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UMass Amherst poll: 42% of Americans support Juneteenth as a holiday

File - Juneteenth is commemorated on June 19. It became a U.S. federal holiday in 2021. People seen wearing Juneteenth T-shirts.
Eduardo Munoz Alvarez
File - Juneteenth is commemorated on June 19. It became a U.S. federal holiday in 2021. People seen wearing Juneteenth T-shirts.

A new poll out of the University of Massachusetts Amherst found that 42% of Americans, with just 13% of Republicans, support Juneteenth as a federal holiday.

June 19, or Juneteenth, marks the nation's official ending of the emancipation of enslaved people in 1865 and was approved by President Biden as a national holiday in 2021.

The survey also asked questions about diverse representation in media, transgender rights, immigration legislation and more.

Jesse Rhodes, a co-director of the poll and political science professor at UMass Amherst, noted that there is significant conflict among Americans on how history should be taught in schools. One contributing factor is the differing political stances, an element that manifests “a continuation and an intensification” of disagreement regarding racial history teaching, Rhodes said.

He expressed his support for Juneteenth and its teachings in schools.

“Education is about being uncomfortable,” Rhodes said.

He pointed to a lack of historical contextualization of slavery and its stemming from an unwillingness to reckon with the history itself – a pattern he calls “troubling," and said another aspect that adds to the disapproval of Black history teachings is a political strategy to incite fear or anxiety in white Americans who are unsure about interpreting the country’s racialized past in schools.

“Unfortunately, we're seeing it right now primarily within the Republican Party,” Rhodes said.

The poll surveyed 1,133 participants across the country with a deliberate oversampling of Black Americans, to provide a comparison between African Americans’ and whites’ perspectives on racial teachings and politics.

Respondents were split on whether the country has “made a lot of progress toward achieving equality between white Americans and people of color,” with half agreeing that it has. The other half say that there is a “long way to go.”

When it comes to media, 34% of Black respondents believe racial, gender and ethnic diversity should be considered when casting film and television productions, compared to only 21% of all respondents.

Black respondents are also in favor of Black actors getting roles previously portrayed by white actors with 45% strongly agreeing, compared to 24% of all respondents.

In many Western Massachusetts communities residents today are marking Juneteenth in various ways.

In Springfield a flag raising will be held at Springfield City Hall at 2 p.m., followed by a concert at Springfield Symphony Hall titled "Celebrating Freedom."

Some residents said Juneteenth is a good step towards reckoning with the racial oppression of Black Americans.

Jacqueline Bethea noted how June 19 serves as a day to remember the history of slavery.

“I think it’s a good freedom day... to remind people, and especially with the young people, to remind them this is what it is...because if you don't know your history, you can't keep it 100," she said.

Michael Pearson, of Los Angeles, was visiting family in Springfield last week. He said he was looking forward to celebrating when he got back home.

"I plan on taking the kids down and kinda enjoying the festivities, for sure.”

Nirvani Williams covers socioeconomic disparities for New England Public Media, joining the news team in June 2021 through Report for America.
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