Millions of Americans on Friday are observing Juneteenth, a holiday to mark the end of slavery in the United States that has taken on a new urgency following the national uproar over the killings of George Floyd and other African Americans by police.

And for many marking the day, it will be the first time.

Juneteenth — deliberately downplayed for generations by a U.S. educational system unwilling to focus on that heinous history and uninterested in the accomplishments of Black Americans — is suddenly in the spotlight as the nation faces another racial reckoning.

A rainbow appears behind the Lincoln Memorial as Lisa Fitzpatrick prepares to begin her day with a sunrise walk on June 19, 2020.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

Multiple bills have been introduced to make Juneteenth a federal holiday.

And because of concerns about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, many Juneteenth events are being held online.

The Rev. Al Sharpton will be the keynote speaker at a Juneteenth rally for justice later in the day in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the site of a 1921 massacre, which wiped out a vibrant Black business community when a racist white mob killed some 300 African American residents.

Sharpton’s appearance comes a day before President Donald Trump arrives in Tulsa for his first political rally since the pandemic paralyzed the country. The event, which had originally been scheduled for Friday, was moved after the Trump campaign was accused of being tone-deaf and hit with an avalanche of criticism.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Trump later insisted he made Juneteenth “famous.”

“It’s actually an important event, it’s an important time,” Trump insisted. “But nobody had heard of it. Very few people have heard of it.”

African Americans have celebrated Juneteenth for more than a century with parades and parties and gatherings of all kinds, but this year, the holiday is being observed more widely than ever before.


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