President Joe Biden delivered a powerful speech denouncing racism in the United States during the White House’s first major Juneteenth celebration on July 13.
The Biden/Harris administration hosted a Juneteenth concert featuring renowned singers Jennifer Hudson, Audra McDonald, and Ledisi, aiming to highlight American values Biden said he believes are under threat.
Addressing the audience, Biden urged Americans to choose love over hate and emphasized the importance of remembering history rather than erasing it.
“As the past few years remind us, our freedoms have been put at risk by racism, that’s still too powerful a force,” he stated. “Hate only hides. And when given oxygen, just a little oxygen, it comes roaring back out again, and we have to stand up and deny it the oxygen. So Juneteenth as a federal holiday is meant to breathe new life into the very essence of America.”
Juneteenth, a combination of June and June 19, is called Emancipation Day.
Biden declared it a federal holiday in 2021.
The holiday commemorates June 19, 1865, when a Union general arrived in Texas to inform a group of enslaved African Americans of their freedom after the Confederate states had surrendered to end the Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation had already declared their freedom.
Juneteenth has been celebrated as a holiday in Texas since 1980, and U.S. presidents, including George W. Bush, have marked the occasion with solemn statements from the White House.
Vice President Kamala Harris, the first Black woman vice president, began the evening by explaining the origins of Juneteenth and introducing 96-year-old Opal Lee, whose tireless advocacy played a significant role in establishing Juneteenth as a holiday.
Lee urged the audience to be catalysts for change, saying: “Make yourself a committee of one to change somebody’s mind. If people can be taught to hate, they can be taught to love.”
A celebration of community, culture, and music, the White House event on the South Lawn featured performances by marching bands from Morgan State University in Baltimore and Tennessee State University in Nashville.
Other artists included the dance group Step Afrika! and choirs from Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
Biden emphasized that making Juneteenth a federal holiday was not merely a symbolic gesture but a statement acknowledging the origin of slavery as the country’s original sin.
He stressed that the Civil War was not fought solely over national union but was fundamentally about freedom.
Harris expressed that Juneteenth is an occasion to honor Black excellence, culture, and community, stating: “America is a promise—a promise of freedom, liberty, and justice. The story of Juneteenth, as we celebrate it, is a story of our ongoing fight to realize that promise. Not for some, but all.”
In addition to commemorating Juneteenth, the concert celebrated Black Music Month, featuring renowned artists such as McDonald and Hudson.
The event aimed to showcase the richness and significance of Black contributions to American culture.
Fisk Jubilee Singers, TSU AOB Juneteenth performance
Both the Fisk Jubilee Singers and the TSU AOB performed at the White House Juneteenth Celebration.
“Great performances by Grammy Award winning Fisk Jubilee Singers Fisk University and Tennessee State University Aristocrat of Bands for the White House’s President Joe Biden Vice President Kamala Harris Juneteenth Celebration Concert,” posted State Rep. Harold M. Love, Jr. on Facebook.
Originally formed in 1871, the Fisk Jubilee Singers utilize their harmonic voices to sing Negro Spirituals across the globe. The Grammy-winning group includes vocal artists and students at Fisk University.
The Fisk Jubilee Singers broke racial barriers in the late 19th century, and entertained royalty in Europe while raising funds for their school. They were featured in a PBS documentary in 1999 and made history with a journey to Ghana in 2007. One of their most notable accomplishments was in 2008, receiving the National Medal of Arts from President George W. Bush.
Fresh from its performance at CMA Fest, Tennessee State’s Aristocrat of Bands packed up again for Washington, DC. This isn’t the first time the band performed at the White House.
Back in 2016, the Grammy-winning marching band was invited by former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.
This band created history by becoming the first-ever marching band to grace the stage at the renowned Grand Ole Opry.
In a press release from Tennessee State, assistant band director Larry Jenkins said that these moments will be cherished forever by the students and band members.
“From CMA fest to going to the White House, it is out of this world when it comes to the impact this makes nationally and internationally,” Jenkins said. “This gives the students the opportunity to literally make history and have something else to put on their resumes, make connections, and represent the university at the highest level.”