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Members Of Congress Meet On Zoom To Commemorate Juneteenth With Expert Panel

A group photograph of 31 people at a Juneteenth celebration in Emancipation Park in Houston's Fourth Ward in 1880.
Wikimedia Commons
A group photograph of 31 people at a Juneteenth celebration in Emancipation Park in Houston's Fourth Ward in 1880.

The Congressional Caucus on Black-Jewish Relations observed Juneteenth by listening to policy experts acknowledge there's more to do, now that the day is a federal holiday.

Members of the Congressional Caucus on Black-Jewish Relations didn't know when they planned a Juneteenth roundtable on Zoom for Friday that the day would become a federal holiday.

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Juneteenth commemorates the day in 1865 enslaved people in Texas learned they had been freed under the Emancipation Proclamation.

While many are happy about the new holiday, experts reminded the caucus it shouldn't detract from passing civil rights policy.

Joi Chaney is the executive director of the Washington bureau and senior vice president of policy and advocacy at the National Urban League. She spoke with South Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a co-chair of the caucus, about that balance.

"We are excited about the Juneteenth holiday, and that's great. But what we don't want that to do is supplant action to ensure voting rights," she said.

"Not just a day for a barbecue," Wasserman Schultz replied.

"Yeah, it's not, it's not, it's not! It's really an opportunity to talk about what are the liberation things we need to engage in, now?" Chaney said.

In addition to voting rights bills moving through Congress, Chaney also brought up the George Floyd Justice In Policing Act. It has passed the U.S. House, but not the Senate.

Kinshasha Holman Conwill, the deputy director of the National Museum of African American History & Culture, spoke first at the caucus meeting. She acknowledged the, "freedom struggle of African Americans and of American Jews is tied together."

"Juneteenth, for me, is about freedom, it's about remembrance, it's about honoring, it's about memory," she said. "One of the most important things about national holidays is they give us a chance to remember, to learn, to share."

The museum is observing Juneteenth with all-day virtual programming.

U.S. Rep. and fellow co-chair Brenda Lawrence (D-Michigan) added that she believes the new national holiday will help bring attention to the need for accurate teaching of American history in schools.

"So many people are trying to wipe away history of the Jewish community; I've heard those conversations being had...and now we're hearing the talk about 'let's not talk about slavery, that's something we don't want our children to learn about,'" Lawrence said. "This is putting permanently, as a national holiday, that something happened and that we need to pay attention and recognize it."

Caitie Muñoz, formerly Switalski, leads the WLRN Newsroom as Director of Daily News & Original Live Programming. Previously she reported on news and stories concerning quality of life in Broward County and its municipalities for WLRN News.