Until now, July 4th remained the most significant national holiday in the U.S. calendar. This week U.S. Senate passed the legislation to make Juneteenth a national holiday so that the country can fully celebrate freedom.
Juneteenth (or Freedom Day) falls on June 19 and celebrates the end of the harrowing era of slavery in America. The first African slaves (in what would become the United States of America as we know it today), arrived on slave ships in August 1526 in Winyah Bay, a coastal estuary in South Carolina, to start a colony. There were 600 colonists in total, including the enslaved arrivals.
On June 19 in 1865, African-American slaves in Galveston, Texas, were given their human rights back, and were finally free from enslavement and the brutal conditions that went with it. They were the last remaining enslaved people in the United States to be given the freedom they truly deserved.
The celebration marks the date they learned of the Emancipation Proclamation that would deem them free from slavery, which was previously issued by President Abraham Lincoln two years before. Juneteenth is now increasingly acknowledged as the symbol of racial justice and freedom nationwide, recognizing the continued struggle for racial equality for Black Americans in the U.S.
The holiday is a proclamation of freedom and is celebrated annually throughout America where most states recognised it in some way, either as a ceremonial observance or as a state holiday.
Texas was the first state to recognise the date in 1980 and last year it was declared a paid company holiday by Twitter, Square, Nike, Target and the National Football League.
Other companies celebrating Juneteenth and recognizing it as a holiday include Google, Amazon, Lyft, General Motors, Spotify and JP Morgan. This year National Grid will add its name to the ever-growing list and as this year’s Juneteenth falls on a Saturday, staff will have Friday, June 18 off work.
Natalie Edwards, Chief Diversity Officer of National Grid, said: “Combatting systemic racism and standing with our black colleagues and communities in solidarity have always been part of National Grid’s commitment to inclusion, equity and diversity.
“Declaring Juneteenth a company holiday is a symbol of our dedication to honoring Black Americans who have suffered the impacts of racism throughout U.S. history.”
There are no rules for how to honor Juneteenth so be as creative as you like from picnics with friends to family gatherings for a cookout and ensure you have the right balance between enjoying the fun and taking some serious moments to reflect.
Public events include the 10 day-long I Am Juneteenth Festival in Fort Worth, Texas, from June 11-21. The event which includes a music and food festival is led by 94-year-old activist Opal Lee, who has worked tirelessly to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. She told CNN: “We need to be aware that we can do so much more together than being apart. We can pull our resources (together), learn from each other, and make the world a better place to live." For more details about the festival event in Texas, go to www.juneteenthftw.com
Besides an abundance of in-person celebrations, there will also be many virtual events in the wake of Covid, from an interactive Juneteenth Team Building experience (for more information go to www.unexpectedvirtualtours.com), to an event that will honor black innovation and activism, hosted by The Atlanta History Center (go to www.atlantahistorycenter.com).
Ensure you make plans to celebrate on June 19, and educate those around you about the significance of the date then, and why it is so important now and for our future.