Jun 17, 2021 - Podcasts

Congress approves Juneteenth as a federal holiday

The House voted yesterday to make Juneteenth a federal holiday, after the Senate unanimously did so on Tuesday. Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S., falling on the day in 1865 that enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas, learned they were free — more than two years after emancipation was announced.

  • Plus, culture clash at the Southern Baptist Convention.
  • And, the FAA gets serious about unruly passengers.

Guests: How to Be an Antiracist's Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, Houston Chronicle's Robert Downen, and Axios' Joann Muller.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Dan Bobkoff, Alexandra Botti, Justin Kaufmann, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, Amy Pedulla, Naomi Shavin, and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected].

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NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Thursday, June 17th.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what you need to know today: culture clash at the Southern Baptists Convention. Plus, the FAA gets serious about unruly passengers.

But first, today’s One Big Thing: Congress approves a new federal holiday - Juneteenth.

NIALA BOODHOO: The House voted yesterday to make Juneteenth a federal holiday after the Senate unanimously did so on Tuesday. Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the U S, falling on the date in 1865, that enslaved African-Americans in Galveston, Texas learned they were free, more than two years after emancipation was announced. With so much renewed attention around this holiday, asked author and historian Dr. Ibram X. Kendi to talk this through with me. He's also the host of the new, Be Anti-racist podcast from our partners over at Pushkin. Dr. Kendi, welcome to Axios Today. Thank you for making the time to speak with us.

IBRAM X. KENDI: Oh, thank you so much for having me.

NIALA BOODHOO: In your writings, you've often said that it's critically important to distinguish between abolishing slavery and actually freeing people. Why do you think that many people might overlook that distinction?

IBRAM X. KENDI: Unfortunately we're just not really taught about with, with a tremendous amount of complexity and detail the Civil War, or even the post Civil War period. In which you had formerly enslaved people saying to the U.S. government: We live in an agricultural society. We’re not going to be able to be free if we don't have land. So we need our 40 acres and it was clear as day to them. And obviously that did not happen.

NIALA BOODHOO: How do you think the establishing of a federal holiday might help our education as a nation to know more about this?

IBRAM X. KENDI: Well, what I'm hoping is that this federal holiday would allow us every single year to take a step back. Especially those of us who aren't able to, to study and understand and talk about it full time. Basically the 200, nearly 250 years in which, you know, black people were enslaved in this country and the 250 years of resistance, you know, against slavery. And so it will be a time of, of, of memory of that terror, you know, memory of the, the celebrating of people who, who fought for so long to be, you know, to be, free.

NIALA BOODHOO: Do you think celebrate is the Appropriate word to use for Juneteenth?

IBRAM X. KENDI: I think I celebrate... people who have fought to be free. I mean, I, and so I, I do think at least in part it should be a celebration.

NIALA BOODHOO: And I also wanted to ask you about the kind of commercialization we've seen, especially in the past year of Juneteenth. I am a cancer survivor. I know that you are as well, and I'm always struck by the commercialization around breast cancer pink. And in my mind, I feel like it kind of takes away from the actual issue. And I wonder with more companies and brands embracing Juneteenth, if you feel similarly about that, like, do you feel like people are actually embracing the essence of what we should be talking about here?

IBRAM X. KENDI: We are certainly going to have to have a battle over the narrative. And there's going to be powerful forces, whether corporations or people with massive bully platforms who are telling us how we should use it, how we should celebrate it. And I think with Juneteenth, like MLK day, like Black History month, like, Indigenous People's Day, there's so many days that we're trying to battle, you know, over how it's remembered, how it's celebrated to ensure it's not being commodified. And I certainly think Juneteeth will become another one like that.

NIALA BOODHOO: Dr. Ibram X Kendi is the author of How To Be an Anti-Racist and host of the new podcast from Pushkin Industries Be Anti-Racist, he's going to be joining us every Thursday, this summer with insights from his conversations with all kinds of interesting people. Dr. Kendi, thanks for taking the time for us.

IBRAM X. KENDI: Thank you for having me.

NIALA BOODHOO: We’ll be back in 15 seconds on the results from this year’s Southern Baptists Convention.

Welcome back to Axios Today! I’m Niala Boodhoo.

