Image of black face over the colors red, yellow, and green

With all the buzz around Juneteenth becoming a federal holiday in the United States, you may find yourself wondering what it is. The easy answer is that Juneteenth commemorates the day that General Gordan Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, after the Civil War, declaring the confederate army defeated and the slaves freed. But there is more to it than that.


The History of Juneteenth

When President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, he hoped that enslaved Black Americans would leave their plantations to join the Union in the Civil War. However, this was only possible for slaves who lived close to Union state lines. Southern slave owners weren’t letting go of what they deemed to be their property that easily, so it was nearly impossible to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation on a broad scale.

As Confederate states fell near the war’s end, slave owners began relocating their slaves to Texas, which Union soldiers had difficulty infiltrating. Most never made it past the Texas coastline. In addition to it being difficult for Union soldiers to access, the state was also isolated from news of the war. So When General Granger arrived in Texas on June 19, 1865, to put down confederate revolts after the Civil War ended, he also discovered that slaves in Texas weren’t aware that they were actually free, even though it had been two years since Abraham Lincoln freed them with the Emancipation Proclamation and two months since Robert E. Lee’s surrender.

Black people in Texas began celebrating Juneteenth as a collective during the following year, taking time to read the Emancipation Proclamation, sing spirituals, engage in community activities, and reflect on freedom. They did so despite ex-confederate officers and sympathizers intimidating them back into slavery-like conditions and committing extreme acts of violence against the freedmen. In many ways, it was one of the earliest examples of how freedom, justice, and equity have always been delayed for Black people in the U.S.


Present Day

Even now, as the country recognizes events such as the Tulsa Race Massacre for the first time, and as we make strides to address social injustice, we still see the delay. For many Black people, Juneteenth means grappling with the reality that we must take the time to both celebrate freedom and reflect on the ways we still experience its lack. This weekend will see parades, cookouts, concerts, and revelry—Black people celebrating what we have, even though we had to endure the unthinkable to receive it--even as many states place bans on things such as critical race theory and make it more difficult to vote. It’s a true reflection of what it has meant to be Black in America.

While Juneteenth has historically been seen as a “Black” holiday, it’s something everyone can recognize, especially in light of last summer’s wave of commitment to the ideals of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Regardless of your race and ethnicity, if you’re looking for ways to celebrate Juneteenth this year, I encourage you to celebrate this holiday by doing one or more of the following:

  • Learn more about Juneteenth and issues facing the Black community – There are so many great books, articles, films, documentaries, and other resources that highlight the ways Black people celebrate and experience life (my current favorites are Netflix’s “High on the Hog” and last year's "Miss Juneteenth" on Amazon Prime).
  • Support – Local communities are filled with community organizations and initiatives that celebrate and serve the Black people living in them. Find out what organizations near you are doing the important work of meeting community needs, and also consider national groups such as Black Girls Code and All Star Code, two groups Mitel has made donations to in the past.
  • Reflect and Revisit – 2020’s wave of social unrest prompted by the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others led many businesses to create in-house strategies around diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. Take some time to revisit your commitments and think of ways you can take them further.
  • Buy – It’s always good to support Black-owned businesses, but Juneteenth is the perfect time to do so if you haven’t utilized one in a while. From services to restaurants, Black business owners are involved in a little bit of everything. Tools like the Black Business Green Book, Yelp’s Black-Owned Business Collection, and even DoorDash can help you find an old favorite or something new.

While I acknowledge the troubling history behind why we celebrate Juneteenth, I also know that more than anything, Juneteenth gives me hope for a better future and serves as a reminder to celebrate the milestones on the journey in the struggle for Black liberation. And as I celebrate this weekend, I’ll do so with joy, remembrance, and visions of a vibrant, Black future in mind.


Lauren Whiteman Headshot

Lauren Whiteman

Content Strategist, Mitel

Lauren Whiteman is a content strategist with almost a decade of experience in storytelling for brands, people, and organizations. She lives in Dallas, where she cultivates her interests in writing and furthering conversations around diversity, equity and inclusion.

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