Thousands of enslaved African Americans in Texas learned they were free on June 19, 1865 — two months after the Civil War ended.
On that day, Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston to announce and enforce General Order 3. The order, in part, informed everyone that effective immediately, "All slaves are free." The first Juneteenth celebrations began the next year.
President Abraham Lincoln began the process of freeing enslaved people in America's Confederate states through the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863. But it took the incremental advance and victory of Union troops to enforce that order. Also, it's likely that slave owners deliberately withheld the news of freedom from those they enslaved.
Also known as Jubilee Day, celebrations on June 19 grew and spread nationwide over time. In fact, Texas made Juneteenth — short for "June nineteenth" — a state holiday in 1979. But the holiday didn't gain widespread attention until America faced a 21st-century civil rights movement.
Companies compelled to action during 2020 summer of unrest
America's most recent reckoning with our complicated, oppressive, and sometimes violent racial and civil rights history spurred organizations to speak up and take action starting in the summer of 2020. Black Minneapolis resident George Floyd was murdered by a police officer in May 2020. His death sparked widespread protests and increased interest in the Juneteenth holiday.
President Joe Biden signed the bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday into law just two days before the holiday's inaugural federal observance on June 19, 2021. The change became effective so quickly that some large organizations, including the Postal Service, said they didn't have time to pause their business operations or plan any events to commemorate the holiday.
In response, many organizations said they'd have more to offer next year and going forward.
Here's what top tech companies are doing for Juneteenth
Check out how some of America's big tech companies honored the spirit of Juneteenth during the holiday's first official national observance and what they plan going forward. You may find some inspiration or ideas for your company.
In 2020, Adobe decided to give its approximately 26,000 employees off on June 19 "to focus on reflection and advocacy." That year, at the height of America's 21st-century social justice movement, the company also formed five task forces. Those groups focused on:
Under TAI's leadership, Adobe decided "to recognize Juneteenth as a global day of learning to focus on Black history and racial justice with a series of company-wide events." Those events included incentives to complete learning experiences such as volunteering and listening to podcasts about the Black experience in America.
Amazon sponsored and organized an event titled Juneteenth Unityfest to commemorate and celebrate Juneteenth. Last year's event included performances by music icons like Darius Rucker and Dave Matthews.
Juneteenth Unityfest is set to return this year. The goal, in part, is to bring together diverse voices and "drive engagement across a platform of community organizations" to celebrate the vibrancy of America's complex history and culture.
Alongside the music, last year's event highlighted Amazon's education initiatives and the company's Black Business Accelerator. Participants in the accelerator receive financial assistance, business mentorship, and marketing help to support Black businesses.
In addition, last year, Amazon donated $1 million to 13 community-based Seattle area organizations that support social justice, youth development, workforce development, and arts and culture for communities of color.
Amazon directly employs about 1.1 million full and part-time workers.
With about 133,000 employees, Dell holds a spot as one of the world's largest tech companies. In 2020, Dell's chief diversity and inclusion officer at the time pointed to Juneteenth as a milestone for further action. Some of the steps the company planned to take to honor the spirit of Juneteenth include:
Making anti-racism training part of the company's mandatory global ethics and integrity training
Broaden recruiting efforts to hire individuals with community college degrees. Some people in this group, including African Americans, traditionally did not have equitable opportunities to access four-year degrees in higher education.
Broaden recruiting efforts to include people with two-year degrees for certain roles
Dell also acknowledged that "our senior leadership does not reflect the diversity of the people we serve." To improve that metric, the company said by 2030 it wants women to make up 40% of its global leaders and Black and Hispanic people to make up 15% of US-based people managers.
In the US, women constitute 51% of the population and Black and Hispanics 12% and 18%, respectively, according to 2020 Census data.
Now officially known as Meta, the company, which also owns Instagram, gave its approximately 72,000 employees the option to take a paid day off in 2021.
Workers had an opportunity to attend an all-company "day of learning" that featured conversations on the significance of June 19 with some of the company's Black executives and Black educators like Henry Louis Gates.
The year before, also around Juneteenth, Facebook elevated its chief diversity officer Maxine Williams to the company's executive leadership team.
Google's parent company Alphabet, which also owns YouTube, employs about 155,000. The company outlined four initiatives honoring Juneteenth in 2021 that may return this year:
A Juneteenth-themed Google Doodle. Last year's temporary change to the company's homepage logo included images of parades, music, food, and families.
Celebrating Black creators, including highlighting app developers on Google Play.
Supporting Black businesses with Google Digital Coaches. The program has aided more than 60,000 Black and Latinx small businesses, according to Google.
Canceling all meetings on Juneteenth and instead hosting an event that featured music, history, and conversations.
The Seattle-based software company, which employs about 180,000, said last year that it planned to take an educational approach. Rather than offering a day off, Microsoft used the day as an opportunity for workers to learn about issues of race, inequity, and injustice.
Specifically, the company said it offered a week of "commemorative events that amplified Black voices and organizations with the goal of learning how we all can support the Black and African American tech community."
"Recognizing this day with intention allows us to stay connected to the many challenges unresolved, violence unaddressed, and inequities unchanged for the Black and African American community worldwide," the company said in a statement.
This year, Oracle's approximately 133,000 workers will receive a paid day off for Juneteenth.
The company says its Alliance of Black Leaders for Excellence (ABLE) employee resource group commemorated the day in various ways over the past several years. That included a two-mile Juneteenth challenge walk/run. State-level chapters of ABLE also sponsored events like virtual conversations on the holiday's significance.
In a corporate blog post, Jared Williams, an Oracle UX researcher, said everyone should seek to understand how America's current social injustices have direct ties to slavery. Regardless of Juneteenth's official holiday status, the day should serve "as some deeper call to action toward an aspiration, more equitable future."
Most of the action for Juneteenth at tech companies centers on conversations about the experiences of people who are different. And often conversations about race, identity, and injustice are hard. Check out our roundup of 12 professional organizations advancing DEI values in tech if you want or need some ideas or advice.
And finally, there's positive news for Postal Service workers. Starting this year, full and part-time post office employees will be eligible to observe Juneteenth National Independence Day as one of 11 paid holidays.
This article was reviewed by Laila Abdalla, Ph.D.
Laila Abdalla obtained her Ph.D. in English from McGill University in Montreal, Canada. She taught undergraduate and graduate courses in English and successful writing at Central Washington University for over 21 years.
Currently, Abdalla serves as a Washington state career coach and advocate for individuals on temporary state assistance. Abdalla has devoted her career, teaching, and leadership to matters of equity, diversity, and inclusion. Above all, she is committed to her clients' and students' complete experience, raising awareness of BIPOC issues in employment, language, community, and culture.
Abdalla leads with equity in management and nonprofit volunteering and continues to develop her own understanding of these complex issues — both professionally and in her lived experiences.
Laila Abdalla is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education Integrity Network.