Biden, Honoring Juneteenth, Warns of Danger of ‘Old Ghosts in New Garments’

Biden, Honoring Juneteenth, Warns of Danger of ‘Old Ghosts in New Garments’

President Biden warned on Monday of “old ghosts in new garments trying to take us back” in remarks commemorating Juneteenth, the national holiday that marks the freedom of the last enslaved people in America, and vowed that his administration was committed to protecting Black history and civil rights.

Speaking from the South Lawn of the White House, where he held a concert in honor of the upcoming holiday, Mr. Biden assailed efforts to erase Black history through book bans, limit opportunities through attacks on diversity programs and chip away at freedoms like the right to vote.

“Our history is not just about the past,” he told the crowd. “It’s about our present and our future. It’s whether that future is a future for all of us, not just for some of us.

“Folks, Black history is American history,” he said to applause, vowing that his administration would always “uplift it and protect it.”

Mr. Biden signed legislation in 2021 making June 19, or Juneteenth, a federal holiday, the first new national holiday since one honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was established in 1983. The holiday marks the day in 1865 that the last remaining slaves, living in Galveston, Texas, learned they were free more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

The day had long been celebrated by Black Americans, but members of Congress and a civil rights activist from Texas pushed for years to make it a federal holiday. Mr. Biden has said that signing the legislation was one of his proudest moments as president.

“It wasn’t just a symbolic gesture,” Mr. Biden said. “It was a statement of fact. It was about a statement of faith. It was a testament to the resilience of generations of Black Americans, who kept their eyes set on the nation’s North Star.”

Music artists, elected officials, civil rights leaders and scholars packed the White House lawn for the event, which also celebrated Black Music Month. The comedian Roy Wood Jr. played emcee, and attendees included the actor Billy Porter, the talk show host Tavis Smiley, and the musical luminaries Gladys Knight, Patti LaBelle, Doug E. Fresh and Kirk Franklin, who pulled Vice President Kamala Harris on the stage briefly to dance.

The celebration comes as the administration has made an aggressive push before the November election to promote its victories for the Black community as Mr. Biden seeks to retain support among the critical voting bloc, which has shown signs of slipping.

Although Mr. Biden never mentioned any of his political opponents by name, his comments implicitly drew a sharp contrast with Republicans, many of whom have promoted the policies he attacked.

In her own remarks, Ms. Harris ticked off administration accomplishments including wiping out billions in student loan debt, capping the price of insulin, appointing the first Black female Supreme Court justice and signing into law gun safety legislation. She also announced a national day of action on voting on June 19.

“In many ways, the story of Juneteenth and of our nation is a story of our ongoing fight to realize that promise, our ongoing fight to build a nation that is more equal, more fair and more free,” Ms. Harris said.

Before the event, the White House issued a fact sheet outlining measures to protect Black history. Those include displaying the original Emancipation Proclamation and General Order No. 3 from June 18 to June 20 at the National Archives Museum, and providing new funding to all states to support reading and discussion programs, traveling museum exhibits and other learning opportunities on the legacy of slavery and emancipation.

The Education Department, the statement said, will also name a coordinator for responding to book bans, including assessing whether they violate federal civil rights laws.

During his presidency, Mr. Biden has made a point to honor Black Americans who have sacrificed for civil rights, including designating a national monument to Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley, and posthumously awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Medgar Evers, the first field secretary of the N.A.A.C.P. in Mississippi, who was assassinated fighting segregation in his home state.

During his remarks, Mr. Biden recalled his recent visit to Normandy, France, to commemorate the anniversary of D-Day, reflecting on the service of Black servicemembers who fought overseas, including Mr. Evers, who he said was killed 61 years ago this week by the “poison of white supremacy.”

Last month, Mr. Biden also awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom to Opal Lee, the 97-year-old educator and activist from Fort Worth known as the Grandmother of Juneteenth for her decades-long effort to have it recognized as a holiday.

In his remarks on Monday, he recalled handing her his signing pen for the legislation, crediting her with making the holiday possible.

He called Juneteenth “a day of profound weight and power, a day to remember the original sin of slavery and the extraordinary capacity to merge the most powerful moments and painful moments with a better vision for ourselves.”

“A day that reminds us,” Mr. Biden said, “we have a hell of a lot more work to do.”

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