Juneteenth celebrations arrive amid culture war on race theory, voting, police reform
Juneteenth's rise in popularity after a year of racial reckoning comes amid a culture war on voting rights and American schools' teachings on race.Juneteenth, a portmanteau of June and 19th, commemorates June 19, 1865 — the date when Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger issued General Order No. 3, informing the Galveston, Texas, community that President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed enslaved African Americans in rebel states. It’s also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day.
A year after protesters toppled statues of colonizers and slaveholders across the U.S., several cities unveiled new monuments this week to mark the Juneteenth federal holiday and honor the lives of George Floyd, abolitionist Harriet Tubman and many others.
Terrence Floyd unveiled a statue of his brother in Brooklyn Saturday morning and led dozens gathered at a Juneteenth rally outside the Brooklyn Public Library in a chant of "We are Floyd."
Juneteenth's path to becoming a federal holiday was a long time coming
It's the first federal holiday to be approved since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established in 1983. Here's how the fight to recognize it evolved over the years.Since the reckoning reignited by the killing of George Floyd last year, though, the tide has changed enormously.
"My brother was the sacrifice, so I need y’all to continue to pay attention and keep my big brother’s name ringing in the ears of everyone," Floyd said, according to a livestream of the event.
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George Floyd was murdered at the hands of Minneapolis police on Memorial Day, 2020, as bystanders recorded video of the incident and pleaded with officers to get off of his body. The killing spurred thousands of protests against police brutality in the U.S. and abroad and reinvigorated the Black Lives Matter movement.
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For years attempts to make it a permanent federal holiday have been repeatedly shut down by political debates Visit Insider's homepage for more stories. To many Black Americans, Juneteenth holds far more historical and cultural significance than other official holidays. Often called Emancipation Day, or Freedom Day, Juneteenth is a symbol of both generational trauma and progress in America from its long history of slavery. Although 47 states and the District of Columbia already recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday, efforts at federal recognition have stalled in Congress year after year, until now.
The 6-foot-tall sculpture of Floyd's head by artist Chris Carnabuci is expected to be on display at Brooklyn's Flatbush Junction for several weeks before moving to Union Square in Manhattan, according to the office of New York Council Member Farah Louis.
Meanwhile, in Newark, New Jersey, the city unveiled a 700-pound bronze statue of Floyd outside city hall on Wednesday.
"George Floyd represents a lot more than himself at this juncture in history," Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said at an unveiling ceremony.
Baraka invoked the legacy of 14-year-old Emmett Till, who was lynched in August 1955 while visiting relatives near Money, Mississippi. There were hundreds of years of lynchings in the U.S. before Till's killing, Baraka said, but it was his death and his mother's advocacy that spurred a generation of activists to become involved in the Civil Rights Movement.
"We believe George Floyd has the same impact today as Emmett Till’s death did then," Baraka said.
Black Americans laud Juneteenth holiday, say more work ahead
WASHINGTON (AP) — Black Americans rejoiced Thursday after President Joe Biden made Juneteenth a federal holiday, but some said that, while they appreciated the recognition at a time of racial reckoning in America, more is needed to change policies that disadvantage too many of their brethren. “It’s great, but it’s not enough,” said Gwen Grant, president and CEO of the Urban League of Kansas City. Grant said she was delighted by the quick vote this week by Congress to make Juneteenth a national holiday because “it's been a long time coming.”But she added that “we need Congress to protect voting rights, and that needs to happen right now so we don't regress any further.
Today Mayor @rasjbaraka unveiled a donated statue honoring George Floyd in front of City Hall, alongside Filmmaker Leon Pickney, Artist Stanley Watts, Activist Larry Hamm and more pic.twitter.com/nefig7fruE
— City of Newark (@CityofNewarkNJ) June 16, 2021
Actor and filmmaker Leon Pinkney spoke at the ceremony and said he had commissioned sculptor Stanley Watts to create the statue to "honor his (George's) humanity" and encourage protesters to continue pushing for justice.
"The statue was to cause them to continue to remember why they marched during such a horrific pandemic. I didn’t want them to go back to status quo," Pinkney said.
Watts, who became emotional at the ceremony, said he intentionally depicted Floyd as "peaceful" and "larger than life." The sculpture portrays Floyd relaxing on a park bench.
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The next day, Baraka also announced the design for a Harriet Tubman monument to replace a statue of Christopher Columbus removed last summer. The monument, designed by artist Nina Cooke John, is expected to be installed next summer in Washington Park, which will be renamed Tubman Square, according to the mayor's office.
The holiday’s 156-year history holds a lot of meaning in the fight for Black liberation today.A portmanteau of “June” and “nineteenth,” Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 when a group of enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, finally learned that they were free from the institution of slavery. But, woefully, this was almost two-and-a-half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. As much as Juneteenth represents freedom, it also represents how emancipation was tragically delayed for enslaved people in the deepest reaches of the Confederacy.
"As a woman, a Black woman, and mother of three girls, I am delighted to bring my memorial for Harriet Tubman to life in Newark," John said in a statement. "My design creates a welcoming space for people to connect with Tubman as well as interact and reflect on their own liberation from whatever weight they might be carrying. This is a monument for the community and by the community."
Just in time for #Juneteenth, Mayor @rasjbaraka has unveiled the final design for the new Harriet Tubman monument. Artist Nina Cooke John’s design “Shadow of a Face” will be installed in 2022 to honor the abolitionist’s legacy and connection to Newark. https://t.co/xnPakvbEZgpic.twitter.com/WzWMYnxDE1
— City of Newark (@CityofNewarkNJ) June 18, 2021
In San Francisco, an artist unveiled a new public work Friday evening in Golden Gate Park, at the site of the former century-old Francis Scott Key statue. Last summer, a group toppled the statue of the slaveholder, known for writing "The Star-Spangled Banner."
The new installation by Oakland-based artist Dana King, "Monumental Reckoning," includes 350 statues representing the first souls kidnapped from Africa in 1619 and bound for enslavement in America, all encircling the vacant plinth where the statue of the former slaveholder once stood.
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Now that Juneteenth is recognized as a national holiday, advocates are weighing in on how Americans should mark the occasion and what the day should mean going forward. "Juneteenth is not a Black thing, and it's not a Texas thing," Ms. Opal Lee, whom President Joe Biden called the "grandmother of the movement" to make Juneteenth a holiday, told ABC News' "GMA3: What You Need to Know Friday.
"It's a global reckoning. It's a historic reckoning. It's about justice," King told KGO-TV.
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Protesters rip down controversial statues: Confederates toppled, Columbus beheaded
Last year, protesters toppled statues in cities across the country and pressured local elected officials to remove monuments with ties to slavery and colonialism.
More than 90 Confederate monuments were taken down or moved from public spaces in 2020 following Floyd's killing, and about 700 remain, according to data from the Southern Poverty Law Center released earlier this year.
Statues of Christopher Columbus also came under particular scrutiny. Columbus made four expeditions to the Caribbean and South America over two decades, enslaving and decimating local populations and opening the floodgates of European colonization.
Last Fourth of July, protesters in Baltimore, Maryland, pulled down a statue of Columbus and threw it into the city's Inner Harbor. Protesters in Richmond, Virginia, threw one into a lake. Others in Boston decapitated a statue of Columbus. Officials in Columbus, Ohio, Chicago and other cities took down Columbus statues last year.
Follow Breaking News Reporter Grace Hauck on Twitter at @grace_hauck.