On June 19, about 250 people staged a demonstration at the Freedom Summer Memorial on Miami University’s campus to commemorate Juneteenth, the last day slavery existed in the United States.
In solidarity with the demonstrators, Miami closed its offices for the afternoon. In other communities across the country, businesses, institutions and local governments also stopped to mark the date. Many of those taking note of the day, including Miami Football Coach Chuck Martin, said they did so in an effort to better understand what it means to be Black in the United States.
Efforts at such understanding have grown with national protests and outrage over the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers in May. Floyd’s death was caught on video, showing him pleading that he could not breathe as a police officer knelt on his neck until he suffocated.
But what about next year, when perhaps the death of George Floyd won’t be so fresh in everyone’s mind? Or the year after, or the year after that? Should the experience of Black enslavement in America, and its end, be remembered with a national holiday?
The peaceful demonstration in Oxford was organized by Charlie Paul, a junior at Miami. He noted many who attended were Miami students moving back to the Oxford area after the pandemic shutdown. The entire Miami football team was present, with Coach Martin to stand in solidarity, Paul said.
Amber Franklin, a speech pathology professor at Miami University, spoke at the protest. She said this year was only the second time that she celebrated Juneteenth in her life, stating also how she has lived in other countries like the island of St. Thomas and Canada, both of which have national holidays celebrating the emancipation of slaves throughout those countries.
“Given everything that African-Americans have done to build this country, it seems tragic, and telling, that the emancipation of slaves is not commemorated through a national holiday. That must change,” she said.
Franklin also noted that it is hard to tell how Miami University views the holiday, and it is still open to interpretation. “Closing the university early was a good first step,” she said.
Nationally, there have been calls to make Juneteenth a national holiday. A bipartisan bill was introduced in Congress last month to declare June 19 a national holiday. On Wednesday, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), introduced an amendment to eliminate Columbus Day as a national holiday in exchange for Juneteenth. Swapping one holiday for another would eliminate the added cost in paid time off and other expenses for increasing the number of federal holidays they said.
Whether the idea has enough traction to become law remains to be seen. A spokesperson for Miami said it is unclear if the university will shut its offices every June 19. Jessica Greene, Oxford assistant city manager, said the issue has not come up with the city recognizing the day as a holiday.
Charlie Paul and his fellow organizers plan on holding more events for the Black Lives Matter movement on Miami’s campus and around the city of Oxford throughout the summer.