The following are excerpts from an article by Eleanor Park in the Wall Street Journal on June 18, 2020.

Juneteenth is an annual holiday observing the end of slavery in the U.S. and marks the day (June 19, 1865) when news of emancipation reached people in the deepest parts of the former Confederacy in Galveston, Texas.

More attention is turning to the holiday following the global protests sparked by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks as well as a national conversation to rethink policing in America. Across the country, civil unrest has provoked conversations among major companies and media organizations, pressing for changes on diversity. Companies including Nike Inc. and Adidas AG have made public statements condemning racism.

The meaning of Juneteenth

The holiday recognizes the date when news of emancipation finally reached Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, when Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger along with more than 1,800 federal troops arrived to take control of the state, nearly two months after the end of the Civil War, confirming the freedom of the last remaining slaves in the deepest parts of the South.

Although the Emancipation Proclamation, an executive order declaring that “all persons held as slaves” would be free, was signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 and Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender in Appomattox, Va., marked the end of the Civil War in April of 1865, news spread slowly and often met resistance from plantation owners.

While the 13th Amendment was ratified in December 1865, enshrining a ban on slavery into the Constitution, the enslavement of African-Americans continued for several years.

How is it celebrated?

More than 200 official events take place across the country and the world in celebration of Juneteenth. When the announcement of freedom finally reached Galveston, Texas, newly liberated African-Americans celebrated by prayer, dance, and community feasts. The earliest observances of the holiday presented an occasion to bring together family members and recognize Black freedom by reading passages from the Emancipation Proclamation and holding religious services.

Last year, three of the largest annual festivals took place in Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and Buffalo, N.Y., with festivities that include fireworks, parades, and Miss Juneteenth Day pageants.

Is Juneteenth a national holiday?

Texas became the first state, in 1980, to declare Juneteenth as a holiday. Forty-seven of the 50 states as well as the District of Columbia acknowledge or observe Juneteenth as a holiday. In 2019, New Hampshire became the most recent state to recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday. Hawaii, North Dakota, and South Dakota haven’t formally approved Juneteenth as a state holiday.

An increasing number of businesses have started to observe Juneteenth as a holidayTwitter Inc., Square Inc., and Nike are among companies that said Juneteenth would be a paid day off for employees, while others have canceled corporate meetings that day or encouraged employees to engage in education or community work

At WRC we are committed to being part of the conversations about equity, diversity, and inclusion!