As nationwide protests against police brutality and the deaths of Black Americans like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks and Ahmaud Arbery are elevating the Black Lives Matter movement and sparking conversations about race in our workplaces, homes and communities, Juneteenth seems more significant than ever in 2020.
The holiday — which commemorates the day the last slaves in the Confederacy were officially freed — began in 1866 in Texas and eventually spread across the U.S.. This year, many companies will observe Juneteenth for the first time, including Twitter, Spotify and Nike.
As many White Americans look for new ways to learn about systemic racism and act as an ally for their Black friends and co-workers, Juneteenth represents a unique and important opportunity to understand the legacy of slavery in the U.S. and also celebrate Black culture.
Although President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation legally freed all the slaves in the Confederacy in 1863, many slaveholders kept this a secret, putting off freeing their slaves until Union soldiers arrived to enforce the law.
Because of this, slaves in Texas didn’t find out about their freedom until June 19, 1865, when a Union general read the Emancipation Proclamation in Galveston, Texas, and pressured slaveholders to comply, according to a USA Today article.
Though there were many other significant dates for former slaves around the country — including the end of the Civil War and the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment — Texans started celebrating Juneteenth in 1866, and as African-Americans migrated across the U.S., the holiday spread.
In 1979, Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday, and today 47 states and Washington D.C. recognize Juneteenth as a state or ceremonial holiday.
Traditionally, people celebrate with activities for kids, readings of the Emancipation Proclamation, cookouts and even parades in some cities. Steve Williams, president of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, told USA Today that serving red food and drink, like strawberry soda and red velvet cake, symbolizes that “from the middle passage to George Floyd, our blood has been spilled across America.”
Though COVID-19 will change the way many people celebrate this year, Juneteenth still represents a time to remember the suffering of Black Americans throughout our country’s history, while also gathering with family and friends to celebrate Black culture.
The murder of George Floyd and other recent events serve as a painful reminder that though slavery ended more than 150 years ago, Black Americans still deal with racism on a daily basis. If you are looking for ways to show your support for the Black community on Juneteenth, it’s important to first recognize the systemic inequality that still exists in the U.S..
In an article on the Shondaland website, Jess McIntosh encourages White Americans to use Juneteenth as a day to learn more about the struggles Black people face and become an active part of the solution. “White people should recognize Juneteenth because addressing the legacy of slavery is not a black thing — it’s an everyone thing. We each have a role in perpetuating systems of oppression, whether we acknowledge it or not, so let’s take the day and make a commitment to be an active part of the solution,” McIntosh writes.
To start honoring this day, the National Registry of Juneteenth Organizations and Supporters encourages Americans to first read about the history of Juneteenth and learn more about the spirit of the holiday.
Read “How Brands can Celebrate Juneteenth on Social Media” for a comprehensive guide to the dos and don’ts of appropriately honoring this holiday.
We encourage you to choose one of these resources to engage with today. Leave a comment on our Instagram letting us know what you learned or how you’re committing to anti-racism today.