On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, arrived in Galveston, Texas, announcing that the Civil War had ended and that the remaining enslaved people had been free since Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation two and a half years earlier. Unfortunately, many enslaved people, in Texas and other states located in the southwestern region, were not told about the Emancipation Proclamation until General Granger’s announcement. While the Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery in places under Confederate control, the Union Army would still need to enforce it.
Ultimately, slavery wouldn’t legally be abolished in all states until the ratification of the 13th Amendment in December 1865 but June 19, would always be recognized and celebrated as the day the last enslaved people in the United States were freed. In a way, Juneteenth marks the second Independence Day in United States history.
Juneteenth was announced as a federal holiday after legislation was passed by the U.S. Senate and House and signed by President Joe Biden on June 17, 2021. Juneteenth was first officially acknowledged by the Texas Legislature in 1980.
First Juneteenth Celebration
A year after Granger rode into Texas freeing the last remaining enslaved people, the first Juneteenth anniversary was celebrated in Texas, which included prayer services and church gatherings within the Black community. In 1872, a group of formerly enslaved people purchased 10 acres of land for about $1000 to host annual Juneteenth celebrations, appropriately naming the space, Emancipation Park, which still is used to host celebrations today. Though by 1918, the City of Houston acquired the land and it subsequently became the only public park and swimming pool open to African Americans in Houston until the 1950s due to racial segregation laws at the time. Now, Juneteenth celebrations include parades, storytelling, picnics, rodeos, historical reenactments, Miss Juneteenth contests, barbecues with red foods and drinks (symbolizing resilience) and other traditional or regional events.
Looking backward to advance forward
Juneteenth also offers an opportunity to reexamine the nation’s complex and ongoing relationship with horrific moments embedded within the country’s history. There has always been an underlying duality in what the founding fathers espoused and what was practiced in America. The iconic line “all men are created equal” is awe-inspiring but women, Native Americans and African Americans, were all excluded. Juneteenth is a reminder that until everyone is free, no one is free. While all people may not have been equal when the country was formed, we still can strive to create a more perfect union by addressing the inequities of the past.
At Vonage, we condemn racial discrimination and injustice and reaffirm our commitment to fostering and promoting inclusion and fairness. We recognize that each of us lives a unique life and are part of cultures made up of a multitude of intersecting and overlapping stories. While in some instances we may have a shared national story, we understand even a shared story is internalized differently and will mean something different to everyone.
This is why The Black Experience (TBE) Employee Resource Group and Vonage’s Employee Resource Groups (ERG) are important in helping to develop an environment at Vonage where diversity is an integral part of our business. At TBE’s recent meeting, team members were treated to a viewing of descendants of Frederick Douglass reading his speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July''. After the video, there was a panel discussion on whether Independence Day holds the same meaning for everyone and especially for people and their descendants who were enslaved during the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The history of Juneteenth was included to add additional context to the discussion. Each ERG presents an opportunity to amplify underrepresented voices and provide a platform where a multitude of stories can be shared to offer a window into another’s experience. To that end, we remain committed to creating an inclusive culture that enables growth and opportunity for all. We will be part of the solution - we will stand up to racial injustice. And we wish all a safe and happy Juneteenth.