Last Friday we commemorated Juneteenth, the oldest known celebration honoring the end of slavery in the United States. Juneteenth, which is on June 19, (this fell on a Saturday this year, so was observed on Friday, June 18 for AOWL), has long been an important holiday in the African American community. It has been a time for celebration rather than mourning and remembrance.
This year marked the 156th anniversary of Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day. It marked the day in 1865 when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas to announce that the Civil War had ended, and slaves had been freed.
In the wake of last year’s racial awakening and particularly the murder of George Floyd, the anniversary of which we have just observed, we decided, through our JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) Committee, to offer Juneteenth as a paid day off for our staff to celebrate the freedoms we all deserve. It is a reminder that nobody is free until everybody is free. We should celebrate it as the day when all Americans were liberated and created equal. It should be a day to reflect, to learn, and to grow as a nation, as an organization and as a people.
Interestingly, the federal government agrees with us. On June 15, 2021, the Senate unanimously passed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday; it subsequently passed through the House of Representatives. President Biden signed the bill soon after.
Though many of us (myself included) may just be learning about the significance of this holiday, it’s important to take time to recognize its place in American history and reflect on the long struggle for equal rights – and how far we have to go.