Today (June 19) marks Juneteenth, the day commemorating the liberation of slaves in America. This year, many are calling for the day to be recognized as a national holiday. Pharrell recently spoke at a briefing in Virginia after pressuring the governor to introduce legislation that would cement Juneteenth as an observed holiday in the state. Now, Usher is the latest artist to speak up on the importance of commemorating the day. The singer published an op-ed that examines why Juneteenth should be nationally revered.
In an article written for The Washington Post, Usher said the recognizing Juneteenth as a national holiday “would be a small gesture compared with the greater social needs of black people in America,” but doing so can still “remind us of our journey toward freedom, and the work America still has to do.”
Usher began the op-ed by reflecting on the lack of curriculum surrounding Black history in his Tennessee school system. “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.
The singer continued that the day should be revered, but also stands as a reminder about how equality wasn’t immediately granted to Black Americans after Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation:
“The liberation Juneteenth commemorates is cause for celebration, but it also reminds us how equality can be delayed. On June 19, 1865, on the shores of Galveston, Tex., Union Gen. Gordon Granger arrived by boat to announce to enslaved African Americans that the Civil War had ended and they were now free. While President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was issued two and a half years prior, and the Civil War had ended in April of that year, it wasn’t until June 19, 1865, that almost all of our ancestors were free. We should honor their lives and celebrate that day of freedom forever.”
Usher concluded his explainer by offering ways to celebrate Juneteenth:
“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. […] 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.”
Read Usher’s full op-ed here.