Celebrate. Educate. Agitate.

June 14, 2024

Let’s make sure the Juneteenth federal holiday is recognized in all of our contracts.

Here’s something lots of folks don’t know: Juneteenth, officially “Juneteenth National Independence Day,” is a federal holiday in the United States. It is celebrated annually on June 19 to commemorate the ending of slavery.

The holiday is considered the longest-running African American holiday and has been called America’s second Independence Day. Juneteenth celebrations historically have three goals: celebrate, educate, and agitate.

Although Juneteenth has been celebrated for 160 years— primarily by Black communities mainly in the South—it was finally recognized as a federal holiday in 2021, when President Joe Biden signed it into law.

More than a century and a half earlier, on September 22, 1862—President Abraham Lincoln announced the Emancipation Proclamation going into effect on January 1, 1863, promising freedom to enslaved people throughout the traitorous Confederacy—including Texas. Of course, the slaveholders were not about to voluntarily free those they held in bondage. So, enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation generally relied upon the advance of Union troops. Texas, as the most remote state of the former Confederacy, had seen an expansion of slavery because the presence of Union troops was low.

It wasn’t until June 19, 1865— two-and-a-half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was announced, and two months after the end of the civil war—when U.S. Major General Gordon Granger and his troops arrived in Galveston that emancipation was finally proclaimed in Texas, and the last of enslaved Americans were freed.

The name Juneteenth is a mixture of the words, “June” and “nineteenth”, and celebrates the end of 250 years of slavery. Juneteenth has since been observed annually, often broadly celebrating African American culture.

Early celebrations date back to 1866, and initially involved church-centered community gatherings in the South. Those who journeyed to the North and to the West during the Great Migration of the early 20th Century brought these celebrations to the rest of the country. Beginning with Texas by proclamation in 1938, and by legislation in 1979—every U.S. state and the District of Columbia has formally recognized the holiday in some way.

Early celebrations consisted of baseball, fishing, rodeos, street fairs, cookouts, family reunions, park parties, historical reenactments, blues festivals, voter registration, and “Miss Juneteenth” contests. African Americans were often prohibited from using public facilities for their celebrations, so they were often held at churches.

Making Juneteenth a federal holiday was hardly automatic. As with the establishment of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in January, it was only achieved through lots of struggle, campaigning, and organizing. We all know racism is alive and well in these United States. In some places, it’s getting worse. More than 20 states have passed laws in recent years curtailing the study of US history in public schools—especially the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the Civil Rights movement.

But I want to suggest the best way we can celebrate this important day. In our recently secured contract with the League of Voluntary Hospitals in New York, we won the addition of Juneteenth as a paid holiday for our members. This is a terrific achievement, but we have hundreds of other contracts in our hospitals, nursing homes and homecare agencies from the Canadian border to Florida. And all of our Union siblings should enjoy a Juneteenth paid holiday just as members in New York’s League institutions do. So, let’s make that our goal. When contract renewal comes up next time—wherever and whenever it is—let’s make that one of our demands. We are one union after all.

Meantime, I want to wish all of our 1199 family a wonderful Juneteenth this year.