National News

On Juneteenth, descendants of America's Black changemakers speak out about preserving ancestors' legacy

Courtsey of Michelle Duster

(NEW YORK) -- For enslaved Africans in America, the idea of freedom was just a dream.

After hundreds of years of struggle, first for freedom, and then civil rights, the date marking the official end of slavery in 1865 -- June 19 -- was declared a federal holiday.

As the nation prepares to observe Juneteenth for the first time, ABC News spoke to descendants of leaders in the Black community including those of abolitionist Frederick Douglass; educator and reformer Booker T. Washington; journalist and activist Ida B. Wells; and civil rights leader Malcolm X -- who say their ancestors risked their lives for the rights of future generations.

They said they are trying to honor their ancestors' legacies by writing and teaching about lesser-known or repressed parts of U.S. history and establishing new initiatives to educate the next generation properly. In doing so, they have become what they say had been their ancestors' wildest dreams.

"We all descend from somebody that made a difference, perhaps may have given up their lives, just so that some of us even have a right to sit in a classroom and get an education," said Kenneth B. Morris Jr., the great-great-great-grandson of Douglass and the great-great-grandson of Washington.

Douglass and Washington, the co-founder of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, now Tuskegee University, both advocated for the education and the advancement of African Americans.

"Douglass and Washington believed education was the pathway to freedom," Morris Jr. told ABC News.

In 2007, inspired by a National Geographic cover story exploring modern-day slavery, Morris Jr. and other members of the Douglass family launched the nonprofit Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, an organization dedicated to educating students on human trafficking and racial equity.

"I understood that I had this platform that my ancestors had built through struggle and sacrifice, and perhaps we could leverage the historical significance of my ancestry to do something about this issue," Morris Jr. explained.

After the end of slavery, Black Americans would face more struggles in their fight for freedom and equality.

"Our ancestors did not have opportunities to live out some of their dreams and so they put their dreams into their children and their grandchildren and they worked, and they struggled, so that their children and their grandchildren could have better lives," Wells' great-granddaughter, Michelle Duster, said. "Our reality is their dream."

Born into slavery in Mississippi, Wells was just a few months old when slaves were freed. A journalist, educator and suffragist, she became a critical voice during the Reconstruction era by uncovering the horrific wave of lynchings in the South at the time. In 2020, Wells was awarded a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for her coverage of the lynchings.

“She decided to use her voice as a journalist in order to expose these atrocities that were happening to the Black community," Duster told ABC News.

In early 2021, Duster, an author, and activist, published "Ida B. the Queen: The Extraordinary Life and Legacy of Ida B. Wells." The book highlights the obstacles Wells overcame, including the overwhelming racism and sexism she experienced from white women leaders while organizing the suffrage movement.

“She spoke truth to power. And there is truth to be told. The way that people have contributed to this country absolutely needs to be part of our whole country's narrative, and we can see right now that there's a lot of pushback regarding that concept,” Duster explained.

Ilyasah Shabazz, the third daughter of six from Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz, recalled America's radical depiction of her father following his assassination in 1965.

Malcolm X, an activist and religious leader gained prominence during the civil rights movement. He advocated for freedom, justice and equality “by any means necessary," a motto he coined during a 1964 speech in Harlem, New York and a position that branded him as a dangerous radical.

“This false image that was made of him was so inaccurate and it is the reason why I set out to do my books,” Shabazz told ABC News. Shabazz, an author and educator, has published several children's books exploring the life and legacy of her parents, including her latest book, "The Awakening of Malcolm X."

“I used to have a fear of speaking, but I pushed through it, because I wanted to make sure that his information was accurate...so that his legacy could be realized by future generations,” Shabazz explained.

Morris Jr., Shabazz, and Duster said that understanding the full scope of America’s history, including its darker moments, is still a work in progress but the platforms they are using allow them to help educate the masses.

"The omission of Black, Indigenous, Brown, Asian and Latin history is not accidental," says Shabazz. "It is now our opportunity to address these systemic injustices."

“I don't believe that we can start to have conversations about healing and reconciliation until we have conversations about truth telling, what really happened in this country,” Morris Jr. said.

A challenge to that educational process comes as some states seek to limit the discussion of the impact of racism in American history.

“This sort of attitude that we don't want this type of information to be included in our dialogue and in curriculum, these are some of the same challenges that my great-grandmother was dealing with,” Duster added.

Still, there are signs of hope, the descendants said.

Like millions across the country, Morris Jr. witnessed what he called a major shift in America -- a racial awakening as massive crowds around the world took to the streets to protest as part of the Black Lives Matter Movement.

"My father said it would be this young generation who would recognize that those in power have misused it and demand change and that they would be willing to roll up their sleeves and do the necessary work to ensure this change," Shabazz said.

Now, as the country marks Juneteenth as an official holiday and millions take a moment to celebrate freedom, these descendants remind us that the fight for fulfillment is still a work in progress.

“What I'm hoping that people in the future will know about myself and every generation that came before me is that we did the best we could, with what we had to work with; we took advantage of opportunities that were available during our lifetime and tried to make the world a better place, so that the next generation could have even more opportunity, freedom, justice and equality,” Duster said.

ABC News’ Soul of a Nation's Special, 'Juneteenth: Together We Triumph' is available on Hulu.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Man who jumped off bridge to save 2-year-old girl honored by Thunderbirds

Air Force Thunderbirds/Facebook

(WASHINGTON) -- A man who jumped off a bridge to save a 2-year-old girl who plunged into a bay during a car crash has been honored with a Thunderbirds flight in Maryland.

Jonathan Bauer sprung into action on May 2 when he and his daughter were out running errands and saw a truck swerve on the Route 90 bridge.

The truck hit a cement barrier and flipped onto the guardrail, resulting in a five-vehicle crash.

Bauer ran over to the truck, which was leaning over the edge of the overpass above Assawoman Bay. A man who got himself out of the truck pointed down to the water, where a child was struggling to stay afloat.

"When I looked over, I saw the car seat ... and then about 6 feet away from the car seat was a little girl. She was on her back, completely floating, head completely out of the water, arms moving, legs kicking," Bauer said to ABC Washington, D.C., affiliate WJLA.

The child was "ejected from a pickup truck with her car seat, landing in the bay below," the Ocean City Police Department said in a statement.

Bauer plunged into the water 25 feet below and swam to the child, patting her back until she split up water and took a deep breath.

