Several local companies to recognize Juneteenth as holiday for first time

Juneteenth celebrations planned across Charlotte

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — For many black Americans, Juneteenth is a celebration to commemorate the end of slavery. For many white Americans, recent protests over police brutality have driven their awareness of Juneteenth’s significance.

Women gathered in Marshall Park Thursday to talk about ways to put an end to systemic racism. They talked about law and policy changes that could support that objective.

The goal was to bring people together and make sure nobody was left behind.

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“We have killing going on. Black women are being killed on a daily basis and we need to make sure we bring highlight to that,” participant Charlene Henderson said. “We want justice and we want to make sure they have a voice as well.”

“Beauty after the Bars” and “N-Demand” organized the event.

Several local companies to recognize Juneteenth as holiday for first time

One organizer said she also supports a popular movement to make Juneteenth a national holiday. It celebrates the abolition of slavery.

For the first time in history, several companies across the country have decided to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday, as well as in Charlotte.

The picture below was taken 13 years before the Emancipation Proclamation when slavery was major business in the United States and in Mecklenburg County.

Preserve Mecklenburg
Preserve Mecklenburg (Preserve Mecklenburg)

Secretary of Preserve Mecklenburg, Dan Morrill said, “46.9 percent of the people who lived in Mecklenburg were enslaved. It was big.”

President Lincoln signed the emancipation proclamation in 1862, but it wasn’t until 2 and a half years later that a U.S. general arrived in Texas announcing the end of slavery.

“Major Gordon Granger finally makes his way to Galveston and lets them know they are free and has the same equality as their masters,” Morrill said. “They begin to celebrate it on June 19th.”

It took on the name Juneteenth and has been celebrated in modern days as Black Independence Day.

“Juneteenth reminds us all people are human need to be free and have equality. It also marks a time where America was trying to break its racist past. And I think in the future if we ratify this holiday it will do just that,” said UNCC professor Julia Robinson Moore.

In the wake of recent protests against racism and police brutality, some companies have made Juneteenth a holiday, and many are joining a national movement to make it a national holiday.

“I think it’s important to celebrate this holiday because it can bring America back to cultural consciousness that it was founded on full equality and humanity for people,” Morrill said.

In 2007, North Carolina began to recognize Juneteenth as National Freedom Day.

A change.org petition asking congress to make Juneteenth a national holiday has 500,000 signatures.

Dozens march through uptown during pre-Juneteenth march

What is the history behind Juneteenth?

Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States.

President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was effective Jan. 1, 1863, but the news took time to travel. It wasn’t until June 19, 1865, when the Union army brought word of the proclamation to enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, making them among the last to be freed.

The celebration of June 19 came to be known as “Juneteenth” and grew with more participation from descendants as they treated the day as their Independence Day, according to the Texas State Library. It spread to other states and has been celebrated every year since.

How is Juneteenth usually celebrated?

In previous years, African American families across the nation celebrated with cookouts, parades, music and community festivals. Red velvet cake, barbecued ribs and fruit punch are usually among the bill of fare.

Imani Cheers from Maryland told National Geographic that Juneteenth meant neighborhood barbecues and music -- but not like the average Fourth of July cookout.

”It was rooted in history, and community elders who would share the historical context,” she said.

The National Geographic report also points out that awareness of Juneteenth is “by no means universal for African Americans. It ranges across socioeconomic and class lines and is rooted in a sense of pride about historic contributions and sacrifices.”

How will communities recognize Juneteenth in 2020?

In light of cries to end police brutality, the coronavirus pandemic’s disproportion impact on black Americans and economic uncertainty, Juneteenth is a day of protest in 2020.

Friday’s celebrations will be marked from coast to coast with marches and demonstrations of civil disobedience, along with expressions of black joy in spite of an especially traumatic time for the nation. In Tulsa, a day ahead of a planned presidential campaign rally Saturday for Donald Trump, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Tiffany Crutcher, the twin sister of a black man killed by a city police officer in 2016, plan keynote addresses about the consequences of racial prejudice. Their commemoration will take place in the Greenwood district at the site known as Black Wall Street, where dozens of blocks of black-owned businesses were destroyed by a white mob in deadly race riots nearly a century ago.

In Washington, D.C., and around the country, activists affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement will host in-person and virtual events to celebrate the history of the black liberation struggle and amplify their calls for defunding police in the wake of high-profile police killings of African Americans.

As of Thursday, organizers with the Movement for Black Lives said they had registered more than 275 Juneteenth weekend events across 45 states.

”The devaluing of black lives is built into this American system to the point that the ideas around democracy don’t apply to us the same way that they apply to white folks,” said Black Voters Matter co-founder Latosha Brown. “So Juneteenth is a celebratory event but we’re not celebrating the country. We’re celebrating our own freedom and our own ability to be liberated and the resiliency of black people.”

Governor Cooper Proclaims Juneteenth in North Carolina

Gov. Roy Cooper proclaimed Juneteenth in North Carolina, the oldest known celebration honoring the end of enslavement in the United States.  

It was on this day in 1865, more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, that Union General Gordon Granger proclaimed the end of slavery in Galveston, Texas. This authorized United States Colored Troops to enforce emancipation and ultimately the 13th Amendment in that state, just as they had been in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. 

“Juneteenth is a reminder that even 155 years after the last slaves were notified of their freedom, we must still fight together for change and champion racial equity. I am committed to making our education, economic, criminal justice, and healthcare systems equal and fair,” said Governor Cooper.

Despite gaining their freedom, newly freed Black men, women, and children were met with brutality, socio-economic racism, and domestic terror. Throughout history, people have fought these systemic injustices and are, yet again, demanding an end to white supremacy and racial inequality in America. 

Acknowledging the progress that still must be made in North Carolina, Governor Cooper created the Andrea Harris Social Economic Environmental Health Disparities Task Force to address longstanding, intersectional racial disparities. He also established the North Carolina Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice to end racially discriminatory law enforcement practices and promote a more equitable criminal justice system. 

Juneteenth gives all North Carolinians an opportunity to celebrate freedom and honor those who have fought bravely for it from Abraham Galloway, George H. White and Ella Baker to all Freedom Fighters spanning many generations. It is an important reminder to confront racial injustices ingrained in society and commit to working for a better future. Watch Governor Cooper’s video honoring Juneteenth.

Read the proclamation.