Celebrating Juneteenth reminds us of the ongoing fight for racial justice

June 20, 2023
by Karyne Bury, Yolanda Gordon, Michael Santos

This past weekend, many celebrated the newest federal holiday known as Juneteenth. Juneteenth is a portmanteau (a combination of words) for the month of “June” and “nineteenth,” a date that carries great significance for many Black communities because it commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. Congress passed legislation making it a federal holiday that President Biden signed into law in 2021.

On June 19, 1865, about two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation that liberated all enslaved people in the Confederate states and five months after Congress passed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, news of the liberation finally reached enslaved people in Galveston, Texas (it took six more months before slavery was outlawed in the whole country, including  in “Union” states where enslavement was legal during the Civil War, when the 13th Amendment was ratified). But, since then, Black communities and allies have celebrated the end of slavery on June 19th, with the state of Texas marking the date officially in 1980. Now, it is a mainstream celebration.

Celebrating Juneteenth is a testament to the progress our country has made over centuries towards racial justice. But it’s also a reminder of how much work needs to be done to truly achieve this. Many descendants of those who were liberated in 1865 are still feeling the effects of slavery today.

RESULTS’ ongoing efforts to further economic justice through the tax code is a good example of the tremendous amount of work left to do. As a matter of perspective, taxes have permeated American life since its founding. After all, the revolt against taxation without representation from the King of England was a key component of U.S. independence from the monarchy. The federal and local governments have collected taxes since before slavery was outlawed in the United States. The first federal income tax was created in 1861 to finance the Civil War, four years before the end of slavery. Congress created the Bureau of Internal Revenue, the IRS’ predecessor under the Internal Revenue Act of 1862.

At this point, you can just imagine how much the country’s history, for good and for bad, has influenced and shaped the tax code that we see today. To date, the tax code has been changed thousands of times — sometimes to empower those living in poverty, sometimes to perpetuate poverty and create more inequality.

RESULTS is pushing Congress to give families and children the tools they need to lift themselves out of poverty by expanding the Child Tax Credit to reach households with the lowest incomes. We’re also educating Congress on the importance of prioritizing renters in the tax code through a federal renter tax credit. These policies, if achieved, can make our society more equitable and will benefit everyone, including Black, Indigenous, other people of color and more groups that are oppressed by legacies of discrimination and disproportionately affected by poverty.

Today’s fight to make the tax code work for those living in poverty is an indicator of the fight ahead. After all, our work to end poverty is very much part of the broader movement to achieve racial justice.

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