What the history book failed to mention, ASI Executive Director of Finance Adrain Jones took it on herself to teach her 8-year-old son.
The second-grader was learning about slavery in the United States. His book mentioned that enslaved people of African descent worked for “food, clothing and shelter.” It noted that families were separated, and that enslaved people were treated like property. But for Jones, so much was left out.
“It said nothing about how mostly West Africans were taken from Africa and put into ships in horrendous conditions and were brought to America and the Caribbean and forced to work under horrific conditions,” says Jones, who is of African-American ancestry.
She continued: “It didn’t talk about how they were beaten and raped and couldn’t marry or be educated. It didn’t mention that they received neither land nor pay nor equal treatment. It made my son sad to learn about his history. I didn’t elaborate too much because he is young, but I have to tell him the truth so that he understands that we must honor those who came before us.”
The earnest, clear-eyed look at the realities of slavery, racism and their role in the United States’ past and present that occurred in the Jones household is something that’s starting to happen more broadly in America among people of all colors and creeds.
Momentum for social justice catalyzed in 2020, and there has been, however imperfect and incomplete, a greater acknowledgement of and effort to address how the evils of slavery and its legacy of racism and inequality have shaped society, creating privilege for some and disadvantage for others.
One facet of that is enhanced awareness about – and celebration of – “Juneteenth,” a holiday that commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S. Also known as Emancipation Day or Freedom Day, Juneteenth gets its name by combining the words “June” and “Nineteenth.”
June 19, 1865 was the day Union troops arrived in Galveston, TX, to take control of the state and see to it that enslaved people would be free. While the Civil War had ended two months earlier with victory for the anti-slavery Union and the Emancipation Proclamation (which freed some but not all slaves) was issued two and a half years earlier, the practice of slavery persisted in Texas. Technically, it ended that June 19 when Union General Gordon Granger stood on Texas soil and read General Orders No. 3: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”
“Although emancipation didn’t happen overnight for everyone – in some cases, enslavers withheld the information until after harvest season – celebrations broke out among newly freed Black people, and Juneteenth was born,” reads an account from History.com. “That December, slavery in America was formally abolished with the adoption of the 13th Amendment.”
In some communities, Juneteenth is marked by activities that include prayer and religious services, speeches, educational events, family gatherings and picnics, and festivals with food, music, and dancing. While many states (47) acknowledge the day as a holiday, it was not formally declared a national holiday until June 2021 – a reality that’s emblematic of what proponents say has over the years been a general lack of knowledge about and recognition of this deeply significant event in American history. Still, there was momentum for that to change, with Congress on the cusp of declaring Juneteenth a federal holiday.
With it being June and social justice issues coming more to the fore in society, ASI’s Diversity and Inclusion Council felt Juneteenth would be a highly appropriate topic for a blog – a means, however small, of helping raise more awareness. To that end, we asked employees of various backgrounds – as Juneteenth is a holiday with relevance for all Americans – to discuss what Juneteenth means to them. That includes asking them if they feel Juneteenth should be a national holiday, as at the time it had not yet been declared so. What follows are paraphrased versions of the accounts they offered.
Account Executive, Supplier Services
To me, Juneteenth is the actual Independence Day and should be recognized as a national holiday. It’s the day that all people in this country became “free,” at least in theory. It’s also bittersweet because we know that freedom was very short-lived, as it was transferred into Jim Crow, segregation, the prison industrial complex, and a host of other inequalities to maintain a power structure that kept people of color enslaved in different ways.
In my view, people should understand that Juneteenth is part of the history of their country. Black history is not just for Black people; it’s actually the history of America. Accepting that America has a dark history that goes along with it also being the beacon of light and hope that it can be is important.
Realizing that America is flawed is the first step in moving toward a more perfect union. Until we have acknowledgement of all the atrocities that this country has sanctioned and directly committed against people of color, progress will always be a fight.
That said, I’m thankful for the progress and sacrifice of those that have come before me, and I’m hopeful and optimistic for those who are coming after, as more people who are not of color stand tall for injustices of people who don’t look like them.
Also, because it wasn’t taught, I’m sad to say I didn’t even learn about Juneteenth until my early 30s. 2020 was going to be the first year I recognized Juneteenth as a holiday, but due to the pandemic that was not possible. This year, I plan on celebrating and look forward to a Juneteenth celebration.
