June 19 commemorates the true ending of slavery in the United States. While Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation went into effect Jan. 1, 1863, it wasn't until June 19, 1865, that General Gordon Granger and his Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, with news that the Civil War had ended and any enslaved people were freed by executive order.
In an op-ed for The Washington Post published on Friday, Usher advocates to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. He also explains the T-shirt he wore back in 2015 at the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans, which had the words "July Fourth" crossed out and replaced with "Juneteenth."
"I have no issue with celebrating America’s independence on July 4," the 41-year-old singer writes. "For me, wearing the shirt was an opportunity to inform others who may not necessarily know the history of black people in America, and who are not aware that Juneteenth is our authentic day of self-determination. It is ours to honor the legacy of our ancestors, ours to celebrate and ours to remember where we once were as a people. And it should be a national holiday, observed by all Americans."
Usher shares that he didn't learn about the significance behind Juneteenth until a decade ago and that he had to seek out the knowledge himself, given the limitations of what school taught him about black history.
"Growing up in Chattanooga, Tenn., I was taught in school one version of U.S. history that frequently excluded the history of my family and my community," he shares. "I came to understand Juneteenth’s history a decade ago during a period of reflection and in pursuit of any ancestral history that would tell me who I am."
The R&B star later writes about how he feels June 19 should be observed, which doesn't mean taking a day off.
"We could observe it, as many black Americans already do, by celebrating both our first step toward freedom as black people in America and also the many contributions to this land: the construction of Black Wall Street; the invention of jazz, rock n’ roll, hip-hop and R&B and all the entrepreneurship and business brilliance, extraordinary cuisine, sports excellence, political power and global cultural influence black Americans have given the world," he writes. "Recognizing Juneteenth as a national holiday would be a small gesture compared with the greater social needs of black people in America. But it can remind us of our journey toward freedom, and the work America still has to do."
On Friday, Usher urged his followers on Twitter to sign a Change.org petition to make Juneteenth a national holiday.
"I proudly join the incredible people and organizations who have been working on this for years, among them the inspiring Opal Lee, a 93-year-old from Fort Worth, Tex," he tweeted. "Sign the petition she started!"
Make Juneteenth A National Holiday! I proudly join the incredible people and organizations who have been working on this for years, among them the inspiring Opal Lee, a 93-year-old from Fort Worth, Tex. Sign the petition she started!https://t.co/fdbS9uJr69 pic.twitter.com/MS8Xm1sJfv— Usher Raymond IV (@Usher) June 19, 2020
Texas was the first state to recognize Juneteenth as a paid holiday in 1980, and currently, 47 states and the District of Columbia recognize the day as an official state holiday or observance. On Wednesday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order to make Juneteenth a holiday in the state, and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam also announced that he would make Juneteenth a state holiday.
The movement to make June 19 a national holiday has definitely gained steam amid the Black Lives Matter movement and national protests following the death of George Floyd. On Thursday, Sen. Kamala Harris shared that Senate Democrats will introduce a measure making Juneteenth a national holiday and Republican Sen. John Cornyn also announced that he's introducing a bill to make June 19 a federal holiday.
ET recently spoke with Black-ish star Jenifer Lewis, who talked about the "Juneteenth" episode of the hit show and how people should recognize the holiday. Watch the video below for more: