Juneteenth. A promise and America’s challenge to live up to it.

For more than 150 years, the day now known as Juneteenth has been sacred in many Black communities, a day to celebrate the promise of freedom and reflect on the challenges in America to live up to that promise.

It marks June 19, 1865, the day when, more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and more than two months after the end of the Civil War, enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, became the last Black community to be informed that slavery had ended and they were, by law, now free.

So the history of this day is long and many Black families have traditions of cookouts and family reunions that go back generations, but Juneteenth was not designated a federal holiday in the United States until 2021.

President Biden signed it into law in the aftermath of racial unrest and the collective reflection caused by the May 2020 murder of George Floyd, a Black man who was choked to death by a white police officer during a routine arrest in Minneapolis. The murder was captured on video, causing shocking and sparking outrage all over the world as it landed in a pattern over many years of white police officers killing Black people often with impunity.

Since then, this day has become more recognized beyond Black America. Still, not all states officially recognize the day as a paid holiday, although many people get the day off from work or school, although service and part-time workers, which include a large portion of Black workers among their ranks, typically don’t receive this benefit. There are street festivals, fairs, concerts and political rallies. The name of the holiday is a contraction of June and 19th, or “Juneteenth.”

At a White House ceremony to mark the day, Kamala Harris, the first Black vice president of the United States, said, “Today as we celebrate Juneteenth, together we are reminded of the promise of America. A promise of freedom, liberty and opportunity, not for some but for all. In many ways the story of Juneteenth and of our nation is a story of our ongoing fight to realize that promise.”
So on this holiday, we set out to canvas some of the coverage of Black communities and the observance of Juneteenth by our Report for America reporting corps and how local communities are doing in fulfilling that “promise of freedom, liberty and opportunity.”

CEO of Parents Supporting Parents NY Tanesha Grant at a reparations session in Albany during Caucus Weekend. (Photo by Ariama Long/New York Amsterdam News via Report4America)

Ariama C. Long, a Report for America corps member at the Amsterdam News, a Black newspaper in New York City, explored the issue of reparations in a recent column titled 40 Acres and a Mule: The State of Black Reparations., providing a powerful exploration of one of the central questions being asked in Black communities about how America needs to right the wrongs of slavery.

Long writes, “The dream that generations of activists have fought for—to see the United States compensate the victims and descendants of slavery, racial violence, and discrimination—is closer than ever to becoming a reality. These dedicated reparations advocates have toiled for decades at local, state, and federal levels, protecting that promise like an Olympic torch relay runner, each one with the singular understanding that they might not directly see a reward themselves, but others well might. In a few municipalities across the country and in two major states, the race for reparations has already begun.”

Djembe teacher Nko Fallou Small watched Alaia Greaves dance in his African drumming class. He brought some of the drums back from trips to his native Senegal. The Paige Academy, an independent school that’s been in Roxbury for almost 50 years, was founded during the busing crisis. (Photo by Lane Turner/Boston Globe)

All year long, corps members have been serving local communities by documenting the stories of race – past and present – and exploring how those communities are facing historic challenges that seem to be steadily in the news. Tiana Woodard, a former Report for America corps member at The Boston Globe, has been part of the all-star team on an extraordinary series titled “Broken Promises, Unfulfilled Hope,” which marks the 50th anniversary of the bussing crisis in Boston. The series is about the legacy of the city’s court-ordered desegregation and how the historic decision on bussing in Boston has left behind a school system that is still unequal and segregated. In one recent story, Woodard focused on lessons that can be learned from independent schools on this issue.

(Photo by Breanna Reeves/Black Voice News via Report for America)

In California reporter Breanna Reeves, a Report for America corps member who like Woodward graduated last month, is using data reporting to chronicle the lives of Black communities for the digital news organization Black Voices News, including stories about racial disparities in health care in America. A recent 4-part series by Reeves is titled: Combating Racism as a Public Health Crisis.

