It’s been 155 years since Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger came to Galveston, Texas, to inform enslaved Black people that President Abraham Lincoln had abolished slavery two-and-a-half years earlier in secessionist states, by signing the Emancipation Proclamation.
Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, commemorates the abolition of slavery in Texas. It also marks a second Independence Day for African Americans, who celebrated the holiday. While Texas made Juneteenth a legal state holiday starting in 1980, it is not recognized as a federal holiday.
But for many Black Americans, this year’s holiday rings hollow when we’re still proclaiming in 2020 that Black lives matter.
The death of George Floyd, a Black man who was asphyxiated when a white Minneapolis police officer held his knee to Floyd's neck for more than 8 minutes, has led to a national reckoning on police brutality and the long-lasting effects of slavery in the United States.
Floyd’s death, along with the high-profile deaths of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, has forced a national conversation about how systemic racism and discrimination have continued to oppress Black people, more than 400 years after the first enslaved Africans landed in the English colony of Virginia. Their deaths have also galvanized Americans across the nation to take action.
More than three weeks of national protests have led cities to contemplate defunding their police departments, the Army to consider changing the names of forts honoring Confederate generals and members of Congress to introduce police reform legislation.
Businesses and brands are posting unequivocal "Black Lives Matter" statements on their websites and social media channels. Tech companies such as Twitter and the digital payment platform Square are now recognizing Juneteenth as a holiday for their employees.
In a show of just how much has changed in the aftermath of Floyd’s death, Americans, by 22 percentage points, now have more trust in the Black Lives Matter movement to promote justice and racial equality than they do in President Donald Trump. Trump originally planned to hold his first rally since the coronavirus lockdowns on Juneteenth in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the site of the Tulsa race massacre in 1921. But Trump pushed the rally back to June 20th, after much controversy.
To commemorate Juneteenth, USA TODAY asked several Black leaders in the arts, sports, entertainment, politics and civil rights to answer this question: What is the significance of Juneteenth to you, given this moment in history?
Their answers speak to what freedom and Blackness mean in 2020.
— Mabinty Quarshie, politics audience editor
'No going back': Stacey Abrams
Former Democratic candidate for governor, Georgia
The 155th anniversary of Jubilee demands more than celebration — we must meet it with imagination and action. Around the globe, people clamor for an end to the racist, violent, inherently biased systems that wound or steal our lives.
Our deep obligation is to create a world fueled by justice, steeped in equality. This Juneteenth requires an acknowledgment of society’s failures, remedied by nothing less than wholesale change. In action, this means we cannot accept when voter suppression keeps parents and their children in line for hours. We reject a false dichotomy of either reforming public safety or transforming funding priorities — we can do both. We decry the practices of those who profit from Black misery, root out their international blight and build new systems that finally allow all people to thrive.
This Juneteenth, I dream of the freedom of Tony McDade to live openly and be loved. The freedom of Ahmaud Arbery to jog on a spring day. The freedom of Breonna Taylor to sleep safely in her own home. The freedom of George Floyd to return home. I envision a world where we look to the community to help neighbors like Rayshard Brooks.
There is no going back, America. Our reckoning has come.
Seeing 'with their own eyes': Rev. Al Sharpton
President and founder of National Action Network
Most Americans believe that once the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, slavery instantaneously ended. The reality is, two-and-a-half years after President Abraham Lincoln issued that proclamation, a Union general still had to travel to Galveston, Texas, to read federal orders declaring that enslaved people in secessionist states were free. That event, on June 19, 1865, would come to be known as Juneteenth, and though it still didn’t eradicate the subjugation and cruelty inflicted upon African Americans overnight, Juneteenth would eventually be recognized and celebrated as the date of freedom.
But 155 years after Juneteenth, we are still fighting for true equality and the ability to live without fear of racism and state-sanctioned violence. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks — two Black men and one Black woman who died at the hands of police ended in just the last few months.
