to remedy it. “The fact that legislation caught up with it was great news to hear but not anything that made me want to do cartwheels and backflips,” said Norma Gray, NAACP Rock Hill president, in a statement to WBTV.
Some social commentators have remained cynical and have called Juneteenth being recognized as a federal holiday a “performative” stunt. “All too often, these announcements, like the new national holiday, remain performative lip service that fails to materialize into substantive progress,” said marketing strategist Janelle James of Newsweek on their blogsite.
Biden acknowledged that honoring Juneteenth is only one step toward equality. “It’s not — simply not enough just to commemorate Juneteenth. After all, the emancipation of enslaved Black Americans didn’t mark the end of America’s work to deliver on the promise of equality; it only marked the beginning,” explained Biden at the briefing.
Gray has explained that for true equality to be met, legislation has to reverse the conditions made by systemic racism through voting rights, education bills, and police reform.
Whereas most public speakers believe Juneteenth becoming a federal holiday is not enough, conservative outlets believe it is to cause division. “This is about replacing July 4th,” said conservative activist Charlie Kirk in a tweet. “Just like the 1619 Project is about replacing 1776. Conservatives must reject this.”
Kirk’s peers in the conservative field were quick to correct his statements on the bill. “But the problem with the 1619 Project is that it effectively and ahistorically makes slavery America’s founding mission rather than its greatest sin,” said W. James Antle III in an article with TheWeek.com. “A celebration of emancipation in fulfillment of our 1776 founding principles does the opposite.”
Antle states that there are good reasons why many who oppose [that] New York Times enterprise are not against the new holiday.
Those in agreement with Gray have said that now is the time for permanent change through the use of repartions. “As we celebrate Juneteenth, we should recognize that there is a way to change the cultural attitude toward reparations — and it might already be occurring,” sociologist Andre M. Perry and Rashawn Ray, said on Brookings.edu.
Perry and Ray said the city of Evanston, Illinois, approved the country’s first municipal reparations program, providing housing grants of $25,000 to cover mortgage costs, down payments, and home improvements for Black residents injured by the city’s past redlining practices.
“Just as white supremacist culture gave birth to slavery, redlining, and segregation, we can develop a new culture that recognizes human worth, fairness under the law, and restorative justice,” said Perry and Ray.
“To honor the true meaning of Juneteenth, we have to continue toward that promise because we’ve not gotten there yet. The vice president and I, and our entire administration and all of you in this room are committed to doing just that,” said Biden at the briefing.