Federal Employees News Digest

Juneteenth becomes federal holiday

In the depths of the Civil War, President Lincoln declared slavery illegal in the Confederacy. But it took two more years, until after war’s end, to free the last enslaved persons in the South—they had continued to live as prisoners and labor uncompensated, in Galveston, Texas.  

June 19, 1865 was the day it happened—a crucial moment in the liberation of African Americans. Annual celebrations followed, in the years and decades after, gaining the name “Juneteenth.” But it took more than another 200 years—until June 16 this year—for Congress to mark it as a federal holiday. Federal employees and advocacy organizations immediately joined in on applauding this step toward recognizing the difficult truths of the nation’s past, while honoring the progress made since.

“On June 19, we commemorate the emancipation of the last enslaved Black people in the United States,” the National Federation of Federal Employees said, in a statement. The National Treasury Employees Union also endorsed the move. “Part of NTEU's collective work to advance diversity, equity and inclusion in the federal workplace involves continually expanding our understanding of the roots of inequity. Honoring Juneteenth as a national holiday is a reminder of a painful past, a celebration of a vital milestone, and an opportunity to understand and work toward an equitable future.” 

“NTEU hopes members observe this important day with family and friends, celebrate African American culture and heritage, or join in a volunteer activity to advance the ongoing fight for racial justice,” it concluded. 

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees—which also represents federal employees—offered its strong support of the move. 

“We applaud the Senate and House of Representatives for voting to recognize Juneteenth as a national holiday, an important bipartisan statement of our values that recognizes how far we have come, but also how far we have yet to go in the struggle for equality,” AFSCME President Lee Saunders said in a release

“As we continue to reckon with our nation’s history of discrimination and violence against African Americans, it is past time that we honor the struggle of African Americans who successfully freed themselves from the bonds of slavery and their descendants who continue to fight for equal rights and freedoms for everyone.”

“We must now work, on Juneteenth and every other day, to educate our communities about the difficult truths of our past,” Saunders said. “Only then can we successfully mobilize to combat the deep-seated racism and indifference that persists today.”

The American Federation of Government Employees—the largest federal employee union—also expressed its endorsement. 

“Juneteenth is a day of profound meaning to Black workers, as it should be to all working people who enjoy and defend the freedom to live our own lives, speak with our own voices and enjoy the fruits of our labor,” AFGE stated on Twitter. 

2021 Digital Almanac

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