Celebrating and Understanding Juneteenth

Celebrating and Understanding Juneteenth

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

What is Juneteenth?
Juneteenth is a federal holiday celebrated on the nineteenth day of June to commemorate the emancipation of African-Americans who were enslaved in the United States. It memorializes the end of slavery and has been observed annually since 1865. On June 17, 2021, President Biden signed into law Senate Bill 475, making Juneteenth a federally-recognized holiday.

Juneteenth may be celebrated under several names, including National Independence Day, Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Black Independence Day, and Juneteenth Independence Day.

Background and History
In early 1863, during the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared the freedom of more than three million slaves living in the Confederate states. More than two years later, on June 19, 1865, this news finally reached people living in Texas with the arrival of Union soldiers. When African-Americans living in Texas learned that slavery had been abolished, they immediately began to celebrate with prayer, feasting, song, and dance – the foundation of Juneteenth.

The following year, on June 19, the first official Juneteenth celebrations took place in Texas. Original observances included prayer meetings and the singing of spirituals. Celebrants wore new clothes as a way of representing their newfound freedom. Juneteenth became a state holiday in Texas in 1980, and several other states followed suit. Within a few years, African Americans in many other states were celebrating the day as well, making it an annual tradition.

Ways to Celebrate
Today, many Juneteenth celebrations include prayer and religious services, speeches, educational events, family gatherings and picnics, and festivals with music, food, and dancing. In some places, demonstrations and parades commemorate the day. These celebrations often include ways to honor aspects of African-American culture.

Is Celebrating Juneteenth Only for African-Americans?
While Juneteenth has immense meaning for the African-American community, there is value for every person — regardless of race, culture or background — to observe this holiday. A celebration of freedom for any group is a celebration of the ideals that we value as a nation.

Juneteenth is a day for African-Americans to celebrate liberty, resilience, and strength. While participating and commemorating, all should pause to acknowledge the historical and somber importance of the day.

Why Should We Celebrate Juneteenth in the Workplace?
Celebrating Juneteenth in the workplace sends a strong message to African-American employees, clients, and community members that the black experience, black history, and the struggles endured are worth acknowledging.

Ideas for planning a Juneteenth celebration:

  • Offer a paid holiday for all to celebrate with their loved ones.
  • Encourage or organize a day of service or service event.
  • Provide a floating cultural holiday, which can be used on this day.
  • Host a barbecue or traditional block party.
  • Provide educational materials.
  • Host a discussion.
  • Decorate with traditional Juneteenth colors and African-American art.
  • Invite a guest speaker.
  • Donate to a charity.
  • Support black-owned venders for items purchased.

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