In his Juneteenth message delivered in 2019, President Donald Trump stated, “as a Nation, we vow to never forget the millions of African Americans who suffered the evils of slavery.”
However, Trump apparently forgot at least one thing from that declaration, issued one year ago this week: that the celebration around Juneteenth existed at all.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal published on Thursday, Trump said he was first informed about Juneteenth by a Black Secret Service agent just recently, in attempting to explain to the president why there was an uproar over his decision to host a political rally on June 19 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The announcement of Trump’s first political rally since March of this year came as uprisings across the country were taking place following the killing of George Floyd at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer who had kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes in late May.
The rally’s date would have coincided with the celebration and unofficial Juneteenth holiday (it’s an official holiday in Texas), which commemorates the day in 1865 when Black Americans enslaved in Texas were informed of their freedom at the close of the Civil War. The rally is also slated to take place in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which is the site of a deadly massacre in 1921 where Black residents in an affluent neighborhood of the city were attacked and killed, with their homes and businesses also firebombed, by white residents.
The rally’s date has since been rescheduled, reportedly out of respect for Juneteenth, and will instead take place on Saturday, the day after.
In spite of his saying he didn’t know about Juneteenth prior to planning to hold his campaign rally on that day, Trump suggested the scheduling error had a positive outcome nevertheless: making the day, in his mind, more popular.
“I did something good: I made Juneteenth very famous,” Trump said in The Wall Street Journal interview. “It’s actually an important event, an important time. But nobody had ever heard of it.”
According to the president, no one in the White House he had asked had heard of the celebration and unofficial holiday, either. When informed during the interview that he had put out a Juneteenth statement just last year — and, in fact, every year he’s been president — Trump seemed to be stunned by the information.
“Oh really? We put out a statement? The Trump White House put out a statement? Ok, ok. Good,” he said.
Forty-seven states plus Washington D.C. recognize Juneteenth. It’s been widely celebrated in cities across the country, long before the president purportedly said he made the day “famous” by scheduling a campaign event on its date.
Indeed, the amount of outrage that doing so generated seems to contradict the very notion that nobody knew about Juneteenth beforehand.
Yamiche Alcindor, the White House correspondent for PBS NewsHour, stated on Twitter that the day has been acknowledged for quite some time.
“Reminder: Juneteeth has been celebrated since long before President Trump was born,” Alcindor tweeted out.
Bestselling author and CNN commentator Keith Boykin echoed Alcindor’s sentiments, criticizing Trump’s ignorance of the celebration.
“Black people have been celebrating Juneteenth since 1865, but Trump learned about it last week and now he wants to take credit,” Boykin wrote.