(The Associated Press)

(The Associated Press)

Juneteenth: A day of joy and pain – and now national action

Celebrations will be marked from coast to coast with marches and demonstrations of civil disobedience

In just about any other year, Juneteenth, the holiday celebrating the day in 1865 that all enslaved black people learned they had been freed from bondage, would be marked by African American families across the nation with a cookout, a parade, a community festival, a soulful rendition of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.”

But in 2020, as the coronavirus ravishes black America disproportionately, as economic uncertainty wrought by the pandemic strains black pocketbooks, and as police brutality continues to devastate black families, Juneteenth is a day of protest.

Red velvet cake, barbecued ribs and fruit punch are optional.

For many white Americans, recent protests over police brutality have driven their awareness of Juneteenth’s significance.

“This is one of the first times since the ’60s, where the global demand, the intergenerational demand, the multiracial demand is for systemic change,” said Cornell University professor Noliwe Rooks, a segregation expert. “There is some understanding and acknowledgment at this point that there’s something in the DNA of the country that has to be undone.”

Friday’s celebrations will be marked from coast to coast with marches and demonstrations of civil disobedience, along with expressions of black joy in spite of an especially traumatic time for the nation. And like the nationwide protests that followed the police involved deaths of black men and women in Minnesota, Kentucky and Georgia, Juneteenth celebrations are likely to be remarkably more multiracial.

“I think this year is going to be exciting to make white people celebrate with us that we’re free,” said 35-year-old Army veteran David J. Hamilton III, who has organized a Juneteenth march and protest through a predominantly black, Hispanic and immigrant neighbourhood in the Brooklyn borough of New York.

Hamilton, who is black, said this year is his first treating “Juneteenth with the same fanfare as the Fourth of July or Memorial Day.”

Across the 49th parallel, in B.C., a large march is planned for the afternoon in Vancouver. There have been a handful of protests in recent weeks to bring awareness to anti-black racism and oppression in Canada.

In Tulsa, a day ahead of a planned presidential campaign rally Saturday for Donald Trump, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Tiffany Crutcher, the twin sister of a black man killed by a city police officer in 2016, plan keynote addresses about the consequences of racial prejudice. Their commemoration will take place in the Greenwood district, at the site known as Black Wall Street, where dozens of blocks of black-owned businesses were destroyed by a white mob in deadly race riots nearly a century ago.

In Washington, D.C., and around the country, activists affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement will host in-person and virtual events to celebrate the history of the black liberation struggle and amplify their calls for defunding police in the wake of high-profile police killings of African Americans.

As of Thursday, organizers with the Movement for Black Lives said they had registered more than 275 Juneteenth weekend events across 45 states, through its website.

Rashawn Ray, a David Rubenstein Fellow at the non-profit public policy Brookings Institution, said many now view Juneteenth as an opportunity for education and to push to dismantle structural racism.

“There’s going to be a lot of people who are also going to double down on the push for reparations,” Ray said. “There’s no reason why black people have been the only group in the United States to be systematically discriminated against, legally, by the federal government and not receive reparations.”

Juneteenth marks the day on June 19, 1865, that Union soldiers told enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas, that the Civil War had ended and they were free. The Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves in the South in 1863 but it was not enforced in many places until after the end of the Civil War in 1865.

The day is recognized in 47 states and the District of Columbia, according to the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation. Hawaii, North Dakota and South Dakota are the only states without an official recognition. And it is not yet a federal holiday. It took roughly 18 years after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. before his birthday was observed as a federal holiday.

Still, more workers than perhaps ever in history will have the day off on Friday: Nike, the NFL, Twitter and its mobile payments services company Square, along with a handful of media outlets, have announced plans to observe Juneteenth as a company holiday. On Wednesday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order recognizing Juneteenth as a paid holiday for state employees.

The abolition of slavery in the U.S. was followed by the birth of Jim Crow segregation, relegating many black Americans to poor, redlined neighbourhoods with under-resourced schools. After the passage of landmark civil rights protections in the 1960s, decades of mass incarceration policy and employment discrimination eroded opportunities and economic stability for black people and families. All along, police brutality has been a fixture of the black American experience. And now, COVID-19 is killing black people at more than three times the rate that it kills white people.

Much of the systemic racism and atrocities visited on black Americans have gone unanswered. This week, the Equal Justice Initiative, which in 2015 cataloged thousands of racial terror lynchings of black people by white mobs, added nearly 2,000 Reconstruction-era lynchings confirmed between 1865 and 1876, bringing the total number of documented lynchings to nearly 6,500.