NIALA BOODHOO: The Southern Baptist convention, the world's largest Baptist denomination just wrapped up after three days in Nashville. The gathering was especially scrutinized this year because the clashes over race abuse and the overall direction of the second largest Christian denomination in the U.S. Here to catch us up as Robert Downen who covers religion for the Houston Chronicle. Hey, Robert, good morning!

NIALA BOODHOO: How much of what's going on within the Southern Baptist convention represents a reflection of maybe broader cultural wars within the country.

ROBERT DOWNEN: Oh, absolutely. I mean, it is interesting to me because… one, you know, people, when they hear Southern Baptist convention, they think that it's the Southern denomination, but it really is nationwide. And it does have, within its ranks, every, type of person from every place in the country. And while they are theologically conservative, there is, and, you know, definitely trend towards conservative politics, there have been, a growing number of pastors who have tried to peel away from the culture wars and, I guess, issues that have kind of dominated, you know, really evangelical conversations for the last 40 or 50 years.

NIALA BOODHOO: And with Alabama pastor Ed Litton voted in as a new president what direction are they going in now with him?

ROBERT DOWNEN: From everyone I've talked to Ed Litton is a very compassionate and caring man. He in his press conference yesterday, talked to us about, you know, he may have disagreements with those in Washington, but he always will work with whomever on whatever so long as their interests are aligned. And when they aren't, he will do so diplomatically. Whereas his opponent had kind of, you know, really had a reputation as someone who was not afraid to fight, not afraid to, uh, do a lot of things that I think really were off putting to a lot of Southern Baptist messengers. And that kind of really did show up in the election results.

NIALA BOODHOO: You've especially been reporting on sexual abuse claims that have rocked the Southern Baptist convention in recent times. How significant were the votes on that yesterday?

ROBERT DOWNEN:The big vote came at the tail end of the day when the messengers, there were about 15,000 of them, gathered in Nashville. A few had left by then, but thousands of them voted to take away from the SPCs executive committee, its control over a third-party investigation into allegations that the executive committee had sought to conceal abuse stories, had intimidated other SPC leaders over their work with abuse victims, and had really just kind of broadly mishandled the crisis that's kind of unfolded since our reporting in 2019.

NIALA BOODHOO: Robert Downen covers religion for the Houston Chronicle. Thanks, Robert.

ROBERT DOWNEN: Thank you so much.

NIALA BOODHOO: Each year, the FAA typically sees about a hundred and fifty cases of what they classify as bad airplane passenger behavior. But cut to this year: that number is already at about 1300. Axios transportation correspondent, Joann Muller is here to tell us what's going on with this. Hey, Joann!


NIALA BOODHOO: For those who haven’t seen these crazy videos - what is this bad behavior?

JOANN MULLER: Well, I think the, the fight that we've seen over masks, uh, everywhere is now in the air as well. The FAA still requires everyone on board the plane to wear a mask. There have been some really crazy incidents of, uh, people getting very irate and disobeying the rules from the flight attendants. And in some cases, even assaulting them or other passengers.

NIALA BOODHOO: One of our producers, Sabeena Singhani, who actually produced this segment, was flying this week. And she heard a new announcement for her, at least, about the FAA's new zero tolerance policy when it comes to assaulting crew members, what is that policy?

JOANN MULLER: Well, the FAA is not fooling around on this stuff. They now are actually talking about. potential criminal charges, fines up to $35,000 and even a lifetime ban on certain airlines. If you get involved in an altercation on the plane, you're not going to be free to fly anymore.

NIALA BOODHOO: All right. Well, let's everyone remember to calm down a little on planes.

JOANN MULLER: A little grace would be nice.

NIALA BOODHOO: Axios' transportation correspondent, Joann Muller from Detroit. Thank you, Joann.

JOANN MULLER: Thank you. Niala.

NIALA BOODHOO: And finally today: the summit between Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin came to what Axios co-founder Mike Allen called a “feisty finish” yesterday -- there’s so much to unpack -- We’re going to have that coming up tomorrow on our politics roundup.

That’s it for us today! You can reach our team at podcasts at axios dot com or reach out to me on twitter. And for more news before tomorrow, you can always tune into our afternoon podcast, Axios Re:Cap.

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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