Calls increase to make Juneteenth a national holiday

ATLANTA - Protesters across the country are demanding racial equality, but there is also a push to make Juneteenth a national holiday.

Juneteenth represents the day that black slaves in Texas learned that they were free. The freedom of black Americans came two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.

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An executive order issued by President Abraham Lincoln in1862. The order went into effect on January 1, 1863. 

An executive order issued by President Abraham Lincoln in1862. The order went into effect on January 1, 1863. 

Martin Luther King Jr.’s niece, Alveda King says this year’s Juneteenth has a different momentum than ever before.

“This year we are in a race war in America, and when you’re in war you don’t really celebrate, you activate. Yes, segregation is over. Yes, Jim Crow is over. Yes, slavery is over. This year it’s time for us to learn to live together as brothers and sisters,” King said.

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For decades June 19, 1865 has marked the beginning of freedom for blacks in America, but amid national outpouring for racial equality, this year’s celebration has a deeper meaning.

“I have written a letter asking for a national Juneteenth holiday – I would love to see President Trump do an executive order and call for a national holiday on Juneteenth,” King said.

Alveda King's letter to President Trump calling on him to make Juneteenth a national holiday

Alveda King's letter to President Trump calling on him to make Juneteenth a national holiday

Emory University professor, Walter Rucker, agrees, saying that the day represents freedom more than the Fourth of July.

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“I know what my ancestors were doing July 4, 1776 they were on a tobacco plantation in Virginia and they would be slaves for another 90 years after that. So, it’s not a point that I can say I was a part of the fabric of mainstream American – Juneteenth made that happen though, the 13th amendment made that happen, the civil war made that happen,” Rucker said.

Hundreds gathering to celebrate Juneteenth a few years ago. Source / Fox News

Hundreds gathering to celebrate Juneteenth a few years ago. Source / Fox News

As the Black Lives Matter movement grows, companies like Nike, Target, and Google have made Juneteenth a paid holiday.

Michelle Gordon, a senior lecturer at Emory University, believes if Juneteenth became a holiday it could be one of the most American of all holidays.

“Complete emancipation really isn’t here yet, and that’s important to the entire nation – if democracy and liberty are not real for millions of Americans than American democracy and liberty are not fully realized,” Gordon said.

For many, Juneteenth has been a holiday that promotes civic engagement and equality for all blacks.

According to Gordon, Juneteenth has yet to become a national holiday for this reason: “We have set to see a full investment on the part of our federal government and nation to support and uphold the laws that have been written in past to protect the rights and liberty of African Americans.”

Professor Rucker agrees. He believes it’s important that America doesn’t carry these unfortunate incidents forward.

“Given the various things we’re dealing with… the coronavirus, the social unrest that’s occurring across America and across the world, the political moment. This will be something that we will talk about and we will be teaching for decades to come,” Rucker said.

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According to King, this year is the moment for Americans to live together as brothers and sisters.

“I believe if Martin Luther King Jr. were here today and Juneteenth is coming up, he’d say this is a good time to find out who we are but to love others as well,” she said.

Though Juneteenth is not a national holiday, at least 40 states have made Juneteenth a state holiday.