Juneteenth is a Federal Holiday. But What Do People Know About it?

Aaron Moss, PhD

Despite widespread media attention in recent years, polling conducted by CloudResearch in June of 2021 and again in 2022 shows that most people know little about the holiday Juneteenth. Only about half of the US population, for example, knows that Juneteenth marks the end of slavery. And only one fifth of people have plans to celebrate the holiday this year.

In both of the last two years, CloudResearch polling indicates that roughly half of people know that Juneteenth marks the actual end of slavery within the United States. Slightly fewer people know that Juneteenth originated in Texas, and only about 10% can identify Major General Gordon Granger as the Army officer who played an important role in the history of Juneteenth. Thus, there is clearly room for education surrounding the country’s newest holiday.

Note: CloudResearch data from 2021 were collected in mid-June while 2022 data were collected a few weeks earlier in mid-May. Both CloudResearch samples are based on a national online survey with over 1,000 respondents each and quotas set to match the United States Census.

June 19th—often referred to as Juneteenth—officially became a federal holiday in 2021 when President Joe Biden signed a proclamation to make what had been celebrated as a local holiday a national one. Juneteenth marks the date in 1865 when enslaved Americans living in Texas finally received their freedom, learning from Union soldiers that the Emancipation Proclamation had set them free more than two years prior. In the years leading up to its designation as a federal holiday, Juneteenth has received increasing attention from the media, politics, and wider society.

Mixed Attitudes Based on Race and Political Party

As might be expected given Juneteenth’s historical significance to Black Americans, there were racial differences in both people’s familiarity with and knowledge of Juneteenth. People who identified as Black or African American were fifteen to twenty points more likely than other racial groups to say they are familiar with Juneteenth. Black people were also more likely to report that they had heard about Juneteenth prior to the media attention focused on it within the last several years.

Differences in how people feel about Juneteenth and what they believe businesses should or should not do to celebrate emerged for both race and political party. Black respondents were more in favor of businesses showing support on social media, donating to Black causes, and giving employees the day off than members of other racial groups. Between 36 and 56 percent of respondents from all groups thought that businesses should “conduct business as usual.” 

Large Political Party differences

Finally, although there appears to be general goodwill surrounding Juneteenth, our survey found some differences among Democrats and Republicans. Republican respondents were less familiar with Juneteenth than Democrats or Independents. More interestingly, Republicans were less supportive of businesses showing support on social media, donating to Black causes, or giving employees the day off. While it is possible that these racial and partisan differences will simply become another flashpoint in cultural and political conflict, it is also possible that these large gaps are due to people’s lack of exposure to Juneteenth or knowledge of how to celebrate it. In other words, as traditions and social norms surrounding Juneteenth are established, the racial and partisan gaps in people’s views may actually shrink.  

How Can People Celebrate Juneteenth?

As Americans grow accustomed to a new holiday, people and businesses have to decide how to spend the day and which actions are appropriate. Last year, business celebrations ranged from music festivals and learning events, to a day of service, to a day off for employees.    

When respondents in the CloudResearch poll were asked which business actions they support, there were mixed views. In both 2021 and 2022, about half of people thought businesses should show support on social media, by donating to Black causes, and by giving employees the day off. When respondents were asked how they personally would spend a day off, many said they would gather with family (40%), volunteer (10%), or engage in other actions.

Regardless of how the norms surrounding Juneteenth take shape in the years to come, for those who pushed to have Juneteenth added to the list of national holidays President Biden’s words at the 2021 signing ceremony may reflect the best hope for what Juneteenth may come to represent. Specifically, President Biden said, “By making Juneteenth a federal holiday, all Americans can feel the power of this day, and learn from our history, and celebrate progress, and grapple with the distance we’ve come but the distance we have to travel…”

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