UNIVERSITY PARK (CBSLA) - In Southern California, scholars, pastors, activists and families are sounding off on what Juneteenth, the new national holiday signed into law Thursday by President Joe Biden, means.
It's being called a symbol of hope by some, while others say it's nothing but an empty gesture.
"In the life of this country, it is a significant step," Pastor J. Edgar Boyd, Senior Minister at First AME Church of Los Angeles, said. "What this does is, it forces all of us to come out of the closet and face the truth. And stop and look at the history of this nation because if anything is really going to be healed, we have to deal with some of the systemic problems that have really separated us and set us apart as people."
Celebrated on June 19th, it marks that day in 1865 when the last enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas, were notified that the Civil War had ended and they were free. It had been more than two years since President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
Juneteenth is the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Junior day in 1983.
University of Southern California Law Professor Jody Armour, who specializes in racial and criminal justice said that while some people may think it's hollow symbolism, he believes it is really very meaningful.
"We have been arguing about our shared public life when it comes to symbols for some time now, the Confederate flag, the Confederate monument, naming streets and schools after Confederate soldiers and generals. And we've agreed in a lot of those struggles that symbolism matters, that really our shared public symbolic life matters," Professor Armour said.
Not everyone feels the same, however. Black Lives Matter Los Angeles activist Akili calls the new federal holiday an empty gesture.
"Because on the one hand, you have the same people who are supporting and promoting voter suppression, who won't even discuss reparations, who have no commitment to at least look at how we can adjust for and make repairs for the harm that that's been done," he said.
Professor Armour, though, believes the holiday has the potential to bring people together.
"Sometimes it can cynically be manipulated, symbolic gestures, and they can wind up hollow. But sometimes they are extremely powerful ways to unify people, to rally people around a common purpose," the professor said.
For some families in LA, it's a day to educate and heal.
"I think it's a great move for this country and for African Americans as a whole. I also think it's long overdue, as well, but definitely a good step forward in memorializing something that's been around for decades," Wanda Kwomo, a member of the First AME Church member, said.
Kwomo added that she believe this is a good opportunity for people to learn about Black history.
"Sometimes people do know history and our history, but some of them don't, so it's a good thing that you know now. So, moving forward, you'll be able to educate someone else on this particular subject matter," she said.
In 1980, Texas became the first state to recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday.
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