Over the past two years, the word “Juneteenth” has been one of the most-searched terms on the Baptist News Global website.
That quest for understanding coincides with a sudden growing awareness of this milestone day in civil rights history, fueled by a starring role in the 2020 HBO series Watchmen and by the tireless efforts of a Texas woman that got Juneteenth declared a federal holiday last year.
Juneteenth occurs on June 19 and commemorates the date in 1865 when slaves in Texas were informed of their freedom after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender in the U.S. Civil War. That news reached them more than two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
Texas became the first U.S. state to make Juneteenth a holiday in 1980, and before federal legislation was passed last year, 45 states and the District of Columbia had recognized the day in some way. All this was sparked by the relentless efforts of one woman, Opal Lee, who dedicated herself to the cause of elevating Juneteenth beyond the Black community.
New polling from Gallup shows Americans are growing in their awareness of Juneteenth. This year, 59% of Americans say they know “a lot” (17%) or at least “some” (42%) about the new federal holiday. That combined level of awareness has grown by 22 points in just one year, up from 37% in May 2021.
Gallup found an additional 29% of U.S. adults say they know “a little bit” about the holiday, but only 11% say they know “nothing at all.”
Not only is awareness growing but support for the federal holiday is growing.
Not only is awareness growing but support for the federal holiday is growing. Gallup found a 10-point growth in the share of Americans who believe Juneteenth should be a federal holiday. However, opposition to the federal holiday also has grown by 5 points, a slower growth rate. Currently, 45% of Americans support the holiday and 30% oppose it.
When looking at the views of white Americans alone, only 38% support Juneteenth as a federal holiday, compared to 73% of Blacks and 45% of Hispanics.
However, in a year in which conservatives have sought to ban the teaching of America’s racist history in public schools, public support for teaching about Juneteenth has grown. Currently 63% of Americans believe Juneteenth should be taught in history classes, up from 49% last year.
Gallup researchers summarized: “As the nation prepares to celebrate the second Juneteenth federal holiday, more Americans have become familiar with its significance in U.S. and Black history. Greater familiarity has also come with greater support for its inclusion in the list of federal holidays — as well as inclusion in U.S. history textbooks.
“Juneteenth is still not greatly understood, if at all, by a sizable minority of the population, but given the relative newness of the holiday’s federal status, this could change.”
Don’t keep sweet: Why white Christians need to celebrate Juneteenth | Opinion by Erica Whitaker
Juneteenth and the promise of freedom | Opinion by Daryl Hamilton II
Juneteenth should remind us of all the things we don’t know | Opinion by Mark Wingfield