Today (June 19th) is Juneteenth, an annual holiday that celebrates the end of slavery in the United States, and Usher has penned an op-ed for The Washington Post explaining why Juneteenth should be officially considered a national holiday, as Pitchfork points out. "It is ours to honor the legacy of our ancestors, ours to celebrate and ours to remember where we once were as a people. And it should be a national holiday, observed by all Americans," he writes.
Recognizing Juneteenth as a national holiday would be a small gesture compared with the greater social needs of black people in America. But it can remind us of our journey toward freedom, and the work America still has to do.
We could observe it, 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.
And rather than observing Juneteenth as we do other holidays, by taking it off, we can make it a day when black culture, black entrepreneurship and black business get our support. A national Juneteenth observance can affirm that Black Lives Matter!
I proudly join the incredible people and organizations who have been working on this for years, among them the inspiring Opal Lee, a 93-year-old from Fort Worth, Tex., who has campaigned for the recognition of Juneteenth at the state and local level. There has never been a more urgent time than now to get this done. On Thursday, Sens. Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) announced that they are introducing legislation to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. Congress must pass this bill immediately.
Read the rest here.
Usher also tweeted a link to a Change.org petition that was started to urge Congress to declare Juneteenth a national holiday. It was started by 93-year-old activist Opal Lee, who's also behind the walking campaign Opal's Walk. When asked about the difference between Juneteenth and the Fourth of July in a new NY Times interview, Opal Lee replied:
The difference between Juneteenth and the 4th of July? Woo, girl! The fact is none of us are free till we’re all free. Knowing that slaves didn’t get the word for two and a half years after the emancipation, can’t you imagine how those people felt? They’d been watching — that’s what they call Watch Night services — every New Year’s, thinking freedom was coming. And then to find out they were free, even two and a half years after everybody else.
So, the 4th of July? Slaves weren’t free. You know that, don’t you? And so we just celebrate the hell out of the 4th of July, so I suggest that if we’re going to do some celebrating of freedom, that we have our festival, our educational components, our music, from June the 19 — Juneteenth — to the 4th of July. Now that would be celebrating freedom.
Also today for Juneteenth, Bandcamp is donating it share of profits to the NAACP and many artists and labels are joining them.
Watch a video of Usher performing in a Juneteenth shirt at Essence Festival 2015: