Juneteenth – Commemorating Freedom.
June 19, 1865 – That’s the day now commemorated as “Juneteenth,” the best-known celebration in America to mark the end of slavery. Yet three states still do not recognize it, and though there is newfound momentum in the wake of the Senate’s passage to make it a national holiday, the resolution is still stalled in Congress. Especially in these divisive times, we should take a look back at this day, what it means, and why making it a national holiday will lift it to the position of importance it so richly deserves in our yearly calendar. It was on that day in 1865, more than a month after the formal end of the Civil War and more than two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, that 2,000 Union soldiers arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas. Led by Major General Gordon Granger, they were there to restore the rule of law to a state formerly in rebellion. General Granger publicly read General Order No. 3, in part, “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor,” ending one of the last bastions of slavery in America. That day, with the Union Army’s arrival, a quarter of a million enslaved persons in Texas were finally freed. After General Order No. 3 was publicly read, spontaneous celebrations erupted— change was in the air. The day was later christened, “Juneteenth.” The years immediately after that first Juneteenth were filled with the formerly enslaved’s attempts to protect their newly won freedom and fully engage in the promise of America. Those who’d been in bondage just days before sought to reunite with families sundered by slavery, establish businesses and schools, and push for legislation that secured the promise of freedom for them and their descendants. In many ways, Juneteenth marks America’s second Independence Day. Celebrating Juneteenth Today For more than 155 years, Juneteenth has been a tradition in the African American community. In 1980, Texas would become the first state to make Juneteenth a state holiday. Today, 47 states and the District of Columbia recognize it as such. Sadly, Hawaii and the Dakotas do not. It has evolved beyond a celebration of long-delayed freedom into a holiday celebrating the sacrifices made to achieve freedom. Inspirational speeches and readings from the Emancipation Proclamation are part of the program, along with religious song, dance, storytelling, parades, and advocacy. The theme is usually crimson red— a symbol of ingenuity and resilience in bondage. A growing list of major companies proudly recognize Juneteenth. The Work That Remains In 2019, the U.S. Senate passed a Resolution recognizing Juneteenth Independence Day as a national holiday. But, the Resolution was not enough— both houses must recognize this holiday. Just yesterday, on June 15th, the US Senate unanimously voted to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. While this is a major milestone, the bill still needs to be passed by Congress and signed by the President. Considering the current Congress and President it's possible. However, simply acknowledging the day as a federal holiday is not enough. Companies and corporations need to lean in on what Juneteenth actually means— the celebration of Black culture and freedom. They should use the time to reflect on how they are serving communities of color both as employees and customers. They should use this day to share publicly what their plans are for diversity, equity, and inclusion in their workplace and make actionable plans for how to be better. While the legislation moves through both chambers of the house, companies and corporations have a unique opportunity to build thoughtful plans that demonstrate a real commitment to supporting their Black and brown employees, foster a deeper understanding of their needs, and a richer relationship with these communities altogether. Part of healing America’s prolific and systemic inequality includes making Juneteenth a federal holiday. This year and last, for tragic reasons like the death of George Floyd among many others, the renewed positive momentum for national change has given the fight for racial justice and equality not only recognition but also more acceptance each day. Instead of waiting for another tragedy, we should show the world now, more than ever, the power of Black excellence and the importance of equality and freedom by embracing and celebrating Juneteenth as a symbol of freedom and “absolute equality.”