A nearby boat picked him up and the child was handed over to first responders once they reached land. She was flown to Johns Hopkins Children’s Hospital in Baltimore and said to be in stable condition after the incident, officials said. Seven others injured in the pileup were released from the hospital.

No one knew at first who'd saved the child because Bauer initially didn't want to be named.

On Saturday, Bauer was honored by the Air Force Thunderbirds before the Air Show in Ocean City.

The Thunderbirds praised his brave rescue in an Instagram post on Saturday saying, “His selfless act shows the best America has to offer, and we’re proud to have honored him with a flight today.”

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Bidens announce their elder German shepherd, Champ, has died

Adam Schultz/The White House

(WASHINGTON) -- The White House will be a little quieter when the Bidens return from Delaware to Washington, D.C., after the passing of their beloved German shepherd, Champ Biden.

"Our hearts are heavy today as we let you all know that our beloved German Shepherd, Champ, passed away peacefully at home. He was our constant, cherished companion during the last 13 years and was adored by the entire Biden family," the president and first lady wrote in a statement announcing his death.

"In his younger days, he was happiest chasing golf balls on the front lawn of the Naval Observatory or racing to catch our grandchildren as they ran around our backyard in Delaware. In our most joyful moments and in our most grief-stricken days, he was there with us, sensitive to our every unspoken feeling and emotion," the family wrote. "We love our sweet, good boy and will miss him always."

Champ became a member of the Biden family after the 2008 election. Jill Biden had promised the family could get a dog post-election, according to Politico. Champ was given his name by Biden’s grandchildren on Christmas that year.

"I've had German shepherds my -- from the time I was a kid. And I've actually trained them and shown them in the past, my past life. So I wanted a German shepherd," Biden said on ABC's "This Week" in December 2008.

While in the White House, 13-year-old Champ showed signs of his age. After a visit to the North Lawn on Valentine's day, he could be seen limping back inside.

"Even as Champ’s strength waned in his last months, when we came into a room, he would immediately pull himself up, his tail always wagging, and nuzzle us for an ear scratch or a belly rub," the family recalled.

Champ also helped to bring Major Biden, the family’s younger German shepherd, into the mix.

"I have two German shepherds. One thinks he's Secret Service and he is," Biden said of Champ while campaigning in Iowa during the 2020 election.

"And the other one is a puppy. My vet said, 'your shepherd's 12 -years-old. He's getting slow. The best thing to keep him going is get another little puppy.'"

While Major has gotten much of the attention during the Bidens' time at the White House, Champ also got his share of the limelight when the then-vice president showed him off in an interview with CBS in 2015.


When Biden asked Champ if he wanted to go play golf, the dog eagerly began yelping with excitement, stealing some hearts as he did.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Father of 8 was set to get 2nd vaccine dose, but contracted COVID-19 and died

Courtesy of the Ballard Family

(NEW YORK) -- This Father's Day will be an especially difficult one for many of the more than 600,000 American families mourning the death of a loved one to COVID-19.

Among those is the Ballard family in North Carolina, grappling with the loss of their patriarch.

Gordon Ballard, a devoted husband and father of eight who pushed through a lifelong illness to provide for his family, died of COVID-19 on May 17, 2021, his daughter said.

The 65-year-old tested positive two weeks earlier, on May 3 -- the same day he was set to get his second vaccine dose.

Dedicated dad

As a child in upstate New York, Ballard had a unique career in mind: funeral director, one of his daughters, Sharena Ballard-Hart, told ABC News.

He attended the Simmons Institute of Funeral Service in Syracuse before interning at a funeral home in Rochester. He was there working a funeral when he fell for the decedent’s daughter, Sandra.

Gordon and Sandra married and would have celebrated their 40th anniversary this July, Ballard-Hart said of her parents.

The Ballards’ road to parenthood began quickly. When Sandra’s mother died, the young couple took in Sandra’s 4-year-old brother, Quinton, and raised him as their own son.

"I just remember them picking me up with my suitcase, taking me home. At the time we lived above a funeral home," the Ballards' eldest child, Quinton Wilburn, told ABC News.

After welcoming Sharena and her brother Marcus, the Ballards decided to become foster parents and adopted five children.

As a father of eight, Gordon Ballard was a hard worker and "very generous," Wilburn said.

"He watched 'Jeopardy' faithfully every single day" and wanted his family to think "he knew everything," Ballard-Hart added.

He was also protective of his wife. Whenever Ballard had a health battle, he was always more concerned about Sandra, Ballard-Hart said.

Gordon Ballard was born with sickle cell anemia -- a disorder in which there aren’t enough healthy red blood cells to move oxygen through the body -- and suffered one or two crises per year, his daughter said.

Despite the pain, he kept his career going, as a hospital autopsy technician by day and working at different Black-owned funeral homes by night.

"He would miss some holidays with us to work," Sandra Ballard said.

Never once did he complain.

"Everyone always asked him, 'How do you go to work with this illness?' And he said, 'I have to go for my family,'" Wilburn recalled.

"Never once did he complain," Wilburn said.

But Gordon Ballard’s sickle cell pain flared in the winter months, so his doctors recommended he move South, prompting the family to relocate from New York to North Carolina in 2008.

Gordon Ballard had weekly treatments at Duke University Hospital’s sickle cell clinic as well as monthly blood transfusions, Ballard-Hart said.

'Every day in fear'

When the pandemic began, "my dad spent every day in fear" because he felt certain he would die if he contracted COVID-19, Ballard-Hart said.

But as a funeral director, he wanted to help. When a relative died during the pandemic, he and the family piled into a van to drive to New York so he could organize the funeral, Ballard-Hart said.

He was also scared of the vaccine, Ballard-Hart said. Gordon Ballard's doctors implored him to get it -- and he received his first dose on April 5, she said.

The father of eight was scheduled to get his second dose on May 3. But instead, on that day he tested positive for COVID-19.

Five other family members tested positive for COVID-19 within days: Ballard-Hart and her 2-year-old daughter, Wilburn, Sandra Ballard, and the Ballards' teenage son.

Ballard-Hart, her parents and her teenage brother all had one vaccine dose when they tested positive, she said.

Wilburn said he had been fully vaccinated since February but still suffered aches, nausea and struggled to breathe -- all the while wishing he could be by his dad’s side.

(COVID-19 infections are exceedingly rare after full vaccination, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even when these rare breakthroughs happen, the vaccines are still overwhelmingly effective at protecting people from being hospitalized or dying.)

Gordon Ballard was hospitalized on May 3 and was strong enough to talk to his family a few times during his two-week stay.

