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This Juneteenth, Washington, D.C. residents say there's no freedom without statehood

Juneteenth is a celebration of freedom, but in Washington, D.C, Black people are still fighting for the right to control their own affairs. Becoming a state would help. Into America heads to D.C. to learn about the push for statehood.

About this episode:

Saturday marks Juneteenth, when the last enslaved people in Galveston, Texas finally got word of their freedom in 1865. This came two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Juneteenth is now a federal holiday, signed into law this week by President Joe Biden.

In Washington D.C., slavery actually came to an end before federal emancipation. But today, many D.C. residents argue full democracy and freedom is still out of reach.

The city is now home to 700,000 people, nearly half of whom are Black. But despite living within arms’ reach of the halls of power, residents of the so-called Chocolate City do not have a voting representative in the House or the Senate. That’s because D.C. is not a state.

For years, activists have been pushing for statehood; some hope to name it the Douglass Commonwealth, after abolitionist Frederick Douglass. In April, the House of Representatives approved HR-51, which if approved by the Senate, would make D.C. the 51st state. With the Senate Homeland Security Committee set to hold a hearing on D.C. statehood next week, statehood activists say they are closer than ever to achieving their goal. Democrats, including President Biden, are on board. However, with strong GOP opposition, the outcome is anything but certain.

George Derek Musgrove, a University of Maryland-Baltimore County history professor, explains that statehood matters because D.C.’s current status means it’s controlled by Congress. Residents can elect a mayor and city council, but Congress oversees the city’s budget and can block laws it disapproves of. Residents can’t dictate their own affairs.

One activist working to change this is 22-year-old Jamal Holtz, who grew up in southeast D.C. He’s one of the co-founders of 51 for 51, a group of young people fighting for statehood. People often refer to him D.C.’s “future governor.” One of the people he looks up to is 71-year-old Anise Jenkins. Anise is the founder of Stand Up! for Democracy in DC (Free DC). She’s been fighting for D.C. statehood since the 1990s – before Jamal was born. Anise has been arrested nine times as she’s protested for statehood, and she’s excited to see Jamal’s generation carrying on the fight.

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Find the transcript here.

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