Each year, people across the country and the globe celebrate holidays that hold special significance. Some are religious, some commemorate lost lives, some celebrate historical dates of significance.
Many of these major holidays and days of observance impact our economy in one way or another, with businesses closing to give staff the day off, or ramping up to sell merchandise. Few of these holidays, however, have as close a tie to our economic history and our country’s people as Juneteenth.
In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that all enslaved people were to be freed. As is true to this day, the signing of the document and the actualization of the policy are altogether different things, and it took another 2-3 years for states in the Southern part of the country, known as Confederate states, to begin freeing the enslaved – many of whom were not aware that the Proclamation had been signed years prior.
On June 19, 1865, in the wake of the Civil War, Confederate states began to recognize the Proclamation. This day in Galveston, Texas, is what Juneteenth celebrates.
It’s important to lift up Juneteenth as a joyful day and a celebration of freedom for Black Americans. It is also imperative that we acknowledge that, because our country’s economy was built using the enslaved labor of millions of Africans and African Americans, it is still deeply rooted in a racist structure. Every system: financial, social, economic, and otherwise has been built to keep Black lives away from it. This not only continues to impact generations of Americans, it’s also incredibly expensive.
As we strive to create and support an economy that puts people first, we must first recognize where our system has fallen short, where generational trauma and systemic racism have shaped our ways of thinking, the ways we engage in commerce, and how these systems still exist to the detriment of Black Americans to this day.