But then he quickly took a turn for the worse.

On the first day Ballard-Hart tested negative for COVID-19, she said a doctor told the family her father wouldn’t make it through the night.

"I was very emotional," Ballard-Hart said, holding back tears. "I ran outside and I just screamed and cried and asked God, 'Why?' My neighbors heard me. Some came over and prayed with me."

Gordon Ballard died on May 17 at Duke University Hospital, where Ballard-Hart works in the HR department.

'Like it was the last time'

Ballard-Hart is still working from home, worried about returning to the hospital where she has so many memories of visiting her dad in the sickle cell clinic.

"My entire work team knew if I had to step out, it was because of my dad. Or if my dad had an appointment, his appointment ended early, then I would go get him and he would hang out in my office with me until the end of the day," she said. "When people saw me, they saw my dad."

"I was supposed to go back … I haven't been able to," she said. "In order to get to my office I have to walk past the sickle cell clinic and I’m just not ready."

What matters is how they raised you, who raised you.

For Wilburn, this marks the third parent he's lost, since his biological parents died when he was a little boy. But he stressed that Gordon Ballard was very much his father.

"It doesn’t matter if that’s your father biologically," he said. "What matters is how they raised you, who raised you. That makes a father."

Sandra Ballard said she and her husband "made a plan along time ago" that whenever Gordon Ballard was admitted to the hospital for sickle cell crises, "we would act like it was the last time."

"We would hug and kiss and say our goodbyes ... in case he didn't make it back home," she said.

But with COVID-19, she said he went downhill so quickly and was intubated by the time hospital staff called, that she never had that chance. He was unconscious by the time she arrived at the hospital.

"I wasn't there with him in the end ... I wasn't there to hold him," she said. "I wasn't there to really say our final goodbyes."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Arizona shooting spree suspect thought people were after him for prior shooting: Police

Maricopa County Sheriff's Department

(PHOENIX) -- The suspect in a shooting spree targeting pedestrians and vehicles throughout metropolitan Phoenix on Thursday is a teenage security guard who allegedly told police he believed people were after him in the wake of a separate shooting he was involved in while working at a restaurant last month, according to court documents.

Ashin Tricarico, 19, of Surprise, California, was charged Friday with first-degree murder, aggravated assault, drive-by shooting and endangerment in connection with the shootings, which left one person dead and a dozen others injured. There may be additional charges based on the investigation, police said.

He is being held on $1 million bond, according to jail records. Attorney information was not immediately available.

Police said Friday they have not yet identified a motive in the complex case, which involved at least eight different shooting incidents over the course of a 90-minute period Thursday morning throughout the West Valley, according to the Peoria Police Department, which is leading the investigation.

The victims ranged in age from 19 to 56, police said. A 56-year-old man was fatally shot, and three other victims suffered gunshot wounds. Others were injured by broken glass.

One victim said she heard three gunshots and immediately felt pain in her arm, stomach and head and realized she had been shot, according to court documents. It was later determined she was hit by a projectile fragment. She had a 3-year-old daughter in the back seat.

According to the probable cause document, during an interview with detectives, Tricarico indicated he believed people were following him around after being involved in a shooting in Phoenix about a month ago, according to the court documents.

"Ashin thinks every vehicle and person he drives past is pointing a gun at him," the court documents stated.

The Phoenix Police Department confirmed to ABC News that Tricarico was involved in a shooting on May 5 at a restaurant where he was working as a licensed armed security guard.

In a statement, the department said Tricarico "was asked to deal with a male customer who was reportedly intoxicated and causing a disturbance."

The customer allegedly charged Tricarico after he went outside to call 911. Tricarico then allegedly fired one shot at the man, striking him and causing a non-life-threatening injury, police said. The aggravated assault case is still under investigation, and Tricarico allegedly told police he shot in self-defense, the department said.

During the interview with detectives after his arrest, Tricarico allegedly admitted to committing some of Thursday's shootings and claimed he was shot at or had a gun pointed at him during them.

Tricarico told police that an "unknown male" pointed a gun at the suspect at a car wash Thursday morning, after which Tricarico then allegedly bought ammunition for his AR-15-style rifle, according to the court documents.

To start the spree, the suspect allegedly stared down a person outside a Circle K convenience store and then exchanged words with him before following him in his car and shooting at the victim, according to the documents.

He allegedly told police that in one of the shooting incidents, a pedestrian shot at him "so he shot back," and in a second incident, a man in a car pointed a handgun at him "so he shot back at him."

Tricarico requested an attorney "when told he had killed a man" and the interview ended, the court documents stated.

Police covered an AR-15 rifle and two magazines in his car, and multiple .223-caliber shell casings were found from the crime scenes, according to court documents.

Several witnesses positively identified Tricarico as the alleged shooter in their incidents, according to court documents.

Police do not believe there are any additional suspects in Thursday's shootings.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Murder suspect in alleged road rage shooting denied bail for posing 'complete danger': Judge

Marilyn Nieves/iStock

(ORANGE COUNTY, Calif.) -- The suspect in an alleged road rage shooting that killed a 6-year-old boy in California last month was denied bail Friday for, a judge said, posing a "complete danger to the community."

Marcus Eriz, 24, pleaded not guilty to murder charges in the death of Aiden Leos, who was shot in the backseat of his mother's car while on his way to kindergarten the morning of May 21. Prosecutors allege that Eriz shot at the car after Aiden's mother "put up her middle finger" at them after being cut off on the 55 Freeway in Orange, according to court documents filed this week.

The road rage shooting drew national attention, and a reward for helping find the person who fatally shot Aiden climbed to $500,000. Eriz and his girlfriend, 23-year-old Wynne Lee, were arrested at their home in Costa Mesa, California, on June 6 in connection with the shooting after police received hundreds of tips.

During the couple's arraignment on Friday, Orange County Superior Court Judge Larry Yellin ordered that Eriz remain jailed without bail, saying recent revelations about the suspect's alleged behavior after the incident made him a "complete danger to the community."

In court documents filed Wednesday, prosecutors alleged that Eriz brandished a gun at a car on a different freeway just days after Leos was killed after "a driver in a blue Tesla did something to make [him] angry."

Prosecutors also alleged that, after learning of Leos' death and that his girlfriend's white Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen matched the car sought in the fatal shooting, Eriz tried to alter his appearance by shaving his "substantial beard" and wearing his long hair tied back, as well as hid the car in a family member's garage, according to court documents.

