Amajority of Americans will not be celebrating Juneteenth this year, according to a poll conducted exclusively for Newsweek.
President Joe Biden signed legislation to make Juneteenth, which falls on June 19, a federal holiday in 2021.
The holiday marks the date—June 19, 1865—when the last enslaved people in the United States learned of their freedom when Union soldiers brought the news to Galveston, Texas.
Black Americans have long marked the end of one of the darkest chapters in U.S. history with joyous celebrations, from barbecues to parades and street festivals. Now that it is a federal holiday, more places in the U.S. will be hosting celebrations to mark Juneteenth.
But a new poll by Redfield and Wilton Strategies, which surveyed 1,500 eligible voters on May 31 for Newsweek, found most Americans are not planning to take part in any Juneteenth celebrations this year.
Some 51 percent of respondents said they had no plans to celebrate, while 32 percent said they did and 17 percent said they didn’t know.
Of those who had no plans to celebrate, a majority (54 percent) said they would not take part in a Juneteenth celebration even if they were invited to do so. About one-third (29 percent) said they would take part in a celebration if they were invited, while 18 percent said they didn’t know.
Older Americans were more likely to not celebrate Juneteenth, the poll found. The breakdown of those not celebrating was similar for all parts of the country.
The survey also found that a majority of Americans (61 percent) would support children being taught about the meaning of Juneteenth in schools as Republican-led efforts to restrict how the nation’s racial history can be taught in classroom continue. Just 11 percent said they would oppose children being taught about the meaning of Juneteenth in schools.
The poll found 64 percent of respondents feel they “fully” or “mostly” understand the meaning of Juneteenth. Sixteen percent said they didn’t understand it at all. A majority (59 percent) said they support Juneteenth being a federal holiday, while 12 percent oppose it.
Matthew Oware, a professor of sociology at the University of Richmond, told Newsweek: “I think because Juneteenth is a ‘new’ national holiday (instituted 2 years ago) people know that it is important to African-Americans, but fail to understand ‘how’ to ‘celebrate’ the day.”
Oware noted incidents where companies like Walmart have received backlash for selling Juneteenth-themed products.
“On the 4th of July, you have fireworks, and see many people displaying their pride in the day. The same is true for St. Patricks Day—everyone is Irish for a day. The Chicago river is colored green. People, for lack of understanding, also associate the day with drinking (a stereotype of Irish people),” Oware said.
“But what does one do on Juneteenth when, seemingly, it only applies to Black people? We do not know and definitely want to avoid offending Black people. So, I don’t think not celebrating the day is related to prejudice or malice towards Black people. I think it is more about ‘how’ does one celebrate without offending.”
Oware said he believes it is important for Americans to celebrate Juneteenth because it is part of American history.
“This is the day that enslaved Black people learned that they were free in Texas, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. For these people, they learned they were free of bondage,” he said.
“Of course, this parallels the 4th of July, when Americans learned they were free of British rule. I believe the emphasis on the 4th of July should be just as important on the 19th of June. We grow and learn from our history as a nation and as individuals.”
He added: “The ways we can celebrate includes listening to authorities on Juneteenth, visiting museums and historical sites that provide details about the enslavement of Black people, reading about the impact of slavery in the United States (and worldwide), and gathering at locations where we can learn about this historical moment.”
Biden hosted a concert on the South Lawn of the White House on Tuesday to commemorate Juneteenth.
“To me, making Juneteenth a federal holiday wasn’t just a symbolic gesture,” the president told attendees. “It was a statement of fact for this country to acknowledge the origin of—the original sin of slavery. To understand the war [that] was never fought over it—it wasn’t just about a union, but it was most fundamentally about the country and freedom.”
Source : Newsweek