The state of Massachusetts beat the federal government to the punch and decided last July it would for the first time recognize June 19 as an official holiday, but the decision was still 13 years after Massachusetts’ only Black governor Deval Patrick signed the first proclamation recognizing the celebration of the end of slavery in the South, WWLP reported. Massachusetts Rep. Bud Williams wrote the budget amendment that led to the Juneteenth observance. “I believe it would show a simple measure of solidarity, with hopes of obtaining a better understanding of the realities of black and brown individuals,” he said in a statement WWLP obtained.
In what The New York Times called a “largely symbolic” observance, Texas became the first state to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday in 1980, and since then the District of Columbia and at least 45 other states have followed suit. Democratic governors in New York, Virginia, and Washington signed legislation declaring Juneteenth holidays in their states, and a similar move is in the works in Illinois, where lawmakers approved a bill that would mean a paid day off for state employees and give students a day out of school. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. La Shawn Ford, told The Chicago Tribune last month he had tried to get similar legislation passed previously but there “wasn’t an appetite” for that at the time. “Now, post-George Floyd, this is the time,” Ford said. “Some would say this is an African American holiday, but it’s an American holiday.”
National Grid, an electricity and gas utility company, announced earlier this month that all of its U.S. employees would be given Friday off as “a symbol of our dedication to honoring Black Americans who have suffered the impacts of racism throughout US history,” the company’s chief diversity officer, Natalie Edwards, said. The utility company joined several other businesses that a year earlier pledged to make Juneteenth a paid day off for employees. The lists of such companies, composed by CNBC and CBS, really are quite expansive, including Adobe, Allstate, Best Buy, Capital One, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Fifth Third, PNC, Lyft, Nike, the NFL, Postmates, Quicken Loans, Spotify, Square, Target, Tumblr, Twitter, and Uber.
“Beginning in 2020, NIKE, Inc. established Juneteenth as an annual paid holiday for U.S. and Puerto Rican-based employees,” a company spokesperson said in a statement Daily Kos obtained on Tuesday. “Across our Nike, Converse, and Jordan family, we will close our corporate, retail, manufacturing and distribution operations in observance of Juneteenth to provide educational opportunities that honor Black history and culture.” An Allstate spokesperson similarly said in a statement on Tuesday: “Inclusive Diversity & Equity is one of Allstate’s core values and in 2020, we made Juneteenth an annual, paid company holiday to give Allstaters the opportunity to reflect, learn and engage in their communities. We will observe the holiday this year on Friday, June 18.”
It’s worth noting, however, which big brands and businesses were not on that list: Amazon, Bank of America, Facebook, Google, and Walmart. Bank of America and Walmart said their employees could use a personal day on Juneteenth. Amazon, Facebook, and Google opted to go the route of canceling meetings.
Find the memo Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos issued to employees last year below:
From: “Bezos, Jeff”
Over the past few weeks, the Steam and I have spent a lot of time listening to customers and employees and thinking about how recent events in our country have laid bare the systemic racism and injustices that oppress Black individuals and communities.
This Friday, June 19, is Juneteenth, the oldest-known celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the U.S. I’m cancelling all of my meetings on Friday, and I encourage all of you to do the same if you can. We’re providing a range of online learning opportunities for employees throughout the day.
Please take some time to reflect, learn, and support each other. Slavery ended a long time ago, but racism didn’t.
Thanks to this nation’s leaders, many more will be free to commemorate the end of slavery the way they see fit.
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