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Reflections on the Juneteenth Holiday

Posted on June 17, 2021

Associated Industries of Massachusetts and the commonwealth’s business community join with our fellow citizens in celebrating the first official state observance of Juneteenth, which commemorates the day in 1865 that the last enslaved people held in Galveston, Texas learned of their freedom, two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

The day is both an historical observance and an opportunity to reflect on the accomplishments of African Americans here in Massachusetts and throughout the nation. It is also a reminder of an event largely ignored by history texts, much like the Tulsa massacre that took place 100 years ago.

AIM – as an organization committed to diversity, equity and inclusion – regards the day as a symbol of the importance of creating an economy that provides opportunity for all the citizens of Massachusetts.

“The Juneteenth holiday is a long-overdue teaching moment about the contributions and history of a people who were instrumental in building the country. Reminders of what has kept us apart are necessary to forming bonds that bring us together moving forward,” said Donna Latson Gittens, Founder of MORE Advertising in Watertown and a member of the AIM Executive Committee.

Governor Charlie Baker signed a bill last July making June 19 a limited scope holiday, analogous to Patriots’ Day, Presidents’ Day and Martin Luther King Day. Private employers may elect to observe the day but are not required to do so.

Creation of the state holiday came amid a national racial reckoning following the death of George Floyd and several other black people during encounters with police.

Employers plan to mark Juneteenth in various ways.

AIM member National Grid announced this week that all of its U.S. employees, including 6,336 employees in Massachusetts, would be given the Friday before Juneteenth off as “a symbol of our dedication to honoring Black Americans who have suffered the impacts of racism throughout US history,” according to the company’s chief diversity officer Natalie Edwards.

The company encouraged its workers to use the time off as “a day of reflection and to celebrate Black communities, particularly in the neighborhoods where they live and work.”

AIM members New Balance, Foley Hoag, Boston University, Harvard University and Morgan Memorial Goodwill Industries have also instituted Juneteenth as a paid holiday. Other members, such as Fidelity Investments and Santander Bank, are conducting or sponsoring online events to discuss diversity and financial issues in communities of color.

Employees in the Legislature will all get Friday off, while executive branch employees will get a floating day off and state offices will remain open.

When Governor Baker signed the law last July, he said it was in recognition of “the continued need to ensure racial freedom and equality.”

“Juneteenth is a chance for us all to reflect on this country’s painful history of slavery and the systemic impact that racial injustice continues to have today,” Baker said. “It is also an opportunity to recommit ourselves to the goal of creating a more equal and just society.”

What are the rules for employers for the Juneteenth holiday? Listen to the AIM podcast.