Juneteenth, an annual holiday recognizing the end of slavery in the US, has been celebrated since the late 1800s. However, current events, particularly the nationwide protests over the deaths of Black Americans due to police brutality, have ignited a renewed focus on Juneteenth and what freedom should look like. With many brands highlighting Juneteenth, it’s important to remember that the date isn’t just another yearly performative trend.

The History of Juneteenth

Two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, Union soldiers led by General Gordon Granger arrived at Galveston, Texas with news that the Civil War had ended and that the enslaved were now free. The Emancipation Proclamation had nearly no impact on the Texans due to the small number of Union troops existing to enforce the Executive Order. It took the surrender of General Robert E. Lee in 1865 as well as the arrival of General Granger’s regiment to bolster enough power to enforce the order.

Explanations regarding the two and a half year delay have been varied. One told is “the story of a messenger who was murdered on his way to Texas with the news of freedom. Another is that the news was deliberately withheld by the enslavers to maintain the labor force on the plantations. And still another is that federal troops actually waited for the slave owners to reap the benefits of one last cotton harvest before going to Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation.”

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.  —General Orders, Number 3; Headquarters District of Texas, Galveston, June 19, 1865

Unfortunately, the celebration of Juneteenth comes in a time when systemic and violent racism still prominently exists. The deep-rooted issues in modern America have been pushed to the forefront, and holidays like Juneteenth are helping people ignite conversations and remind everyone that America’s ongoing racism hasn’t disappeared in the slightest. On June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden signed the bill recognizing Juneteenth as a federally recognized holiday into law.

How Can We Show Support?

It’s critical to acknowledge and support the holiday, and many people are honoring it in different ways. Companies are approaching Juneteenth in order to enhance their diversity and inclusion work. It’s an opportunity to learn and understand the experiences of Black Americans. Ella F. Washington and Jasmine Sanders of the Harvard Business Review wrote that it’s “important for employers to acknowledge and honor Juneteenth and other cultural holidays celebrated by those not in the majority.”

Education is an important factor as well. Washington and Sanders wrote: “As Black women raised in North Carolina and Alabama respectively, we both grew up hearing about Juneteenth from our family and social circles, but it was never mentioned in our classes nor celebrated as a holiday. While many school districts are working to present a more accurate, representative, and robust account of U.S. history now – recognizing June 19 and the Tulsa Race Massacre, as well as acknowledging systemic racism — their efforts are often met with resistance, as evidenced by recent heated debates over the teaching of critical race theory (CRT).”

However, people can make personal efforts to stay informed and offer support. If you’re a white ally, it’s beyond time to fight back against racism, and ultimately it begins by looking at ourselves. It’s time to listen and learn. It’s time to amplify the voices of the Black community and offer genuine support.

For example, Twitch is just one of the major companies in the gaming space that is using its platform to celebrate Juneteenth and highlight Black creators.

In the company’s blog, Twitch stated: “On Twitch, Black streamers build dynamic and dedicated communities. They are gamers, artists, cooks, educators, and commentators, sharing their skills and passions with the world. This month, we’re celebrating and bringing awareness to an important day in Black culture on June 19—or Juneteenth—as the ending of slavery in the United States in 1865.”

Take time and learn more about Black History, Juneteenth, and the injustice that continues today.

For more information on Juneteenth, check out our list of resources below: