“Here in the fashion of our pioneer forefathers, who confronted the mysteries of wilderness, mountain and prairie with crude tools and a self-generating imagination, we are committed to facing with courage the enormous task of imposing an ever more humane order upon this bewilderingly diversified and constantly changing society. Committed we are to maintaining its creative momentum.”
― Ralph Ellison, Juneteenth
On June 17 of 2021, U.S. President Joe Biden signed into law the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, creating a new federal holiday—Juneteenth, a commemorative day to be recognized on each succeeding June 19 in recognition of the emancipation of enslaved African-Americans. It was the first new federal holiday enacted since Martin Luther King Day was created in 1983.
President Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, was intended to free all enslaved people in the Confederacy, but enforcement of the proclamation relied on the advancement of Union troops into the various Confederate states. Texas was last to get the word about emancipation, with official notice not arriving until two months after Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox with Union Army General Gordon Granger’s release in Galveston of General Order No. 3 on June 19, 1865. And while it is a popular misconception that all slavery ended in the U.S. with the end of the Civil War, in fact, the scope of the Emancipation Proclamation only extended to the states of the Confederacy, with slavery remaining legal in the Union border states of Kentucky and Delaware until the ratification of the 13th amendment to the U.S. Consitution on December 18, 1865.
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”
Excerpt from General Order No. 3, 1865
Texas became the first state in the nation to formalize recognition of Juneteenth as a state holiday (by proclamation in 1938 and by legislation in 1979). Indeed, as late as 2020, Texas was the only state to recognize Juneteenth as a paid holiday for state employees. Sadly, though, many of the celebrations of Juneteenth that occurred in the years and decades that followed 1865 (at which point there were some 250,000 formerly enslaved people in the state) saw African-Americans prohibited from using public spaces to hold celebrations due to Jim Crow laws and other discriminatory practices that characterized the ensuing 100 years. These celebrations, which included gatherings, elaborate meals, singing, voter registration, and readings from the Emancipation Proclamation, forced some African-Americans in Texas to pull together their own funds to purchase land on which they could then legally gather to celebrate (examples of which include the 10-acre Emancipation Park, created in 1872 in Houston). Historical tidbit: the actual term ‘Juneteenth’ did not appear in the vernacular until late in the 1890s, prior to which the holiday went by several names, including Jubilee Day and Emancipation Day.
SparkCognition officially recognized Juneteenth as a company holiday in June of 2021 and we are proud to recognize it again today. As our founder and CEO Amir Husain said upon his reflection this year, “The struggle of our African-American and Black friends, neighbors, and countrymen is one of the great struggles of history. For hundreds of years they have been treated unkindly and unfairly, and their resistance has been an example to many others who fight for their own freedom and human rights. With the Emancipation Proclamation, no sudden victory was achieved, but progress certainly began. Much more progress needs to be made until such time as equality and fairness pervade racial discourse, and all injustice suffered by those of color becomes a distant memory. America is an unfinished, incomplete, imperfect project. It can get better or it can get worse based on what its people wish for, work for, and vote for. Let us all wish for peace, work hand in hand for progress, and vote always for justice. Because it is only in a just society that people of all beliefs, races, and identities are able to grow and contribute.”