NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Saturday is the first time that Juneteenth will be celebrated as state holiday but also as a national holiday.
The date has long been celebrated in parts of the country, sometimes as Emancipation Day, the day in 1865 when Union Army Gen. Gordan Granger proclaimed freedom for enslaved people in Texas, completing the end of slavery in the areas of the United States after more than 300 years. Juneteenth has been a state holiday in Texas for nearly 40 years.
President Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation nearly three years earlier but it would take the advance of the Union Army into the Confederacy to make freedom a reality.
Former Gov. Deval Patrick had first signed a proclamation recognizing Juneteenth in 2007 and, last July, Gov. Charlie Baker signed a bill making Juneteenth a state holiday.
After a whirlwind passage through Congress this past week, a bill making Juneteenth a national holiday was signed by President Biden on Thursday.
The June 19 holiday falls this year on Saturday, when it will be recognized in Massachusetts although local municipalities could decide to provide Friday as a day off. In the next two years it will fall on Sunday and Monday, creating a three-day weekend. However, with the date now a federal holiday, federal offices will be closed but some state and local government agencies may be open since holidays are often recognized through collective bargaining.
The Berkshire County branch of the NAACP will be hosting a rally at noon on Saturday at Park Square in Pittsfield. The branch's President Dennis Powell offered this commentary on the date's admission into the national holiday pantheon.
For Us, By Us
Black-eyed peas. Red velvet cake. Strawberry soda. If you're still following, then you already know what I'm talking about. That is to say — you understand without translation; there is no need for me to code switch. And that is very much the point.
In 2021, the Black vernacular has gone mainstream — corporate, even. "Bling bling" was in a Barbie commercial; "On fleek" is in the dictionary; Tiktok has all your kids saying "sheeeeeee." Yet, value is placed on culture derived from the Black experience — not the people themselves. White privilege "rediscovers" what Blackness has already created, and is celebrated for translating Black joy — for performing Blackness. This is not new. This is a long-standing tradition of white voyeurism into Black culture.
Still, until very recently, celebrating actual Blackness wasn't seen as profitable — not in a way where corporations like Nike and Google took public stands (albeit in exchange for proximity to Blackness ergo social currency). But as this trend shifts, and more and more predominately white institutions recognize the value of being non-Black while still being proximate to Blackness, assimilation threatens to further corrupt Black joy by satirizing Black culture.
Let me be clear: white-led organizations will never lead Black folk to liberation. Allyship begins at the bank. But Black spaces must be negotiated by Black folk. Any attempt to the contrary can only be interpreted as a ploy to garner social currency … Separating the two has allowed Blackness to be repackaged, as say Elvis or Miley Cyrus, before it is assimilated into American culture and monetized.
… which brings us back to black-eyed peas, red velvet cake, and strawberry soda. Now, if you weren't already aware, those words joined together are as Black as jumping over the broom. And the holiday with which they are associated is, in the vernacular: for us, by us.
Below, the proclamation making Juneteenth a federal holiday:
BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: A PROCLAMATION
On June 19, 1865 — nearly nine decades after our Nation's founding, and more than two years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation — enslaved Americans in Galveston, Texas, finally received word that they were free from bondage. As those who were formerly enslaved were recognized for the first time as citizens, Black Americans came to commemorate Juneteenth with celebrations across the country, building new lives and a new tradition that we honor today. In its celebration of freedom, Juneteenth is a day that should be recognized by all Americans. And that is why I am proud to have consecrated Juneteenth as our newest national holiday.
Juneteenth is a day of profound weight and power.
A day in which we remember the moral stain and terrible toll of slavery on our country — what I've long called America's original sin. A long legacy of systemic racism, inequality, and inhumanity.
But it is a day that also reminds us of our incredible capacity to heal, hope, and emerge from our darkest moments with purpose and resolve.
As I said on the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, great nations don't ignore the most painful chapters of their past. Great nations confront them. We come to terms with them.
On Juneteenth, we recommit ourselves to the work of equity, equality, and justice. And, we celebrate the centuries of struggle, courage, and hope that have brought us to this time of progress and possibility. That work has been led throughout our history by abolitionists and educators, civil rights advocates and lawyers, courageous activists and trade unionists, public officials, and everyday Americans who have helped make real the ideals of our founding documents for all.
There is still more work to do. As we emerge from the long, dark winter of the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, racial equity remains at the heart of our efforts to vaccinate the Nation and beat the virus. We must recognize that Black Americans, among other people of color, have shouldered a disproportionate burden of loss — while also carrying us through disproportionately as essential workers and health care providers on the front lines of the crisis.
Psalm 30 proclaims that "weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning." Juneteenth marks both the long, hard night of slavery and discrimination, and the promise of a brighter morning to come. My Administration is committed to building an economy — and a Nation — that brings everyone along, and finally delivers our Nation's founding promise to Black Americans. Together, we will lay the roots of real and lasting justice, so that we can become the extraordinary country that was promised to all Americans.
Juneteenth not only commemorates the past. It calls us to action today.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 19, 2021, as Juneteenth Day of Observance. I call upon the people of the United States to acknowledge and celebrate the end of the Civil War and the emancipation of Black Americans, and commit together to eradicate systemic racism that still undermines our founding ideals and collective prosperity.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this eighteenth day of June, in the year of our Lord two thousand twenty-one, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-fifth.
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