Biden, in early Juneteenth party, vows to keep fighting for Black Americans’ freedoms

By Andrea Shalal and Jarrett Renshaw

(Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris celebrated the Juneteenth holiday early on Monday with a White House concert that included singers Gladys Knight and Patti LaBelle and rapper Doug E. Fresh.

Biden signed a law in 2021 that made June 19, or Juneteenth, a federal holiday. It commemorates the day in 1865 – after the Confederate states surrendered to end the Civil War – when a Union general arrived in Galveston, Texas, to inform a group of enslaved African Americans of their freedom under President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation.

“Black history is American history,” Biden told the nearly 1,700 people in attendance. He said he would continue to fight for the rights of Black Americans even as some political leaders were working to take away their hard-won freedoms.

“The day reminds us that we have a helluva lot more work to do,” said Biden. “Let’s keep marching. Let’s keep the faith.”

Long a regional holiday in the U.S. South, Juneteenth rose in prominence across the country following 2020 protests over the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks and other Black Americans.

Comedian and actor Roy Wood, Jr emceed the event, praising Biden and Harris for helping the Black community, including through lower prescription drug prices, expanded health care for veterans, investments in Black colleges and student debt relief.

He interspersed the musical program with brief history lessons, touching on Jim Crow laws that restricted civil liberties for Black Americans after the end of slavery.

Harris also spoke, saying this year’s Juneteenth holiday would be a day of action for voting rights. She returned to the stage later for an unplanned dance with gospel singer Kirk Franklin.

Fresh asked guests to raise their mobile phones and turn their lights on to commemorate the many African-Americans who did not survive enslavement, illuminating the South Lawn of the White House as the sun set over Washington.

Biden sat in the front row throughout the concert, listening raptly and clapping along, but not getting to his feet along with many in the audience who stood and dance for nearly two hours.

Others who appeared at the White House party included singer and songwriter Raheem DeVaughn, singer and songwriter Anthony Hamilton, singer and actress Patina Miller, country singer and songwriter Brittney Spencer, jazz musician Trombone Shorty and the singer and songwriter Charlie Wilson.

The White House event comes during a heated presidential election in which Black voters are likely to play a central role in the rematch between Biden and his Republican rival Donald Trump.

Biden frequently credits Black Americans for his 2020 win, but polls show that these same voters may not be as enthusiastic this November. Minor changes in political loyalties or low turnout in key states could influence who wins in November.

(Reporting by Jarrett Renshaw; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Stephen Coates)











Close Bitnami banner