by Sophia Clarke
Juneteenth, also known as “Real Independence Day” (#SorryNotSorry July 4th), is the day that all American slaves found out that they had been freed. And it feels like today, June 19th, 2020, is the year that more people are finally having a long-overdue conversation on its significance. And by more people I mean: corporations, social media, politicians, and (maybe) your boss.
But are you still confused? That’s okay – most people aren’t taught about Juneteenth in school (not okay) – but there’s always an opportunity to learn. Here’s a quick primer on Juneteenth for the uneducated:
The origins of Juneteenth stem way back to Galveston, Texas in 1865.
While the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed two-and-a-half years earlier by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, those enslaved in Texas were not told until 1865.
Every year since 1866, Black Americans commemorate, honor, and remember this day as one in which all Americans were finally free.
Juneteenth has not yet been recognized as a federal holiday.
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#Juneteenth is only 2 days away! Here are some helpful facts if you are curious about what this day means. The petition to make this a national holiday is linked in our bio ❤️ . On Friday at #CHOP, one of our staff members, Reagan Jackson, is co-hosting a Blackout. This will be a day for healing, connection, and celebration. Stay tuned for a full schedule!
Juneteenth is a serious and solemn occasion, but it is also a marker of the progress and achievements that Black Americans have made and accomplished in the United States since this initial liberation. Juneteenth is a representation of all the ways that freedom for Black Americans has been delayed. So now, amid a substantial national conversation surrounding race and Blackness, Juneteenth is finally getting some recognition and sparking dialogue on what it means to be Black and liberated in this alleged “land of the free.”
This has led many companies and workplaces – from major law firms and corporations to small independent businesses to close for the day. As the Black Lives Matter Movement continues to perpetuate the need for Black inclusivity, awareness, and anti-racism priorities within the American workplace, this is a good first step. It’s also a great conversation starter as to why exactly it seems as though many haven’t known about Juneteenth until this year.
For many adults, it feels like such a disservice to only now be learning about this essential history. All histories truly matter – and should be incorporated equally across curricula in school. In the same way that we’re taught about independence from Britain, we should be taught that this freedom was for America and not for the people who resided within it. So it’s excellent that companies realize that just as (most) offices are closed on federal holidays, like the 4th of July, it may be up to the workplace to demand opportunity for re-education of the American people.
Because Juneteenth is still not considered a day that people deserve off (yet another delayed freedom) – it’s up to places that employ all people to take the initiative of putting equity in practice.
The workplace has and continues to be fraught with initiatives to make spaces more conducive to diversity. But with much talk on “equity and inclusion” and minimal action, this is a tangible, non-performative way of standing with Black colleagues and Americans. For companies and organizations that have historically had all-white boardrooms, leadership, and employees, it is now a great time to ask yourself why that might be the case. Is it company culture? Issues when it comes to retention? Poor HR practices? Yes, more than likely to all. People want to work where they feel seen, valued, and heard. If your place of work doesn’t recognize the needs of Black and minority employees, they are likely to find another job that does.
But what do people do on Juneteenth? Are there fireworks? Cookouts? Songs? Good question! And yes to all — Juneteenth is an unapologetic celebration of what it means to be Black in this country. Often, there is time for remembrance, for deep reflection on how far we have come and how far we have left to go. But there is also jubilance. This year, the city of Galveston, Texas, will celebrate it’s 155th Juneteenth parade – the oldest and longest-running parade celebrating the “birthplace of Juneteenth.”
On Juneteenth, people remember by singing traditional songs like “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (the Black National Anthem) and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” People might also consume red-colored foods and drinks – red represents suffering, but it also represents perseverance and resilience. But there’s also soul food: think cookout staples like okra, potato salad, and barbecue. Food that makes you happy. Food that feeds the spirit. Food that keeps you going. Many cities hold parades, readings, and gatherings. People may wave the Juneteenth flag, which is red, white, and blue (sound familiar?), but instead of stars and stripes, there is one big white starburst, meant to nod to the flag of the Lone Star State, banded on top and bottom by a blue stripe and red stripe (respectively). It’s a nod to this country, to a new beginning, to a new freedom. To all the possibilities that lurk within the yet to be realized Black liberation.
For those who are giving their employees the day off, remember this: in 2020, many woke up to figure out how they will put those fancy DEI plans into practice. If you’re at home this year socially distancing, maybe sit down with a book about the history of racism in America. Listen to a podcast on why Black people are still fighting for their lives, let alone be included equally in this nation’s history. Perhaps you could email your workplace to ask for Juneteenth off. It is one day out of the year, but it’s one that matters if we are to have a truly equal nation.
So, go ahead and read on the Black history that wasn’t taught in elementary and middle school. Much happened between the first ships arriving carrying enslaved people and the “I Have a Dream Speech” and the election of our first Black president (who fought to recognize Juneteenth as a federal holiday while a Senator). If anything, Juneteenth is truly indicative of how far we have to go before Black liberation is fully realized. Remember and honor with us – and don’t give up – we haven’t.
ABOUT SOPHIA CLARKE
Sophia Clarke is a regular person based out of Washington, DC who just wants to make her mother proud. She works in Communications for a national women’s nonprofit where she co-produces a weekly podcast, writes blog articles, and lifts the voices of women, children, and people of color. She’s committed to centering Blackness, using her platform for good, and making her bed every morning.
To learn more about Sophia, please visit her website: sophiaclarke.com.