During this time last year (2020), people from various cultural backgrounds were hearing about Juneteenth for the first time. I can only imagine the initial confusion they experienced, having thought for so many years that Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had set ALL slaves free and that the slaves were well aware of this. Even if we acknowledge that the Emancipation Proclamation set a great majority of slaves free, there may still be some confusion about which slaves it actually applied to, and whether or not the only slaves who did not realize that they were free were those in Galveston, TX where on June 19, 1865, federal troops arrived to finally notify the slaves there that they were free—thus, the reason we celebrate Juneteenth. The story that gets shared about how slavery started, progressed, and ended seems to lose significant pages from its chapters during the storytelling. And Juneteenth, or June 19th, like so many other significant cultural events, is certainly a time to celebrate, but also a time to educate ourselves about significant moments in the history of Black America.
Perhaps one of the most well-known chapters associated with slavery is the important piece of legislation to end it, Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863, proclaimed during the middle of the Civil War between the North and the South, more commonly referred to as the Union and Confederate States. The Proclamation did not free slaves in the Union States, only those slaves in the Confederate States. It ended up being a great war tactic because it basically created chaos in the Southern states that had seceded from the Union, greatly enabling Lincoln to accomplish his goal of preserving the Union, and setting the stage to springboard the beginning of the end of slavery. When the Civil War ended in 1865, after four years, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery was ratified. Imagine a race of people FINALLY being free after almost 250 years of being enslaved...imagine being free and not knowing that you’re free, and hearing the good news on June 19, 1865 that you’re free—THIS IS JUNETEENTH—an awakening! And, a wonderful awakening, indeed!
Mandates put into effect as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic set a stage where we had a more captive audience than ever before. It provided an uninterrupted opportunity for people to become more educated about the plight of Black people in America—this plight, itself, has often felt like a pandemic to the Black community, who have wondered if the poor treatment would ever end. Companies and brands, who had not heretofore done so, started to empathize with the Black community and make conscious decisions to become allies for change. The vast majority of states across the U.S. have made Juneteenth a state holiday, and droves of companies closed for business on June 19th to commemorate this special day. And, literally, hours before this writing, the US Senate unanimously passed a bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday! And minutes before this posting, President Joe Biden signed a bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday!!
Although it’s nice to give your employees a day off or to sponsor a happy hour, etc. to commemorate Juneteenth, what’s more important is that we, collectively, plan to continue to move forward with ending systemic racism, and promoting empathy, diversity and inclusivity. Education is a vital part of that effort. C+R Research and our CultureBeat team cannot stress that enough. It is our recommendation that companies and brands encourage their employees and/or customers to take a moment before, during, or after their BBQs or beach time to truly commemorate the day by learning more about why the day is culturally significant. This might include sharing an authentic story in your advertising or sponsoring an employee outing where the focus is on the significance of the day. Here is a list by Lonely Planet writer, Travis Levius, of Juneteenth celebrations happening throughout the U.S.
Certainly, take some time to celebrate, but make time to educate as well! HAPPY JUNETEENTH!