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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Juneteenth Is Now A Federal Holiday

Speaker 1: 00:00 Today president Biden will sign legislation, making Juneteenth a national holiday. It is one of the oldest celebrations commemorating the end of chattel slavery in the United States. It was June 19th, 1865. When a military decree was announced in Galveston, Texas, finally informing enslaved people that they were free nearly three years after slavery had been abolished the holiday, which is meant to be a celebration of independence is being met with wide cynicism as voter suppression legislation moves forward in some states, along with broad bands on ethnic studies and critical race theory, that would make it impossible to even teach about Juneteenth. Meanwhile, the George Florida act reparations and anti-lynching legislation remained stagnant. Joining me to discuss all of this is professor [inaudible] chair and associate professor in the department of Africana studies at the San Diego state university professor Al cable unwell. Awesome. Speaker 2: 00:57 Thank you. Thank you so much for having me Speaker 1: 00:59 June, 2021. Now more than a century and a half after slavery was abolished, there will finally be a federal holiday to commemorate this independence. Um, what, what is your reaction to that? Speaker 2: 01:13 My reaction is that we don't really need federal recognition for Juneteenth as a holiday, especially in the absence of not a single piece of legislation that materially or even nominally improve the lives of African-Americans. I mean, we've been celebrating Juneteenth for over 150 years, and most of America never heard of Juneteenth before last year, making it a federal holiday is not important to most African-Americans. But having said that, I mean, Juneteenth is our emancipation day and it will no doubt continue to be one of our most significant celebrations for years to come. Speaker 1: 01:52 What do you make of the timing for this? What do you think, why do you think it was important for the government to finally make Juneteenth a national holiday? Speaker 2: 02:02 Well, I don't think it's a coincidence and I also don't think that it's important. Uh, but the year that was 2020 forced a lot of conversations about race and social justice, but have yet to result in any meaningful societal change. It's no coincidence that Congress, you know, not prompted by the African-American community, took the step at the same time, but there are growing calls for reparations to compensate African-Americans for the very things that Juneteenth commemorates most African-Americans see this congressional and eventual presidential action is nothing more than an attempt to pacify the African-American community in silence. Um, any calls for substantive change, Speaker 1: 02:51 You know, despite the collective side-eye from the black community, Juneteenth highlights, the important history of African-Americans built this country and those who fought and died to end slavery. Talk to me about that. Speaker 2: 03:05 Well, that's, that's an important question. It's important for us to understand that African people were largely responsible for freeing themselves. Uh, we exercise our own agency and self determination to join our cause of freedom. And we were fighting for something very different than what Lincoln himself said. The war was about. Uh, Africans were less interested in preserving the union as they were, uh, in the freedom of, you know, themselves and their families. So our ancestors weren't waiting around for Lincoln, nor did they accept the premise of Lincoln. The single most important aspect of the emancipation proclamation was that it authorized the enlistment of black men to serve in the union army. And that is what ensured the union victory. So not only did Africans literally built this country, but they also taught this country and continue to teach the country the true meaning of freedom. Speaker 1: 04:01 What, what are some of the traditional ways in which people have observed Juneteenth? Speaker 2: 04:06 Well, Juneteenth is celebrated in a number of ways. Usually it's a festival or a parade, and sometimes it's a festival and a parade. There are other smaller ceremonies that take place, but generally they involve lectures, music, and other kinds of artistic expression and community reflections, but there is no uniform way of celebrating Juneteenth Speaker 1: 04:29 In, in 1852 abolitionists, Frederick Douglas asked what to the slave is the 4th of July. What do you think he might be asking today? Speaker 2: 04:40 I think it would be asking the same thing. Juneteenth is also a reminder that the freedoms that a lot of other Americans talk about are not the freedoms that African-Americans enjoy. So when we talk about the many contemporary forms of oppression, Juneteenth highlights, the elusive freedoms that so many of us take for granted and generally don't even think about. So I think Douglas would be asking the same questions because the same questions remain. Speaker 1: 05:07 Hmm. And, and for many of them that underscores the importance of celebrating Juneteenth with purpose and even strategy. What are some impactful ways people can do that? I think Speaker 2: 05:18 People can advocate for the things that are truly important to African-Americans. You know, so reparations ending police violence, police, accountability, access to healthcare, affordable housing, ending mass incarceration, ending the racist drug war, and the list goes on and on. But those are some of the things that are important, uh, to African-Americans in that African-Americans actually talk about, uh, at June Juneteenth celebrations and commemoration. So, you know, I would ask others to simply support us when the substantive issues, rather than those that are only cosmetic or that we never asked for. But having said that is important for others to learn more about our history and specific contributions to this country, but, you know, generally be supportive of the substantive issues rather than simply the symbolic needs. I've Speaker 1: 06:10 Been speaking with professor Idesa LK belong chair and associate professor in the department of Africana studies at San Diego state university, professor LK Balon. Thank you so much for joining us. You're Speaker 2: 06:22 Welcome. And thanks so much for having me and happy Juneteenth Juneteenth.

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June 19 is a commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States, marking the day enslaved people in Texas were finally freed — more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.
KPBS Midday Edition Segments