Juneteenth is experiencing new publicity thanks to the Black Lives Matter protests. Companies are rushing to show how woke they are by making Juneteenth a paid holiday and some cities are doing the same.
President Trump can take some credit for the new enthusiasm for celebrating Juneteenth, too. His campaign rally scheduled on that day in Tulsa, which has now been moved to the next day, set off a firestorm from critics that the bad Orange Man is showing his racist self again. Even if his first public rally since the pandemic shutdown the country wasn’t going to be in Tulsa – the site of the worst race massacre in American history – he would have been criticized for the choice of date. Trump says he didn’t know the history of Juneteenth and I believe him. I don’t think a majority of Americans knew the history of the date before the rally was scheduled.
Even some of us born and raised in the South – what is known as the deep South, specifically – didn’t know the history of the date until this year’s events brought it to the forefront. I became aware of the date when we moved to Houston in the late 90s. It made sense to me that this area enthusiastically celebrates the date because Juneteenth originated in Galveston. On June 19, 1865, Union general Gordon Granger read federal orders in Galveston, Texas, that all previously enslaved people in Texas were free. Texas was the most remote of the slave states, with a low presence of Union troops, so enforcement of the proclamation had been slow and inconsistent. The Emancipation Proclamation formally freed them almost two and a half years earlier, and the American Civil War had largely ended with the defeat of the Confederate States in April.
Most states recognize the day as a special day of observance. Texans began celebrating the date a year later with parades and parties. It is a state holiday in Texas. Only four states don’t acknowledge special celebrations – Hawaii, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota. It is not, however, a federal holiday. Now some cities and companies are making Juneteenth a paid holiday. Companies in Chicago, for example, announced the decision this week. Thousands of employees will get a day off Friday, with pay, in recognition of Juneteenth, while the city works toward making it an official holiday without a huge price tag.
In the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of police and the Black Lives Matter protests that have followed, Illinois companies are joining employers elsewhere in marking the day on Friday — by closing offices and giving employees a paid day off.
Though Illinois observes Juneteenth on the third Saturday of the month, June 19 is not a federal holiday. In Chicago, an ordinance introduced last year proposing June 19 be made a city holiday, with all municipal offices closed, is on hold. But some employees say having workplaces recognize the day is a step toward improved diversity and inclusion.
Fifth Third Bank plans to close all branches and offices at 2 p.m. Friday. The bank has 186 branches in the Chicago area. It is the first time the bank has observed the holiday and all employees will be paid for the time off.
“Juneteenth means a lot. And right now, in the wake of everything that’s happening, you have these political movements, you’ve got Black Lives Matter … it’s a steppingstone,” said Sharnette Katherine-Keith, an assistant vice president and financial center manager at a Fifth Third branch in the Hyde Park neighborhood. “It’s like, ‘OK, we understand. We understand that this is an important day. … Let’s honor that day.’”
In Philadelphia, Mayor Jim Kenney announced Tuesday that he has declared Juneteenth an official city holiday this year. City offices and facilities will be closed to the public on Friday. And in Virginia on Tuesday, Gov. Ralph Northam announced he will make Juneteenth a paid holiday for all executive branch employees and introduce a bill making it a statewide paid holiday. “Northam said in his announcement that “it’s time we elevate this, not just a celebration by and for some Virginians, but one acknowledged and celebrated by all of us.” I’ll note the irony of Northam, now nicknamed Governor Blackface for his youthful days of attending parties in blackface, virtue-signaling on elevating Juneteenth.
Nike was the first big company I noticed that was making Juneteenth a holiday for its employees. Nike CEO John Donahoe said the paid holiday is an “important opportunity to better commemorate and celebrate Black history and culture.” This is the first year that Nike is doing it. The same is true with Target. For the first time this year, it has been announced that Target will observe June 19 as a company holiday. Eligible employees will have the option to take the day off with full pay, while its headquarters in Minneapolis will be closed. Target, by the way, is also raising its starting hourly wage for employees to $15.00.
You get the picture. Due to the unrest in the streets of cities across the country, CEOs and mayors don’t want to be left behind in the rush to virtue-signal about a holiday that, up until this year, they ignored. I won’t be surprised to see a push to make Juneteenth a federal holiday, too, like Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.