Juneteenth, the national celebration known as Black America’s Independence Day, has been a nationally recognized observance since Texas decided to make it a state holiday in the 1970s. Over time, activists, academics, and prominent legislators have all fought to make the day marking the true end of chattel slavery a federal holiday. Despite history’s efforts, Donald J. Trump said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal this week that it was he who made the day so popular.
“I did something good: I made Juneteenth very famous,” Trump said, referring to the news headlines that followed his decision to hold a campaign rally on Juneteenth in the place known for one of the greatest attacks on Black lives. “It’s actually an important event, an important time. But nobody had ever heard of it.”
That is obviously a lie. But according to Trump, he polled a number of people within his administration who had never heard of the day. Hoping to drive home his point, Trump paused his interview with the WSJ, looked to an aide, and asked her if she had heard of Juneteenth. That’s when the aide reminded him that for the last three years, the Trump White House had put out a statement recognizing the importance of the nationally recognized holiday.
“Oh really? We put out a statement? The Trump White House put out a statement?” Trump asked the aide. “OK, OK. Good.”
Trump’s commitment to remaining ardently obtuse to the history of Black America appears to be renewed in the wake of heightened racial tensions across the United States. It’s believable that his administration, which consists of one Black cabinet member, did not know of the importance of the day. But the states and corporations who have chosen to recognize this occasion, have committed to doing so out of respect for the Black men and women who have been screaming “Black Lives Matter” for far too long, specifically during this time of social unrest.
Trump’s attempt at co-opting the efforts of Black activists by suggesting his whiteness made the day relevant, did not go over well. On Thursday, #OscarSoWhite creator April Reign weighed in with sentiments expressed by a number of people. “Trump claiming he ‘made Juneteenth very famous’ is very Columbus ‘I discovered America’ energy,” she wrote. “Just because it’s new TO YOU doesn’t mean folks weren’t already here.”