Amanda Holpuch, The Guardian, June 17, 2020
The annual celebration of emancipation from slavery in the US, Juneteenth, will be marked with a new energy and mass demonstrations this year amid the global uprisings against systemic racism sparked by the police killing of George Floyd.
In New York City, more than a dozen protests are planned. Detroit is hosting a week of events, culminating in a rally on Friday morning. On the west coast, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) announced it will shut down 29 ports in solidarity.
Tensions are expected to be especially high in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where on Saturday Donald Trump will have his first campaign rally since the Covid-19 lockdowns began. The rally was initially planned for Friday, but the Trump campaign moved the date after facing widespread criticism that scheduling the rally on Juneteenth was a nod to white supremacists.
Tulsa is where white armed mobs led a massacre of up to 300 people in 1921. The Tulsa race massacre not only killed hundreds and injured hundreds more, it also destroyed a thriving district known as “Black Wall Street”.
Several actions are planned in Tulsa to celebrate Juneteenth, to protest against the president’s visit or to do both things at once.
A member of the city’s Black Lives Matter chapter, pastor Mareo Johnson, said though he was pleased the rally was moved to Saturday, it was still disturbing to have the event so close to Juneteenth.
“What follows [Trump] is a spirit of hate,” Johnson said. “Even if he doesn’t have those intentions, that’s what people get from him. With him coming, it will fuel hate in people.”
Johnson is helping lead a Trump protest on Saturday. He told the Tulsa World newspaper that the event is intended to encourage community camaraderie and to celebrate Juneteenth, while also reflecting on current events.
This year, the stories of Floyd, who was killed by Minneapolis police on 25 May, and Breonna Taylor, a 27-year-old shot dead by police while she was asleep in her home, linger in the Juneteenth commemorations.
The holiday is also happening as black people in the US die at higher rates from Covid-19 and bear the brunt of the economic toll of the pandemic.
It is commemorated on 19 June to mark the day in 1865 when Union troops landed in Galveston, Texas, bringing news of the emancipation proclamation, issued two years earlier, to enslaved people in the south.
Juneteenth is a state holiday or observance in 47 states and Washington DC, but has not been made a federal holiday.
Pressure for Juneteenth to be recognized as a federal holiday has been building in recent years in part because of movements like Black Lives Matter. The organization is one of several efforts to refocus the national dialogue on systemic racism and to lay the groundwork for the uprising happening today.
These conversations also reawakened engagement in the topic of reparations, which was discussed in Congress for the first time in a decade on Juneteenth last year.
There, lawmakers debated what can be done to atone for the enslavement of 4 million Africans and their descendants through reparations.
The writer Ta-Nehisi Coates said at the hearing: “It was 150 years ago and it is right now.”