Why a Virginia professor believes Juneteenth shouldn’t be a federal holiday

This week, President Joe Biden signed a law making June 19, or Juneteenth, a federal holiday.

While he believes the idea of celebrating the emancipation of slaves is a good one, Wornie Reed, director of Virginia Tech’s Race and Social Policy Center, does not support this particular day being turned into a national holiday.

“I think it’s an unlikely holiday, especially to be considered national, when this was just a Texas thing,” Reed said.

Juneteenth honors the day when the last enslaved African Americans were told about the Emancipation Proclamation.

While the proclamation was written in September 1862 and went into effect Jan. 1, 1863, it wasn’t until months after the Civil War ended that news of the proclamation finally made its way to the slaves in coastal Texas.

That’s why the day became a holiday in Texas.

But Reed said he does not believe a Texas celebration warrants a federal holiday.

“I would much prefer something like Emancipation Day, which celebrates the Emancipation Proclamation given by President Abraham Lincoln in September 1862 [that went] in effect on Jan. 1, 1863, so it applied to Texas as well as to slaves in other places,“ Reed said.

He also cautioned against getting caught up in something symbolic instead of looking for real change.

“I’m wary of things becoming a federal holiday,” Reed said. ”It seems to me whenever African Americans begin to ask for something serious about their inclusion fully in the American society, along comes a symbolic gesture,” said Reed.

He said the same thing happened with making a holiday out of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.

“Now, I love Martin Luther King, grew up under him, knew him and he knew me. So, I have no criticism of him,” Reed said. “It’s just that we’ve devoted so much attention to that [holiday], rather than on correcting some of the ills that still exist.”


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Michelle Murillo

Michelle Murillo has been a part of the WTOP family since 2014. She started her career in Central Florida before working in radio in New York City and Philadelphia.

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