It’s time that Juneteenth got its due. We need a formal holiday that is centered around our national original sin, slavery, and especially one that celebrates its abolition.
by Wade Rathke
Junteenth — Friday, June 19, 2020
New Orleans President Trump in replying to withering criticism of his initial decision to hold a Covid-19 campaign rally in Tulsa on Juneteenth claimed he was doing African-Americans a favor, because “no one has every heard of it.” Besides showing his general indifference to anything outside of his own self-interest bubble, he also proved he has never been to Texas. If you’ve ever been anywhere in Texas in the fat middle of June, believe me, you know about Juneteenth. There are rallies, cookouts, parades, concerts, and celebrations for one and all that go on for days. Texas isn’t the only place where Juneteenth has been marked with a red circle on the calendar for more than a hundred years, but it claims the prominent place, since the date notes when word of the abolition of slavery finally reached African-Americans in the Lone Star state. Now, with any luck and a lot of pressure, this might become a date that claims the country, not just Texas and minority communities, in the wake of Black Lives Matter and anti-police brutality protests.
Oklahoma of course stepped up, and the controversy wasn’t sidestepped just by Trump moving his rally one day, since the celebrations will be running in Tulsa along with Trump’s rally that will likely be as white as a Klan meeting. New Orleans charter schools tried to jump on the bandwagon and declared Juneteenth a holiday, even though schools are not in session really. Some big businesses closed in honor of Juneteenth or in the case of Target, altered their hours and allowed some workers to take the day off with pay. Tech companies trying to hide their disproportionately white payrolls are fawning all over themselves to raise up Juneteenth.
Even though a lot of this is corporate cooptation, let’s just be clear, that it’s time that Juneteenth got its due. We need a formal holiday that is centered around our national original sin, slavery, and especially one that celebrates its abolition. Veterans have several holidays that demand reflection for service, sacrifice, and death. It would be more than fitting to have one day that recognizes the horror of slavery, forces a discussion about the unfinished business of reconciliation and reparations, and, yes, acknowledges the sacrifices and death of millions of slaves for the guiltless crime of their birth and race.
Watching the high and mighty try to suddenly contend with their own structural racism and tracing some lines back to their legacies in slavery, whether it be Georgetown University or Lloyd’s of London, is important work, but we can’t allow the corporate and rich greenwashing to substitute for real recognition and results. Even as the pressure and demand for change ebbs and flows, making Juneteenth an annual day of remembrance, reflection, and, yes, action, will continue to sustain the forces of change.
Wade Rathke is founder and chief organizer of ACORN and ACORN International. You can find Wade’s recent past posts here Chief Organizer Reports. And you can link to his website here Chief Organizer ACORN/ACORN International