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Top Republican presidential candidates were noticeably silent about Juneteenth



Top Republican contenders in the 2024 presidential race were noticeably silent about Juneteenth on Monday, a federal holiday marking the end of U.S. slavery that was unanimously passed by both Democratic and Republican lawmakers in Congress.

Former President Donald Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, the top four candidates according to Real Clear Politics, and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie all appeared to forgo acknowledging Juneteenth.

Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump, Mike Pence and Nikki Haley. (Photo: Getty Images)

TheGrio reached out to the campaigns of Trump, DeSantis, Pence, Haley and Christie for comment on why the candidates did not publicly address Juneteenth or to clarify their stance on the federal holiday. None of the campaigns responded by the time of publication. 

Until it became federal law in 2021, Juneteenth was almost exclusively celebrated by Black Americans as an alternative to Independence Day. During the country’s founding in 1776, many argued all Americans were not free, as Black Americans remained enslaved for another 89 years.

However, some Republican candidates did mark the holiday publicly, including U.S. Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and radio talk show host Larry Elder, who are all candidates of color, as well as former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum. All of the candidates are polling less than 2%, with the exception of Scott, who is polling at 3.6%.

Their messages were a contrast to President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, who acknowledged the immense progress made with race in America but also noted the systemic barriers that still exist for millions of Black Americans – including policies and laws recently enacted by Republicans.

“We honor Juneteenth not to dwell on our original sin as a nation, but to showcase just how far we’ve come,” tweeted Scott, who is the premier Black man in the 2024 contest. “We can’t forget the lessons of our past, but we must always continue to strive towards a more perfect union.”

U.S. Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) announces his run for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination at a campaign event on May 22, 2023, in North Charleston, South Carolina. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

During an interview with Fox Business, Elder, who is also Black, took a more combative tone and called out Democrats for “pushing down our throats about systemic racism,” which he called “absolutely insulting.”

Ramaswamy, who is of Indian descent, said in a Juneteenth video message that, “No matter your skin color … you get ahead in this country based on your own hard work, your own commitment and your own dedication.”

In a statement provided to theGrio, the Democratic National Committee slammed Republican presidential hopefuls who remained silent on Juneteenth.

“While MAGA Republicans campaign on erasing history and banning books, it’s not surprising many of them would blatantly ignore the federal holiday celebrating the hard-won freedoms of Black Americans,” said DNC spokesperson Rhyan Lake. 

“While President Biden and Vice President Harris have delivered historically low Black unemployment and are fighting to safeguard and build on the progress we’ve made, these GOP hopefuls have made it abundantly clear that they’re more concerned with pandering to their MAGA base than serving our communities.”

Christina M. Greer, associate professor of political science at Fordham University and host of theGrio’s “The Blackest Questions” podcast, said she is not surprised by the reactions of Republicans or lack thereof on Juneteenth. 

Pan-African flag, Juneteenth, TheGrio.com
A Pan-African flag flies from Black Lives Matter Plaza overlooking the White House on Juneteenth to mark the liberation of slavery in 1865 on June 19, 2020, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Michael A. McCoy/Getty Images)

“We don’t hear any of these candidates talking about … the very real past that affects so much of our daily experiences, not just as Black people, people of color, marginalized communities, [and] immigrants,” Greer told theGrio. 

She said that the silence is a result of a shift in the Republican Party that is “completely taken over” by right-wing “extremists.”

Political strategist Alencia Johnson pointed out that a majority of the Republican presidential candidates who did not comment on Juneteenth are also driving “culture wars,” including DeSantis, who is seen as the architect of an “anti-woke” movement against a slew of policies related to race. 

As governor of Florida, DeSantis moved to ban certain teachings about slavery and racism in public school classrooms and prohibited public dollars from being used to fund diversity programs in public colleges. Several Republican candidates erroneously characterized these classroom teachings as critical race theory, which is now a catchall phrase for all things related to race and history.

“If they were to acknowledge [Juneteenth], it would go against their entire agenda that, quite frankly, is trying to take us back to the days … before the Civil Rights Act [and] before the Voting Rights Act,” said Johnson. 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signs legislation on May 15, 2023, banning state funding for diversity, equity, and inclusion programs at Florida’s public universities, at New College of Florida in Sarasota, Florida. (Photo by Douglas R. Clifford/Tampa Bay Times via AP)

She added, “Republicans will not acknowledge that they are treading the water for white nationalism that has been emboldened” within the party.

Days before Juneteenth, DeSantis and Pence called for a military base in North Carolina to be renamed after slave-owning confederate general Braxton Bragg. When he was president, Trump opposed Bragg’s name and other confederate leaders being removed from military bases, calling them “part of a great American heritage.”

“As long as it’s white history, then that’s American history, but they refuse to acknowledge Black history as American history as well, and they label it as divisive,” said Greer, who referred to confederate generals as “treasonous traitors” who lost the American Civil War.

“This is pandering [and] it’s deliberate and explicit to signal to their extremist white voters that these are the types of policies that they’ll uphold,” she added. “Not about Juneteenth and equity and inclusion.”


Gerren Keith Gaynor

Gerren Keith Gaynor is a White House Correspondent and the Managing Editor of Politics at theGrio. He is based in Washington, D.C.

TheGrio is FREE on your TV via Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku and Android TV. Also, please download theGrio mobile apps today! 


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