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More Americans support making Juneteenth a national holiday than oppose the idea, poll says

Passage: The story of Juneteenth
Passage: The story of Juneteenth 01:49

More Americans support making Juneteenth — the annual commemoration of the emancipation of enslaved people in the U.S. — a national holiday than oppose the idea, according to a Gallup poll published on Tuesday. Even more Americans who were surveyed said the origins of Juneteenth should be a part of public school curricula in the U.S.

The poll found that 35% of Americans supported federal recognition of Juneteenth as a national holiday. One in four said that they do not support the move and 40% said that they were unsure or unfamiliar with Juneteenth. 

Black adults were the most supportive group surveyed, with 69% who agreed that Juneteenth should become a federal holiday. Nearly 40% of Hispanic adults support the creation of a Juneteenth national holiday and 27% of White adults do as well, according to the survey. 

In 1980, Texas became the first state to officially recognize June 19 as a state holiday. Last year, states like New Jersey, New York and Virginia, announced moves to recognize the holiday. To date, only three states, North Dakota, South Dakota and Hawaii, do not officially recognize Juneteenth —  also known as Juneteenth Independence Day, Freedom Day, or "Emancipation Day.

Tuesday's poll noted that attempts to make the celebration a national holiday have thus far been unsuccessful. Opponents of the move say that designating Juneteenth as a federal holiday would be too expensive for taxpayers or that it would be potentially divisive. However, the latest attempt by lawmakers unanimously passed in the Senate on Tuesday and will now move to the House, which is controlled by Democrats, for a vote. The last time Congress established a new national holiday was in 1983 for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Despite the heightened level of awareness for Juneteenth and its origins, which came partially as a result of increased depictions of the event in media and nationwide protests following the murder of George Floyd, more than a quarter of Americans said that they don't know anything about the historical day, the poll found.

Only 12% of Americans reported having "a lot" of knowledge about Juneteenth, with Black Americans having the highest reported familiarity at 37%. One-quarter of Americans said that they had "some" understanding of the celebration, 34% reported knowing "a little bit" about it, and 28% said that they knew "nothing at all." 

Gallup reported a bipartisan knowledge divide in regard to the historical celebration. 45% of Republicans said that they knew "nothing at all" about Juneteenth, whereas 36% of Democrats reported having "a little bit" of knowledge about the observance and 18% reported having "a lot." 

Teaching students about Juneteenth in U.S. history courses in public schools throughout the country could help to fill such knowledge gaps, the poll stated. Nearly half of American adults support adding Juneteenth the public school curricula. Most others were either unsure or unfamiliar with the event, and 16% of Americans said that they would be opposed to its addition.

The poll was released as nationwide debates have erupted over teaching critical race theory in schools. Nearly a dozen states have recently introduced bills that would direct what students can and cannot be taught about the role of slavery in American history and the ongoing effects of racism in the U.S. today. 

Critics of such legislation say that learning about the history of events like Juneteenth is "vital" for students.

"Knowledge about these dates and the celebration of them give students the steps to advocate for narratives and experiences that have been erased or forgotten," Coshandra Dillard, former teacher and senior writer at advocacy group Learning for Justice, wrote on the group's website. "It also empowers them to connect with their own communities and to become advocates in a diverse democracy." 

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