So, the President of the United States and those surrounding him didn’t know what Juneteenth is. Trump said that “a black Secret Service agent” had to tell him what the day meant. He’s now claiming, because he’s decided to move the date of his campaign rally, that he “made Juneteenth very famous…nobody had ever heard of it.” Utter nonsense, of course.
An incredible show of racial ignorance and insensitivity at the very top of white America, which speaks volumes about the systematic racism that exists.
But on this year’s Juneteenth, more Americans than ever before will be celebrating the day which marks the end of slavery, with many major companies adding it as a paid holiday. Juneteenth celebrates the 19th June, 1865, when Union soldiers read the announcement in Galveston, Texas, that all enslaved African-Americans were free, two months after the South had surrendered in the Civil War, and more than two years after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
It’s widely thought of as African-Americans’ Independence Day and has traditionally been celebrated with barbeques, parades and parties. The struggle for equality, of course, is clearly not over for African-Americans, as demonstrated by recent and on-going events and the racist-fuelled resistance to change at the very top. But perhaps the marking of Juneteenth by more than the black community is some grounds for hope.
Down at the Crossroads celebrates Juneteenth with two songs. The first is Juneteenth Jamboree, first recorded by Gladys Bentley, a Harlem singer, well known in the 1920s and 30s.
There’s no shirking, no-one’s working
Gums are chompin’, corks are poppin’
Doing the Texas hop
The second song, Uncivil War, has just been released by Shemekia Copeland. It was written by Will Kimbrough and John Hahn, who said in a recent Forbes interview “I didn’t want to write something that added to the divisiveness. I wanted to say ‘come on guys, we’re better than this, we’ve gotta stop fighting.’”
Copeland’s new album isn’t due to be released until August but she wanted to put this song out sooner because of what’s been happening in the United States.
Copeland says she does feel anger at what faces her community, but that she doesn’t “misdirect my anger…that’s why you don’t see me being just angry; I’m more interested in systemic racism. I’m more interested in our system being infiltrated with supremacists like the Senate and Congress and the police force. Those are the types of things that I think about: the system and figuring out how to change it in some way. And those are the things that I get angry about – I’m just not walking through my daily life being p*****d off at people; because I don’t have that kind of hate or anger in my art.”
Here’s her Uncivil War, which is both challenging and hopeful. Happy Juneteenth!