Nearly two-thirds of all Americans have no idea what Juneteenth, the holiday commemorating the end of American slavery, means, according to a new Gallup poll.
Pollsters and academics believe that the 37% of respondents who said they knew “a lot” or “some” about the holiday may reflect a rise in awareness following last summer’s protests against racism and police brutality.
Juneteenth’s history should be taught in public schools, according to an opinion poll released Tuesday. In the end, only 35 percent of respondents supported making June 19 a federal holiday, while just 25 percent said they were opposed.
Earlier this week, the Senate voted unanimously to make Juneteenth a legal federal holiday. In the House, the bill is expected to pass, but a vote date has not yet been established.
On Juneteenth, also known as Emancipation Day, Black Independence Day, or the Jubilation of Freedom, enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas, were informed by Union general Gordon Granger that the Civil War was over and that they were free.
This is the first time Gallup has polled on the topic of Juneteenth in its history. Camille Lloyd, director of the Gallup Center on Black Voices, said the event was organised as part of an ongoing effort to better understand public perceptions and support for the inclusion of African-American history in American history, one year after the country’s deep racial reckoning.
Using a random sample of 3,572 adults who completed self-administered web surveys from May 18 to 23, the study found that results were heavily influenced by race and age. According to the survey, 69 percent of Black respondents said they had a lot or some knowledge of Juneteenth, compared to only 31 percent of white respondents. Juneteenth was also more familiar to teenagers than to their elders.
According to Gallup, a sample of this size has a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points.
“Awareness is a critical piece,” the Gallup Center on Black Voices found when it came to whether or not people support celebrating and teaching Juneteenth, so Ms. Lloyd said the focus should be on keeping and nurturing that awareness.
Brenda Elaine Stevenson, a historian who specialises in African American history and the history of the Southern United States, says that Juneteenth has been celebrated by African Americans since the 19th century.
As Dr. Stevenson pointed out, “we see spikes in Juneteenth popularity at the same time we see focus on Black life and the position of African-Americans in American society.
After the protests of last summer, the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on African Americans, and recent combative debates on the study of race in public schools and universities have all contributed to an increased curiosity about the experience of black people and ways to celebrate it.
“Juneteenth has now had a rebirth in terms of people focusing on it, celebrating it, wanting to know what it is and wanting to know what it signifies and how it relates to this long arc of racial divide and progress, or not, in our country,” said Dr. Stevenson.
As the country mulls over how to commemorate its past, historian Alaina Morgan of the University of Southern California says that conversations about Juneteenth have taken on new significance.
More Confederate symbols were removed or renamed in response to George Floyd’s death last summer during protests than any other year prior to that.
“It’s incumbent on our representatives to push this idea of a commemoration because it really stands for the freedom of all Americans,” Professor Morgan said. “That this is something that we care about as a people and as a nation and we want to take a moment to stop and have a day of reflection,” a holiday says.
Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer called the vote to make Juneteenth a federal holiday “a major step forward in recognising the wrongs of the past” in a statement following the passage of the Senate bill.
The Emancipation Proclamation and the Constitution, he said, “promise equal justice and we must continue to work toward that goal.”