On June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, officially making June 19 a federal holiday.However, a recent poll conducted by Gallup revealed that “more than one in four Americans say they [still] know ‘nothing at all’ about Juneteenth” or why we celebrate the holiday. One of our core values as Ethos is Always Learn, and as a DEIB firm that is continuously learning, we believe it is also our duty to share knowledge when and where we can.Today, we are here to share why Juneteenth matters, why we honor it, and resources for further education.
Many Americans still believe that slavery ended for all Black people in America once Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. However, not every enslaved person was aware of this news at the time. In particular, on June 19, 1865, almost two years after this order was signed, it was then that a group of enslaved people in Galveston, TX, finally learned of their freedom.The exact order, announced by General Gordon Granger, stated:
“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 personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”
To put it simply, Juneteenth matters because it finally meant that all Black people in the United States were freed from slavery. “The legacy of Juneteenth shows the value of deep hope and urgent organizing in uncertain times” (NMAAHC). This also means it is crucial to remember that while Juneteenth is a day everyone can acknowledge and honor, it largely, if not wholly, belongs to Black people and is first and foremost theirs to celebrate.Additionally, Karlos K. Hill, a historian from the University of Oklahoma, says, “commemorating Juneteenth is important for all Americans because it helps us see all the ways that slavery still shapes this country, including...‘the desire to master and dominate black bodies.’” It is a day of joy for Black people across the nation, but it does not negate the fact that racism and racial injustice are still very much woven into the fabric of our country. 2020 was a stark reminder of this. As we celebrate Juneteenth, we must not forget that, in many ways, Black people in America are still fighting for complete freedom.
Lexi Brown is a Senior Associate at Ethos, working with clients to help bring their brand strategy and marketing initiatives to life, especially as they relate to their growth in DEI.