It amazes me how so many in this country do not have an ability to get past the color of someone’s skin, don’t have the ability to sympathize or empathize another’s plight or experiences. I have a hard time understanding the inability to help or to offer help to another being…I recently came across a post from a FB friend who was asking about Juneteenth…don’t know where he has been for the past year…when others began to tell him about the holiday, his derision was clear. ‘Why are we celebrating this’; maybe we should eliminate the Fourth of July’.
I think our world would be a better place if we were all ‘color blind’ and did not notice the color of someone’s skin…does it matter where we came from? Does it matter what we do? All that really matters is how we treat each other, doesn’t it? This is an essay/blog for the ‘workplace’ and we need to recognize that how we treat individuals in/out of the workplace is, ultimately, the bottom line.
On June 17th, 2021, President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday. If you are fortunate enough to work for an entity that will commemorate Juneteenth with work closure, then go and enjoy the three (3) day weekend by celebrating freedom…and follow the original 'free men' and what they did for celebrations.
A little history lesson...Even though ‘Juneteenth’ is a recent ‘Federal’ holiday, it is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. From its Galveston, Texas origin in 1865, the observance of June 19th as the African American Emancipation Day has spread across the United States and beyond. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation – which had become official January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.
Later attempts to explain this two and a half year delay in the receipt of this important news have yielded several versions that have been handed down through the years. Often told is the story of a messenger who was murdered on his way to Texas with the news of freedom. Another is that the news was deliberately withheld by the enslavers to maintain the labor force on the plantations. And still another is that federal troops actually waited for the slave owners to reap the benefits of one last cotton harvest before going to Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. All of which, or none of these versions could be true. Certainly, for some, President Lincoln’s authority over the rebellious states was in question. Whatever the reasons, conditions in Texas remained status quo well beyond what was statutory.
One of General Granger’s first orders of business was to read to the people of Texas, General Order Number 3 which began most significantly with:
"The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer."
A range of activities were provided to entertain the masses, many of which continue in tradition today. Rodeos, fishing, barbecuing and baseball are just a few of the typical Juneteenth activities you may witness in modern times. Juneteenth almost always focused on education and self improvement. Often guest speakers are brought in and the elders are called upon to recount the events of the past. Prayer services were also a major part of these celebrations. Certain foods became popular and subsequently synonymous with Juneteenth celebrations such as strawberry soda-pop.
Dress was also an important element in early Juneteenth customs and is often still taken seriously, particularly by the direct descendants who can make the connection to this tradition’s roots. During slavery there were laws on the books in many areas that prohibited or limited the dressing of the enslaved. During the initial days of the emancipation celebrations, there are accounts of former slaves tossing their ragged garments into the creeks and rivers and adorning themselves with clothing taken from the plantations belonging to their former ‘masters’.
Economic and cultural forces led to a decline in Juneteenth activities and participants beginning in the early 1900’s. The Depression forced many people off the farms and into the cities to find work. In these urban environments, employers were less eager to grant leaves to celebrate this date. Thus, unless June 19th fell on a weekend or holiday, there were very few participants available. July 4th was already the established Independence holiday and a rise in patriotism steered more toward this celebration.
The Civil Rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s yielded both positive and negative results for the Juneteenth celebrations. While it pulled many of the African American youth away and into the struggle for racial equality, many linked these struggles to the historical struggles of their ancestors. This was evidenced by student demonstrators involved in the Atlanta civil rights campaign in the early 1960’s, who wore Juneteenth freedom buttons. Again in 1968, Juneteenth received another strong resurgence through the Poor Peoples March to Washington D.C., Rev. Ralph Abernathy’s call for people of all races, creeds, economic levels and professions to come to Washington to show support for the poor. Many of these attendees returned home and initiated Juneteenth celebrations in areas previously absent of such activities. In fact, two of the largest Juneteenth celebrations founded after this March are now held in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.
On January 1, 1980, Juneteenth became an official Texas State holiday through the efforts of Al Edwards, an African American state legislator. The successful passage of this bill marked Juneteenth as the first emancipation celebration granted official state recognition...in Texas, no less!
If you would like to know more about Juneteenth or how you can help your colleagues/peers in the workplace celebrate this auspicious day, please do not hesitate to contact us at email@example.com or call at 484-393-5875. Also, if you would like to know how we can help you in other areas such as HR Consulting, Staffing, etc., please do not hesitate to contact SCB Services, LLC.