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WUWM's Teran Powell reports on race and ethnicity in southeastern Wisconsin.

Juneteenth is a reminder that African Americans have a different history in the United States

Juneteenth commemorates the day enslaved Black Americans in Galveston, Texas were told they'd been freed.
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Juneteenth commemorates the day enslaved Black Americans in Galveston, Texas were told they'd been freed.

Happy Juneteenth!

On this day in 1865, Union General Gordon Granger and his troops traveled to Galveston, Texas, to issue General Order No. 3. It announced enslaved Black Americans had been freed from bondage.

But this announcement came two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, a document that freed slaves in all states that rebelled against the Union.

Since that day, Black Americans across the country have celebrated their freedom in remembrance of that moment. Milwaukee has one of the longest running Juneteenth Day celebrations, marking 52 years this year. And it became an official city holiday in 2022.

Juneteenth became a federal holiday in 2021, and Wisconsin has recognized Juneteenth since 2009, but it’s not an official public holiday.

Dr. Robert Baker share the history of Juneteenth, its recognition, and how it's celebrated in Milwaukee.

Dr. Robert Baker, a visiting UW-Milwaukee Assistant Professor in the African & African Diaspora Studies Department, discusses the U.S. finally acknowledging Juneteenth.

"I think it's about a statement by the federal government that African Americans are just now finally getting acknowledged. Their history is just finally getting acknowledged," Baker says. "While we're grateful for President Biden for passing this holiday, it shows that Black people in this country have to struggle to get acknowledged. Shouldn't have taken that long."

Baker says he thinks it took this long for the U.S. to recognize Juneteenth because there are many leaders who want to hide from our past.

"I think there's a resistance to acknowledge that African Americans have a different history in the United States. July 4th, 1776, many of us were still in bondage. At the end of slavery, 4,000,000 Black people are still enslaved. And so, it was resistance and the slow-moving nature of accepting our story," he says.

Baker also says had it not been for the events of 2020 — the murder of George Floyd and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, he doesn't think President Joe Biden would have set the federal holiday. "

You know, Frederick Douglass, our great ancestor, said that there is no progress without struggle, you know. And so, I think that every time Black people and our allies and people who are concerned about racism and oppression step up and use our voice in unison, that's when we get stuff done," he says.

Baker says he sees the appropriate recognition of Juneteenth would start with federal agencies and local governments investing in the holiday beyond just slogans or putting up flags.

"Having park resources, neighborhood resources that allow people, Black people especially, to celebrate their connection to this American story," he says.

"I feel like because there's been this slow recognition, many of us to this day don't feel like Americans fully. And so, if Black people are going to be at the center of the conversation and not at the margins, we need to invest," he says.

Baker says we all carry some sort of baggage with us because of slavery and the more we acknowledge it, the better our country will be.


Teran is WUWM's race & ethnicity reporter.
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