"Defendant Eriz is an extreme danger to the community," Orange County prosecutors stated in their bail motion. "He has shown that he cannot control his temper and he goes to extremes in the snap of a finger when he is angered."

Prosecutors also claimed that Eriz has multiple firearms in his possession, including the Glock 17 that allegedly killed Aiden.

Lee, who allegedly was driving the white Volkswagen at the time of the shooting, also pleaded not guilty Friday to charges of accessory after the fact and carrying a concealed weapon in a car.

Yellin said he needed more information on Lee's financial situation before setting her bail. A bail hearing is currently scheduled for June 25. Lee's defense asked that bail be no greater than $50,000 given her lack of prior criminal conduct. Bail was provisionally set at $500,000.

A pretrial hearing was scheduled for Aug. 27, according to ABC Los Angeles station KABC.

ABC News' Taylor Kerr and Julie Sone contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Juneteenth is now a national holiday. What's next?

Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- Now that Juneteenth has been recognized as a national holiday to commemorate the end of slavery in the U.S., just ahead of Saturday's June 19 anniversary, advocates are weighing in on how Americans should mark the occasion and what the day should mean to the country going forward.

"Juneteenth is not a Black thing, and it's not a Texas thing," Ms. Opal Lee, whom President Joe Biden called the "grandmother of the movement" to make Juneteenth a holiday, told ABC News' "GMA3: What You Need to Know Friday.

Lee walked from her home in Fort Worth to Washington five years ago at age 89 to raise awareness of the holiday and said she was "ecstatic" and "overjoyed" to witness Biden sign the bill and make it official on Thursday.

"I was so happy I could have done a holy dance," she said.

But she doesn't just walk the walk.

"I just know that the time has come for us to work together to dispel the disparities we have -- and disparities we do have."

Lee and advocates say Juneteenth's elevation to a federal holiday now is an opportunity for all Americans -- not just African Americans -- to celebrate freedom and better understand the institution of slavery.

Watch “Juneteenth: Together We Triumph — A Soul of a Nation Special Event" on FRIDAY at 9 p.m. ET and next day on Hulu.

"It's a subject that makes some people uncomfortable and ashamed, but it is a part of who we were and a part of what helped us become the great nation that we are," Daina Ramey Berry, chair of the history department at the University of Texas at Austin, told ABC News.

"That's the beauty of this holiday," she added. "There's so much room here for us to grow and understand more about American history."

Federal workers and officials in Washington are already enjoying an unexpected Friday off -- as states, localities and groups all over the country mark the occasion on Saturday's 156th anniversary. Lee is continuing her campaign by walking 2.5 miles, she says, to represent the two and a half years slaves in Texas didn't know they were free -- the origin story of Juneteenth.

"When people understand what actually happened, they can digest it and decide that this doesn't have to happen again," Lee said.

What is Juneteenth, and what's the significance of its new distinction?

For generations for African Americans, Juneteenth -- also known as Freedom Day, Liberation Day and Emancipation Day -- has been a day to celebrate freedom with parades and festivities similar to those on the Fourth of July. During the Jim Crow era, the Black community had to hold these celebrations in private, but they gained new momentum in recent history.

Juneteenth marks the day -- June 19, 1865, when enslaved Americans in Galveston, Texas, learned they were free -- two-and-a-half years after the Emancipation Proclamation took effect and two months after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee formally surrendered.

Vice President Kamala Harris said Thursday that its designation as a national holiday -- joining 10 annual paid federal holidays in the U.S. -- is significant in that "these are days when we, as a nation, have decided to stop and take stock, and often to acknowledge our history."

According to a Gallup poll last month, more than two in three Black Americans (69%) say they have a lot or some knowledge about Juneteenth, compared with 40% of Hispanics and 31% of white Americans.

Not often in highlighted in the nation's history books -- if there at all -- it's a day not everyone has heard of.

Advocates hope that will now change.

What's next for celebrating the holiday?

Berry, an expert in African American history, said just as educators did with Martin Luther King Jr. Day when it became a federal holiday in 1983, lesson plans can be built around Juneteenth. Its new distinction as a national holiday may allow historians new grants and to uncover new facts about the 250,000 final enslaved Americans in Texas, she noted.

"Why don't we learn from their stories, learn about their experiences from slavery, understand what freedom meant to them?" Berry said of those still enslaved after the war. "I think that would go a long way in understanding what freedom means for us today."

Although the distinction comes during a debate over how to teach the foundations of slavery and its lasting impacts, the same Gallup poll from May found that Americans were actually more supportive of teaching the history of Juneteenth in schools than of making it a federal holiday. Nearly half of respondents said Juneteenth should be added to public schools' history curriculum whereas 35% of Americans said last month it should be a national holiday.

Though experts have argued its significance in state legislatures for decades, even succeeding in getting Juneteenth recognized as a holiday everywhere but South Dakota, it took Congress just two days to pass the legislation once one Republican senator dropped his opposition. The bill then passed the Senate by unanimous consent on Wednesday before passing the House Thursday night in a 415-14 vote, with all opposition coming from GOP members.

Despite the bipartisan victory, advocates said the country is still far from healing the wounds from America's "original sin."

The president on Thursday also said Juneteenth is a reminder to "rededicate ourselves to action." He pointed to voting rights and what he called the "assault" by Republicans to restrict Black voters.

"We can't rest until the promise of equality is fulfilled for every one of us in every corner of this nation. That, to me, is the meaning of Juneteenth," Biden said.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, and other advocates, point to passing legislation like H.R. 40, a bill that specifically calls for the creation of a commission to study reparations, as a way to fulfill that promise. It passed out of House committee for the first time earlier this year, but is still waiting a full floor vote.

"Now that we've gotten the recognition, we can build off that momentum for reparations," said Deborah Evans, communications director with the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation.

There's also the glaring absence, Evans said, of national policing reform more than a year after the killing of George Floyd -- which helped elevate Juneteenth as a national holiday. Companies, including Nike and Twitter, signed on to make Juneteenth a paid day off for the first time last year during what was called a nationwide reckoning on race.

An opportunity to educate all Americans

Beyond policy, advocates hope Juneteenth's new distinction is an opportunity to educate -- and celebrate.

Anthony Brown, a social studies professor who teaches on race matters at the University of Texas, said he hopes Juneteenth being recognized as a national holiday will provide a platform for teachers and community educators to have a space to discuss the history so that people can connect freedom in 1865 to freedom in 2021.

