What Is Juneteenth?
As national conversation surrounding issues of systemic racism and police brutality continues, this Friday marks Juneteenth, a day commemorating the end of slavery in the U.S.
On June 19, 1865, the Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, with news that the war had ended and that slaves were now free — with Texas becoming the final state to emancipate enslaved individuals, more than two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, is the oldest nationally celebrated day marking the end of American slavery.
While Juneteenth is not recognized as a federal holiday, it is a state holiday in 46 of the 50 states, as well as in Washington, D.C. Additionally, as part of a series of efforts to improve internally with regard to diversity and inclusion, a growing number of companies have announced that they will make Juneteenth a company holiday. Below, FN rounds up the brands and retailers that are now recognizing Juneteenth as a paid holiday.
Beginning this year, Fila is recognizing Juneteenth as a paid corporate holiday for all staff members. In addition, the sportswear label said it will use its social media to amplify Juneteenth resources and celebrations throughout weekend.
J. C. Penney Company Inc. CEO Jill Soltau sent an email to staffers on June 15 declaring Juneteenth a paid company holiday. “I ask that you take the day to honor the historic pain caused by — and lives lost to — racial inequity and celebrate racial diversity,” Soltau said. “This is an opportunity to continue to learn, connect with each other and reflect on how we can move forward and achieve permanent and lasting change.” Soltau said hourly associates scheduled to work that day will receive additional holiday pay. In addition, the retailer said its leaders will this week host “open listening conversations” with their teams, including furloughed employees, on the topic of race relations.
Kenneth Cole Productions will be recognizing Juneteenth as an official paid holiday beginning this year. “Hopefully, more defining moments and unifying actions in support of our Black community will accelerate our country’s progression to truly establish racial equality, justice, and humanity for all,” the company said in a statement.
“We would like to recognize Juneteenth with a day off, so we can all use this time to learn and celebrate Black history and culture,” wrote founder and CEO Marc Fisher and president Susan Itzkowitz in a company email. “We are encouraging our team members to use this day to educate themselves, contribute to the community, to celebrate your identity, and use it to learn more about addressing racial inequity. We want to make strides to ensure everyone in our community feels safe and protected from inequality or harassment in all its forms.”
New Balance will close all operations, including its retail stores, in honor of Juneteenth.”We recognize the significance of this milestone in the fabric of our history and stand alongside all of those advocating for equality and against racism. We believe this is an important time to acknowledge and educate ourselves on the history, experiences, sacrifices and achievements of African Americans and reflect with family and friends on how we can work to shape meaningful change for an equal and inclusive path forward,” the brand wrote in a statement.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced on June 12 that the league will recognize Juneteenth as a company holiday, with league offices to be closed for the day. “The power of this historical feat in our country’s blemished history is felt each year, but there is no question that the magnitude of this event weighs even more heavily today in the current climate,” Goodell said in a statement. “Juneteenth not only marks the end of slavery in the United States, but it also symbolizes freedom — a freedom that was delayed, and brutally resisted; and though decades of progress followed, a freedom for which we must continue to fight.”
In a June 11 email sent to all employees, and obtained by FN, Nike Inc. CEO John Donahoe announced that Juneteenth will be an annual company holiday. “When we say that Black Lives Matter, it applies to the world outside of Nike and, importantly, it applies to our Black teammates within Nike. Simply put, we need to hold ourselves to a high standard given the heritage of our company and our brand,” wrote the exec. In addition, Donahoe said the company is focusing on four key areas to improve race relations internally: representation, professional development, inclusion and belonging and education. Nike will also be offering programming and learning opportunities to all employees on topics specific to racial inequality, from June 19 through July 4.
Tapestry Inc. — parent to Coach, Stuart Weitzman and Kate Spade — is adding Juneteenth as an annual paid company holiday beginning this year. The umbrella group wrote in a statement via Instagram that it hopes the day “enables us to think about and take actions to stop racism, as well as celebrate our freedoms and our differences, and realize the strength in our diversity.”
On June 15, Target Inc. announced that it will close headquarters in observance of Juneteenth. The retailer said its stores and distribution centers will stay open, but all eligible Target workers have the option to take the day off with full pay. In addition, hourly team members who work the day will be paid for time and a half. “Juneteenth takes on additional significance in this moment. Moving now to recognize it on an annual basis — as a day to celebrate, further educate ourselves or connect with our communities — is one more important action Target can take as a company to help the country live up to the ideal of moving forward in a new way,” said Target chairman and CEO Brian Cornell.