These are just a small sample of the incredible work by our corps members. Our GroundTruth colleague, Alana Campbell, helped us compile a list of some of the best coverage by our Report for America corps members. As she reflected on the reporting across the country, she also shared some of her own insights about the meaning of Juneteenth for herself, for her family and for the country on a political level.

As Campbell observes, “Every Black family integrates Black history into their family traditions in different ways – some celebrate in January, others have been celebrating Juneteenth for decades, especially in Texas.

But she added when it was made a national holiday, “I was skeptical of its newfound national recognition. … We still are seeing the effects of centuries of racism with inequality in nearly every facet of American life. Despite laws stipulating that every person is equal to every other, in practice, Black people are overwhelmingly segregated, incarcerated, impoverished, and disenfranchised.”

Campbell said, “That is why it is so important to continue to raise awareness of the importance of this holiday and how it should be celebrated, both for Black people and non-Black people. It’s important that people use their time off to educate themselves on the history of enslaved Africans in this country and how that impacts Black Americans today and. It’s important to highlight the efforts that communities are undertaking toward racial equity and to support them in their fight.”

We agree that it is important to use this holiday to take time to learn the history of slavery in America and its enduring impact on Black families, and we invite you to explore the body of work by our Report for America corps members covering race and the meaning of Juneteenth across the country.

Stories from our corps members

Texas

‘It’s for everybody’: Longview Juneteenth parade promotes unity, freedom for all, attendees say

For attendees at Saturday’s Juneteenth parade in Longview, learning about the storied Black holiday is a family tradition — one they intend to pass on. It’s also a day to promote unity among all people regardless of race.

Opal Lee kicks off Fort Worth Juneteenth celebrations with annual prayer service

Worshippers across Tarrant County visited the Good Shepherd Temple of Praise in Fort Worth May 31 for the Lillian Ruth Bush Ecumenical Breakfast of Prayer, an annual tradition that brings together people from different denominations in the faith community to honor Juneteenth and pray for unity, freedom and peace.

California

Orange County Gears Up For Juneteenth Celebrations

Next month, people across Orange County and the U.S. will come together with music, food and games to celebrate freedom and Juneteenth – the day slavery actually came to an end for all Black Americans more than 160 years ago.

Berkeley is where change starts’: Portraits from Juneteenth festival

One of the Bay Area’s longest running Juneteenth festivals returned to South Berkeley on Sunday with a day-long celebration of Black culture and resilience, and a bustling community gathering of local vendors, artists, chefs, youth, and neighbors. [2023]

Hawaii

Hawaii-based group empowers Black community through education

Akiemi Glenn, founder and director of The Popolo Project, began laying the foundation for the organization about 15 years ago in an effort to help Black people in Hawaii become more connected to their history, culture and identity.

New York

40 acres and a mule’: The state of Black reparations today

The dream that generations of activists have fought for—to see the United States compensate the victims and descendants of slavery, racial violence, and discrimination—is closer than ever to becoming a reality. These dedicated reparations advocates have toiled for decades at local, state, and federal levels, protecting that promise like an Olympic torch relay runner, each one with the singular understanding that they might not directly see a reward themselves, but others well might. In a few municipalities across the country and in two major states, the race for reparations has already begun.

Maryland

Report finds more than 25 million Black and Latino voters disenfranchised by voter data systems

A new report shows that roughly 25 million Black and Latino voters are out of reach when it comes to communicating essential information during crucial election years.

South Carolina

South Carolina Republican agenda includes energy resilience, gender care, Black history and guns

Republican lawmakers who pull all the levers of the South Carolina Legislature want to dispense with so-called “social issues” and focus this session on matters hitting residents’ pocketbooks.

Massachusetts

Fourth Walgreens to close in a predominantly Black and Latino Boston neighborhood in about a year, raising equity concerns

Walgreens is closing its drugstore at 416 Warren St. in Roxbury, raising community concerns about inadequate health care access in the predominantly Black and Latino neighborhood.

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