Today is Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day.
Yes it is.
It commemorates the day when slavery officially ended in the US: June 19, 1865. President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. But it took two and a half years for that news to reach all of the Confederate states. Weeks after Confederate General Robert E Lee surrendered in 1865, Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, TX, with Union soldiers and relayed the news: that "in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States," all of Texas's approximately 250,000 enslaved people were now free.
And was it immediate?
Unfortunately not. Some plantation owners waited until after the year's harvest to comply. But the date took on a profound meaning for Black communities. In the 1870s, a group of Black residents in Houston raised the money to buy 10 acres of land and create Emancipation Park – a place to formally celebrate Juneteenth. As Black families migrated across the states in the years following the Civil War, many took Juneteenth celebrations with them. But under the Jim Crow era, some Black Americans were barred from accessing public spaces, and Juneteenth celebrations were often confined to the Black community.
Is it considered a holiday?
In some places. In 1980, Texas became the first to name Juneteenth a state holiday. And currently, all but three states recognize it. (Looking at you Hawaii, North Dakota, and South Dakota.) The holiday is considered a time to reflect and celebrate liberation – marked with things like parades, music, and food. If you want to celebrate virtually, here's a list of events to tune into. This year, corporate America is getting on board in light of the nationwide protests sparked by George Floyd's death and the fight against systemic racism. Companies like Nike, Mastercard, Twitter, and the NFL are giving employees the day off. But there's also been a push for years to make it a federal holiday – which would close down most government offices, schools, banks, and many businesses for the day.
How's that working out?
It's going. In recent years, both the Senate and the House have introduced legislation to recognize the day as "Juneteenth Independence Day." And lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are working on legislation to make it a federal holiday. One Mississippi-based organization, the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, has been keeping the pressure on Congress to do so. It also started an initiative aimed at incorporating the history of Juneteenth into school curriculums. If you want to take action, you can call your congressional reps. Or sign this petition.
The recent deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, Dominique "Rem'mie" Fells, and Riah Milton have ignited a reckoning around racial injustice in America. Hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets across the US to demand justice and change. For many, that starts with better acknowledgement of our country's past and federal recognition of this important part of American history.
More Work to Be Done
Juneteenth is a time to celebrate freedom. But it's also a time to reflect and reckon with the fact that systemic racism is still rooted in all aspects of our society today, and progress is still needed for Black Americans to have true equality.
Let's take employment…
Studies show that companies are more likely to call back a candidate who has a name that's more commonly associated with White people.
Black workers reportedly account for 26% of EEOC discrimination claims...but only make up 13% of the workforce.
Black Americans are more likely to be unemployed or have low-paying jobs compared to White Americans. That's in part due to education disparities. But studies show Black workers earn less than White workers even when they have the same education.
There's also the racial wage gap: the Economic Policy Institute says that in 2017, Black men made about 70 cents for every $1 their White counterpart made. The gap is especially large when it comes to Black women, who make 62 cents for every $1 a White man makes, according to the National Women's Law Center.
This is just one example. We go into more detail here on how systemic racism has impacted housing, education, wealth, health care, criminal justice, policing, and voting. There's no simple fix to reversing centuries of discrimination. But understanding how pervasive it is, is step one.
What had another landmark ruling...
The US Supreme Court. Yesterday, it ruled 5-4 to block the Trump admin's attempt to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The Obama-era program protects nearly 650,000 young undocumented immigrants – known as Dreamers – from being deported. But in 2017, the Trump admin announced the end of the program it called "unconstitutional" – arguing that immigration law should be passed through Congress, not by the president. Several states and DACA recipients sued, arguing the move was motivated in part to "punish and disparage" immigrants. Now SCOTUS is saying the gov didn't provide a good enough explanation. And that it failed to mention how it would help DACA recipients if the program were to end. SCOTUS says the Trump admin can try again to shut down the program but only if it provides better justification. It's something the president appears to be gearing up for, saying "we have to start this process all over again."
Sensing a trend: The news was SCOTUS's second blow to the Trump admin this week after it ruled LGBTQ+ employees are protected against workplace discrimination. Cue the president wondering: "Do you get the impression that the Supreme Court doesn't like me?"
What's saying things need to change…
This study. Yesterday, researchers found evidence that climate change disproportionately affects Black mothers. This is because minority communities are typically located near factories and industrial areas (which release air pollution) and experience higher temperatures than surrounding areas. In a study of more than 32 million births, they found that women who are exposed to air pollution and heat are more likely to have children who are premature, underweight, or stillborn.
It's not just climate change: The CDC says Black women already face disproportionately higher rates of pregnancy-related deaths – they are three times more likely to die of complications than White women.
What's got a status update...
Facebook. Yesterday, it removed President Trump's campaign ads for violating its policy against "organized hate." The ads contained an upside-down triangle – a symbol the Nazis used to mark political prisoners. But the Trump campaign said the red triangle is a symbol used by antifa – which is why it included it in an ad against the far-left group. It's one of the latest efforts (see: Twitter's new warning) by social media platforms to crack down on Trump's messaging, and comes after dozens of Facebook employees held a virtual walkout earlier this month protesting the company's inaction against some of Trump's posts.
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