For the second year now, our nation recognizes Juneteenth, or June 19th, as a federal holiday – as it joins the established list of federal holidays, it can be easy to overlook the cultural, historic, and symbolic significance of the day, not just for African Americans, but for all of us.
Fact: The last time Congress passed a new federal holiday was November 2, 1983, when President Ronald Reagan signed Public Law No: 98-144, “A bill to amend Title 5, United States Code, making the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., a legal public holiday.”
Passed as a federal holiday on June 17, 2021, Juneteenth commemorates an annual celebration of freedom for enslaved African Americans in the United States. But the story isn’t that straightforward. Although the Emancipation Proclamations, an edict issued by President Abraham Lincoln that legally freed the slaves of the Confederate states in rebellion against the Union, went into pass in 1863 it was not unanimously enforced until after the end of the Civil War in 1865.
As a marketing professional who’s glued to an electronic device of some sort 24/7, it’s impossible to fathom being that disconnected… being so frivolously at the will of someone else’s perspective of who deserved freedom and who didn’t – despite what the law dictated.
Ultimately, the word of slavery ending traveled slowly. Those who were isolated from Union armies continued to live without freedom until General Granger’s June 19, 1865 announcement.
On that day, it is estimated that more than 250,000 enslaved people became aware of their freedom. Their response was a rightful uproar of positive shock and celebration.
Can you imagine how it felt to receive that news?
More than 150 years later, this reality seems distant, but events such as the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Botham Jean, Tamir Rice, and far too many others have stirred our nation – elevating the importance for continued understanding and healing.
For more on the importance of racial healing, check out the work of Dr. Jennifer Mullan, an expert in the intersection of mental health and racial trauma.
Even with these heart-heavy understandings, Juneteenth is about celebration! Regardless of your racial, ethnic or cultural background, there’s space for you to engage in this day.
Need a few ideas? I’ve got you covered:
- Educate Yourself on Black History – Education is a great starting place for allies of all kinds. Use the day to spruce up on your Black history and pass the knowledge on to a friend or two. I’d recommend “13th”, a film by Ava DuVernay that explores the history of racial inequality in the United States. Watch for FREE on YouTube.
- Support a Black-led Cause – Pledge your time or dollars to a Black-led initiative near and dear to your heart. Whether teaching Black girls how to code, supporting the LGBTQ+ community, or leading the charge for racial justice a quick Google search can connect you with hundreds of nonprofit organizations!
- Attend a Juneteenth Parade – Okay, this may be my favorite way to celebrate Juneteenth! Parades will often feature live bands and step teams, culturally-relevant floats, food trucks, and the opportunity to network with community members.
In whatever you do today, I do hope you find a moment for reflection and rest. Honoring those who never knew the freedoms we experience today and grounding ourselves in the understanding that, “none of us are free, until all of us are free”.