Biden hosts Juneteenth concert at White House, but makes no mention of reparations

Washington DC - The White House held a Juneteenth concert on Monday celebrating Black Americans' legacy of resilience – but made no mention of reparations during the event.

President Joe Biden speaks during a Juneteenth concert on the South Lawn of the White House on June 10, 2024.
President Joe Biden speaks during a Juneteenth concert on the South Lawn of the White House on June 10, 2024.  © REUTERS

President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and members of Congress gathered on the South Lawn Monday night to ring in Juneteenth with speeches and performances by Kirk Franklin, Gladys Knight, Trombone Shorty, Doug E. Fresh, and Patti LaBelle, and more.

"White House lawn's never seen anything like this before," Biden told the audience. "What a fitting tribute to Juneteenth."

Juneteenth became the newest national holiday in 2021 when Biden signed legislation marking the occasion. The day commemorates US Army General Gordon Granger's arrival in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, bringing with him news of the end of enslavement – two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

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"I was proud to have made Juneteenth a federal holiday," Biden told the crowd.

"It wasn't just a symbolic gesture," he continued. "It was a [...] testament to the resilience of generations of Black Americans who kept their eyes set on the nation's North Star. That North Star was the idea that we are all created equal in the image of God and deserve to be treated equal throughout our lives."

"While we've never lived up to it, we've never fully walked away from it either. That's because of you and generations before you who led the march from slavery to freedom."

Biden and Harris fail to mention reparations during Juneteenth event

President Joe Biden (r.) and Vice President Kamala Harris applaud during their Juneteenth concert at the White House.
President Joe Biden (r.) and Vice President Kamala Harris applaud during their Juneteenth concert at the White House.  © REUTERS

Biden cautioned the crowd on growing rightwing threats to Black lives and livelihood in an apparent shot at his Republican rivals in the 2024 election year.

"Let's be clear: There are ghosts in new garments trying to take us back," the president warned, condemning rightwing efforts to erode voting rights; undermine diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives; ban books; and rewrite history.

"While Juneteenth is a day for celebration, it is also a day for dedication, a day to rededicate ourselves to the ongoing and unfinished work of our American experiment," said Harris, announcing the White House would hold a national day of action on voting during this year's holiday.

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Neither the president nor vice president made any mention of reparations during their remarks, despite a growing national movement which sees Juneteenth as a focus point for organizing efforts.

In 2020's Lift Every Voice: The Biden Plan for Black America, the two candidates expressed support for a federal reparations study, though they have yet to act on that promise since taking office.

Racial justice advocates have urged Biden to follow through by establishing a reparations commission by executive order. The body would be tasked with crafting a blueprint to address the US' legacy of enslavement and anti-Black racism, putting the country on a path toward true freedom and equality.

As the 2024 election approaches, advocates have noted that a reparations commission may be Biden's key to success as he looks toward a rematch with presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump.

Cover photo: REUTERS

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