We have seen video after video of horrific incidents where those hired to protect and serve are instead causing the deaths of members of our community and walking away with no real consequences. Police brutality and excessive force are sadly not new; they are something I have spent decades fighting. But because of cameras and cellphones, everyone can finally see with their own eyes how we are often mistreated, devalued and attacked by officers. It is why at this very moment, people are galvanized on streets all across the country — and even around the world — demanding police reform and systemic change.
As we commemorate Juneteenth at this pivotal time, we must recognize that yes, we have come far, but we still have a long journey ahead until all of our lives are valued equally; until we have the oppressive chokehold of racism removed from our necks; until we are all viewed as equal under the law; and until we all have decent housing, education, jobs, health care and the ability to achieve that promised American dream. Then and only then will we be fully unshackled from the chains of oppressive discrimination.
'Beginning of justice': Stacy Spikes
Film industry executive, founder and CEO of PreShow Inc.
Juneteenth symbolizes a moment in history when we became free. Free did not mean the end of struggle. It meant the beginning. The beginning of rights, the beginning of justice, the beginning of equality.
Today we stand at a crucial point in our journey. We have been dealt a mighty blow and have been tested. There are some who would like to see us angry and smash the windows of our dreams. That would benefit them greatly. They want us at our worst.
They doubt our resolve. We are descendants of strong people. Defenders of love and peace. Blessed with the gift of songs we sing as we march. Standing on the shoulders of those who paid the price before us. Not swayed or dismayed by those in our way, or the distance we still have to travel. As one nation, one people and one world we march on to that land we seek, called equality. On this Juneteenth, I know being Black may be hard, but there’s no race I’d rather be.
'Never lose hope': Sen. Kamala Harris
Second African American woman elected to U.S. Senate
America is raw right now. Her wounds are exposed. But what gives me hope is the people. People from every race, sex, gender, religion and age are protesting for justice and equality.
Some are waking up to what many of us in the Black community have been protesting for generations: our country’s failure to fully reckon with historic and systemic racism. The current moment is laying bare the issue of excessive force, but we know the problems of inequity in our country run much deeper than interactions with law enforcement.
Inequity seeps throughout our education system. It affects access to good-paying jobs with a living wage, affordable housing, capital for small businesses, high-quality and affordable health care, and so many more issues. The more people who understand our country’s problems, the more people can name it and the more people can help fix it.
On Juneteenth, we reflect on the past and rejoice in the progress made. On this day, we recognize the hard-fought road that led to the emancipation of enslaved people and recommit ourselves to America’s promise of equal justice for all.
On a day when we are to celebrate Black liberation, let us be reminded of what Fannie Lou Hamer said: “Nobody's free until everybody's free.” Let us reflect on the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Let us unite behind legislation that will right historical wrongs and confront the challenges we face today. And let us never lose hope that change will come.
'Freedom with asterisks': Michael Arceneaux
As a son of Texas, I know Juneteenth to be a holiday that signifies Black liberation as much as it does the cruelties of white supremacy and racism.
When Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger read the Emancipation Proclamation to enslaved Black people in Texas, it was more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln “freed the slaves” in secessionist states. Some of us like to believe the enslaved broke their own shackles, but nonetheless, Black Texans were robbed of their freedom for no other reason than that evil was not only permissible but encouraged. The same can arguably be said of every year thereafter in Texas and beyond.
If you are Black and living in America, your freedom comes with so many asterisks that it’s practically nonexistent — mass incarceration, gross inequality and rampant voter suppression. The white supremacist hierarchy that allowed Blacks to continue as slaves in spite of legal decree has been kept in relatively good condition as evidenced by the current White House occupant: the racist game show host who gained political legitimacy by questioning that of the first Black president.
That is not to say we have not progressed. After all, "sundown towns" like Vidor, Texas — the ones I, as a Black man, was instructed to never, ever stop in as they did not welcome Black people — are now holding Black Lives Matter rallies. Still, if this country wants to prove it’s better than its mistakes, it will require greater work than just potentially giving America another holiday weekend.
