What to know about Juneteenth this year as protests against racial injustice sweep the U.S.

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Juneteenth is a celebration of black history and freedom that relatively few white Americans had heard of till recently, if at all. Now suddenly, Juneteenth is prominent on the nation’s calendar, propelled there by sweeping protests against racial injustice, a controversial decision by President Donald Trump in scheduling a campaign rally (later rescheduled) and the decision by some high-profile companies to make the day a holiday for all employees.

What is Juneteenth?

The holiday gets its name from June 19, 1865. That’s the day the Union army arrived in Galveston, Texas, to announce that all African-American slaves in the state were free in accordance with President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. The state was the last in the Confederacy to receive word that the Civil War was over and that slavery had been abolished, and the last where the federal Army established its authority.

What’s is the significance of Juneteenth?

As early as 1866, freed African Americans in Texas held a celebration on the date to commemorate the end of slavery. As black families emigrated from the southern U.S. after the Great Depression, observance spread throughout the country. In 1968, shortly after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, his Poor People’s Campaign held a Juneteenth Solidarity Day, giving the holiday a new prominence in the civil rights movement.

Is Juneteenth an official U.S. holiday?

In 1980, the Texas legislature made it an official state holiday. Currently, 46 states and the District of Columbia mark the occasion as a holiday or a day of observation. But the holiday was still little known enough in 2017 outside the black community that the television show “Black-ish” could build an episode around how few of the show’s white characters had heard of it.

Why has Juneteenth been gaining prominence?

In recent years, a number of Juneteenth commemorations were tied to themes raised by Black Lives Matter, a protest movement that was founded in response to police killings of African Americans. Black Lives Matter protests erupted around the nation in recent weeks after George Floyd died at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis on May 25.

What did Trump do?

He announced plans to hold a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on that day. He hasn’t had an in-person rally since lockdowns were imposed to limit the coronavirus pandemic’s spread in March. The move sparked an immediate reaction.

What was the criticism about?

The choice of the date and the city riled both historians and African Americans for what they see as insensitivity to racial issues. In 1921 white rioters attacked a predominately black district in the city, Greenwood, killing up to 100 black residents and destroying hundreds of buildings. It’s considered the worst incident of racial violence in U.S. history.

What does Trump say?

Trump said in an interview with Fox News on Thursday that his campaign didn’t intentionally choose Juneteenth as the date for the rally. Late Friday night, he tweeted that “Many of my African American friends and supporters have reached out to suggest that we consider changing the date.” He said that “out of respect for this Holiday,” the rally would be moved to the 20th. Paris Dennard, senior communications adviser for black media affairs at the Republican National Committee, had said earlier in the day that he had discussed the Greenwood massacre with Trump at a White House meeting last week. Trump told him he had recently read about the incident. Dennard said that he raised Tulsa with the president as an example of economic destruction and how long it could take black communities to recover from riots and looting.

Which companies are making it a holiday?

Jack Dorsey made both Juneteenth a formal company holiday at both Twitter Inc. and Square Inc., both of which he leads. Vox Media Inc., Nike Inc., the New York Times and the National Football League all followed suit, while Facebook Inc. said it plans to cancel meetings that day for a “day of learning” about the experience of black Americans. MasterCard said it would give employees the day off and encouraged them to educate themselves about the history of racism in America or volunteer with a civil rights organization. Twitter, in particular, has publicly leaned into the Black Lives Matter movement, changing the bio for its corporate Twitter account, where it has 58 million followers, to #BlackLivesMatter and changing its account photo to a black Twitter logo.

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