Understanding Juneteenth


19 Jun
19Jun

“All that is important is this one moment in movement. Make the moment important, vital, and worth living. Do not let it slip away unnoticed and unused.” ― Martha Graham

Happy Juneteenth! Sadly, I had never heard of this historical day until this year. How about you?

Also known as Freedom Day and Emancipation Day, Juneteenth celebrates the freedom of all slaves in America. The name Juneteenth came from combining the words “June” and “nineteen.” June 19 represents the date the residents of Texas learned that slavery was abolished.

The backstory: President Abraham Lincoln had already formally declared the freedom of slaves when he issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. This executive order proclaimed the freedom of slaves in the ten Confederate states still in rebellion. However, it took another two and a half years before the news spread to Texas! In fact, Texans were the last to hear the big news. It wasn’t until Union soldiers finally arrived in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, that Texans learned that slavery had been abolished. Since then, the state has celebrated the holiday with prayer, food, song, and dance.

Then, in 1980, Texas declared Juneteenth a state holiday. Soon afterwards, other states followed suit. As of today, 47 out of 50 states now observe Juneteenth. The only states who do not are Hawaii, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

Activists are also pushing to make it a national holiday, not only to recognize the end of slavery, but also to celebrate the culture and achievements of African Americans. In the meantime, people all around the country are celebrating with picnics, barbeques, block parties, poetry readings, music, and dance.

In light of the Black Lives Movement, there has been further development in recognizing African American culture and history. According to the NY Post this week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order to formally recognize June 19 as a paid holiday for state employees. He also said he will propose legislation to make it a permanent state holiday.

Furthermore, private companies have started to designate Juneteenth as a paid company holiday. Here’s a sample list of just some of the companies promising to recognize Juneteenth, according to NBC:

  • Best Buy announced employees will be offered a “paid volunteer day” for Juneteenth.  Starting next year, Juneteenth will become a “formal, paid company holiday.”
  • Hourly-paid workers at Target workers will earn time and a half for working today.  Moving forward, Juneteenth will be recognized as a company holiday.
  • J.C. Penney considers Juneteenth an annual holiday for workers.
  • Lyft said Juneteenth is considered a companywide holiday.
  • Uber employees will be given a paid day off.
  • NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Juneteenth will be considered a league holiday.
  • Nike will make Juneteenth an annual paid holiday.

Doesn’t this all sound like positive movement? These actions prove that we are starting to have more meaningful dialogue about racial equality and that we’re making attempts to promote better race relations. These actions show that Americans are starting to listen, acknowledge, and seek understanding.

The abolitionist movement was not only intended to end the practice of slavery, it was also a movement toward racial equality. It was an act of humanity. To keep that intention alive and continue the movement forward, it is important to acknowledge how far we have come and how much farther we have yet to go.

By observing, honoring, and celebrating Juneteenth, we are honoring a moment in our nation’s past that has forever changed our tomorrows. We owe it to President Abraham Lincoln and to the slaves who have served our great nation to show that we have the love, kindness, and compassion to evolve as Americans. I also believe we need to show we can come together as a diverse nation of people whose common goal is to protect the freedoms afforded to us so we may all equally pursue lives of happiness and success.

Life is all about the moments. It is important to honor the big moments in our lives. We must make these moments count. It is just as important to honor the big moments in our history that have not only shaped our lives as we know them today but also for years to come.

Live, Love, and Lead with Aloha.

Comments
* The email will not be published on the website.