Marketing Content Manager, Marketing Services
My understanding of Juneteenth has changed dramatically within the last year, as the spotlight has shone brightly on issues of inequality for people of color. I’ve come to fully understand that the fight for social justice is not only a fight for equality or representation – it’s a fight for the lives of people of color. This understanding has led me to see the crucial importance of keeping that goal in the forefront of our minds.
To me, Juneteenth is an opportunity to celebrate the Black Americans who fought to secure the freedom of their children, grandchildren and future generations. It’s a day to recognize those who took their history into their own hands and claimed liberation for their entire race. By acknowledging Juneteenth as a national holiday we honor the literal and figurative fight for freedom Black people still face to this day.
Going forward, I’d like all Americans to understand that celebrating Juneteenth is not just about rehashing the struggles and horrors of slavery so we never again become the perpetuators of such inhumane practices. It’s also an opportunity to highlight our ongoing struggle to recognize the freedom and rights of people of color.
Executive Director of Finance
Juneteenth reminds me how much I still need to learn about my own history. I didn’t really learn about Juneteenth until I was an adult. Like everyone else, I learned Lincoln freed the enslaved people and that was it. I didn’t learn that people were still enslaved years later after the Emancipation Proclamation. I have mixed emotions about Juneteenth, but I believe it should be a national day of remembrance to honor all the millions of enslaved people and all the contributions that they and their descendants have made to the United States of America.
Additionally, I would like people to know the real history about Juneteenth and how enslaved people were really treated. We must never forget that issues we still face today are due to the sins of our past. There are many horrific things that have happened in history, but we must learn from them and how they have shaped the present so we can walk boldly into our future.
Executive Creative Director, Marketing
Juneteenth and all that it stands for – freedom, liberation, the freeing of slaves – has always been important. And yet, unfortunately, it has not been given the weight and voice that it should have been given as a remarkable day in U.S. history. It’s really sad that it has taken such violence against people of color and related racial injustice to finally have more people starting to recognize Juneteenth as an important holiday.
As a society, it feels that we are now only beginning to recognize the need to treat everyone with respect and equality, as we’re all humans on the same globe. Still, as a society, we have a long way to go to make everyone feel that they live in equality. Recognizing Juneteenth as a national holiday and giving it the respect and acknowledgement it deserves is a small step in condemning our past to help move into a more equal and healthy future.
Social Media Manager
Juneteenth reminds me that I need to continue to work harder as an ally to marginalized communities. I need to use my privilege and the resources that I have to support others, honor their experiences even if they differ from my own, and fight for true equality for all.
Personally, I believe Juneteenth should be a federally recognized national holiday. For such a significant event in our nation’s history, I think it’s important to pause and recognize how far we’ve come, while also realizing how much work there is still left to do.
Also, Juneteenth is a reminder that we have a responsibility to educate ourselves on our nation’s history outside of the very curated version that we often experience in school. There are a lot of stories, experiences and voices that get left out, which is unfortunate. As adults, we need to practice empathy, staying open-minded and marrying our words with important action.
Digital Content Strategist, ASI Creative Labs
If I’m being honest here, I only learned about Juneteenth a few years ago from someone I graduated high school with. She criticized me for not celebrating the day; as a family, we’ve never celebrated it. Moving forward, I think it’s critically important that Juneteenth is included in school curriculums so kids aren’t forced to educate themselves on the significance of the day.
What would also help in this regard is recognizing Juneteenth as a federal holiday. Doing so is a way of respecting and honoring all those who sacrificed for us to be free. Sadly, as a society, I think we’re still far from achieving true understanding and recognition of Juneteenth and its significance.
Regardless, it’s important for people to understand that although we may be “free” in a sense of the word, we will not stop fighting for the justice or grace we know we deserve. It sure is nice to have more allies joining that cause lately.
Design Director, ASI Creative Labs
I wasn’t aware of Juneteenth until last year. Very sadly, that says a lot about our predominantly White culture, which doesn’t take much part (if any) in the celebration.
Now that I’ve learned about Juneteenth, I believe it should be a national-recognized federal holiday. Very importantly, Juneteenth has made me more aware of the ongoing, continuous struggle Black Americans face every day of their lives. It’s made me more empathetic in my day-to-day encounters with people everywhere. I recognize everyone, everywhere, is going through a struggle of some type or another. Our role on Earth is to help each other, not hurt each other. Kindness never fails. Use it often.