Juneteenth: America’s Second Independence Day

June 19, 2018, 4:28 PM UTC
Businesswomen looking at blueprint in office building
Businesswomen looking at blueprint in office building
Hero Images/Getty Images

Today is Juneteenth, America’s second (and some say more factual) independence day. On June 19th, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas and announced the end of the Civil War. This news meant 250,000 enslaved Texans were now free—more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

Now, 153 years later, June 19th is celebrated as the official end of slavery and the true Independence Day for African Americans. It’s a day commemorating the contributions African Americans have made to society, celebrating their freedom, education, and spirit. Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have legislation officially recognizing Juneteenth as a state holiday, and while President Trump has made no comment on his personal Twitter, the White House released a statement acknowledging the day.

“Today we commemorate the anniversary of that delayed but welcome news,” read the statement. “Decades of collective action would follow as equality and justice for African-Americans advanced slowly, frustratingly, gradually, on our nation’s journey toward a more perfect union.”

In 1865, Gen. Granger read off General Order Number 3, which announced the freedom of slaves, including the “absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves.” It was a monumental moment, but as time went on, systematic racism continued. Public segregation ended less than 60 years ago, and today we live with the remnants of that society. As psychologist Dolly Chugh wrote, “We put in the training program and fight the class action suit, but our underlying illness remains.”

Beyond the police brutality and mass incarceration, there’s the everyday judgments that African Americans face. According to a study by NPR, “black Americans take the existence of discrimination as a fact of life.” It’s apparent everywhere: when they apply to jobs, rent a home, or merely walk the street. The business world is no exception.

According to the U.S. census, the number of African American-owned businesses grew 34% between 2007 and 2012, but these account for less than 10% of all firms—a low percentage considering African Americans account for 13.1% of the adult population.

According to United States Black Chambers Inc., African American-owned businesses face challenges such as access to location and capital. Even when entrepreneurs acquire loans, they have high interest rates or never receive enough.

Kelisha Garrett, the executive director of the New Orleans Regional Black Chambers of Commerce, says the biggest challenge to Black businesses is access to information. “Most small minority businesses are unaware of many opportunities,” she said.

But there’s reason for hope as well. The U.S. census reported that women were the largest contributors to the growth of African American businesses in their 2012 report, and there are initiatives to continue this growth. Black Wealth 2020 is a USBC push to close the wealth gap between White and Black families by the year 2020 through increasing and supporting the number of African American-owned businesses, homes, and banks.

On this Juneteenth, individuals and politicians alike are remembering our past, and working for a more equitable future. As the NAACP wrote, “although we have come so far, we still have a long way to go.”