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Why Juneteenth is for all Americans : NPR

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Good morning. You’re reading a special Juneteenth edition of the Up First newsletter. Subscribe here to get the newsletter delivered to your inbox, and listen to the Up First podcast for all the news you need to start your day.

Why Juneteenth is for all Americans


Opal Lee, shown earlier this month, is celebrating this week's passage of legislation making Juneteenth a federal holiday. President Biden signed the bill Thursday.
Opal Lee, shown earlier this month, is celebrating this week's passage of legislation making Juneteenth a federal holiday. President Biden signed the bill Thursday.

Opal Lee, shown earlier this month, is celebrating this week’s passage of legislation making Juneteenth a federal holiday. President Biden signed the bill Thursday.

Amanda McCoy/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

This essay was written by Michel Martin, Morning Edition and Up First host

Confession: I had never heard of Juneteenth until I came to D.C., after college. A colleague and friend who was dating a guy from Texas told me about it. Even then, I thought it was a regional thing, like Mardi Gras — which is to say: not to be tampered with, watered down or interpreted by people not in the know, if you get my drift.

You can see it. It commemorates the day federal troops arrived to enforce The Emancipation Proclamation in Texas some two years after it was issued. More broadly, though, it celebrates the end of chattel slavery. To my mind, it celebrates the beginning of true freedom because — as moral philosophers have long known — no one is free until everyone is because oppression ensnares the oppressor as well as the oppressed. Anyone who has ever been in a toxic relationship knows that.

That is one reason the magnificent Opal Lee, the Fort Worth native known as the grandmother of Juneteenth, worked so hard and so long to see Juneteenth become a federal holiday. A white mob burned down her family home in 1939. She became an educator and an activist and saw the day become a federal holiday last year. She told her local station KTVT “It’s not a Texas thing or a Black thing. It’s an American thing.”

Go celebrate.

Juneteenth stories you may have missed


In this June 17, 2020, photo, a statue depicts a man holding the state law that made Juneteenth a state holiday in Galveston, Texas.

Today marks four years since Juneteenth became a federally recognized holiday. For families in Galveston, Texas, where the holiday originated, celebrations have been a mainstay for generations. Here’s how residents will observe Juneteenth this year.

This week, activist Opal Lee received keys to a new house built on the same plot of land where her family’s home once stood. It’s been more than eight decades since it was vandalized and destroyed. Trinity Habitat for Humanity, Texas Capital and HistoryMaker Homes partnered to build the house and give it to Lee. (via KERA)

Athens, Ga., held its first-ever annual Miss Juneteenth pageant this week. Seventeen young Black women wowed the audience with their talents, evening gowns and personalities. Regan Jones, a 10-year-old with an impressive step routine, took home the crown. (via WUGA)

Boston’s Poet Laureate Porsha Olayiwola considers Juneteenth both a celebration and a reminder of oppression. She reflects on the day with WBUR’s Sharon Brody, shares some of her poems that resonate with the holiday’s themes, and discusses how poetry can help people learn and heal. (via WBUR)

This newsletter was edited by Carol Ritchie.

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