"If you took a picture of what kinds of things we do as Americans during the Fourth of July, you'll see the same kinds of activities at a Juneteenth celebration," he told ABC News. "I think it's a tremendous opportunity for unity. To not know its full history would be a travesty. And nothing good comes from when you don't know your neighbor."

Evans, who fought for three decades to make Juneteenth a federal holiday, also said it allows a chance to go back and correct history. She said her attention now is to research and educate others on the real history of Juneteenth -- like that 9,000 Black Union troops helped free the final 250,000 slaves in Galveston, she said, to which Berry agreed, though their stories are often forgotten.

"We want to train not only the children but we've got to go back and train the children's first teachers, their parents, because many do not know about Juneteenth," she said

Berry also emphasized that in the earliest celebrations of Juneteenth, education was essential to the festivities -- and suggested that stay central to celebrations moving forward.

"While people are celebrating different foods, I just hope that the moment of reflection is also part of this holiday," she said. "It was always about education, and making sure that everybody understood what they had experienced during slavery. So this is a moment for us to celebrate freedom, but also understand and recognize the history."

She said, as did most advocates, that Juneteenth becoming a holiday doesn't erase racial disparities in the U.S., but allows a better opportunity to address them.

"It doesn't mean that this settles everything and it doesn't mean that we don't have issues to still address, it does. We have disparities," Berry said. But by bringing this to a federal holiday to celebrate freedom allows us an opportunity to address the disparities and inequalities that we have that are still resonant in this country."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Meet Opal Lee, the 'grandmother of the movement' to make Juneteenth a federal holiday

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- When President Joe Biden signed a bill Thursday making Juneteenth a federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, there was one woman in the room who captured well-deserved attention.

Opal Lee was called the "grandmother of the movement" to make Juneteenth a federal holiday by Biden, who at one point left the stage and walked over to the 94-year-old to speak with her directly.

And Vice President Kamala Harris, the first Black vice president, also gave Lee her due in her remarks, saying, "And looking out across this room, I see the advocates, the activists, the leaders, who have been calling for this day for so long, including the one and only Ms. Opal Lee.

In 2016, at 89 years old, Lee, a former teacher and lifelong activist, walked from her home in Fort Worth, Texas, to the nation's capital in an effort to get Juneteenth named a national holiday.

Four years later, Lee's activism helped push Congress to establish a new national holiday for the first time in nearly 40 years. In 1983, lawmakers designated Martin Luther King Jr. Day as the third Monday in January to memorialize the assassinated civil rights leader.

"I was overjoyed. I was ecstatic," Lee said Friday on "GMA3: What You Need to Know" of her reaction to the bill signing. "I was so happy I could have done a holy dance."

Juneteenth -- also known as Freedom Day, Liberation Day and Emancipation Day -- is celebrated on June 19 to mark the day in 1865 when African American slaves in Galveston, Texas, were among the last to be told they had been freed -- a full two-and-a-half years after the Emancipation Proclamation outlawed slavery in the Confederacy and two months after the Civil War officially ended.

To this day, Lee walks two-and-a-half miles each year on June 19 to mark the time between the Emancipation Proclamation and when the news of freedom arrived in Galveston.

"Walking tomorrow is going to be a joy," she said. "We’ve done it before and I’ll do the two-and-a-half miles [tomorrow] to symbolize that slaves in Texas didn’t know they were freed for two-and-a-half years."

Lee said she now hopes more people across the country will join her in walking, saying, "We need to go about the business of everybody participating."

A Texas native, Lee said she experienced racial unrest firsthand during her childhood, including a night, on June 19, 1939, when a group of hundreds of rioters set fire to her family's home.

"The people didn't want us. They started gathering. The paper said the police couldn't control the mob. My father came with a gun and police told them if he busted a cap they'd let the mob have us," Lee told ABC station KTRK-TV in Houston. "They started throwing things at the house and when they left, they took out the furniture and burned it and burned the house."

"People have said that perhaps this is the catalyst that got me onto Juneteenth, I don't know that," she said.

Advocates like Lee say it offers a day to reflect on slavery's terrible stain on American history and for celebrations that look similar to those on the Fourth of July.

The federal government said most employees will be off Friday to mark the occasion, around which celebrations have become more mainstream in recent years, taking on added significance in 2020 when the country went through a racial reckoning after the killing of George Floyd.

Lee said she hopes the federal holiday will help education people about what happened and "decide that this doesn’t have to happen again." She also hopes Juneteenth will become a day of national unity.

"Juneteenth is not a Black thing and it’s not a Texas thing," she said. "People all over, I don’t care what nationality, we all bleed red blood."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Tropical Storm Claudette forms SW of New Orleans: Latest forecast

ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- A tropical threat churning in the Gulf of Mexico is taking aim at the Gulf Coast -- and has formed into Tropical Storm Claudette just southwest of New Orleans.

The storm is moving NNE as 12 mph with sustained winds at 45 mph, gusting at 60 mph. Tropical storm force winds extend 205 miles from the center.

Claudette is expected to move inland Saturday morning, and is expected to weaken by tonight and become a post-tropical system by Sunday.

Heavy rains and tropical storm force winds will continue along the northern Gulf Coast today. An additional 3 to 6 inches of rain is expected in the South which could trigger flash flooding.

Tropical storm warnings are in effect from New Orleans to Pensacola, including Gulfport, Mississippi, and Mobile, Alabama, where tropical storm conditions are expected into Saturday morning.

The heaviest rain will likely be east of New Orleans, from Gulfport to Mobile, and up through southern Alabama into Saturday morning. Up to 12 inches of rain is possible in some areas.

Flash flood watches are in effect from New Orleans to Atlanta. As the storm moves inland, it'll bring heavy rain to Atlanta and into South Carolina through Sunday morning.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has issued a state of emergency. The governor warned that after severe flooding last month, river levels are still high and drainage ditches are still full. Louisiana was especially hard-hit last hurricane season.

Meanwhile, unprecedented record heat is still scorching the western half of the country from the Plains to California.

Palm Springs tied its all-time high temperature of 123 degrees on Thursday.

Omaha hit 105 degrees -- the first time the city reached that temperature in June since 1953.

Excessive heat warnings and heat advisories remain in effect from California to Illinois Friday afternoon as temperatures continue to reach the triple digits. More records highs are possible Friday in Phoenix, Reno and Fresno, California.

The heat in the West may finally subside Sunday into Monday.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Three dead, two people missing after tubers go over steep dam on North Carolina river

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(NEW YORK) -- Three people are dead and two remain missing after five people who were tubing on a North Carolina river went over the edge of a steep dam, authorities said.

