Biden touts efforts to preserve Black history ahead of Juneteenth

The White House on Monday announced new initiatives to preserve Black history just days before Juneteenth.

President Biden recognized Juneteenth as a federal holiday in 2021. The day commemorates when the last enslaved Africans in Galveston, Texas, learned of their emancipation.

“It’s not about a national holiday or a day off work, it really is to commemorate a moment in time, in our history,” Neera Tanden, domestic policy adviser to the president, said from the White House on Monday.

“We know that history is under attack,” Tanden continued. “There are forces in our country who want to erase aspects of our history … fundamentally, these attacks are about changing our history.”

Under the new initiatives, Tanden said, the White House will work to expand access to Black history.

One way will be through the National Endowment for the Humanities, which will establish a nationwide program that celebrates Juneteenth and promotes Black history and culture leading up to next year’s holiday.

The program will include new funding in all 50 states to support reading and discussion programs, interactive workshops about the legacy of slavery and emancipation, and classroom-ready Juneteenth content for K-12 teachers.

These latest steps come as states and school districts have begun to limit what teachers can instruct on.

Since January 2021, 44 states have introduced bills or taken steps that would limit how teachers can discuss racism and sexism, according to an analysis by Education Week.

Schools have also begun to ban what types of books can be taught. Many books, such as Toni Morrison’s award-winning “Beloved,” delve into the horrifying realities of slavery.

To combat these bans and limitations, the U.S. Department of Education named a coordinator for responding to book bans in order to support the public and school communities in understanding the civil rights impact that book restrictions can have, and the circumstances under which such restrictions can violate federal civil rights laws.

Juneteenth will also be recognized as one of three National Days of Action on Voting.

These three days will focus on providing voters with the necessary information on how, where and when to vote. It will also encourage students to register and cast their ballots and aims to counter voter-suppression tactics.

Both Biden and former President Trump are courting Black voters ahead of November, with Biden struggling in recent polls to match the historic support Democratic presidential candidates have won from a key party demographic.

Biden is hoping to woo Black voters back to his camp by highlighting his racial justice initiatives, such as appointing the most diverse Cabinet in history and nominating Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.

The Congressional Black Caucus also is stepping up its work around Juneteenth. Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.), chair of the caucus, said Monday that the House Democratic Caucus will participate in a “week of action.”

“As we honor Juneteenth, we will also uplift the achievements we have made to date and talk about the work that is yet to be done,” Horsford said. “That is how we uplift our history, that is how we continue the progress that needs to be made.”

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