By Hayward D. Horton
and Denise Murphy McGraw
Juneteenth is now officially a federal holiday.
Many Americans had last Friday off from work.
As we know, on June 19, 1865, news of the Emancipation Proclamation finally began to reach enslaved people in Texas, more than two years after President Lincoln signed it into law.
Black Americans have long honored Juneteenth.
But until the stroke of President Biden’s pen last week, while almost all the states and the District of Columbia recognized it, only four — including New York — gave state employees the day off.
Now, after a unanimous vote in the U.S. Senate and passage in the House of Representatives, President Biden signed Juneteenth into law on June 17.
It is our 11th federal holiday. Two million federal employees received a hastily announced day off.
Yet while Juneteenth is a day to celebrate, there is still a lot of work to be done toward equality and inclusion for all.
A number of states are considering or have passed bills to restrict voting rights including reducing the number of ballot drop boxes, shortening the early voting period, and adding more requirements for absentee ballots which disproportionately impact Black and minority voters.
Right here in the Capital Region, we have seen intervention by the state’s attorney general and the courts regarding Rensselaer County’s limited early voting polling locations in the city of Troy.
The United States doesn’t have any federal requirements for teaching Black history.
It is up to the states, local school districts, or classroom teachers.
So far, more than a dozen states are considering or have passed bills to ban critical race theory which explores the idea that systemic racism is present in our shared American history and institutions.
This is even an issue now in the news in our hometown of Niskayuna.
On the federal level, the Biden Administration is considering how to move forward.
Sweeping voting rights legislation is being discussed, but there has been little progress.
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul is holding up a bill that would make lynching a federal hate crime. Lynching!
We also have still not yet seen the $20 Harriet Tubman bill.
Because of systemic racism in housing, education, and employment, many Black families’ wealth has been stalled for decades.
The average wealth of a white family is at least seven times more than that of a Black family.
And it’s even worse for Black women.
That is why on Juneteenth, our Capital Region Antiracism Training Initiative participated in the Beta Pi Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc‘s OneTransaction virtual conference that focused on closing the racial wealth gap.
Making Juneteenth an official federal holiday is a step in the right direction and there is and should be great pride in this accomplishment.
But Black Americans are still being left behind.
As a nation, we must find common ground on actual change rather than symbolic moves.
The Capital Region Antiracism Training Initiative stands ready to further the dialogue and deepen the understanding of issues such as equity, inclusion, justice, and Allyship.
Hayward D. Horton, PhD, and Denise Murphy McGraw are co-founders of the Capital Region Antiracism Training Initiative & Allyship Institute and co-hosts of Community Conversations.