For some reason, some people are crediting former President Donald Trump with the Juneteenth holiday probably because he said, “I made Juneteenth very famous,” as if Juneteenth wasn’t already celebrated regionally and observedI in many states since the early 2000s.
I would encourage people who operate in truth to remember then President Trump came under fire in 2020 for announcing a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Juneteenth in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic and on the heels of the murder of George Floyd. Activists like Fort Worth’s Ms. Opal Lee, the then 94-year-old Black woman, who had worked for decades to make Juneteenth a national holiday, after leading the cause to make Juneteenth a TX state holiday in 1980, spoke out against President Trump’s controversial decision to hold what many believed to be an anti-Black rally on Juneteenth where the Tulsa Massacre occurred in 1921. The Tulsa Massacre was a two-day event where white supremacists – many of whom had been deputized as police officers – terrorized and burned down what was then Black Wall Street, a bustling area of Black businesses. Thousands of Black Americans were displaced and hundreds were killed or died from their injuries.
You may recall there had been renewed interest in Black Wall Street and The Tulsa Massacre with the release of The Watchmen, starring Regina King, on HBO in 2019, a wildly popular graphic novel turned into an HBO television series which opens with the Tulsa Massacre. There was also the fantasy horror novel Lovecraft Country, starring Journée Smollet and Jonathan Majors, which was adapted into an HBO television series, also covered, “Sundown Towns, “ the “Green Book” and the “Tulsa Massacre,” so there was a lot of interest in Tulsa, social justice movements, reparations, restorative justice and acknowledgement of the past wrongs against Black Americans that had not been adequately addressed, corrected or compensated at the time.
Keeping Blacks enslaved in TX, Louisiana and other Southern and Western states like Missouri, California and Oregon for two years following the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation is one of many wrongdoings not adequately addressed even with this national holiday.
In fact states like Delaware, Maryland, parts of Virginia and New Jersey and others – so-called free states —were still practicing slavery following the Emancipation Proclamation but that’s another story. Back to the present.
In addition to Ms. Opal Lee, Black Lives Matter (BLM) activists also called for making Juneteenth a federally recognized holiday following then President Trump’s reckless decision to hold a “rally” on Juneteenth, especially following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and Daunte Wright who was killed in April 2021 among others. In June 2021, a bipartisan bill to recognize Juneteenth as a federal holiday was introduced by Democrat U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn of Houston. You may also recall the insurrection on January 6, 2021 which led to bipartisan bills like this one being brought before Congress to assuage the feelings of a nation still reeling from the insurrection, a national symbol of a racially-divided, anti-Black and hostile United States.
The bill was passed by both chambers – June 15 (House) and 16th (Senate) respectively.
Following a ceremony led by Vice-President Kamala Harris and featuring Opal Lee, the bill was signed into law by President Biden June 17, 2021.
So, if you want to credit then president Donald Trump with making Juneteenth a national holiday which is not true, then tell the entire story and credit him with wanting to hold a hate rally on Juneteenth at the site of the Tulsa massacre in 2020, spurring outrage from Black Americans, who wanted the date acknowledged, protected and respected and interest from allies.
Ms. Opal Lee, a Wiley College graduate, retired teacher and counselor, is referred to as “The Grandmother of Juneteenth.” Ms. Lee is 96-years-old.
More facts: Lee’s motivation for activism around Juneteenth:
In June 1939, Lee’s parents bought a house in the 900 block of East Annie Street in what is known as Terrell Heights in Fort Worth, TX. In 1939, it was a mostly white area. On June 19, 1939, 500 white rioters vandalized and burned down their home. Lee was twelve years old at the time. Recalling it years later, Lee said, “The fact that it happened on the 19th day of June has spurred me to make people understand that Juneteenth is not just a festival.”
I would add it’s not just a holiday. Remember to honor Lee and other Black Americans who are still living and have been dishonored in the worst ways on this precarious day.