The holiday celebrates an order issued in Texas by a Union general on June 19, 1865, which ended slavery.
While the country is yet to recognize Juneteenth as a federal holiday, parts of corporate America took the step forward to reaffirm the civil rights of Black folks. Several companies in the United States came forward to officially give their employees a day off in honor of the proclamation that freed all those who were enslaved in Texas. From the progressive ice cream producer Ben & Jerry's to rideshare apps Uber and Lyft, a long list of companies is already making good on their recent commitments to racial equality, CNN reports. Juneteenth, which falls every year on June 19, is the oldest known holiday honoring the end of slavery in the country and it is only right that other firms - and the government - follow suit.
Today is #Juneteenth— Twitter (@Twitter) June 19, 2020
We’re honored to have @opalayo, one of the three Black women who co-founded #BlackLivesMatter, speak on the meaning of this day, this moment, and where we go from here. pic.twitter.com/0XwuQXM0tS
In a first in American history, more than a dozen companies gave employees a paid day off from work. The decision was perhaps prompted by the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests ignited by the death of unarmed Black man George Floyd. Firms have been forced to reckon with their internal policies and practices. In public statements, these companies promised to ensure racial equity and this was their first public way of doing so. Last week, a small handful of companies including Nike and Twitter announced that they would celebrate Juneteenth by giving their employees the day off.
After their announcement, dozens of other firms took the cue and followed suit. Among those companies was JCPenney. CEO Jill Soltau stated in a message to employees, "This Friday, June 19, I ask that you take the day to honor the historic pain caused by — and lives lost to — racial inequity and celebrate racial diversity. This is an opportunity to continue to learn, connect with each other, and reflect on how we can move forward and achieve permanent and lasting change." While the company gave corporate employees the day off, any retail associates scheduled to work on Juneteenth were compensated with additional holiday pay.
Target, a fellow retail giant, also made Juneteenth a paid company holiday. Additionally, they provided time and a half pay to hourly workers. Others who have slated the occasion as a paid holiday include Tumblr, The New York Times, Spotify, Workday, marketing firm Comscore and Kellogg-owned snack company RxBar. While Uber and Lyft too marked the day as a holiday, Lyft took things a step further by providing Citi Bike users in New York City a free ride if they took part in the Juneteenth Solidarity Ride on Saturday further to other related initiatives. The rideshare app stated in a note to employees, "We encourage team members to take the day to reflect, participate in civic engagement or leverage anti-discrimination resources to deepen understanding of the work still needed to support the black community."
Meanwhile, BestBuy offered the company's employees a "paid volunteer day." They can thus take the day off on June 19 or on another day to participate in "peaceful protests, rallies, and community service." They vowed in a formal release to make Juneteenth a formal, paid company holiday in the upcoming year. Of course, everybody's favorite ice cream company Ben & Jerry's, a fervent voice of support in the Black Lives Matter movement, observed the holiday. They posted on Twitter a day prior, "Tomorrow is Juneteenth! Learn more about the origins of the holiday and why we need to stand together and continue the long march toward justice." The company included a link to a page on their own website where they explained what it means to celebrate Juneteenth.
In addition to all these companies, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order recognizing Juneteenth as an official holiday for all state employees. Nonetheless, this is not the only step companies must take, Meredith Clark, an assistant professor of media studies at the University of Virginia pointed out. "It is a nice symbolic gesture," she explained. "I'm never going to frown at a company recognizing a day that is culturally important to so many Americans, really to all of us. But at the same time, I want to see that sort of action matched with a commitment to changing the culture inside these organizations."