The five tubers were part of a group of nine people total, all relatives, who went tubing on the Dan River Wednesday evening, according to the Rockingham County Sheriff's Office.

The group's tubes were believed to be tied together, but at one point several came apart. The tubers floated over the dam, located near a local power plant, at around 7 or 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, authorities said.

Four people who were "hanging on to various items" were rescued from the river at around 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Lt. Kevin Suthard, a spokesperson for the Rockingham County Sheriff's Office, told ABC Radio. They were sent to a hospital for treatment, he said. They are expected to recover, officials said.

The three tubers who died were identified Friday as Bridish Crawford, 27; Antonio Ramon, 30; and Sophie Wilson, 14.

Two people are still missing after going over the edge of a dam, the Rockingham County Sheriff's Office said. A search and rescue effort continued Friday from the Duke Energy plant to the Virginia state line, authorities said.

The two missing people were identified as Teresa Villino, 30, and Isiah Crawford, 7, Bridish Crawford's son.

"We have done both an air and water search at this time," Rockingham County Emergency Services Director Rodney Cates told Winston-Salem, North Carolina, ABC affiliate WXLV Thursday evening, prior to the three victims being found.

Aircraft have searched the river 6 miles into Virginia and back and along the ground adjacent to the river, Cates said. Another aircraft search is planned for Thursday night equipped with an infrared camera.

"They'll be able to look at night, pick up heat images at night, in case they were able to get out of the river," Cates said.

Two boats are also searching the river.

Tubing is a "regular activity" in the area, said Suthard, though he added that people are discouraged from tubing near the dam.

"It's a pretty steep drop," he said.

ABC News' Will McDuffie contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Hiker recounts surviving encounter with bears on Alaska mountain

ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Fina Kiefer said there was a moment where she thought she "wasn't going to make it."

The 55-year-old hiker had been alone on an Alaska mountain for days after being chased off a trail by bears. She could see helicopters overhead looking for her, but they couldn't find her. She had run out of food and water and was injured from falling. Then the sky opened up and it began to rain.

"If the helicopters couldn't see me and I was getting wet, I would come into hypothermia," Kiefer told ABC News in an interview that aired Friday on Good Morning America.

"That was my biggest fear," she said. "Then I would never get out."

Kiefer's ordeal started out as a 13.6-mile hike she said she had prepared for, up the Pioneer Ridge Trail, near where she lives in Palmer, Alaska. She said she began hiking the trail on Monday at around 3:40 p.m. local time.

"I'm an avid hiker and I really believe in the lord," she noted. "When you get out there in the wilderness, it's a beautiful thing because you can see more of him and it's your time with him. That is part of the beauty of just being outside."

But the hike proved to be tougher than expected, and Kiefer said she didn't reach the peak until after 10 p.m. She was forced to make her own path on the descent and go to the other side of the mountain because she said there was too much shale rock. She said she texted her husband to let him know.

It was now after 1 a.m. and getting dark. Kiefer said she saw what she thought were a pair of moose grazing in a valley some 50 yards away. But as the animals turned to look at her, one began to charge. She then realized that they weren't moose; they were bears.

"In my mind, while he was charging me, I was saying to god: 'Is this the way I'm going to die?'" she recalled.

As the bear ran toward her, Kiefer said she stood her ground and quickly grabbed a can of bear spray from her backpack.

"I sprayed the first spray and then I said, 'Hey!' And he stopped his charge at about 20 feet," she told ABC News. "I sprayed again because he was still thinking. I sprayed again the second time and then I said, 'Go! Go!' And then he was like so startled that he like turned around, ran down with the second bear in tow, down to the valley with the trail that I was going to take."

Kiefer said she was forced to hike back up from where she came because it was dark and she didn't want to cross paths with the bears again. She texted her husband to tell him about the encounter and again later to let him know that she was on the other side of the valley, but her cellphone died shortly thereafter, she said.

The Alaska State Troopers said in a statement that it was notified by Kiefer's husband on Tuesday at around 1:29 a.m. local time that she was alone and in need of assistance after being chased off the trail by bears. A search for Kiefer was launched, with state troopers enlisting the help of volunteers and Alaska's National Guard. Teams with dogs on the ground scoured the Pioneer Ridge Trail and the surrounding area for any signs of Kiefer, while crews in helicopters looked from above.

But Kiefer was on the other side of the mountain and the helicopters couldn't see her through the thick brush, even as she waved. So she knew she had to try to get down on her own, she said.

"As I was going down my own trail, making my own trail, I held on to this branch and this branch gave way and I went down with the gravity and hit my head," Kiefer told ABC News. "I was laying there and this still small voice says: 'You cannot sleep.' And I knew I had to get back up."

Kiefer said she finally reached an area of open space and waited there for hours, hoping the helicopters would finally see her. But they didn't, and she was getting cold and began to hallucinate. She said she started seeing people who weren't actually there and thought she saw a parking lot while she was still on the mountain.

"'I got to get off this mountain,'" Kiefer recalled thinking to herself. "'They're not coming, or they can't see me.'"

Another day had passed and it was getting dark again, so Kiefer decided to stop and rest. She said she had eaten snow and some cranberries along the way and also found water from a stream. She collected wood and built a fire using the waterproof matches her husband had given her months ago.

"Then I just periodically dozed off," she said. "I would fall asleep and then wake back up to put more wood on the fire."

That's when it started to rain. Kiefer said she took shelter underneath the brush but was still getting wet. The rain shower turned into a downpour, prompting Kiefer to keep moving and continue on the descent.

On the way down, Kiefer took another fall and also spotted a large amount of bear scat in a field.

"I was getting discouraged," she told ABC News. "I cried many times on that mountain."

But then Kiefer said she saw a white feather and she heard the "still small voice" again.

"He reminded me of Psalms 91, he will have his angels and camp round about me," she said. "It gave me a boost to stay alive."

"And so, no matter what, I was so determined. He gave me the determination," she added.

Kiefer said she eventually emerged from the woods and came across someone's residence.

"I see this beautiful green lawn, and I could have kissed that green lawn," she recalled.

She said she knocked on the door of the home and rang the doorbell, but nobody answered.

"I was like, 'Oh man, I know I'm getting tested,'" she said.

So Kiefer continued walking and got to a roadway. She was drenched by that point and her clothes were torn, but several cars that drove by didn't stop.

"Then all of a sudden this truck was coming in the opposite direction of me and he stopped," she said. "I guess he could't believe it because he looked at me a while and he said, 'Do you know how many people are looking for you that love you?'"

