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Juneteenth - reflection and accountability

It took one paragraph.

102 words.

"That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.”

The entire executive order is 728 words but those first 102 changed the world for nearly 4 million people.

The Emancipation Proclamation was issued on September 22, 1862 and became effective on January 1 1863. It set into motion the path to freedom for nearly 4 million enslaved people in the US.

The scale of that impact is incredible when you think about it. The population of the US was 31.4 million. So about 1 in 8 people were enslaved. The population of the US today is 331.4 million so in rough terms that would be like 42.2 million people today. Let that sink in. One in eight was a slave.

But for individuals it obviously meant even more.

They were free …as were their children… and the generations after them.

But it was not instantaneous.

There was a rebellion going on. This could not be enforced in the Confederate states. So as the war progressed and Union soldiers took territory people were freed. A long arduous process.

Finally on June 19, 1865, nearly two and half YEARS after the proclamation went into effect and two months AFTER Robert E Lee’s surrender, Union troops arrived in Galveston Texas to take control of the state… the last remaining slave state. General Gordon Granger read General Order Number 3 announcing the Emancipation Proclamation and freeing the final group of slaves:

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.”

Hence June Nineteenth … shortened to Juneteenth… has become the official celebration for the end of slavery. For many it is a second independence day.

47 states and the District of Columbia recognize Juneteenth. Only Hawaii, North Dakota and South Dakota do not.

However only 4 states currently recognize it as a paid holiday for state employees: New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and … ironically Texas. Washington state will join that list starting in 2022.

Texas was the first state to observe the holiday in 1980.

An increasing number of companies are treating this as a holiday and giving their employees the day off.

That’s nice. Truly.

But what are companies doing? Are they staging photo shoots and cute little speaking sessions? … Remember those town halls in the wake of George Floyd…. What happened with those? Have leaders come through on any of the items people raised?

Does the company fund Employee Resource Groups?

Has the company reviewed its hiring practices?

Is the company reaching out to HBCUs and other diverse colleges and universities?

Has the company done a pay equity study to ensure that pay gaps across demographic groups are equitable? At least looked at gender pay gaps?

Do senior leaders model inclusive behavior?

Where would your company stand if all those were on a report card?

And where are you on this journey? Have you taken a moment to educate yourself? How are you modeling inclusive behavior?

As another Juneteenth comes around, perhaps we should use this day as an opportunity for reflection. To review employers actions. To grade them and hold them accountable even in a small way. And also to review and reflect on what we should do and can do to educate ourselves.

As always I hope this helps. I look forward to continuing the conversation. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments.

All the best,

Dave Terné

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