Juneteenth Now a Federal Holiday

Interest in the holiday has grown as companies support people of color

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek June 18, 2021
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Juneteenth Now a Federal Holiday

​President Joe Biden signed a bill Thursday making June 19—Juneteenth—a federal holiday.

Most federal employees will have it as a paid day off; workers at some private employers, such as Allstate, Citigroup, JC Penney, Nike, Target and Twitter, already do. Others likely will follow the federal government's lead.

A tweet by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management noted that since Juneteenth falls on a Saturday this year, federal employees will observe it today.

Juneteenth commemorates the Union troops' arrival in Galveston, Texas, in 1865, where they began enforcing the Emancipation Proclamation that President Abraham Lincoln issued on Jan. 1, 1862. Texas was the last Confederate state forced to free enslaved people of color.  

The Emancipation Proclamation was limited in many ways, according to the National Archives. Most importantly, the freedom it promised depended upon Union military victory for enforcement.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted 415-14 on June 16 to create the 12th federal holiday—the first since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established in 1983. The Senate unanimously passed a similar bill on June 15. Biden called the establishment of Juneteenth as a national holiday a very important moment in U.S. history.

"Great nations don't ignore their most painful moments. … They embrace them," he said. "Great nations don't walk away. We come to terms with the mistakes we make. And in remembering those moments, we begin to heal and grow stronger."

Opal Lee, 94, of Fort Worth, Texas, was recognized by Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and others witnessing the signing of the bill, with a standing ovation for her tireless work to make Juneteenth a federal holiday.

"She made it her mission to make sure this day came," Biden said, adding Lee walked across the state to bring attention to Juneteenth and "to make this day possible." Biden gave her the first of several pens he used to sign the holiday into law.

National holidays are important, said Vice President Kamala Harris.

"These are days when we as a nation have decided to stop and take stock and often to acknowledge our history."

Juneteenth gained interest last year as organizations looked for ways to support people of color in the wake of protests of systemic racism and inequality in the U.S.

SHRM Online collected the following resources and articles on Juneteenth from various news sources:

Companies Are Celebrating Juneteenth in Unique Ways This Week

From a paid day off to a day of community service to a UnityFest, 19 major companies are planning to celebrate Juneteenth this weekend.
(CNN

Honoring Juneteenth at Work

The Society for Human Resource Management's Knowledge Center has compiled a list of resources about Juneteenth.
(SHRM

Companies Making Juneteenth a Paid Holiday Say It's the Right Thing to Do

 A growing number of companies such as Nike, JCPenney and Target are embracing Juneteenth as a holiday. Companies such as Allstate are largely responding to the massive social movement that was fueled by the killing of George Floyd, a 47-year-old Black man. Protests erupted around the country, and the world, with calls for police reform and an end to racial injustice.

"This is where you put your values in line with your business decisions," says Christy Harris, senior vice president of human resources at Allstate, the insurance company.
(NPR

Juneteenth History

The history of the Juneteenth holiday as depicted in photos and graphics.
(The Washington Post)

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