It’s time for Texas and America to pay Black people what it owes us. As some are finally noticing, Black people are going to keep fighting for true liberation either way. It’s about time more join us. At this point, it's truly now or never.
'What does freedom mean?': Patrisse Cullors
Artist, political strategist, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, founder of Reform L.A. Jails
What does it mean when your community’s freedom is a legislative act? What does it mean when your community has been under attack for 400 years? What does freedom actually mean?
Juneteenth is a historically powerful day because it lends itself to a deeper conversation about freedom. For almost two-and-a-half years after the Emancipation Proclamation, Black people in Texas were still enslaved. They didn’t know that their freedom had been legislated.
On this Juneteenth, as we are having a new conversation about what freedom looks like, let’s think about the role that police play in keeping Black people from being free. Let’s think about the role jails play in keeping Black people from being free. Let’s think about how every single moment this country used Black bodies as slave labor. Let’s think about whether this country truly wants Black people to be free. If it doesn’t, how will we become free anyway? That’s what I am thinking about this Juneteenth.
'Never truly been free': Carly Hughes
Juneteenth is yet another part of Black history, American history, that has for years been forgotten and gone overlooked. There is no better time than now to start fully acknowledging its importance and teaching the significance.
Look at the date, June 19, 1865, a day when enslaved people in a secessionist state found out about their freedom. Then look at the many years following and the mistreatment of Black Americans, including the Jim Crow era. And look at the state of America at this very moment — you have no choice but to realize that we have never truly been free.
If we were taught about Juneteenth in schools, and if it were a nationally celebrated holiday, I do believe we might be one step closer to where we want to be, as humans at least. And even then, we'd still have a long way to go, as a country.
'Definitely a spiritual battle': Tony Dungy
First African American coach to win a Super Bowl
Growing up in Michigan in the 1960s, I didn’t hear a lot about Juneteenth. In our history classes we were taught about the Emancipation Proclamation but there was no mention of Juneteenth.
When I got to college many of my football teammates from Texas talked about celebrating this event growing up, so I had to do some research. As I talked to them and did some studying on the origin of the holiday, I learned that June 19, 1865, was when enslaved people in Texas finally got the announcement that they were free.
My first reaction upon hearing this was sadness. The proclamation from the White House had been given almost two-and-a-half years earlier. Why did it take so long for those African Americans in Texas to hear about their freedom?
But as I read more I came to understand that it wasn't the proclamation that freed enslaved people. The Emancipation Proclamation talked about freedom but actual freedom didn't come that easily. That freedom required a long, hard fight. And, in fact, we’re still fighting. We can see by what’s going on in our country today that the battle is not nearly over.
I was encouraged to find out that the first celebrations of Juneteenth centered around the church. I think that’s appropriate because this fight for freedom for all Americans is definitely a spiritual battle. To see it become a reality is going to require hearts to change. I’m praying that the Lord will give all of us as Americans the spirit of Juneteenth.
'Quintessential power': LaTosha Brown
Co-founder, Black Voters Matter Fund
Juneteenth takes on renewed meaning in 2020 as the country experiences a perfect storm of threats challenging Black communities: a global health crisis, the rampant over-policing of our neighborhoods and the unjust use of voter suppression tactics. The conditions creating this storm are failed and racist American policies and practices that have disproportionately impacted Black Americans for generations.
June 19th, Jubilee Day, is a powerful metaphor for the relationship that Black folks have with democracy in this country. There are deep parallels between the delay of democracy and emancipation reaching Black people in 1865 and the Black experience today. Some 155 years later, there is a still a delay in information and access to our communities, a delay in our constitutional rights being upheld, a delay in our civil rights being enforced, a delay in justice being served and a delay in Black people being able to exercise our full citizenship in the country of our birth.
Yet, despite facing systemic racism and oppression for years, the beauty and strength of Black people is that we can still find and celebrate joy. Freedom Day represents the quintessential power that we have as a people: to find joy in surviving some of the worst atrocities ever inflicted on human beings. In 1865, with the horrors of slavery on their heels and the beginning of decades of racist policies in their wake, Black people, newly freed, were able to create an affirming celebratory event for their community.
