Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee Statement on Juneteenth

June 19, 2024

June 19, also known as “Juneteenth,” is a federal holiday that honors the end of slavery in former Confederate states. While Juneteenth is a holiday to celebrate our country’s progress towards racial equity, Juneteenth also memorializes the many struggles of African Americans, past and present. Sanford Heisler Sharp encourages everyone to reflect on the history of African Americans, while also acknowledging the present discrimination faced by millions of Americans every day.

The Origins of Juneteenth

On January 1st, 1863, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, and two years later, the Confederacy officially surrendered to the Union in April of 1865. The enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation, however, would continue to be delayed for another two months until June 19th, 1865, when the Union Army freed the slaves in Galveston, Texas, the last major slave-holding center in the Confederate states and Texas’s wealthiest city because of its slave labor.

Common Misconceptions about Juneteenth

Many Americans mistakenly believe that slavery ended on Juneteenth. In reality, the Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves in the Confederate states. Thus, slavery continued in slave states allied with the Union. Furthermore, many Black people in Texas remained enslaved after Juneteenth and continued to work for their former masters in similarly exploitive and abusive sharecropping relationships.

Slavery did not become officially illegal until six months after June 19th, when the 13th Amendment was ratified on December 6, 1865. But rather than end slavery, the 13th Amendment created a loophole to keep slavery alive to this very day:

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime … shall exist within the United States” (emphasis added).

The Netflix documentary “13th” examines how Black people were arrested in big masses immediately after the 13th Amendment, and how the “war on crime” rhetoric enables the prison industrial complex (aka the modern-day slave plantation) to present day.

Continuing Slavery and Disenfranchisement to This Day

Today, Black people remain substantially overrepresented in jails. Private corporations earn two billion dollars each year from prison labor, while prisoners are forced to work an average of 13-52 cents per hour with no workplace protections, and sometimes no compensation at all.

In conjunction with the prison industrial complex, 25 states have disenfranchisement laws that bar people with criminal convictions from voting, with many states banning public benefits for people convicted of crimes, and a spike in other voter suppression laws.

Even worse, Black children are being funneled into the school-to-prison pipeline with high rates of recidivism. Judges who handle children in juvenile and dependency courts know too well how the color of the law impacts outcomes for Black children entrusted into state care.

Honoring Advocates and Civil Rights Victories

Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall argued landmark cases, including Brown v. Board of Education and founded the NAACP which spearheaded our most integral discrimination laws, including the Civil Rights Acts, the Voting Rights Act, and the Fair Housing Act. Today, Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson is joined by several other black legal leaders to ardently defend these civil rights. Black women are pioneering many of the movements transforming our legal and social atmosphere, including the MeToo, Black Lives Matter, and AI Justice movements. These movements are among the biggest grassroots movements in American history.

Some key organizations that continue to fight for the legacy of Juneteenth include the NAACP, the ACLU, the Innocence Project, the National Bail Out Collective, the Prison Policy Initiative, the Brennan Center, the Equal Justice Initiative, and the Brookings Institution. Many of these organizations provide ways to actively support Juneteenth and contribute to these movements. For example, the NAACP provides at least 25 different ways to take action, some of which can be done in a matter of 2-5 minutes.

The Battles against Workplace Discrimination

Juneteenth commemorates not only the denials of freedom and pay, but also the victories of lawyers, clients, and advocates to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Sanford Heisler Sharp is proud to have represented hundreds of clients who have faced racial discrimination in the workplace. Our work is impactful in large part due to our resilient clients who advocate for their rights and the rights of others despite the credible fear of retaliation and reputational harm. We appreciate the everyday battles that bring us closer to progress and the major contributions of Black leaders today who are setting the tone for a better future.

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