On Juneteenth, commemorated on June 19, African Americans mark the anniversary of the day in 1865 when union troops arrived in Galveston Island to inform the enslaved people in Texas that the heinous system of slavery had ended. The delayed announcement forced an estimated 250,000 African descendants to languish under the lash for almost three more years after the Emancipation Proclamation became law on Jan. 1, 1863.
While Texas was the last southern state to legally recognize the Proclamation, it was the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday in 1979. Currently, 47 states recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday, but Congress has not made it a federal holiday. However, the current mass rebellion — going into its third week as of June 15 — may force its passage.
A lot has happened between 1865 and today for African Americans such as: Black Reconstruction, Jim Crow lynchings, segregation and other forms of racist oppression.
Sparked by reaction to the racist police lynching of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, the uprising against police terror and the white supremacy it rests upon has moved consciousness to the left among the U.S. population at almost warp speed. Police brutality in all forms — but especially the murders of Black people — has been put on trial. And so has racism in general, past and present.
Confederate statues and proslavery symbols have been taken down, torn down or banned from Richmond, Va. — infamous for its Confederate Row statues including Robert E. Lee — to New Orleans, from Birmingham, Ala., to Memphis, Tenn. Confederate flags have been banned from NASCAR’s stock car racing events, thanks to the courageous Black driver, Bubba Wallace, who raised this demand.
Black college football players at big schools like Iowa State University and Clemson State University in South Carolina say they feel more empowered to speak out due to the countrywide protests and to expose the racism they face from their white coaches. Some Clemson football players, Black and white, led a campus march of thousands on June 13 to demand slaveowner John C. Calhoun’s name be removed from the school’s Honors College. They won the demand.
Nike, the National Football League, Twitter and other corporations are giving their workers Juneteenth off with pay. Some of these same corporations have “pledged” to hire more Black workers and to donate millions of dollars to community organizations. Massive grassroots pressure won these concessions from the profit-driven CEOs — it came not from the goodness of their hearts.
Trump attempted to defame the legacy of Juneteenth and to minimize the 1921 Tulsa, Okla., white supremacist massacre of the neighborhood called “Black Wall Street” by holding an ultra-right-wing campaign rally on June 19 in that city. Yielding to heavy criticism, he postponed the rally for one day. We can expect righteous anti-Trump protests in Tulsa and other U.S. cities.
This uprising, now three weeks old, has emboldened and drawn the masses of all ages and nationalities into the streets to defend Black Lives Matter and put neofascist Trump and his CEO cohorts on the defensive. Millions of people here and worldwide will come to appreciate the historic role of Juneteenth in the ongoing struggle for social justice and equality for African Americans. And millions of workers and the oppressed across the globe will begin to grasp this struggle’s essential role in uniting the working class to fight to end the exploitation of all working and oppressed peoples.