The man was a volunteer who had just left the search area after efforts to locate Kiefer were called off for the day due to deteriorating weather conditions. It was Wednesday evening and rescuers still hadn't found any evidence of Kiefer's whereabouts, according to the Alaska State Troopers.

The volunteer picked up Kiefer on Knik River Road and notified the other rescuers as he drove her back to the parking lot of the trailhead, where her car was parked.

"His name was Steve and he gave me food. He was a good guy," Kiefer said. "I'm so thankful for the rescuers."

After having some food and coffee, which she said was decaf but she "didn't care, it tasted so good," Kiefer was transported by ambulance to a local hospital for evaluation. She was subsequently released, telling ABC News she still has some cuts and bruises. She has since been reunited with her loved ones.

"I was just so thankful to be alive and to love my family again and friends, you know, because life's too short," Kiefer told ABC News.

When asked whether she will hike again, Kiefer said she will.

"I'm going to do it again, but maybe not that mountain," she added. "I will have a satellite phone with me next time. I'm not going to stop."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


How to conserve energy during a heat wave

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(NEW YORK) -- Millions of Americans were under historic heat wave conditions this week -- driving up widespread use of air conditioning and putting pressure on overloaded power grids.

High temperatures on Thursday reached 95 degrees in Salt Lake City, 99 degrees in Denver, 113 degrees in Phoenix, 115 in Las Vegas, 121 degrees in Death Valley and 122 in Palm Springs, California.

In Texas, where temperatures were slated to be in the mid- to high-90s for the majority of the week, residents were asked to cut back on energy use by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, which operates the state's electric grid.

The early heat wave has presented a potential record power use for the month of June and has resulted in tight grid conditions and forced outages, ERCOT announced on Monday.

"On the hottest days of the year, the electrical grid can become overwhelmed with increased energy loads to cool and dehumidify buildings," according to Harvard University's Sustainability Science Program. "When this happens the grid is forced to turn on additional, usually less efficient, power plants for extra electricity."

Energy savings help combat climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and could translate to savings in utility bills, according to Harvard.

Here are the best ways to conserve energy during heat waves or peak power use:

  • Set the thermostat to the highest temperature possible. Every degree of cooling increases energy use by 6% to 8%, according to ERCOT. Keep the house warmer than normal when away, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
  • Turn off ceiling fans when you leave the room. Remember that fans cool people, not rooms, by creating a wind chill effect, according to the Energy Department.
  • Utilize spot ventilation by putting a fan in the bathroom while showering and the laundry room to remove heat and humidity from the home, according to the Energy Department.
  • Close window shades and blinds and consider installing window treatments that can improve energy efficiency, according to the Energy Department.
  • Plan high-energy use meetings or events in the morning before the hottest part of the afternoon, according to Harvard.
  • If you're planning on being gone for more than an hour, unplug anything that is not needed immediately, such as charging cables, computers, monitors and printers, whenever possible, according to Harvard.
  • Avoid using large appliances like ovens, washing machines, and dryers, according to ERCOT. Only run the dishwasher and washing machine when the loads are full, according to the Energy Department.
  • Turn off all non-essential lights and use energy efficient task lighting rather than overhead lights, according to Harvard.
  • Don't place lamps or televisions near the air conditioner or thermostat, which can run for longer when sensing the heat from the appliances, according to the Energy Department.
  • Keep hot air from leaking into the home by sealing cracks and openings and adding caulk or weatherstripping around doors and windows, according to the Energy Department.
  • Schedule regular maintenance for cooling equipment for maximum efficiency, according to the Department of Energy.
  • Set the water heater at no more than 120 degrees to prevent scalding, conserve energy and save money -- and also consider taking cold showers. Water heating accounts for about 18% of home energy consumption, according to the Energy Department.
  • Don't forget to turn off swimming pool pumps, ERCOT said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


1 dead, 12 people injured stemming from drive-by shooting spree in Arizona: Police

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(PHOENIX) -- One person is dead and a dozen people injured after an apparent drive-by shooting spree near Phoenix, authorities said.

Police are investigating at least eight different shooting incidents that occurred over the course of a 90-minute period Thursday morning throughout the West Valley, according to Sgt. Brandon Sheffert, a spokesperson for the Peoria Police Department, which is leading the investigation.

"This is an extremely complex investigation," Sheffert said during a press briefing, noting that multiple agencies are involved, including several police departments and the FBI. The number of shooting sites "could obviously grow," he said.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives told ABC News it is working to match ballistic shell casings from the various shooting scenes and tracing the recovered gun to figure out where the shooter bought or obtained the gun. It will also search the suspect's home for any other weapons.

At around 11:10 a.m. local time, Peoria police received a call of "a vehicle that had been shot by another vehicle" near 103rd and Northern avenues, Sheffert said.

The same suspect vehicle -- a white SUV -- is believed to be involved in at least eight total shooting incidents, police said. Out of 13 victims accounted for so far, four were shot, one of whom died, Sheffert said. The other injuries may have been from car crashes or broken glass, but no specifics are available at this time, he said.

The deceased victim was found with a gunshot wound in a car on the Loop 101 freeway at Thunderbird Road, Sheffert said. The other injuries are expected to be non-life-threatening.

Three Banner Health hospitals confirmed to ABC News that they received nine patients from what they referred to as Thursday's "drive-by shooting incident." Banner Health West Valley facilities were on a since-lifted lockdown.

The Surprise Police Department tracked down the suspect's car after it was spotted by the Surprise Fire Department, said Sunrise Sgt. Tommy Hale. Police took the male suspect into custody without incident after he pulled over, Hale said.

"Surprise PD did a great job locating this vehicle and getting this guy into custody to stop any more damage that he could do to the community," Sheffert said.

A weapon was recovered in the suspect's car, according to Hale, though no additional details were available on the type of gun.

No further details on the suspect were shared. Police are still investigating a motive, Sheffert said, though they don't believe it was related to road rage.

"We don't normally see road rage where this much happens," he said.

No information was available yet on charges, though there will "probably be a litany of charges," Sheffert said.

Police do not believe there are any additional suspects in the shootings and are asking anyone with information to call 623-773-8311.

"We want more information on this so we can figure out exactly what happened," Sheffert said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Atlanta college students allegedly dragged from car by police announce lawsuit against city

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(ATLANTA) -- Two college students who say they were assaulted and shot with stun guns by Atlanta police officers last year plan to file a lawsuit against the city, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and several of the officers they say were involved in the incident.

