Eight-time Grammy winner Usher Raymond penned an impassioned and informative essay in the Washington Post today arguing that, while the Fourth of July should be celebrated, for black people “Juneteenth is our authentic day of self-determination. It is ours to honor the legacy of our ancestors, ours to celebrate and ours to remember where we once were as a people. And it should be a national holiday, observed by all Americans.”
Juneteenth is a celebration of June 19, 1865, when Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas to announce that the slaves there were now free. They were the last slaves to be freed in the U.S. Their liberation came more than two months after commanding Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant and two years after Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
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“Recognizing Juneteenth as a national holiday,” wrote Usher, “would be a small gesture compared with the greater social needs of black people in America. But it can remind us of our journey toward freedom, and the work America still has to do.”
And he suggested that the day be a purposeful celebration. “Rather than observing Juneteenth as we do other holidays, by taking it off, we can make it a day when black culture, black entrepreneurship and black business get our support. A national Juneteenth observance can affirm that Black Lives Matter!”
Make Juneteenth A National Holiday! I proudly join the incredible people and organizations who have been working on this for years, among them the inspiring Opal Lee, a 93-year-old from Fort Worth, Tex. Sign the petition she started!https://t.co/fdbS9uJr69 pic.twitter.com/MS8Xm1sJfv
— Usher Raymond IV (@Usher) June 19, 2020
Grammy and Oscar-winner Pharrell Williams has also been campaigning for the holiday.
“It’s high time that if we’re going to think about independence and what freedom really looks like, ours was never really acknowledged. Yeah, there’s 47 states that observe it but it’s not a paid holiday, we deserve a paid holiday,” Williams said on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
— Jimmy Kimmel Live (@JimmyKimmelLive) June 19, 2020
Williams, who Deadline revealed earlier today is in talks with Netflix on a Juneteenth musical, had just returned from his home state of Virginia, where he announced with Governor Northam that Juneteenth will be recognized as a paid state holiday for the first time in Virginia history.
Every year, as a nation we mark the Fourth of July, celebrating our independence from English colonial rule—but that freedom did not include everyone.
— Ralph Northam (@GovernorVA) June 16, 2020
Onstage, Williams said that the move was a chance for governments, corporations and citizens to “stand in solidarity with their African American brothers and sisters.”
He later issued a call to every U.S. governor to make the commemoration a state holiday.
— Pharrell Williams (@Pharrell) June 18, 2020
The governors of Oregon and Minnesota took action, requesting that their states’ legislatures officially recognize make June 19 as a holiday.
— Governor Tim Walz (@GovTimWalz) June 19, 2020
Williams told Kimmel that he is personally reaching out to California Governor Gavin Newsom and a number of other states to do the same. “If you really care about your fellow Americans, this is a holiday that you should support, you should be reaching out to your local governors and telling them how important this is for you. It’s American,” he added.
Also on Friday, Black Artists for Freedom, a new coalition of more than 1,000 actors, musicians, filmmakers, writers, painters, poets and others, issued a powerful missive called “Our Juneteenth.”
“Through this statement,” they said, “we hope to amplify the movement’s work and to call out our own industries for what they are: institutions that promote colonialism, capitalism, and racism, and that function in exploitative and disruptive ways.”
The group said that cultural institutions “must commit to racial justice through material changes”
Among the signatories to the statement are Barry Jenkins, Ava DuVernay, Dee Rees, Trevor Noah, Roxane Gay, Sterling K. Brown, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Gabrielle Union, Thandie Newton, Jelani Cobb, Niecy Nash, Lena Waithe, Tessa Thompson, Thandie Newton, Debbie Allen, Lupita Nyong’o, David Oyelowo, Cynthia Erivo and many others.
Oscar-winner Nyong’o later took to Twitter to remind Americans of 93-year-old Opal Lee, who she called “the force behind the movement to make #Juneteenth a national holiday.”
1. This is Opal Lee, the force behind the movement to make #Juneteenth a national holiday. Also known as Freedom Day, it is the day that commemorates when slavery officially ended in the USA. At 93, Mrs. Lee keeps banging the drum for the recognition of this day. pic.twitter.com/qrs9im0YWl
— Lupita Nyong'o (@Lupita_Nyongo) June 19, 2020
Mindy Kaling retweeted Chris Evans’s post about the holiday, and why it should be recognized nationally.
I can’t imagine a better major federal holiday than a celebration/memorial to the end of slavery. https://t.co/fwYmOYw5t4
— Mindy Kaling (@mindykaling) June 19, 2020
Even Taylor Swift laid out the case for a national Juneteenth holiday to her 85 million Twitter followers.
Happy Juneteenth! I want to thank @TheRoot and @RhapsoDani for allowing me to post this video about the significance of today, June 19th, and why it should be celebrated as a National holiday. https://t.co/7yjwh4Lddg
— Taylor Swift (@taylorswift13) June 19, 2020
Calls to make Juneteenth a federally-recognized holiday have increased over the last few weeks following the killing of George Floyd and the subsequent protests around police brutality and increasing conversation around systemic racism in the country.
A number of major Hollywood companies including CAA, Endeavor, ICM, UTA, Gersh, APA, SAG-AFTRA, The Lede Company and R&C/PMK as well as the likes of Spotify and Twitter have recognized Juneteenth and have made it an annual paid holiday.