Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.
Juneteenth Emancipation Day Celebration, June 19, 1900, Texas. Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.
For most businesses, June 19 may seem like another workday. But if you check your calendar, you’ll find June 19 is a holiday, Juneteenth. It’s a day of celebration — the oldest known holiday celebrating the end of slavery in the United States.
But this holiday is not widely known by Americans.
Take the time to understand the deep historical and emotional significance of Juneteenth and incorporate them in the workplace to further support your business’ diversity and inclusion initiatives.
The history of Juneteenth
Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States, according to Juneteenth.com.
“Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers — led by Major General Gordon Granger — landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free,” according to the website.
This was 2.5 years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
“When Granger issued the above order on June 19, he had no idea that, in establishing the Union Army’s authority over the people of Texas, he was also establishing the basis for a holiday,” according to PBS. “By the time Granger assumed command of the Department of Texas, the Confederate capital in Richmond had fallen, … Lincoln was dead, and the 13th Amendment was well on its way to ratification.”
Today, Juneteenth is the most popular annual celebration of emancipation from slavery in the United States.
What is the Juneteenth US holiday?
Juneteenth (a combination of the words “June” and “nineteenth”) is also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, and Cel-Liberation Day.
A Senate Bill introduced in 2018 passed, which designates June 19 as “Juneteenth Independence Day” in recognition of June 19, 1865 — the date on which slavery legally came to an end in the United States.
On January 1, 1980, Juneteenth became an official state holiday in Texas because of Al Edwards, a Black state legislator. The successful passage of this bill marked Juneteenth as the first emancipation celebration granted official state recognition.
How can my business celebrate Juneteenth?
Celebrate at work and invite a guest speaker
The website Juneteenth.com has multiple ways to incorporate Juneteenth celebrations in your business. Among them include decorating your workspace with a Juneteenth theme to acknowledge the day and bring employees together to explain the history of the holiday. Your business can also bring a guest speaker to talk to employees.
Participate in local Juneteenth events
Many communities across the U.S. host Juneteenth celebrations. Tens of thousands of people attend these events, which include parades, rodeos, cookouts, contests, live music, community awards, workshops, and other outdoor activities. Consider hosting a booth or a contest in your local community’s celebration.
Note: Because of COVID-19, many of these celebrations have moved online. Your business can still participate in these virtual events by sponsoring or donating to the event.
Give your employees a paid day off for volunteering
Consider giving your employees a paid day off on June 19 and encourage your workers to spend the day volunteering in the community. Provide a list of community service projects, or contact your local Juneteenth celebration and ask how employees can promote the event in the community.
Is Juneteenth an observed or a mandated federal holiday?
Juneteenth is an observed holiday in 47 states and Washington D.C., but is is not a mandated federal holiday. Texas was the first state to establish Juneteenth as a state holiday in 1980 (even though the holiday was informally celebrated since 1865), and New Hampshire was the latest state to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday in 2019.
The National Juneteenth Observance Foundation have been working for years to have Congress designate Juneteenth as a national holiday.
A comprehensive history of Juneteenth and how it became a holiday can be found at PBS.org.
Which states do not recognize Juneteenth?
The Juneteenth flag. Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.
What are the official colors of Juneteenth?
According to Mentalfloss, the colors red, white, and blue echo the American flag to symbolize that the slaves and their descendants were Americans. The star in the middle pays homage to Texas, while the bursting “new star” on the “horizon” of the red and blue fields represents a new freedom and a new people.