June 19 is Juneteenth—the day in 1865 when approximately 2,000 Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas to declare more than 250,000 formerly enslaved people emancipated by executive order. More than 150 years later, Juneteenth’s historical significance has culminated in the establishment of a new national holiday: Juneteenth National Independence Day.
Next year, Oracle colleagues will mark the day together as an official paid holiday for United States employees. But today, Black colleagues and allies throughout Oracle see an opportunity for a reckoning and reflection on this crucial moment in American history.
“I would like everyone to understand the historic opportunity Juneteenth represents to bring all Americans together to promote greater understanding of freedom, racial reconciliation, and healing from the legacy of slavery,” said Desiree Terrell, senior principal technical support engineer at Oracle.
Jared Williams, a UX researcher at Oracle, explains that regardless of the holiday’s federal status, colleagues should understand how systemic inequity in the US has direct ties to enslavement. Having the consciousness to interrogate one’s actions, values, and perceptions could shift systems that are inherently inequitable, he states.
“I’d want us to collectively see the celebration of Juneteenth as some deeper call to action toward an aspirational, more equitable future,” Williams said.
That call to action rings through 16 decades of American history. In 1863, as the US entered its third year of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which states that “persons held as slaves” would be free in the successionist states.
But after the end of the Civil War, news of the Emancipation Proclamation needed to travel through the former Confederacy. It took more than two years for that news to spread and to be enforced, causing enslaved people in the westernmost Confederate state of Texas to remain in bondage until well after the end of the war. On June 19, 1865, approximately 2,000 Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas to declare that more than 250,000 Black citizens were now free by executive decree. This day is known as Juneteenth.
“I would like my colleagues to know that June 19th is the day that African-Americans celebrate freedom,” says Terrell.
For years, Oracle’s employee resource group Alliance of Black Leaders for Excellence (ABLE) has commemorated the day with various activities. This year, ABLE Austin issued a Juneteenth Challenge, beginning on Thursday with a two-mile walk/run and continuing through to Saturday with the promotion of Black-owned business and support of Black nonprofit organizations through Oracle MyGiving. Additionally, ABLE national and the ABLE Colorado chapter invited guests to join an interactive online session to discuss the historical significance of Juneteenth.
For allies, Juneteenth represents an opportunity to learn about a history that had not necessarily been freely told. Tyler Mangum, a principal user researcher at Oracle, explains the limits of his own awareness to the challenges that his peers face as people of color. For example, Mangum, who grew up in Oregon where Black home ownership was prohibited until 1926, had been for too long unaware of his state’s Black exclusion laws.
“When I think of Juneteenth today, for me it’s a reminder that I need to be an active ally,” says Mangum. “It’s a constant reminder that listening and understanding are the most powerful tools we have.”
Alex Chan is a writer for Oracle. She was previously a reporter for The Orange County Register and subsidiaries of the Los Angeles Times.