President Joe Biden signed a measure declaring June 19 as a federal holiday on Thursday. Most federal employees will be given a paid day off; some private companies, such as Allstate, Citigroup, JCPenney, Nike, Target, and Twitter, have already done so. Others are likely to follow in the footsteps of the federal government.
The formal name of the government holiday is Juneteenth. Juneteenth National Independence Day, also known as Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Black Independence Day, and Juneteenth Independence Day, is an annual holiday celebrating the abolition of slavery in the United States.
What is Juneteenth?
The Emancipation Proclamation did not abolish slavery. Slavery continued after the Civil War ended. However, an order was issued by a Union commander in Texas on June 19, 1865. That day is known as Juneteenth, and it is commemorated every year. This year, though, is not like the others.
Weeks of protests against police brutality, systemic racism, and white supremacy have erupted this year, all sparked by the murders of Breonna Taylor. Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd, murders seemed to jolt the world into realizing that while slavery may have ended in 1865, its legacy lives on.
Racism and state-sponsored anti-Black and Brown violence have existed from slavery to Jim Crow to mass incarceration.
Juneteenth is currently a federal holiday, celebrating the end of slavery by commemorating the day enslaved persons in Texas discovered they were free. The decision was made in response to increased public support for honoring the day of celebration and contemplation across the country.
However, there is still a lot of variation in how people celebrate the event.
Some government agencies remain open, citing a short notice
Quickly implementing a new federal holiday confused the courts and administrative offices. They usually observe national holidays, but the results have been mixed.
Several “non-essential” government offices were forced to close. The United States Postal Service stayed open, expressing support for the holiday but stating that it is “impossible to halt the activities of the Postal Service” with only 24 to 48 hours to prepare.
Some federal courts were closed, although not all of them.
Similarly, school districts that typically observe federal holidays had to determine whether to stay open on Friday or close with little warning to students and their families. There was no clear strategy: schools in Baltimore City, for example, closed while schools in Baltimore County remained open.
Businesses and NGOs aren’t obligated to close, and some were forced to make a quick decision about whether or not to pivot.
Businesses in the United States are not required to observe federal holidays. However, only a few firms acted quickly to respect the holiday, even with a few hours’ notice.
Late Thursday, Stanley Black & Decker stated that it would be closed on Friday for “hope and healing” and would observe the new federal holiday in the future.
On the other hand, many others kept to their original plans, claiming that it was just too tough to declare a day off without more warning.
“There just was not enough time to plan and prepare to announce and implement this holiday appropriately,” Alesia Jones, the head of human resources at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, told NPR.
Jones expressed her delight (and surprise) at the speed with which the federal government and the state of Alabama proceeded to establish the new holiday. Shutting down a significant research institute and hospital without greater notice, on the other hand, “may produce a level of upheaval or uncertainty” that is unproductive. She stated that the university is dedicated to honoring the holiday and is working on plans for the future. While many others had already made plans to commemorate Juneteenth,
Many companies had already made plans to observe the holiday. Some began the practice last year, following the racial reckoning sparked by the assassination of George Floyd. The reactions to these business initiatives are mixed. Some dismiss them as hollow symbolism, and others welcome them as a positive step forward as a sign of inclusivity and attention to racial issues.
According to a Mercer survey released on June 3, 9% of surveyed employers planned to celebrate Juneteenth as a holiday in 2021, the same percentage as Columbus Day/Indigenous People’s Day, a long-established federal holiday.
For some corporations, such as Nike, commemorating Juneteenth necessitates the closure of retail locations. Others, such as Starbucks and Best Buy, will keep their stores open, but employees will be paid more for working.
Other businesses claim to be commemorating Juneteenth without actually doing so. Google is pushing employees to cancel meetings rather than take the day off. AT&T sponsored internal events to celebrate the holiday and encouraged employees to take advantage of their vacation time.
According to Rosa Nunez, director of diversity, equity, and inclusion at the law firm Foley Hoag, Nodding to the holiday without paid leave is insufficient.
“It should be a paid holiday and not just a check-the-box holiday added to your calendar,” says Nunez, whose organization began observing Juneteenth as a paid day off last year. “You have to be meaningful and authentic to be impactful.”
More workplaces may observe the holiday in years to come
Many businesses that have previously refused to honor the holiday may reconsider now that it has been declared a government holiday.
Many large banks have stated that they will begin commemorating the holiday next year and that in the interim, they will provide employees with a floating day off to use this year. The stock exchanges are expected to remain open for the rest of the year, though they may reconsider in the future.
