Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee Statement on Juneteenth
June 19, 2023
On behalf of Sanford Heisler Sharp’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, we would like to recognize and celebrate Juneteenth. Juneteenth, also known as Black Independence Day, Black Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, and Jubilee Day, has been a cause for celebration since 1865.
During the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln issued the final Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, thereby freeing the previously enslaved African Americans held in Confederate territories.1 The proclamation declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.”2 This news, however, did not reach everyone.
The slaves in Texas were the last slaves to universally become aware of Lincoln’s proclamation. The enslaved Blacks in Texas were finally officially freed on June 19, 1865, when, in Galveston, Texas, Major General Gordon Granger issued General Order No. 3, to wit “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with the proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.” The newly freed slaves in Texas celebrated their delayed freedom in many ways, including having parties, organizing parades, and attending church services. Thus came the birth of Juneteenth celebrations; first in Texas, and later spreading to other parts of the South.
Sadly, the post-war years were not kind to southern Blacks. Yet, they still celebrated freedom. The end of the Reconstruction era (1865-1877) saw the introduction of Jim Crow laws throughout the south and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in parts of the former Confederacy. To escape the hardships of their daily life, southern Blacks gradually left the south. Then, starting with the years immediately following the first world war, what was once a trickle of migrants turned into a flowing, multi generational migration of Black southerners departing their native lands to northern, midwestern and western cities.3 Thereby, the migrating southern Blacks took their Juneteenth celebrations with them across the nation.4
Over the past many years, the interest in and awareness of Juneteenth has ebbed and flowed. In 1938, Governor James V. Allred of Texas (ironically, one of the former Confederate States of America) issued a proclamation that named June 20, 1938 as Emancipation Day.5 Juneteenth celebrations increased across the nation during the 1970s and through the end of the twentieth century. In 1980, Texas led the way when it became the first state to declare Juneteenth an official state holiday. Recently, after the murder of George Floyd in 2020, other states rushed to make Juneteenth an official state holiday. Today, Juneteenth is a federal holiday and a paid state holiday in at least 28 states and the District of Columbia.6
Why do we celebrate Juneteenth? We celebrate because it is the right thing to do. We celebrate the lives and honor the memories of the millions of enslaved Americans who never tasted freedom. We celebrate and honor the lives of the ones who were enslaved every morning, every noon, and every night of their being. We remember all who never felt the warm sun of freedom. Although we celebrate today, we must not lose sight that the journey to true freedom and equality is not yet complete. There are powerful forces amongst us who believe that true equality is already present in twenty-first century, “colorblind” America. Among other things, these forces seek to defund and ban diversity, equity and inclusion programs at public colleges and universities.7 They also believe that the study of African American history is not worthwhile as it “lacks educational value.”8
Today, like all the days, we must remain steadfast in our fight to ensure that these reactionary forces are countered at every turn. As a law firm, we can play a part in making sure that the law stands on the right side of history. So, we celebrate Juneteenth this year by promising to fight for what is right and, as always, to strive for a more inclusive and equitable America. Happy Juneteenth!
Page on Juneteenth at the National Museum of African American History & Culture at the Smithsonian: https://nmaahc.si.edu/explore/stories
1It is important to remember that the proclamation did not make slavery illegal in the United States. Chattel slavery in the U.S. was finally outlawed with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution on December 6, 1865.
3“Over the course of six decades, some six million Black southerners left the land of their forefathers and fanned out across the country for an uncertain existence in nearly every other corner of America.” Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. (2010). Pg. 9.
4“The people from Texas took Juneteenth Day to Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle, and other places they went.” Id. at 240.