Blog Post

What Companies Are Doing to Honor Juneteenth

By Deven Kinney
June 16, 2020

On June 19th, businesses, schools, and communities across the country will honor Juneteenth.

The holiday recognizes June 19, 1865, when Union Major General Gordon Granger read federal orders stating that all enslaved people in Texas were free. It is a day to celebrate the emancipation of the last remaining enslaved African Americans in the Confederacy.

This year’s Juneteenth comes at an incredibly significant moment in American history. Following the tragic killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and many other Black Americans, the United States has witnessed one of the largest social justice movements since the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s. The multigenerational, multiethnic, multigender, and multiracial support that the widespread Black Lives Matter demonstrations have drawn is unlike anything seen before.

Juneteenth is an important date for Black Americans. While the Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln in September of 1862 officially freed all slaves in the Confederacy, many slave owners in Mississippi, Louisiana, and other eastern locations had begun migrating west towards Texas in an effort to escape the control of the Union army.

In fact, following the Union capture of New Orleans in 1862, it is estimated that over 150,000 slaves were relocated to Texas. As one of the most remote slave states, the enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation was especially slow in Texas. Consequently, General Granger’s issue of the federal orders reflects one of the final stages of official emancipation of slaves in the Confederacy.

A year later in 1866, the first celebrations of Juneteenth occurred amongst several church congregations in Texas. Throughout much of the early 20th century, the celebrations spread across the South, and the holiday grew in popularity again immediately following the Civil Rights movement.

As of 2020, 47 states officially recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday or day of observance.

This year, large companies and small businesses alike are now choosing to recognize Juneteenth as a paid day off, with Nike, Twitter, Square, Lyft, Mastercard, and the NFL among prominent organizations leading the way.

Here are some of the ways companies are honoring Juneteenth:

Offering Paid Holidays

In a company-wide memo, Nike CEO John Donahoe wrote that observing Juneteenth represents an “important opportunity to better commemorate and celebrate Black history and culture.” The company will now recognize Juneteenth as a paid holiday for U.S. employees.

Social networking site Twitter and Square, the digital payment platform, have also made Juneteenth a company holiday, offering workers a paid day off.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said that Juneteenth will be “a day for celebration, education and connection.”

In a letter from its president, Harvard University said that it will be closed to commemorate Juneteenth and all faculty and staff will have a full day of paid time off.

Financial institutions like JPMorgan Chase, Northern Trust, Fifth Third Bank, PNC Bank and Capital One announced that they will be closing all or parts of their business early on June 19th while paying employees for the full day.

Events to Foster Reflection and Giving

Companies and businesses are planning events and offering suggestions to team members for reflective and meaningful ways to spend the day.

Partners at Sequoia Capital will be matching employee donations to social justice and civil rights organizations, while software company Pulimi will engage in a company-wide reading of Ijeoma Oluo’s “So You Want to Talk About Race” in addition to participating in a donation-matching program.

Computer software company PagerDuty is specifically encouraging their team to use the day to volunteer for social justice causes, participate in peaceful activism, educate themselves on race and race relations in the United States, and financially contribute to organizations if they are able to.

Several companies are partnering with nonprofits and organizing service events for their team members.

SeatGeek’s internal volunteer program GiveGeek will organize a Day of Service, and Lyft’s transportation access initiative LyftUp will provide $500,000 to national civil rights organizations “who have been working to facilitate essential transportation and equitable access during the recent crises.”

Connecting Juneteenth to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives

Some businesses are choosing to use the day as an opportunity to transparently share plans to expand and develop their Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives.

Storj Labs, for example, has outlined initiatives that they have undertaken and others they plan to pursue, including unconscious bias training, inclusive recruitment, and equitable compensation policies.

The Black and African American Business Resource Group at Constellation Brands will host a town hall with a panel of their leaders and members aimed at discussing racism and social injustices.

Seam Social Labs will host a virtual Juneteenth event titled “Vibrations for the Future” as an opportunity to “honor Black joy and meditate on community health”. The event will feature a DJ and keynote speeches from the President of the Baltimore NAACP Reverend Kobi Little and former Ohio State Representative Alicia Reece.

Many companies are also allowing their employees to spend the day however they choose, encouraging them to donate books and articles by Black authors and writers to local schools, providing curated lists of movies and television programs from Black filmmakers, directors, and producers, writing lawmakers to change policies, identifying civil rights and social justice organizations they can support, nonprofits they can volunteer at, and peaceful demonstrations, vigils, and protests they can attend.

Suggestions on How to Honor Juneteenth

  • Make it part of your company’s holiday schedule or offer the opportunity for employees to use Juneteenth as a personal day or floating holiday
  • Use the day as an opportunity to hold listening and essential conversations about race
  • Make it an annual day of reflection or conversation that celebrates emancipation but also to highlight progress at your organization
  • Celebrate and recognize the contributions of your Black employees, leaders, and stakeholders
  • “Look under the covers” to assess your talent processes and systems to eliminate bias and ensure equitable promotion and advancement opportunities
  • Use it as a day of service
  • Recommend, buy, or donate children’s books on Juneteenth or Black history and share them with local school districts
  • Create a hashtag campaign commemorating the day
  • Lobby for changes and reform in inequitable policies, laws, and programs
  • Advocate for making Juneteenth a Federal holiday
  • Use the company’s social media platforms to promote Juneteenth and to celebrate Black culture and Black history throughout the day

For additional ideas on addressing racism, Dr. Johnetta B. Cole lists actions in her address to the National Council of Negro Women.

To see a list of how other brands are honoring Juneteenth, click here.

About the Author

Deven Kinney