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Most Americans Know Little or Nothing About Juneteenth, Poll Finds

  • June 16, 2021

Juneteenth has been celebrated by African Americans since the 19th century, and its broader popularity has waxed and waned throughout American history, according to Brenda Elaine Stevenson, a historian specializing in African American history and the history of the Southern United States.

“We see spikes in Juneteenth popularity at the same time we see focus on Black life and the position of Black people in American society,” Dr. Stevenson said.

She said that in addition to last summer’s protests, the pandemic’s disproportionate effect on Black Americans and the recent combative debates on the study of race in public schools and universities had contributed to a broader interest not only in learning about the experience of African Americans, but in finding ways to celebrate it as well.

“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,” Dr. Stevenson said.

Conversations about Juneteenth have also become important as the country reckons with how to commemorate its history, said Alaina Morgan, an assistant professor of history at the University of Southern California.

During protests last summer, over 160 Confederate symbols were removed from public spaces or renamed after the death of George Floyd, more than in any other year.

“It’s incumbent on our representatives to push this idea of the commemoration because it really stands for the freedom of all Americans,” Professor Morgan said. What a holiday says is “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.”

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