Juneteenth is meant to acknowledge black emancipation from slavery, but there is a risk that it could turn into just another day off, defined by more than road trips and mattress sales.
big picture: Corporations, retailers and some local governments are struggling about how to honor a holiday commemorating the end of slavery.
why it matters: Juneteenth became a federal holiday last year. This year is the first time a holiday has happened for which one has been able to plan.
What are they saying: “When you live in a society like ours, there is always the danger that these kinds of holidays will be absorbed into a kind of market, consumer-based. logic or experience,” said Ed S., chairman of the Department of Africa. Gloud American Studies at Princeton University told Axios.
- “You don’t want to just commercialize it. It’s not just another day where you just take off,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner told Axios. “It is a day of freedom for those who were once slaves and who were set free.”
yes but: Some companies are using Juneteenth as a branding and community service opportunity.
- Power Home Remodeling—one of the largest outdoor home remodelers in the country—is launching an inaugural Juneteenth initiative in Atlanta, which includes walking tours of Black historic sites and tours of Black-owned businesses.
- Delta Air Lines and American Family Insurance announced their participation in Unlock Potential, a racial equity-focused hiring program for at-risk youth that aims to prevent incarceration.
Background: Juneteenth has been celebrated for years in Houston and Galveston, Texas, to commemorate the issuance of General Order Number 3 by American Major General Gordon Granger during the Civil War.
- That order declared that, according to the Emancipation Proclamation, “all slaves are free.” Texas was one of the last places in America where enslaved people learned of emancipation.
- The day was marked for decades with cookouts, parades, concerts, and lectures in the Houston area as a way to recapture hope and emancipation enthusiasm.
- Juneteenth celebrations have become more and more prominent across the country in recent years and have become a rallying point in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, which helped build momentum to make it a federal holiday.
Bottom-line: “Whether you’re watching Juneteenth eating barbecue and red velvet cake and not thinking about slavery at all, or is it an event that’s organized so that we can think about it… Without the holiday, they wouldn’t have been two separate events,” Gloud said.