For the third time on Monday, the United States of America will acknowledge Juneteenth as a federal holiday. President Joe Biden signed the declaration into law two days before the holiday in 2021. Now as America enters its third nationwide Juneteenth celebration — three years after George Floyd’s death — this country has largely, and shamefully, either stayed pat in matters of race or gone backwards.
One place that is racing to turn the clock back is Texas. The state that is the reason for the celebration, because June 19, 1865 — two months after the end of the Civil War — is the day that Major General George Granger issued General Order No. 3 in Galveston, Texas. That order informed the state of Texas that “all slaves are free.”
Three months before Juneteenth became a national holiday, the state’s largest university decided there was no reason to do away with its school song that was originally brought to the University as a minstrel performance. “The Eyes of Texas,” was performed in blackface at the University of Texas in blackface at the school from the early 1900s into the 1960s. Not to mention it’s sung to the tune of “I’ve been working on the Railroad,” which has a highly racist verse. A university committee released a report in March 2021, which concluded that the song has “no racist intent.” The song has continued to play at University of Texas sporting events.
As insulting and disrespectful as that is to the people of Texas, a law that Gov. Greg Abbott recently signed is looking to take the Longhorns, and the rest of the state’s public colleges and universities, back to the time in which “The Eyes of Texas” was performed in costume.
Beginning Jan. 1, in public higher education in Texas it will be illegal to have a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion office on campus. Not only that, mandatory diversity training for students and faculty has also been outlawed. This is the latest step that Gov. Abbott and his cohorts have taken to legally restrict how race is discussed and acknowledged in Texas education.
There was House Bill 3979 that Gov. Abbott signed into law in June 2021. That bill specifically stated that The New York Times’ 1619 Project was forbidden to be taught in Texas K-12 schools. However, he felt that the bill was not as strong as he would have liked it to be. Later in the year, SB 3 was passed which requires teachers to not discuss “controversial” current events unless they do it in a “manner free from political bias.” Because of course this bill that went through the republican controlled state house, senate, and governor’s mansion has no biases whatsoever.
The Texas State Senate has approved a bill that would make it illegal to teach Critical Race theory in the state’s public higher education institutions. A collegiate level concept would be made illegal to teach to college students.
All of this coming from not only the state that birthed the Juneteenth holiday in 1980, but also the man who was suffocated to death by a police officer in Minneapolis in May 2020. George Floyd was born in Houston and co-captain of the Jack Yates High School basketball team as a sophomore. People took the streets after his death, in ways that had never been seen in the history of America.
It’s not only Abbott Texas’ fault that America quickly moonwalked away from thoughts of true racial reconciliation, and a complete restructuring of what it means to truly care for the 300-plus million who live in this country. Police budgets continue to swell in major cities across the United States.
The large sum of money dedicated to the police force in New York’s 2024 budget threatened to force libraries to close on weekends. Many people in Atlanta are furious and protesting a brand new training facility for police officers that the city council recently approved $67 million to fund.
As cost of living and homelessness increases, layoffs have dealt crushing blows to people in various sectors of the economy, and the police are still shooting and killing Americans at an alarming rate — 436 in 2023 per Washington Post data. A recent DOJ Investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department that began in 2021 revealed rampant abuses, and Black drivers six times more likely to be stopped than white ones.
Not only has the nation at large not learned from George Floyd, but now there is a significant percentage of Americans who don’t want the rest of the population to learn anything about the systemic racial inequalities that led to him being born in public housing in the first place, and also how a person of his ethnicity is far more likely to meet his tragic fate than any other one.
It’s lovely that Juneteenth is a holiday. However, looking back at how it came to be, and where the country is now, sure I want some barbeque but I also kind of want to scream.