US marks ‘Juneteenth’ commemorating end of slavery amid heightened racial tensions

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Americans celebrate Juneteenth, the day marking the abolition of slavery, on Friday (June 19) with stronger conviction as the nation confronts the living legacy of racial injustice, amplified by a string of deaths of unarmed Black Americans at the hands of the police.

Demonstrations, prayers and cultural celebrations are planned across the United States – from Los Angeles to New York – to honour the day in 1865 when the last group of slaves were told in Galveston, Texas that they were emancipated.

People take a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement outside the US Supreme Court in Washington, on June 18, 2020.
People take a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement outside the US Supreme Court in Washington, on June 18, 2020.PHOTO: REUTERS

In New York, protesters have planned a march to the City Hall demanding “justice, dignity and equality” for black Americans. Chicago will host a “Black Lives Matter Block Party” which features voter registration drives.

Protests are also scheduled in cities like Tulsa, Oklahoma, which hosts a day-long “I, Too, Am America” rally for justice.

Several commemorations have gone virtual to account for the coronavirus pandemic.

As pressure mounts for Juneteenth to be declared a national holiday, New York and Virginia this week joined Texas – where the original Emancipation Day celebrations took place – to declare Juneteenth a paid holiday for their employees.

Several major US companies including Nike and Twitter also announced that they were making Juneteenth a paid holiday for employees.

The death of Mr George Floyd, an African American who was killed in Minneapolis on May 25 by a white police officer who knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, as well as the fatal shooting of another black man in Atlanta by the police last week sparked nationwide protests and reinvigorated demands for racial justice and police reform.

US President Donald Trump, who had before this used incendiary language to level criticism at protesters, sparked further outcry when he scheduled a huge campaign rally on Juneteenth in Tulsa, the city where up to 300 black Americans were killed by white mobs in 1921 in one of the country’s worst racist massacres.

“Nobody had ever heard of it,” Mr Trump claimed in a Wall Street Journal interview on Thursday, even though the White House releases a statement commemorating the day every year.

“I did something good,” he added. “I made Juneteenth very famous.”

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