Today is yet another transformative moment to rededicate ourselves in creating the America we all deserve. On this day we bear witness to the true power of people — through the actions of a multi-generational, multi-racial force for humanity — taking to the streets and reinforcing that Black lives matter.
'Imagine what justice should be': Tony West
Chief legal officer, Uber
Back when I worked in the U.S. Justice Department, my office sat in a majestic building dubbed “Main Justice.” Built in the 1930s, the interior is replete with Depression-era artwork including one of my favorites: a mural depicting Black and white school children working together in a science classroom. I loved it because of its aspiration: decades before elementary schools were legally integrated, an artist painted this striking illustration, daring to imagine what justice should be.
Juneteenth similarly signifies both the ambition of our founding principles and our ongoing work to make them real. And 155 years later, we’re still working. Black homeownership, one of the most important ways to build wealth, remains virtually unchanged since 1968. Our corporate C-suites still portray a dearth of diversity that leaves talented voices sidelined. And George Floyd’s death in police custody — like too many Black victims before and since — reminds us that within the gap between promises of equality and daily reality lie deadly consequences.
Yet Juneteenth also teaches that it’s possible to close that gap. Whether we succeed this time depends on not just what we do now, but on what we continue to do when the protesters are gone, the outrage has cooled and “business as usual” has returned.
'That is not enough': Martin Luther King III
Human rights activist
This Juneteenth, in the wake of police racism that took the lives of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, we are at a historic moment when the nation — Black and white, young and old, Democrat and Republican — is finally coming together to demand accountability for racial violence and to demand systemic reforms to stop these injustices once and for all.
Slavery in secessionist states was abolished on January 1, 1863, by President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, and yet the people of Texas lived enslaved another two-and-a-half years. African American men were guaranteed the right to vote by the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, and yet it took the civil rights movement and the passage of the Voting Rights Act to make that vote a reality. Systemic violence in policing has deep roots in our nation, and perhaps history will look back at this time, as the moment when we, as a nation, decided that enough is enough.
The nation is waking up, speaking up, rising up and taking to the streets in massive, peaceful, multi-racial, multi-generational protests against police brutality toward African Americans. We have seen beautiful examples of solidarity, like police marching with protesters. We have seen mayors calling out racism as a public health crisis and committing funding to social services. We have seen statues of Confederate leaders coming down. However, we all know that is not enough. Reforms are needed to make law enforcement more just, humane and effective — more accountability for violent officers; more rigorous screening in hiring; and the establishment of civilian police review boards.
Let Juneteenth become a nationwide teach-in to educate Americans about the real history and continuing legacy of slavery, violence and racism, as opposed to the frequently whitewashed or glossed-over versions in many schoolbooks. In this way, let it be the catalyst for real, lasting change. And it must not end with changes to policies, but changes in hearts and communities all over this nation until we have built the Beloved Community of my father’s dreams, a society built on justice, equal opportunity and peace.
'Will I vote?': Daniel 'Dapper Dan' Day
Juneteenth is coming. Again, we African Americans will be celebrating the emancipation of enslaved Africans in America. And yes, it was an “emancipation” — not to be confused with “liberation.” African Americans were released from human bondage as chattel, but not liberated from colonialism like their former enslavers, who were able to create an independent nation.
For 400 years, we have been seeking the same freedom as our former enslavers. A freedom grounded in equality has been a denied quest. My father endured the Harlem riot of 1935 and the Harlem and Detroit riots of 1943, and I experienced the many riots of the 1960s that took place across America. Today, my children and grandchildren are witnessing the same thing.
However, today there is hope, as young and old white people march through cities across the country and around the world like an army of abolitionists chanting, "No justice, no peace!"
Did I march? No. I've seen and been a part of too many marches to fall in line. Will I vote? Yes. And if all those who marched also go on to fight for the vote at the polls, then I will see them there. That's how we create real change. Otherwise, the march was just a parade, and we will all have to wait for “The Fire Next Time” for our “Dream Deferred.”