At a press conference, attorneys for Taniyah Pilgrim and Messiah Young said police stormed their car, smashed their windows and physically assaulted them on May 30, 2020. News of the incident, caught on camera, went viral last year.

"For these young people to have this video out and have to live with this for the rest of their lives is unthinkable, but we are here to hold the city and all those involved accountable," said Mawuli Davis, Young's lawyer.

A spokesperson for the mayor's office said that the city "has not been served with any such lawsuit" and therefore was unable to comment on any potential litigation.

The two students talked about the emotional and physical trauma they say they've suffered since the incident.

"A huge part of my life was diminished," Young said. "Trying to move forward from this point is very irritating and very triggering. At a point, just seeing brutality continue, you would think there would be some type of reform or change at this point."

Pilgrim is a student at Spelman College and Young is a student at Morehouse College. The two were driving past a protest about the death of George Floyd, and it was after 9 p.m., when the city curfew began.

Young, who was in his car, was filming protesters being arrested. He said police officers warned him to keep driving, but the two students appeared to be stuck in traffic. The attorneys for the students say that police then surrounded the vehicle and tried to force its doors open.

Officers allegedly then smashed through the windows of the car, shot Young and Pilgrim with stun guns, and assaulted them, the attorneys said.

The two were pulled from the car, according to a statement from the attorneys, and Pilgrim was thrown to the ground by officers and handcuffed while face down on the pavement. He was not charged with a crime.

Young was punched repeatedly in the back by officers and suffered a laceration in his arm that required stitches, according to the statement. Young was charged with eluding police and released on bond.

"We have plans to be moving on with our lives ... and unfortunately that's been put on hold," Pilgrim said at the press conference. She described still needing medical treatment for injuries related to the incident. "Our lives are now at a standstill because of this when we should be able to be moving on as, you know, the officers are doing."

Young said he's reminded of the alleged assault every day.

"The events that took place that night should not have transpired how they did," Young said. "It makes no sense at all."

Six police officers were variously charged by Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard with aggravated assault, pointing or aiming a gun, simple battery and criminal damage to property following the incident. Officers Lonnie Hood, Roland Claud, Mark Gardner, Armond Jones, Willie Sauls and Ivory Streeter had arrest warrants issued in connection with the incident.

They all turned themselves in shortly after they were charged and were all granted signature bonds.

Bottoms and Shields fired officers Gardner and Streeter for excessive force, but their termination was overturned earlier this year and they have been reinstated with the department.

“We were able to get a Civil Service Board hearing and were able to prove to the Board’s satisfaction that the officers were denied due process,” attorney Lance LoRusso, who is representing officers Gardner and Streeter,told 95.5 WSB last year. “They failed to follow the ordinances and failed to follow their own policies, and the Board ordered them reinstated.”

LoRusso blamed the students for the incident, saying it would not have escalated if the students had followed police orders.

LaRusso also told WSB that the reversal of the two officers' termination was "a victory for due process."

"Rushing to judgment is not going to solve anything,” LoRusso said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


'Impending wave of evictions' looms as pandemic moratorium nears expiration, Harvard study warns

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(NEW YORK) -- A potential housing crisis looms over the nation's post-pandemic recovery, researchers warn, as more than 4 million Americans said they could lose their home in the next two months.

With a disproportionately large share of those facing evictions or foreclosures low-income or people of color, that would exacerbate existing inequalities when it comes to housing, according to a report released this week from researchers at the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies.

Meanwhile, those who weathered the pandemic-induced downturn without losing income are snapping up the limited supply of homes for sale and causing prices to skyrocket, the report stated, further putting affordable housing or homeownership out of reach for many.

"Even as the U.S. economy continues to recover, the inequalities amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic remain front and center," the researchers wrote in the report.

Some 4.2 million Americans report that it is "very likely or somewhat likely" that they will face an eviction or foreclosure in the next two months, according to a Census survey conducted between May 26 and June 7 that was released on Wednesday.

Separate data from the Harvard report said that 17% of renter households were behind on their rent in early 2021. Racial disparities also persist among renters, with 29% of Black, 21% of Hispanic and 18% of Asian renters behind on payments compared with just 11% of white renters, the report stated.

"With so many renters in financial distress, there are serious concerns about an impending wave of evictions," the researchers wrote. "So far, substantial federal relief through stimulus payments, expanded unemployment benefits, and other funding, along with federal and state eviction moratoriums, have prevented large-scale displacement."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's pandemic-era eviction moratorium, however, is set to expire at the end of the month. Moreover, many states have slashed expanded pandemic unemployment benefits in what some economists say is a misguided approach to encourage people to reenter the workforce.

The nonprofit National Low Income Housing Coalition implored the Biden administration to "prevent a historic wave of evictions" this summer by extending the moratorium and distributing rental assistance more efficiently. With COVID-19 still present, the group argued that allowing the moratorium to expire before vaccination rates increase in marginalized communities could lead to a rise in cases and deaths from the virus.

Their argument is backed up by new research published last Friday by the Princeton University's Eviction Lab, which found that neighborhoods with the highest eviction filing rates have the lowest levels of COVID-19 vaccinations.

"Our findings suggest that those most at risk of being evicted are still at high risk of contracting and passing the virus," the Eviction Lab researchers wrote.

Finally, the Harvard report delved into the housing market "bubble" fears as prices rise sharply. The researchers said home sales are at their highest levels since 2006, a trend propelled in part by young home buyers and record-low interest rates, but downplayed fears of a bubble.

The researchers did note that racial disparities remain pronounced as national homeownership rates tick up. The Black-white homeownership gap was just over 28% in the first quarter of 2021, according to the report, which linked this in part to the racial income gap as the median income of white households ($71,000) is some 65% higher than Black households ($43,000).

The report also stated that some 2.3 million homeowners were in active forbearance in early 2021, and that those in these circumstances were more likely to be households of color and/or have little equity in their homes.

Ultimately, researchers and advocates are urging policymakers to not neglect those who have fallen further behind amid the pandemic-induced downturn and to aim for an equitable recovery as the economy begins to bounce back.

"For those households with secure employment and good-quality housing, their homes provided a safe haven from the pandemic," Chris Herbert, the managing director of Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies, said in a statement. "But for millions struggling to cover the rent or mortgage, their housing situations have become increasingly insecure and these disparities are likely to persist even as the economy recovers, with many lower-income households slow to regain their financial footing."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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