While many other groups are not celebrating the event this year, they have stated that they want to do so in the future.
According to Jones, the University of Alabama in Birmingham’s top leaders have committed to honoring the holiday in the future, though the details are still being ironed out. And she adds she’s not sure if it would have happened if the state and federal governments hadn’t recognized it.
Juneteenth, according to Nunez, is just one of many actions a corporation may take to achieve better equity and equality. She also believes that, while most employers are not required to observe the federal holiday, it will encourage them.
“The recognition of the stain of slavery and slavery in the United States and the work that needs to be done — I mean, it should be followed by many, many organizations,” she says. “The private sector doesn’t have to follow the government, but it’s just the right thing to do.”
The House passed legislation Wednesday that would establish June 19 as Juneteenth National Independence Day, a US federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, sending the bill to President Biden’s desk for his signature.
Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will sign the bill into law today at 3:30 p.m. ET and deliver remarks.
- The vote unfolded: After passing the Senate unanimously on Tuesday, the bill passed the House 415-14. Reps. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Mo Brooks of Alabama, Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee, Andy Biggs of Arizona, Tom Tiffany of Wisconsin, Doug LaMalfa of California, Tom McClintock of California, Mike Rogers of Alabama, Ronny Jackson of Texas, Ralph Norman of South Carolina, Andrew Clyde of Georgia, Chip Roy of Texas, and Paul Gosar of Arizona were among the 14 Republicans who voted against the bill.
- The bill’s path: Following the Black Lives Matter protests spurred by the police shooting of George Floyd last year and the Democrats’ capture of the White House and Congress, the bill gained traction. A conservative, Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, had previously stopped the bill in 2020. Still, despite his reservations, he abandoned his objection this week, allowing the bill to pass out of the chamber. In a tweet, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer hailed the bill’s bipartisan sponsors, including Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, and Democratic Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, for their support.
- More on the holiday’s history: Major General Gordon Granger announced the end of slavery in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, in line with President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. Juneteenth became a Texas state holiday in 1980. Every state except South Dakota has recognized Juneteenth as a national holiday in the decades since, but only a few states have made it a paid holiday.
How is Juneteenth different from Independence day?
Because, when you think about it, July 4, 1776, only commemorates the day when white male Americans became free, Juneteenth is frequently referred to as America’s genuine independence day. “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?” Frederick Douglass, an escaped enslaved person and abolitionist, said in his Independence Day remarks in 1852. I respond, “A day that, more than any other day of the year, emphasizes to him the terrible injustice and brutality of which he is a constant victim.”
For 89 years, July 4 was essentially an unmet promise. Major General Gordon Granger gave an order to the people of Texas on June 19, 1865, and everything changed.
Federal holidays 2022
The first official holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983, Juneteenth honors the end of slavery for the last enslaved people in Texas, nearly two years after Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
According to an instructive article published online by the Congressional Research Service, there are 11 current federal holidays.
Federal holidays began as days off for federal employees in Washington, DC. Many companies now monitor many of them, but not all of them. Because June 19 occurs on a Saturday this year, the new holiday will be commemorated on Friday.
The complete annual list of holidays is, according to US law:
- New Year’s Day, January 1
- Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., the third Monday in January
- Washington’s Birthday, the third Monday in February
- Memorial Day, the last Monday in May
- Juneteenth National Independence Day, June 19
- Independence Day, July 4
- Labor Day, the first Monday in September
- Columbus Day, the second Monday in October
- Veterans Day, November 11
- Thanksgiving Day, the fourth Thursday in November
- Christmas Day, December 25
In 1968, lawmakers shifted most holidays to Mondays instead of a fixed day, allowing citizens more extended weekends. But, rather than simply giving everyone a day off, the idea is that these holidays should be meaningful.
For example, former President Barack Obama promoted Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a day of service. Veterans Day began as a commemoration of World War I’s end. It was designated a federal holiday in 1938, just before World War II broke out, known as Armistice Day.
Thanksgiving was shifted from the last Thursday to the third Thursday in November by former President Franklin D. Roosevelt to give Americans more time to buy Christmas.
Another exception to the rule is Inauguration Day, which occurs every four years on January 20. However, Election Day, which occurs every other November on the first Tuesday after the first Monday, is not a holiday.
Election Day has been proposed as a holiday on several occasions in the hopes of allowing more people to vote, but Republicans have protested.
When the notion was first introduced in 2019, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell described it as “a power grab that’s smelling more and more like precisely what it is.”
