Juneteenth observances growing amid racial unrest

With protests against racial inequities roiling the country, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday issued an executive order declaring Juneteenth a paid holiday for state employees this year.

Juneteenth – June 19 – is the date in 1865 that Union soldiers landed in Galveston, Texas, with the news that the Civil War had ended and the slaves were free. That was two-and-a-half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves, but until then the Union had not been strong enough in Texas to enforce the order, and multiple reasons have been given for the delay. That moment marked the end of slavery in America.

Over time, Juneteenth grew into a popular celebration of black history and culture.

This year, as anger over the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, by a white police officer in Minneapolis has resulted in nationwide protests, Juneteenth is suddenly gaining public prominence.

In Boston, the Boston Business Journal reported that a small but growing number of businesses are giving their employees the day off this year.  They range from the small Boston technology start-up Knoq, which is giving employees part of the day off and holding a biweekly picnic with food from black-owned businesses, to the well-regarded law firms Foley Hoag and Nixon Peabody. Santander Bank will close its offices at noon on Friday.

The Business Journal said the move by the Boston companies follows announcements from major national companies like Twitter and Nike, who are giving their employees Juneteenth as a paid holiday this year. The National Football League plans to close for the day, and several teams (though not yet the Patriots) are taking the day as a holiday.

US Rep. Ayanna Pressley, the first black woman to represent the state in Congress, will headline the tenth annual Juneteenth Emancipation Observance in Massachusetts, run by the Boston Juneteenth Committee and the National Center of Afro-American Artists, which will be held virtually due to the coronavirus.

In the State House, a bill sponsored by Reps. Maria Robinson, a Framingham Democrat, and Bud Williams, a Springfield Democrat, would make Juneteenth Independence Day an official state holiday. The bill was newly introduced and has not yet been assigned a formal bill number.

The Boston Globe reported that a trio of Boston city councilors, including Council President Kim Janey, are pushing to make Juneteenth a citywide holiday. The council officially recognized Juneteenth through a resolution on Wednesday.

“It is imperative that we as a City recognize the injustices this nation has forced upon Black people the past 400 years and how this history has laid the foundation for the systemic racism and inequalities we see today,” Janey, who is black, said in a statement, according to the Globe.

The last major holiday added in the United States was Martin Luther King Day, celebrating the birth of the black civil rights leader, which was created by federal law in 1986 but was not celebrated by all 50 states until 2000.

Will Juneteenth be next?



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