'We can't breathe': Alice Marie Johnson
Criminal justice advocate, granted clemency by President Donald Trump after two decades in federal prison
Normally, this time of year, I’m gearing up to commemorate Juneteenth with others in my community. However, I’m not in much of a mood to celebrate right now.
Instead, my community and I are feeling pain, loss, frustration and anger — emotions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and exacerbated by the injustices of our justice system.
The COVID-19 virus has disproportionately impacted African Americans — especially those behind bars. Two years after my release from prison, the last of my co-defendants, Curtis McDonald, a 70-year-old Black man, was recently denied compassionate release despite his age and exemplary prison record. He now has COVID-19, a potential death sentence.
Lockdowns across the country have decimated minority-owned small businesses. Many may never reopen. Making matters worse, some who have applied for federal loan assistance are being discriminated against due to prior criminal records.
The senseless killings of three African Americans — Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd — have broken our hearts and reminded us of the vast inequalities within our criminal justice system. The image of the officer’s knee on the neck of Floyd will be forever ingrained in my memory. When will the system take its knee off of my co-defendant's neck and many others behind bars like him? They can’t breathe! We can’t breathe!
As Juneteenth approaches, I grieve for what has happened to my community. But I vow to never stop fighting for an America that I know can deliver justice for all.
'Revolution will not be online': Harry Edwards
Sociologist, founder of the Olympic Project for Human Rights
Malcolm X said: “History is best qualified to reward our research.” Recognition of that could not be more appropriate than it is today with the confluence of Juneteenth, social unrest, a deadly pandemic and the high rate of U.S. unemployment — all having disparate impacts on the African American community.
With the challenges of racial injustice and inequality, we have gone through repeated cycles of the same issues while employing the same change strategies. These have been aimed at mobilizing in response to the pain of the Black community instead of eliminating the sources of that pain: supremacy, privilege and power vested in the white community. Compounding that is a mainstream penchant for denial, distortion and even negation of historical fact. Even seminal activists are reduced to comforting and largely empty clichés. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is summed up with “I have a dream,” Malcolm X with “by any means necessary.”
We must commit to knowing the true and complete history of this important day in Black and American history. Juneteenth was not the end of Black oppression. Dispositions toward Black people forged and institutionalized in over 250 years of enslavement continue to be obstacles to Black “emancipation” from racist oppression to this day.
Gil Scott-Herron famously declared the “revolution will not be televised,” because the hard work needed for restructuring human and institutional relations in society is dull, grueling, behind-the-scenes work not suitable for TV.
Similarly, though thousands can be incentivized to participate in protests through social media, Juneteenth provides a reminder that the revolution will not be online.
'Spark for a movement': Brianna Turner
Phoenix Mercury basketball player
The Juneteenth holiday holds even more significance for me this year. What we have witnessed since the public death of George Floyd is anger morph into outrage; outrage evolve into protests; and protests provide a spark for a movement. This movement is a continuation of the information enslaved Black people received on June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas, more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation — that they were free.
In many ways, Black Americans are still in bondage due to police brutality and an oppressive criminal justice system deeply steeped in systemic and institutional racism. It seems as though a collective lightbulb has gone off for people all over the world concerning the centuries-long suffering of Black people in the country most consider to be the best in the world. This acknowledgment gives me hope the United States will make real and sustained strides toward eradicating structural racism.
I can only imagine the sheer joy my direct ancestors had in their hearts and souls when they received word of their freedom from the horrors of slavery. Unfortunately, little did they know their descendants would still be fighting for equality and their humanity 155 years later. I will celebrate Juneteenth with my family this year in honor of my ancestors with renewed hope that the United States will live up to its lofty goals and ideals within my lifetime.
'We can't bear this burden alone': Dawn Porter
Documentary filmmaker of "John Lewis: Good Trouble"
As told to USA TODAY.
