Usher is calling for Juneteenth to be “a national holiday, observed by all Americans.”
In an essay for the Washington Post, the singer and actor talked about the meaning of June 19 in Black history as well as what it means to him personally. He wrote that recognizing Juneteenth as a holiday “would be a small gesture compared with the greater social needs of black people in America.”
The “Yeah!” singer, 41, talked about making headlines for wearing a Juneteenth shirt to perform an Independence Day show at the 2015 Essence Music Festival in New Orleans. He said, “I wore the shirt because, for many years, I celebrated the Fourth of July without a true understanding that the date of independence for our people, black people, is actually June 19, 1865: the day that the news of the Emancipation Proclamation finally reached some of the last people in America still held in bondage.”
While Usher said he has “no issue with celebrating America’s independence on July 4,” Juneteenth should also be recognized, he said, because for Black people in this country, it’s “our authentic day of self-determination” and a day “to honor the legacy of our ancestors” and “remember where we once were as a people.”
Usher talked about his education on Black history. Growing up in Chattanooga, Tenn., he said he was taught the “version of U.S. history that frequently excluded the history of my family and my community.” When he moved to Atlanta at age 13, he delved deeper into the lives of Black trailblazers Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. as well as the horrific story of Emmett Till, discovering “more about the movement, the horrors of slavery and the resilience of our people. I came to understand Juneteenth’s history a decade ago during a period of reflection and in pursuit of any ancestral history that would tell me who I am.”
He wrote that the “liberation Juneteenth commemorates is cause for celebration, but it also reminds us how equality can be delayed,” as it took two and half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation ending slavery for residents of Galveston, Texas, to be told — on June 19, 1865 — that they were free. As a result, “we should honor their lives and celebrate that day of freedom forever.”
Usher added, “Making sure that our history is told is critical to supporting and sustaining our growth as a people. The least we deserve is to have this essential moment included in the broader American story.” And as an artist, he’s committed to doing it more often, as “it is my duty to reflect the trying times in which we live. My heart is shattered by the ongoing injustices in this country, incited by its long history of racism that has led to deadly outcomes for too many of our people. This country must change.”
And “recognizing Juneteenth as a national holiday would be a small gesture compared with the greater social needs of black people in America,” he wrote. “But it can remind us of our journey toward freedom, and the work America still has to do.”
Usher suggested observing the date “as many black Americans already do” — by “celebrating both our first step toward freedom as black people in America and also the many contributions to this land: the construction of Black Wall Street; the invention of jazz, rock n’ roll, hip-hop and R&B; and all the entrepreneurship and business brilliance, extraordinary cuisine, sports excellence, political power and global cultural influence black Americans have given the world.”
He envisions the holiday not as a day off, like other national holidays, but a day in which to support “black culture, black entrepreneurship and black business. ... A national Juneteenth observance can affirm that Black Lives Matter!”
He called for Congress to pass the bill immediately to make it official and concluded by writing, “As we celebrate” Juneteenth this year, “let’s stay open to possibility. Let’s support black-owned businesses today and every day. Let’s uplift our resilient history. Let’s honor our people. Happy Juneteenth, America.”
On Friday, a group of Democratic senators — Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Tina Smith and Ed Markey — announced that they will introduce the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, which is legislation to designate the day as a federal holiday.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, introduced similar legislation in the House on Thursday.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, also announced plans to introduce a bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday.
Meanwhile, President Trump took credit for making Juneteenth “very famous,” which he says he did when he rescheduled his rally that was going to be on June 19. He told the Wall Street Journal that “nobody had ever heard of” the holiday before he brought it up. “I did something good: I made Juneteenth very famous. It’s actually an important event, an important time. But nobody had ever heard of it.”
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