June 19th, also known as Juneteenth or Freedom Day, marks the day in 1865 that enslaved peoples in Galveston, Texas learned that they were free — two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln ended the practice of slavery. While widely commemorated and celebrated in the Black American community, the day is often not included in history books or lessons.
In early 2021, Washington and Oregon finally joined the 46 other states that have officially recognized Juneteenth as a state holiday. These bills passed in the legislature and were signed into law by Governors Inslee and Brown this year. And on June 17, President Biden signed a bill making Juneteenth an official federal holiday.
Some employers where PROTEC17 members work have already made Juneteenth a paid holiday, like at the City of Portland. Many others, including the State of Washington, Clark County, and King County, will make it a paid holiday in 2022. For the remainder of PROTEC17 members, the holiday will be negotiated into the next union contract, many of which are up for bargaining this year (see pp. 6-7).
Texas was the first state to recognize the day in 1979 when presented in the legislature by Representative Al Edwards of Houston. Edwards is often referred to as the father of the Juneteenth holiday, and called it a “source of strength” for young people.
He said: “Every year we must remind successive generations that this event triggered a series of events that one by one defines the challenges and responsibilities of successive generations. That’s why we need this holiday.”
Juneteenth is an opportunity not only to celebrate freedom and resilience, but to learn more about Black history and anti-racist principles. Many lectures, events, and celebrations happened throughout the Pacific Northwest this month, including several virtual events given the continued call for safety during the pandemic.
Learning about the history of Black America is an essential step to building racial equity and ending racism in our workplaces, our communities, and our country. Below are some resources and links to learn more about this important, historic day and event:
You can also visit the PROTEC17 Racial Justice web page at: protec17.org/racial-justice to learn about what your union is doing to become an anti-racist organization, find upcoming events, and connect to other resources and organizations that fight for racial equity and fairness.