More than 60 percent of Americans know “nothing at all” or only “a little bit” about Juneteenth, the holiday celebrating the end of slavery in the United States, according to a new Gallup survey.
The 37 percent of respondents who reported having “a lot” or “some” knowledge of the holiday may be an increase from previous years, pollsters and academics believe, reflecting growing awareness after last summer’s protests against racism and police brutality.
The survey, the results of which were released on Tuesday, found that nearly half supported teaching the history of Juneteenth in public schools. There was less support — 35 percent — for making June 19 a federal holiday, but only a quarter of respondents said they were opposed to the idea.
On Tuesday, the Senate unanimously approved a bill that would make Juneteenth a legal public holiday. The bill is expected to pass in the House, but a date for a vote hasn’t been set.
Also known as Emancipation Day, Black Independence Day or Jubilee Day, Juneteenth celebrates the day in 1865 when Gordon Granger, a Union general, informed enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas, that the Civil War had ended and that they were free.
The poll is the first Gallup has conducted about Juneteenth. It was organized by the Gallup Center on Black Voices as part of a continuing effort to understand the public perception of and support for the broader inclusion of Black history in American history a year after a deep racial reckoning in the country, Camille Lloyd, the center’s director, said.
The study, which was conducted from May 18 to 23 on a random sample of 3,572 adults who self-administered web surveys, found that results slanted around race and age. Sixty-nine percent of Black respondents said they had a lot or some knowledge of Juneteenth compared with 31 percent of white respondents. Younger adults were also more likely to know about Juneteenth than older adults.
The margin of sampling error for a sample of this size is plus or minus two percentage points, according to Gallup.
Reading between the numbers, the Gallup Center on Black Voices found that “awareness is a critical piece” in whether a person is supportive of celebrating and teaching Juneteenth, and the focus should be on maintaining and cultivating that awareness, Ms. Lloyd said.
Juneteenth has been celebrated by African Americans since the 19th century, and its broader popularity has waxed and waned throughout American history, according to Brenda Elaine Stevenson, a historian specializing in African American history and the history of the Southern United States.
“We see spikes in Juneteenth popularity at the same time we see focus on Black life and the position of Black people in American society,” Dr. Stevenson said.
She said that in addition to last summer’s protests, the pandemic’s disproportionate effect on Black Americans and the recent combative debates on the study of race in public schools and universities had contributed to a broader interest not only in learning about the experience of African Americans, but in finding ways to celebrate it as well.
“Juneteenth has now had a rebirth in terms of people focusing on it, celebrating it, wanting to know what it is and wanting to know what it signifies and how it relates to this long arc of racial divide and progress, or not, in our country,” Dr. Stevenson said.
Conversations about Juneteenth have also become important as the country reckons with how to commemorate its history, said Alaina Morgan, an assistant professor of history at the University of Southern California.
During protests last summer, over 160 Confederate symbols were removed from public spaces or renamed after the death of George Floyd, more than in any other year.
“It’s incumbent on our representatives to push this idea of the commemoration because it really stands for the freedom of all Americans,” Professor Morgan said. What a holiday says is “that this is something that we care about as a people and as a nation and we want to take a moment to stop and have a day of reflection.”
In a statement after the passage of the Senate bill, Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, called the vote to make Juneteenth a federal holiday “a major step forward in recognizing the wrongs of the past.”
“But we must continue to work to ensure equal justice and fulfill the promise of the Emancipation Proclamation and our Constitution,” he added.
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