Juneteenth is a reminder that our past is not our past and that we need to remain vigilant and intentional. It is also a reminder that we can't bear this burden alone. If you are a Black leader, you need to look around to see your entire community and how you can engage them. The weight of this moment is so crushing that the myth of the Black superpower needs to stay a myth. We need to remember the importance of self-care and not view it as selfishness.
The other thing is admitting I can't do this by myself. We need to push a lot of the responsibility for examining and educating onto white people. No Black person I know is surprised by what happened to George Floyd. Angered, emotional, devastated? Yes. Surprised? No. So if this racism is new to you, then ask yourself: Why? Instead of looking for pats on the back, I would like to see what you are doing to educate yourself.
I feel really fortunate to be able to grapple with questions about power as my job as the director of “John Lewis: Good Trouble.” I am immersed in thinking about representation and history. One of the things that was so important to me was to point out that John Lewis led the civil rights movement as an intentional, strategic plan for systemic change. Seeing those students show up day after day and week after week and year after year in order to plan their actions, that is what led us to sustainable change.
I am supportive of protests, but the protests we're seeing today are a response. Now we need to shift it to a plan, and I am looking forward to seeing what that plan will look like. And I think we can look to our history to inform that.
'Make Good Trouble': Fight voter suppression and protect the right to vote
'Change is coming': U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge
Former chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus
Juneteenth is a time to learn and celebrate. It is not only a day commemorating the oldest national holiday recognizing the emancipation of slaves in the United States. It is also a reminder that freedom requires more than the swipe of a pen on an executive order or piece of legislation.
Juneteenth should also be a time to reflect on the complexity of the African American experience. It is important for every American to learn and understand the good and bad of our nation’s history in order to avoid repeating the worst of it.
If we forget our history, we are destined to repeat it, to paraphrase a timeless quote. Burying facts like the enslavement of 250,000 Black Texans for two-and-a-half years after the Emancipation Proclamation or the lynching of more than 4,700 people between 1882 and 1968 fosters a new wave of enslavement and terror. Institutional racism is another form of slavery. Our Black men, women and children live in fear of experiencing a brutal death like Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and so many others, at the hands of the police who vowed to serve and protect them.
Acknowledging Juneteenth at this moment in time recognizes the ongoing struggles of Black people and celebrates the measured progress made, but reaffirms that we refuse to continue to be victims of the horrors of America’s past and present. A change is coming, and it starts with us.
'Overcoming the colonizer': Elizabeth Acevedo
I was born in New York City, the only daughter of Afro-Dominican immigrants. I never even heard of Juneteenth until I moved to Washington, D.C., in 2006. My partner played a big role in my understanding a lot of American customs and holidays that have sometimes gone right over the head of my first-generation self. My partner’s relationship to Blackness, however, is one decidedly of this soil; for as far back as his family knows, on both his maternal and paternal sides, they’ve lived in North Carolina.
It is with him, in quarantine, that I will celebrate this Juneteenth as we have every other Juneteenth in our household: We listen to the Frederick Douglass speech in which he asks “What to the American slave is your Fourth of July?” and then we’re going to listen to trap music and drink Brugal, and love up on each other. We are also a household that celebrates Haiti’s Independence Day. A household that honored Ghana’s year of return.
To celebrate Juneteenth for me is to continue to commit to solidarity for Black people at a global level: all of us overcoming the master, overcoming the colonizer, must hold the dates that set us individually free as a step that would help liberate us all. A hundred and fifty-five years to the date that Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger rode his horse into Galveston, Black folks have had to continue forming their own cavalry in order to continue to fight for true freedom. Because the joy of our every free breath is just as worthy of commemoration as every single death it has taken for us to get here — and to keep on going.
'Covered up with makeup': Greg Ellis
Former NFL player, co-writer and director of "Juneteenth" play
Juneteenth is the biggest recognized day of freedom from slavery in America. But the residue of slavery endures. This country has not adequately identified and unified with Black people to say: "You know what? Your ancestors have been through so much and we recognize that. So we want to recognize Juneteenth as a federal and national holiday to show we do care, respect and honor what your ancestors had to endure."