Efforts have also been made for other federal holidays. March 31 is Cesar Chavez Day. On February 15, Susan B. Anthony Day, also known as Women’s Suffrage Day, is commemorated. Those will have to be postponed.
To put things in perspective, there are currently 11 federal holidays per year, plus one extra holiday every leap year, with two in January and none in March, April, or August, which comes out to a little less than once a month.
Why has Juneteenth become so important?
Thousands of people took to the streets in protest after the killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who died in the custody of the Minneapolis Police Department in May 2020. Mr. Floyd’s name, along with that of Ms. Taylor, Mr. Arbery, David McAtee, and others, became a national rallying cry for change, effectively re-energizing the Black Lives Matter movement.
That shift happened in waves. In Minneapolis, police officers are no longer allowed to employ chokeholds or strangleholds, and officers are required to intervene and report any use of inappropriate force.
Democrats in Congress introduced broad legislation aimed at police misconduct and racial prejudice. The bill was the most expensive policing initiative sponsored by Congress in recent memory.
Companies across the board expressed support for the Black Lives Matter movement, and employees who insulted Mr. Floyd’s killing or made racist statements were suspended or dismissed.
When did Juneteenth become a state holiday in Illinois?
On Wednesday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a measure making Juneteenth an official state holiday.
When June 19 falls on a weekday, the new law will make it a paid day off for all state employees and a school holiday. According to Pritzker’s office, because Juneteenth falls on a Sunday in 2022, the first paid state holiday will be in 2023.
“Just as Illinois led the nation as the first state to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment, in 2021, we are leading the nation in tackling structural racism head-on thanks to the guiding vision of Leader Lightford, Representative Ford, Speaker Welch, and the entire Illinois Legislative Black Caucus,” Pritzker said in a statement.
“It brings me exceptional pride to sign into law the declaration of Juneteenth as a formal state holiday in Illinois, making us one of the few states in the nation to give it the full status it deserves,” he continued.
How will Illinois mark Juneteenth?
According to Governor Pritzker’s decree, all Illinois government offices will be closed on Friday to commemorate Juneteenth. Jesse White, the Illinois Secretary of State, also announced that all offices would be closed on Friday in honor of the new holiday.
On June 19, Illinois will also lower all flags subject to state law to half-staff. This year, and every year after that, the state will fly a Juneteenth flag over the state Capitol in Springfield.
What events are happening across the Chicago area to celebrate Juneteenth?
In Chicago, Juneteenth celebrations are well underway as the weekend approaches. Here are some of the events planned to honor the holiday:
- Juneteenth West Fest: From Friday to Sunday, the three-day Juneteenth “Freedom Day” West Fest will be held at Columbus Park, 500 S. Central Ave. According to the organizers, the event will have entertainment, vendors, and activities. On Friday, there will be a Youth Rally, and on Saturday, it will be Family and Women’s Health Day, and on Sunday, it will be Fathers and their Families Day.
- Charles R. Drew blood drive: The Omega Psi Phi fraternity will organize an annual blood drive at Malcolm X College, situated at 1900 W. Jackson Blvd., on Thursday from 1 to 6 p.m.
- Juneteenth Illinois speakers, March For Us: Following up on Saturday’s March For Us from 701 S. State St. to 50 W. Washington St., Juneteenth Illinois has been having speakers on issues like culture, justice, education, health, and economy throughout the week. The speakers and festivities will be at Chicago’s Malcolm X College, 1900 W. Jackson Blvd., on Thursday and Friday.
- 1865 Fest in Garfield Park: The 1865 Fest, a celebration of Juneteenth, will take place at Garfield Park on Saturday and Sunday. The festival will feature live music, dance competitions, and family activities, according to the organizers.
The bottom line
In America, justice has frequently been delayed for Black communities. Whether it’s waiting nearly 90 years for the Fourth of July promise to be fulfilled, a year and a half for the Emancipation Proclamation to become law, or months and months in jail just because you can’t afford to pay bail.
It is because of this history that Juneteenth is so significant. Slavery was a heinous crime that needed a war to put an end to, but it did. The Civil Rights Movement ended Jim Crow, which cemented racism and bigotry in our laws. Today, Black and Brown people continue to endure racism daily at all levels of American life, as well as police violence. Still, millions of people are demonstrating, advocating, rallying, and organizing to put an end to it.
Let us unite this Juneteenth to continue the long march toward justice. Yes, it’s taken far too long to get here, but it appears that change is finally on the horizon.