White House Kicks off Juneteenth Celebration with South Lawn Concert

June 14, 2023

President Biden on Tuesday denounced racism as “still too powerful” during the White House’s kick-off of this year’s Juneteenth holiday celebrations, which included a concert on the South Lawn. 

In 2021, President Biden signed the legislation making Juneteenth a federal holiday. Though President Lincoln had announced the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, it was not until June 19, 1865—”Juneteenth”—that Union Army Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas and demanded that the state’s more than 250,000 enslaved people be set free.

“When I served in the United States Senate I was so proud to co-sponsor a bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday,” said Vice President Harris, introducing the festivities Tuesday night. “And as Vice President it was my honor to stand beside our President Joe Biden as he signed the legislation that finally made that dream a reality.”

Even though the official federal holiday is set this year for Monday, June 19, the Biden Administration started commemorations early with the South Lawn concert that that featured performances by singers Jennifer Hudson, Audra McDonald and Ledisi.

“Tonight with joy we gather with friends and generations of family members,” said Harris. “We gather here at the White House—steps from where the Emancipation Proclamation was signed—to celebrate America’s newest national holiday.”

Harris also introduced 96-year-old Opal Lee, whom she called “the mother of Juneteenth” for her advocacy that helped to turn the date into a federal holiday. 

The White House described the event as a celebration of community, culture and music. Along with the world-famous performers it also included music from marching bands from Morgan State University in Baltimore and Tennessee State University in Nashville, as well as dance group Step Afrika! and choirs from more historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

Biden reminded the crowd that despite the celebration, there’s still progress to be made in race relations.

“As the past few years remind us, our freedoms have been put at risk by racism that’s still too powerful a force,” said Biden on Tuesday night, adding that hate when hate is given “just a little oxygen, it comes roaring back again.”

“So Juneteenth as a federal holiday is meant to breathe new life into the very essence of America,” said the President. 

Tuesday night’s Juneteenth concert can be viewed here.

PHOTO: @WhiteHouse

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