We've got to get everybody out of the mentality that we need to forget about slavery and turn the page. We have to understand that a lot of these systems were established during those slave years. We need to take a step back and look at the origins of these things and address them.
The playing field is becoming more and more balanced, but at the same time, I tell people, "Slavery was right in your face. You knew what you had. It was wrong. No makeup.” Black people were considered enslaved. White people over here were considered enslavers. You fast-forward that, 400 years later. We still have such great disparity. It's the same issue. It's just covered up with makeup.
My goal is to share with people who want to understand where a lot of the issues come from, like the origin of discrimination, hate and racism.
Our "Juneteenth" play will educate them on the origin of these social issues.
'A racial time bomb': Dusty Baker
Manager, Houston Astros
My family has always paid attention to Juneteenth. It symbolizes freedom: freedom from slavery, but not necessarily freedom in this country.
But this Juneteenth is going to be very, very special. It became really big to me when I played in the South. I think it will mean more to people after all of the problems that we have going on.
People don’t like history. A lot of times people think history is boring. You hear history repeats itself, but a lot of people don’t live long enough to see history repeated. I saw this in the '60s, and it has come full circle again.
We’ve been sitting on a racial time bomb for a while, and I’m just hoping we can defuse this. I have more hope now than in the '60s because of the young people that have stuck together. You look around, and there’s more racial diversity involved. I see young Blacks, Asians, Hispanics, whites and Native Americans marching together. I remember when Jim Brown and Raquel Welch got a lot of crap for being in a Western together. Now, I’m seeing a lot more interracial commercials on TV. That makes it appear better, but not in the real world.
In my high school in Sacramento, California, I was the only Black person in my graduating class. The only other Black kid in high school was my brother. And the only Black person in junior high was my sister. I learned some valuable lessons that I carry with me today.
My mom, an African American history teacher, taught us about the Tulsa race massacre in 1921. She showed us the pictures. She made us read books. Hopefully now, these young people will make a difference in society, and history doesn’t have to repeat itself ever again.
'Taken for granted': Jonathan Holloway
President-designate, Rutgers University
Juneteenth is a call to remember, a demand for acknowledgment and a claim on rightful citizenship.
The call to remember revolves around the very human need to tell the stories of our past in order to preserve our present and secure a future. We owe a debt to those who labored anonymously, in brutal circumstances and without compensation; and we repay them in part by remembering their struggles for a future they would never see.
The demand for acknowledgment is born of the circumstances that show us Black lives have always mattered but have been taken for granted. The fact that people have had to make this declaration — a call for a very basic recognition of another person's humanity — is proof that we, as a society, have failed to acknowledge the full breadth of who we are and what we can be.
The claim on rightful citizenship is a claim that reminds us, through remembrance and acknowledgment, that African Americans are citizens in this country and deserve the full rights and privileges of that status. To deliver anything less is to do violence to the very ideas around which this country stakes its claim for exceptionalism.
'Where we began': Shereen Pimentel
Juneteenth celebrates the liberation of Black and brown people from slavery in the United States. This is truly something that should be celebrated and recognized as a national holiday. For me, this is the day of independence for the Black and brown community.
It is important to reflect on this day as it provides a deeper understanding of why the Black and brown communities are continuing to fight for equity and equality. As they struggle to fight for these rights, it is truly important to remember where this country began and how much further we need to go. Remembering where we began, we understand the importance of not stopping the fight. The fight must continue until all Black lives matter.
'When will we finally be heard?': U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell
First Black woman elected to Congress from Alabama
Juneteenth is the story of being “freed” while still in slavery, not only for the two long years those enslaved in Texas lived in bondage without knowing the Union prevailed, but for every year since that Black Americans have remained subjected to America’s commitment to equality in theory and institutionalized racism in practice.
