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Volcanoes are erupting in The Philippines, but on-fire Australia received some welcome rain. The Iran war cries have been called off and The Donald’s military powers are about to be hamstrung by the Senate. Meanwhile, his impeachment trial is starting, and we’re all on Twitter for a front-row seat.


What Could Go Right? Mainstreaming Juneteenth

Americans are slowly becoming better informed about black history.

Emma Varvaloucas

Emma Varvaloucas

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Mainstreaming Juneteenth

Yesterday marked the fourth year that the United States celebrated Juneteenth as a federal holiday. 

By executive order of President Lincoln, all slaves in Confederate states were freed on January 1, 1863. In a time without Twitter, television, or even radio, the news spread slowly. Union soldiers delivered it in person, “march[ing] onto plantations and across cities in the south reading small copies of the Emancipation Proclamation.” 

The Civil War was still raging, so despite Lincoln’s decree, enforcement depended on battleground victories. More than two years after the Proclamation and two months after the Confederate army surrendered, word of their freedom reached the last slaves, in Galveston Bay, Texas, on June 19, 1865. This is why Juneteenth is also known as Emancipation Day.

Newspaper clipping: Gordon Granger's Circular in the Galveston Daily News, July 7, 1865
A notice printed in the Galveston Daily News in 1865 from Union commander Gordon Granger, who brought the announcement of slaves’ freedom to Texas | Image: Texas State Historical Association

According to a YouGov survey, national awareness of Juneteenth is rising, with 90 percent of Americans now aware of the holiday, versus 74 percent in 2022. Of those, a little over two-thirds know why the holiday is celebrated. 

Next generations may be better educated about black history, however. Plenty of air was given to last year’s spat between Ron DeSantis and the College Board, when the Florida governor objected to certain units within a new Advanced Placement (AP) course on African American history curriculum and canceled its pilot program in the state. While the course’s future in Florida is still unclear, the fracas overshadowed the fact that elsewhere, the pilot was more popular than expected. The AP course will launch nationwide in the fall of 2024, with an estimated 16,000 students enrolled.

Despite plantation owners’ reluctance to heed the Emancipation Proclamation, Juneteenth was first celebrated by black Texans in 1866 and in the ensuing years with religious sermons, “slave food delicacies” like barbecue, and games, wrote the historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr. in The Root. As a national tradition, however, it was losing ground to New Year’s Day as the first choice of celebrating black freedom until the civil rights movement.

Many also do not know that national recognition of Juneteenth was the passion project of Texas Congressman Albert Ely Edwards. He convinced Texas’ legislature to pass a bill recognizing the holiday in 1979, and worked throughout his tenure in Congress to influence other lawmakers to do the same.

Congressman Albert Ely Edwards speaking the day HB1016 was made into law
The “father of Juneteenth,” Albert Ely Edwards, speaking on the day that Texas made Juneteenth a state holiday | Photo: Juneteenth USA

A decade later, a trickle of states—Florida in 1991, Oklahoma in 1994, and Minnesota in 1996—marked the day as an observance. Almost all states followed suit in the early millennium. And now, over half have “upgraded” Juneteenth to a state holiday.

Juneteenth is sometimes wedged in as a “woke” issue among others prioritized by Democrats. The bill that made it a federal holiday, however, was passed unanimously by the Senate; in the House, the vote was 415 for, 14 against. To understand the holiday merely through the prism of the present, however, is to miss essentially all of its significance. We are only the latest players in the long record of American history.

Correction: Last week’s newsletter incorrectly stated that Claudia Sheinbaum was the first woman to win a national election in the US, Canada, and Mexico. That distinction actually belongs to Kim Campbell, who served as prime minister of Canada for about six months in 1993.

What Could Go Right? S6 E10

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By the Numbers

60: The number of countries that have increased access to abortion in the past 30 years.

41%: The share of women researchers worldwide as of 2022, up from 28% in 2001.

10.8%: The number of uninsured black Americans as of 2022, down from 20.9% in 2010.

50%: The drop in cancer-causing benzene levels at US refineries between 2020 and 2023.

Quick Hits

📉 Violent crime—including murders and rapes—as well as property crime, burglaries, and motor vehicle theft are all plunging in the US, according to FBI statistics from the first three months of 2024. (Crime analyst Jeff Asher reports that the numbers may be overstated, but that the general trend is accurate.)

🌎 For the first time, research shows that levels of hydrochlorofluorocarbons, which eat away at the ozone, have been falling since 2021. Previous research estimated that levels would begin dropping in 2026.

💊 A malaria drug may work to balance the hormone levels of women with polycystic ovary syndrome, which can cause irregular periods, infertility, weight gain, acne, and other issues. The trial was small, only 19 women, but studies will continue. Currently, only treatment options for its specific symptoms exist, but none that address the syndrome’s root cause. 

🔋 A new report says that there has been “exponential change” in the last decade regarding the green energy transition, with several fossil fuel-related peaks reached and massive investments in clean technology.

☀️ Money is flowing into the development of solar-powered airplanes. Lightweight, autonomous, and emissions-less, but slow, companies imagine them coming in handy for surveillance and emergency telecommunications, for instance during a disaster. Most are not built for passenger travel. (WSJ $)

🐴 After 200 years, wild horses—the only true wild horses remaining in the world—are returning to their native Kazakhstan. The horses were driven to near-extinction in the 1960s and until now, survived in European zoos.

⚖️ All nine Supreme Court judges have dismissed a suit filed that contested access to the abortion drug mifepristone, which was approved for use by the FDA in 2000. Access to the pill, including by telemedicine, will remain unchanged in states where abortion is legal.

💡 Editor’s pick: Despite fears that AI would wreak havoc on elections, it turned out to be a “net positive” in India’s recent one.

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Correction: A previous edition of this article stated that Henry Louis Gates, Jr. had passed. He is still living.

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Emma Varvaloucas

Emma Varvaloucas is the Executive Director of The Progress Network. An editor and writer specializing in nonprofit media, she was formerly Executive Editor of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review and is the editor of two books from Wisdom Publications.