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Why Juneteenth should be a national holiday, per Usher, Lupita Nyong’o and others

Singer-songwriter Usher is among the celebrities who want Juneteenth recognized as a national holiday.
(Trae Patton / NBC)

Singer-songwriter Usher has penned a powerful op-ed explaining why Juneteenth should be a national holiday.

On Friday, Usher was one of a number of stars observing Juneteenth, which commemorates the day in 1865 when enslaved people in Texas, then the most remote region of the Confederacy, finally learned slavery had been abolished in the United States. Lupita Nyong’o, Taylor Swift, Mindy Kaling, Chris Evans, Pharrell, George Takei and more celebrities called for June 19 to be recognized on a federal level.

“Recognizing Juneteenth as a national holiday would be a small gesture compared with the greater social needs of Black people in America,” Usher wrote for the Washington Post. “But it can remind us of our journey toward freedom, and the work America still has to do.

“We could observe it, as many Black Americans already do, by celebrating both our first step toward freedom as Black people in America and also the many contributions to this land: the construction of Black Wall Street; the invention of jazz, rock ’n’ roll, hip-hop and R&B; and all the entrepreneurship and business brilliance, extraordinary cuisine, sports excellence, political power and global cultural influence Black Americans have given the world.”

Oscar-winning actress Nyong’o used her platform to amplify the voice of Opal Lee, “the force behind the movement to make #Juneteenth a national holiday.” Lee, a 93-year-old activist, launched a petition to recognize June 19 as a national holiday that has amassed more than 500,000 signatures and counting.

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“Public holidays indicate the moments in history that are important to a nation and the values they hold dear,” Nyong’o tweeted. “Recognizing #Juneteenth nationally would be one more way to acknowledge the intrinsic value of Black people and their history to the wealth and prosperity of the USA.

“We are aware that oversight of these historical events blinds and misleads both our present and our future generations,” she continued. “It encourages willful ignorance and the touting of revisionist history.”

Like many white Americans, “Lover” hitmaker Swift has been newly vocal about racial injustice in recent weeks. She vowed to give her employees the day off on Friday and shared a video narrated by “Real Quick” host Danielle Young breaking down the historical significance of Juneteenth for the Root.

“Personally, I’ve made the decision to give all of my employees June 19th off in honor of Freedom Day from now on, and to continue to educate myself on the history that brought us to this present moment,” Swift wrote.

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“Everything that has transpired recently gives us an opportunity to reflect, listen and reprogram any part of our lives that hasn’t been loudly and ferociously anti-racist, and to never let privilege lie dormant when it could be used to stand up for what’s right.”

Here’s a sampling of entertainment luminaries observing and advocating for Juneteenth.

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