“Our continued silence about the history of racial injustice has fueled many of the current problems surrounding police violence, mass incarceration, racial inequality and the disparate impact of COVID-19,” said Bryan Stevenson, director of the Equal Justice Initiative.

“We need a new era of truth and justice in America,” he said in a statement. “We must acknowledge our long history of racial oppression and then repair the damage this history has created — including the presumption of dangerousness that gets assigned to black people by police and others.”

Juneteenth also comes at a time when the nation is at a political crossroads, and Black Voters Matter co-founder LaTosha Brown said it is shaping up to be a politically defining moment ahead of the November election.

“The devaluing of black lives is built into this American system to the point that the ideas around democracy don’t apply to us the same way that they apply to white folks,” Brown said, adding black voters are demanding change.

“So Juneteenth is a celebratory event but we’re not celebrating the country. We’re celebrating our own freedom and our own ability to be liberated and the resiliency of black people.”

Aaron Morrison And Kat Stafford, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

racism

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A medical worker prepares vials of the COVID-19 vaccines, Chinese Sinopharm, left, Sputnik V, center, and Pfizer at a vaccine centre, in the Usce shopping mall in Belgrade, Serbia, Thursday, May 6, 2021. Serbian authorities are looking for incentives for people to boost vaccination that has slowed down in recent weeks amid widespread anti-vaccination and conspiracy theories in the Balkan nation. The government has also promised a payment of around 25 euros to everyone who gets vaccinated by the end of May. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
38 new COVID-19 cases, more than 335k vaccines administered in Interior Health

Interior Health also to start targeted vaccinations in high transmission neighbourhoods

FILE PHOTO
Second doses of COVID-19 vaccine will be available, as AstraZeneca supply runs low: Interior Health

Province expecting large volumes of Pfizer BioNTech as age-based cohort immunization program ramps up

The design green-lit by the Sparwood District Council for the Centennial Square revitalization. It retains storefront parking, as desired by the business community in the square. (Image courtesy of District of Sparwood)
New Centennial Square design green-lit by Sparwood

The new design retains some storefront parking in the square

Greg Nesteroff and Eric Brighton, the historians behind popular Facebook page Lost Kootenays, are set to release a book of the same name and have just unveiled its cover showing the ghostly Hotel in Slocan City shortly before its 1953 demolition. Photo courtesy of Greg Nesteroff and Eric Brighton.
Popular historical Facebook page Lost Kootenays set to release book

128-page hard copy documenting history of East and West Kootenays coming this fall

The Sparwood Golf Club has a new deck set up and ready to go for the 2021 summer season. (Contributed by Normal McDougall)
Sparwood Golf Club ready for summer

The club house and the course have been revitalized thanks to volunteer support and grants

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to start releasing neighbourhood-specific COVID numbers after data leak

Documents obtained by the Vancouver Sun show cases broken down by neighbourhoods

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix update B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, April 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count creeps up, seven more deaths

445 people in hospital, 157 in intensive care

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Summerland’s positive test rate is much higher than surrounding local health areas, according to internal BC CDC documents. (BC CDC)
Summerland 3rd behind Surrey, Abbotsford in daily per capita COVID-19 cases

Interior Health is rolling out additional vaccine availability to the community

Amazon is pausing its Prime Day marketing event in Canada this year amid ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks at its facilities in Ontario. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Amazon Prime Day halted in Canada due to COVID-19 outbreaks in warehouses

The event was postponed to protect the health and safety of employees and customers, the company says

Ally Thomas, 12, seen in an undated family handout photo, died on April 14 from a suspected overdose. Her family says they are frustrated more public supports weren't available when they tried to get her help. THE CANADIAN PRESS
Minister says suspected overdose death of 12-year-old pushing B.C. to ‘do better’

Minister Sheila Malcolmson of Mental Health and Addictions says the government is working ‘as hard as we can’ to build a system of care for youths

At this Highway 3 check point, police officers will be asking for identification from drivers, documentation regarding the driver’s name and address, and the purpose for the driver’s travel. (RCMP)
No fines handed out at 1st COVID-19 roadblock as checks move across B.C.

Cpl. Chris Manseau says a total of 127 vehicles were stopped at a roadblock in the Manning Park area

A spectator looks on as the Olympic Caldron is relit in downtown Vancouver, Wednesday, February 12, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Small majority of B.C. residents in favour of a Vancouver 2030 Olympic bid: survey

A new survey shows a split over the possibility of public money being spent to organize and host the winter games

Most Read