This story was originally published on June 15, 2020.
Celebrations don't often start in your local library, but for TD Bank's Michele LarMoore that's the perfect place to kick off her family's festivities with her son for Juneteenth - the day to commemorate when slavery was fully abolished in the U.S.
"We look at books to expand his knowledge about the history of our ancestors," said Michele, TD Bank's Head of Business Transformation. "Afterwards we always have a joyful family reunion where members come from everywhere to visit and eat amazing food. It's a very important day for our family."
With COVID-19 restrictions, it won't be possible for Michele's relatives to meet at their annual get-together at a home where family members have resided since 1921 when they made the migration from South Carolina to Pennsylvania. Over the past 10 years, Michele, also the author of Unfolding our Past about the history of her family in America, has shared updated research at each of these events.
But Michele intends to fully celebrate the joyful day she considers the true Independence Day. America won its independence from England in 1776; but the last reading of the Emancipation Proclamation was not read in Texas until June 19, 1865, hence the name Juneteenth.
Juneteenth has received more widespread attention this year as racial injustice issues have been brought to the forefront with the tragic deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky and the ensuing protests held around the globe.
Many of the live Juneteenth festivals throughout the US have been canceled; there are numerous options to celebrate the holiday virtually. The Johnson House Historic Site, Philadelphia’s only intact stop on the Underground Railroad, has hosted a street festival for the past 13 years. But this year, it will host The Philadelphia Juneteenth Festive online on June 20 from noon to 5PM, ET. TD Bank is currently exploring opportunities to partner with the Johnson House.
TD Bank's colleagues are invited to attend Juneteenth Freedom Day Celebration, hosted by the Bank's Social Impact team and the Minorities in Leadership Business Resource Group, on June 18.
"Imagine how my ancestors felt when they heard the news of their freedom"
Juneteenth is currently a state holiday in 47 states (Hawaii, North Dakota and South Dakota are the exceptions) although admittedly many people are still unclear as to why the holiday is celebrated on June 19 instead of when the Emancipation Proclamation from President Abraham Lincoln was put into effect in 1863, freeing all Black slaves.
However Texas was the most remote state in the Confederacy, and there were few Union troops present to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation until after the Civil War ended in 1865 when reinforcement forces arrived in Galveston, Texas.
"Lots of slaves were in bondage throughout the country, the slave holders wanted to get additional revenue and crops, so they didn't rush to get news out," Michele explained. Hence, the day of true independence for the Black community was first celebrated on June 19, 1866. It was primarily a church celebration, since that was one of the few places that they could celebrate freely, according to Michele.
The celebration of the day, also known Freedom Day, Jubilee Day and Liberation Day, has been continuing since that first celebration, although it has evolved throughout the years. In the 1960s, celebrations were often tied to the Civil Rights Movement.
By the mid-1970s, a strong connection emerged to tying the holiday to the arts, music and poetry of different African Homelands. Meanwhile, the movement to make the day a federal holiday has become stronger in recent years. Former President Barack Obama co-sponsored legislation during his senate term to make the day a federal holiday, which did not pass.
For Shelley Sylva, TD Bank's Head of Social Impact, a special quote from Coretta Scott King, a human rights activist and leader and the widow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., represents one of the many reasons she considers Juneteenth so important.
- "Struggle is a never-ending process. Freedom is never really won, you earn it and win it in every generation."
"It is part of my deep and rich history," Shelley said. "I can only imagine how my ancestors felt when they heard the news of their freedom."
Many are hoping that the recent focus on anti-Black racism will reinforce the importance of Juneteenth to our collective history in the United States. So even with the limitations of celebrating this year, it is important to honor the day.
"This is the 155th year, of freedom from bondage. We have made some progress toward equality, but there is still a ways to go." Michele said, "It's a day to remember the American history we were not taught in school. It is American history, and therefore important to all of us."