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“It Should Be Nationwide”: Nicole Beharie Heralds Moves to Make Juneteenth a Federal Holiday


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Juneteenth, the June 19 holiday commemorating the official end of U.S. slavery in 1865, was first acknowledged by many non-Black Americans amid 2020’s racial reckoning, with Hollywood companies moving to formally recognize the date.

“Acknowledging the history — and marking the sacrifice of the people who were enslaved — is essential to moving forward in the right way,” says actress Nicole Beharie, who starred in the 2020 film Miss Juneteenth, about a Texas-set beauty pageant. While most states recognize Juneteenth as either an official or ceremonial holiday — California falls into the latter category — Beharie is among those who’d like to see it become an official federal holiday. And this week, the U.S. Senate, and then the House, voted on a bill to do just that; it will next go to President Biden, who is expected to sign the legislation. “It should be nationwide. It’s a massive part of the history of our country,” says Beharie.

“When we celebrate the Fourth of July, that’s the freedom of some people,” she adds. “Frederick Douglass had a speech that says ‘What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July?’ where he was invited to speak in front of a bunch of dignitaries about the Fourth of July and freedom.”

Around L.A., a slew of restaurants and events will mark Juneteenth. La Brea Avenue BBQ spot Bludso’s has commemorated the holiday for the past five years, this year once again offering specials on its Texas-style meats, Nehi strawberry soda, and strawberry cake made by owner Kevin Bludso’s mother. “African American culture is probably the least celebrated, and I want our holidays to be recognized just like anybody else’s holidays,” Bludso says. Hollywood vegan soul food spot The V Tree will host an open-mic night and offer traditional items like skillet bread and fried okra, and L.A. group And Gather for Good will put on its second annual Pies for Justice event, teaming up with local chefs to sell pies to benefit BLM L.A. and Süprmarkt, a low-cost organic grocery serving low-income communities. AOC, Post & Beam, Milo & Olive and Joan’s on Third are among the restaurants participating in the event, which last year raised more than $26,000.

“Just because we’re not marching in the streets [this year], it doesn’t mean that this isn’t important and it’s still not an issue that is the top of our minds,” says Pies for Justice co-founder Steph Chen, with partner Sherry Mandell adding, “These are the moments that really are the important ones, when everybody else has moved on to the next thing. We feel we owe it to our community to continue to be there and to be the little megaphone for L.A.”

Beyond the restaurant world, DTLA will host the SoulfulofNoise Juneteenth Concert, while Leimert Park Village will celebrate with a weekend of live music, art and storytelling. “I think community service is [also] a fantastic way to mark Juneteenth,” adds Beharie.

Juneteenth arrives just as California lifted many of its pandemic restrictions on June 15 after a year that has been particularly hard on Black-owned businesses. Beloved Inglewood eatery The Serving Spoon launched a GoFundMe campaign in December to help stay afloat, raising more than $100,000. Earle’s on Crenshaw also held a GoFundMe so the restaurant could provide accessible meals to its community amid the shutdown, and favorite spots like Roscoe’s and Hawkins House of Burgers have reopened for dine-in.

Today, after surviving the pandemic roller coaster, Serving Spoon co-owner Angela Johnson says, “We rolled with all the punches they threw at us. Here we are today, still standing, and we made it through the most challenging times of our lives these past 14 months. We are as busy as ever and are looking forward to continuing to provide the good food and customer service that we have been providing for 38 years now.”

For her part, Beharie plans to be with family on Saturday. “Because we’re still in this pandemic stage, we’re not fully out of it, we’re going to do something outside and talk about what it means to be free in this day and age and what that responsibility is and then celebrate the joy and mark the sacrifice that people made on our behalf,” she says, adding that still, in 2021, “Having full, active citizenship is something we are all working toward and trying to define.”

A version of this story first appeared in the June 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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