If you don’t know about Juneteenth, you’re not alone. It marks the United States’ second Independence Day. It is a history that remains largely unknown to many Americans, but it has long been celebrated by African Americans for 155 years, according to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture.
Although the Emancipation Proclamation granted enslaved people freedom in 1863, some enslaved people were not freed until more than two years later. On June 19, 1865, troops finally arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas, to inform the 250,000 slaves statewide they were free. As these enslaved individuals sought refuge in Mexico, towns celebrated their versions of an emancipation holiday. Nacimiento de los Negros, a village in the Mexican state of Coahuila on the U.S.-Mexico border, continues to celebrate a festival known as Día de los Negros, Day of the Blacks, according to Texas Monthly.
Many people in the US, of all ages and backgrounds, don’t recall learning about Juneteenth growing up and now realize the significance of the day. Below three employees tell us their stories about Juneteenth and how they’ll be recognizing the holiday.
Heather L. Mattisson, program manager
Arizona | Human Resources
Our nation is in distress. As an African-American woman, I have two choices: I can be angry it has taken so long for the world to wake up to racism, or I can encourage people to be anti-racists. I’ve chosen the latter. I’m having courageous conversations with our friends, colleagues and relatives. We are at a critical, tenuous junction in the United States: Our children for generations will reap the outcomes of our actions in this moment in history.
I learned about Juneteenth from my family growing up in Houston, Texas. We usually had barbecues or went to the park with other families. Sometimes, we waited to celebrate during our annual family reunion Fourth of July weekend. This Juneteenth, we’re hosting a Zoom session to share our stories of racism and discrimination we face and reflect on how our lives compare to our late loved ones who endured so much more pain. Because of them, we rise.
Gary W. Miller, manufacturing technician
Arizona | Technology, Systems Architecture and Client Group (TSCG)
I grew up with my parents and nine siblings in a three-bedroom house in a predominantly black neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio. I don’t ever recall learning about Juneteenth. It wasn’t taught or even talked about at school.
After serving six years in the U.S. Navy, I first learned about Juneteenth at age 27 when I moved to Arizona. The state, however, didn’t officially recognize it. I moved to the Phoenix area in 1994 and started reading a black community newspaper and went to the Arizona Black Rodeo – staples in the small and thriving African-American community at that time. That’s how I found out about Juneteenth and attended a few celebrations.
Our country is going through a distressing awakening. At Intel, with my work family of 23 years, we’re talking about it. I’m having some robust and informative conversations with close friends and co-workers about diversity and inclusion. These open and respectful conversations are very important for us to have so we can move forward and make significant personal change. As a result of our times, Juneteenth is going to become a more prominent holiday. This Juneteenth, I will be reflecting on how I can make effective change, while celebrating with my wife, three children and three grandchildren over hamburgers and hot dogs.
*Gary’s headshot is his self-portrait. Follow his art on Instagram at @gary_miller_art.
Christa Nutor, senior finance analyst
Oregon | Technology and Manufacturing Group (TMG)
Growing up in the Midwest, I didn’t learn about Juneteenth. As Ghanaian immigrants, my parents had limited knowledge about U.S. history. It wasn’t until college in Georgia I learned about Juneteenth through my friends. They proudly celebrated it like an independence holiday, representing freedom, with barbeques, parades and parties.
Our country has a long way to go to heal from 400 years of racism to reach racial equality. That’s why the progress made on June 19, 1865, is worth celebrating. As a black woman, my experience in the United States would be vastly different, maybe even nonexistent, if it weren’t for this critical moment in U.S. history. Juneteenth reminds me that even if breaking systemic racism is taking longer than we expected, change is possible. We need to address the problem – layer by layer. This Juneteenth, I will be commemorating the day by going to a social justice event at my church. I sincerely pray one day, in my lifetime, my racial identity isn’t taboo or controversial in the workplace. We, as a company, should continue leaning into inclusive attitudes, practices and behaviors to transform our culture to become an inclusive place for everyone.
To learn more about Juneteenth, visit the National Museum of African American History & Culture and watch a tour of the Slavery and Freedom exhibition.