Walks, barbecues, music and speeches, the United States celebrated “Juneteenth” on Saturday, the anniversary of the end of slavery in this country, now a holiday, one year after the death of George Floyd.

His murder sparked a grassroots movement against racism and police brutality against African Americans in the United States and beyond.

The mobilization helped, among other things, to considerably strengthen the visibility of "Juneteenth", which many Americans, including African Americans, were unaware of even two years ago.

A quirky birthday

A contraction of the words “June” and “19” in English, this date marks the day when the last slaves on an island in Texas learned, on June 19, 1865, that they were free.

Slavery was formally abolished in December 1865 with the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, but “Juneteenth”, celebrated the following year in Texas, has remained as the milestone date for the emancipation of African Americans.

Festive occasion since 1866, “Juneteenth” is even more so this year because it is also the first national event celebrated without health restrictions, most of the measures still in force to fight against the coronavirus pandemic having been lifted in recent weeks.

A new holiday 

Hundreds of events were planned across the United States, from New York to Los Angeles via the Texas island of Galveston, considered the symbolic place of "Juneteenth".

And on Thursday, US President Joe Biden passed a law making June 19 a national holiday, 156 years later.

"It took a long time," responded Cheryl Green (68), present for the unveiling, in Brooklyn, of a statue of George Floyd, killed by a police officer in Minneapolis in May 2020. "It's a good one something that people recognize what happened, explained the African-American resident of this New York neighborhood.

The changes are taking place slowly, but we are sure to get there.


A little-known national holiday

A poll released Tuesday by the Gallup Institute still showed that 28% of Americans "didn't know" about the anniversary.

"I only learned what Juneteenth was in high school," said Farah Louis, a black city councilor in New York, on the sidelines of the inauguration.

For her, this day should serve to "educate our young people" on the history of the condition of blacks in the United States.

"It's a bit surreal to celebrate (this day) as we fight national attacks" aimed at minority suffrage, however tweeted Sharif Street, a local black senator from Pennsylvania.

Between January and May, 14 US states, including Georgia and Florida, passed laws restricting voting opportunities, measures interpreted as aimed at reducing the voting influence of minorities, especially the black community.

For Sharif Street, it is "a reminder that our victories are not final, even when it comes to powerful symbols of progress" such as the right to vote.

A bill to guarantee wide access to the vote is currently under discussion in the Senate, but its fate seems very uncertain because many elected Republicans are opposed to it.

"It's just a moment, it's a movement"

For Farah Louis, the proclamation of "Juneteenth" as a public holiday and the momentum given by the post-Floyd movement offers "an opportunity" for the black community.

"You have to strike the iron while it is hot," she said, referring in particular to the debate on "reparations", compensating African Americans for the devastation caused by slavery.

On Friday, the mayors of 11 American cities, including Los Angeles and Denver, pledged to pay, as such, compensation to representatives of the black community, urging the national government and Congress to imitate them.

"We are seeing a change" in the country, admitted Terrence Floyd, George's brother, at the unveiling of the statue honoring his brother.

Terrence Floyd, who lives in New York, recently created the organization "We Are Floyd" (we are Floyd), "for the change to continue," he told AFP.

“It's just a moment, it's a movement.



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