Liberty and justice for all. At the bare minimum, this means Black lives matter — that our lives are not disposable, that we are not less-than. But when will we finally be heard?
Certainly not under the tenure of this president, who will travel to Tulsa Saturday — where in 1921 hundreds of Black Americans were brutalized and killed by mobs of white residents — for a campaign rally to, undoubtedly, stoke the fires of racial division upon which his candidacy gets its oxygen.
Despite the struggles we have faced, I am struck by how tirelessly Black Americans have been in pushing our nation to realize its promise, from the civil rights and voting rights movements to the protests we’ve seen across our nation. Seeing the broad coalition of voices speaking out over the past weeks, voices that span race, age and the geographic and economic spectrum, gives me hope that this time is different — that this moment is really a movement.
But if America is to live up to its ideals and truly be a land of freedom, liberty and justice, every American, regardless of the color of their skin, needs to fight actively against the systemic inequities that Black communities face: voter suppression, police brutality, housing discrimination, economic exclusion and so much more. We all have a role to play. The time is now to meet the movement, capture it and demand equality, once and for all.
'Time for all Americans to recognize Juneteenth': Benjamin Crump
Civil rights attorney
Unlike all other Americans, African Americans experienced the first years of our nation’s sovereignty not as true citizens but as property — without freedom or rights. So, while we recognize national historical holidays like July Fourth, we can’t help but be struck by the irony that the founding principles of our country didn’t apply to us.
For African Americans, Juneteenth is our independence day. On that day — June 19, 1865 — 89 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger informed the people of Texas of the Emancipation Proclamation, and the last enslaved Africans learned of and claimed their newfound freedom.
Given the transformative events of the past few weeks and the awakening of many to injustices that African Americans still endure, it’s time for all Americans to recognize Juneteenth and use it as an occasion to broaden our knowledge.
Celebrate this day by remembering and honoring the millions of enslaved Africans who spent centuries building the country we enjoy today. Examine the institutions of our society for vestiges of racism and strip them away. Challenge injustices. Build bridges. Together, let’s celebrate a pivotal moment in history when America started the long, difficult journey to live up to its lofty promises. Let’s join arms and continue the journey — because Juneteenth isn’t a Black holiday, it’s an American holiday.
'We are all responsible': Aurora James
Creative director of Brother Vellies and founder of the 15 Percent Pledge
As a Black business owner, specifically during the pandemic and this time when the Black Lives Matter movement is so important, I am especially torn up by how much Black businesses have been suffering. Juneteenth is a day to celebrate the end of slavery, but I can’t say that we’ve come very far in terms of economic equality. The number of Black business owners has fallen by over 40% during the pandemic, more than any other racial group.
It’s harder to get loans, and if we can, we experience higher interest rates. The wage gap has actually gotten wider over the years; a Black woman now makes $0.65 for every $1 a white man earns. This is why the 15 Percent Pledge is critical. I felt it was one way that I could contribute to this fight — focusing on economic equality for Black businesses. Black people represent 15% of the population, but we are not represented by the business community at the same scale.
So, as Juneteenth approaches, I urge everyone to take a hard look at what equality means to them, and how they can directly assist in the fight to get there. We are all responsible.
Contributors to this project:
Cristina Silva, Anne Godlasky, Eileen Rivers, Chrissie Thompson, Nicole Gill, Kristen Go, Nicquel Terry Ellis, Elizabeth Shell, Eve Chen, Christopher Powers, Andrew Scott, Jane Mo, Deborah Berry, Jennifer Portman, Kyle Omphroy, Roxanna Scott, Jarrett Bell, Bob Nightengale, Nichelle Smith, Mike Snider, Jane Onyanga-Omara, Becky Kellogg, Clarie Harris, Brandon Griffin, Annette Meade, Javier Zarracina, Jeffrey Green, Veronica Bravo, James Sergent, Melissa Galbraith, Teresa Lo, Claire Thornton, Philana Patterson, Michelle Maltais.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: BLM leader, Al Sharpton, Kamala Harris and others on Juneteenth