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Juneteenth, a holiday to commemorate the emancipation of American slaves

“The youngest federal holiday in the country” fell this Sunday, June 19 in the United States, says USA Todayand no, it was not a lack of luck: employees of the federal administration and certain states are entitled to a day off on Monday, specifies the daily.

“Juneteenth,” a portmanteau of “June” and “nineteen,” commemorates the date June 19, 1865, when black slaves in Texas were freed by President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. In fact, this proclamation had taken place years before, taking effect on 1er January 1863, in the middle of the Civil War (1861-1865). However, many southern slaves were not immediately informed. “Texas was the last Confederate state where the proclamation was announced,” remember USA Today : After the victory of the Union forces, Major General Gordon Granger, arrived in Galveston, informed the Texans that all slaves were now free.

Lincoln’s proclamation therefore did not immediately end slavery in the United States, the newspaper notes. Especially since it actually applied only to slaves from secessionist states, not those from slave states that had not seceded, such as Maryland. Ultimately, “on the 13the amendment [de la Constitution]ratified in 1865, set free all the slaves of the country”.

A turning point after the death of George Floyd

“Juneteenth” was commemorated in Texas as early as 1866, again according to USA Today, and this celebration then spread among African-Americans across the country. It was also in Texas that a public holiday was granted for the first time, in 1980. However, it took another forty years for other states to follow this example, the newspaper recalls:

“Juneteenth came to the fore nationally in 2020, during nationwide protests following the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky during interactions with police. This man and woman were both black.”

Since then, 23 states and the District of Columbia have instituted a paid holiday for state government employees, according to the Pew Research Center, quoted by The New York Times. Twenty-six states recognize or celebrate “Juneteenth,” but don’t give their employees time off.

In 2021, the federal state also established a holiday for its employees nationwide, thanks to a law signed into law by President Joe Biden. The objective, according to Democratic Senator Ed Markey, quoted by USA Today: “Filling a long ignored void in our history, acknowledging the harm that has been done, the pain and suffering of generations of slaves and their descendants, and finally celebrating their freedom”.

An incomplete emancipation

In all the countries, “parades, barbecues, ‘Miss Juneteenth’ contests, rodeos, races and block parties” were organized on Sunday, summarizes the newspaper. In the federal capital, “activists, criticizing a party that has become commercial, favor local and free events”, relate The Washington Post.

In Washington precisely, the celebration was bloodied by a tragedy during a street concert where gunshots broke out, reports the newspaper of the capital. A 15-year-old boy was killed and three other people injured, including a policeman. The causes of these shots remained unclear on Monday morning.

But is the celebrated freedom really total? The African-American site The Root wonders in one, publishing the tribune of a theologian and university under the title: “Is this the real emancipation?”

The author, Keith Magee, takes up a distinction made by the philosopher and social psychologist Erich Fromm between “freedom from” (“to be freed from something” or someone) and “freedom to” (“to be free to do something”). However, he points out, systemic racism still prevents many Americans from performing a whole series of acts like the others. Much therefore remains to be done to “finally emancipating all Americans from injustice and inequality”.



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