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In 1980, Texas became the first state in the United States to recognize Juneteenth as an official state holiday, and today all fifty states and the District of Columbia have recognized Juneteenth as a state holiday or observance. On June 17, 2021, President Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, recognizing Juneteenth as the eleventh federal holiday.

What Is Juneteenth?

June 19, or Juneteenth, commemorates the ending of slavery in Texas and is now recognized as a symbolic date to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States. On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring “that all persons held as slaves” within the states that were still in open rebellion “are, and henceforward shall be free.” However, enforcement of the proclamation depended upon the advance of the Union troops into the Southern Confederate states. That advancement was slow.

More than two years later, on June 19, 1865, Union Army Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, to announce the proclamation, declaring enslaved people in Texas to be free. Despite the fall of the Confederacy, slavery remained legal in the Union border states of Delaware and Kentucky. Slavery was formally abolished in the United States in December 1865 with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment by the states.

Today, Juneteenth celebrates fuller freedom and independence across the United States and serves as a reminder of the painful legacy of slavery in the United States. Many cities and communities throughout the country host celebrations, and many individuals take the day to celebrate, engage, and learn.

How Can Employers Celebrate?

In recent years, a growing number of employers in the private sector have made Juneteenth a paid company holiday or started providing employees with a floating holiday to be used on Juneteenth or another day to celebrate a cultural or religious holiday that is not otherwise a paid holiday. In addition, many workplaces recognize the day and its significance in U.S. history by hosting workplace events or holding discussions on issues such as systemic racism, racial justice, and issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

Juneteenth may further serve as a reminder for employers to review their internal anti-discrimination policies and DEI efforts to further commit themselves to racial justice beyond the mere recognition of the day itself. This may be of particular importance for employers whose employees, and companies’ customers and investors, are increasingly scrutinizing, and at times criticizing, DEI efforts.

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