In the midst of a civil war ravaged America came a day that marked the beginning of an end – the end of slavery for an entire group of people based on the color of their skin.
But that freedom does not come from Abraham Lincoln’s well-known Emancipation Proclamation, which declared all slaves free in the Confederate States and which went into effect at midnight on January 1, 1863. In fact, it didn’t mark. that the start of a journey that has lasted. from the founding of America to the present day. Despite the promise of freedom of proclamation, according to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, freedom was only offered to a few, as the Emancipation Proclamation could not be implemented in places still under Confederate control.
Texas was one of those places.
On June 19, 1865, approximately 2,000 Union Army troops marched into Galveston Bay and announced that more than 250,000 enslaved Black Texans had finally been released by executive order. This day of freedom became known as Juneteenth.
Since the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 and the protests that followed, Juneteenth – a party unknown to many non-Black Americans for decades – has started to gain momentum as the fight for racial justice and inequality takes on new life. It represents a day which, though out of immediate memory for those alive today, reminds us of American history and the mistreatment of black Americans for too long.
The federal government even took note of the party. The United States House of Representatives passed legislation on Wednesday that makes June 19 National Independence Day and an American federal holiday that celebrates the end of slavery, CNN reported. The bill is now heading to President Joe Biden for enactment.
But even companies, like Capital One bank, are starting to realize this.
Recognition of Juneteenth
Capital One recently made the decision, after shutting down early June of last year, to permanently recognize June as an official holiday by closing its offices in the United States on June 18 and its branches on June 19.
“I think we’ve had a collective awakening, if you will, from the events of the last year,” said LeYonn Bibb, senior risk specialist at Capital One. “And as painful as this realization was, the positive side is that it has enabled more of us to learn more about what it was like for black people in America. that she still is, quite frankly. “
But it’s not just about the day itself and giving employees time to reflect – it’s about what the holiday meant in 1865 and what it means now. Bibb said Capital One’s idea of recognizing Juneteenth as an official corporate holiday began in the summer of 2020 when they began having conversations about the experience of black Americans. These conversations allowed us to learn more about Juneteenth and its meaning.
And amid recent efforts by the Texas Legislature to limit the teaching of critical race theory in schools, Bibb said acknowledging the history of racism against black Americans is even more critical than ever.
“[Capital One is] put a mirror, a beacon, a microphone on these very real points in history, ”Bibb said. “It allows us all to learn more about each other and see, ‘Oh, that’s an important story to tell. I may need to broaden my own vision. At the very least, it could be a conversation starter to move towards the education we need. “
And Capital One’s initiative to recognize Juneteenth doesn’t stop when its offices close. On Wednesday, June 16, the company invited Civil War historian Marquett Milton of the African American Civil War Museum to take associates on a virtual tour of the museum’s exhibits and events leading up to Juneteenth. Then, on Thursday, June 17, Voices, Capital One’s Black Business Employee Resource Group, hosted a virtual block party to celebrate.
“Juneteenth is a signal to, first of all, the black associates of Capital One and all of our family members that we are serious,” Bibb said. “And then it’s a signal to the world that we are walking forward together.”
Critics can say Capital One’s recognition of Juneteenth is a publicity stunt (no pun intended), Bibb said. But that’s not how she sees it.
“Capital One officially recognizing Juneteenth meant a real commitment to racial equity,” she said. “It meant we were going to take action with our words. Being a black woman in America it is extremely important for me to see the action behind the words. I want this to be more than a bumper sticker.
Bibb also pointed out that acknowledging Juneteenth is just one of the steps the bank has taken since the events of last summer to address systemic racism against black Americans.
Just days after the video of George Floyd’s murder went viral, Capital One announced a pledge of $ 10 million to organizations that advance social justice for black Americans, according to a June 4 statement. Press release. The bank also launched a matching giving program until June 30, where Capital One matched, dollar for dollar, donations made by associates to various organizations that support the black community.
The bank also later launched the Capital One Impact Initiative – a five-year, $ 200 million commitment to support growth in underserved communities and advance socio-economic mobility, according to an Oct. 1 report. Press release. Nationally, the company has partnerships with the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Obama Foundation, Bibb said.
And at the local level, Bibb said Capital One is partnering with Paul Quinn College in Dallas, America’s first urban working college and the oldest historically black college west of the Mississippi River.
Importantly, Bibb said the investments Capital One has made to support the black community gives its black associates a sense of validity and compassion amid a country so divided over systemic racism in America. And that gives other businesses a good example to follow.
“We want to become a best practice among our industry peers, showing people that it’s okay to have difficult conversations,” said Bibb. “We have to do it. It’s time to do it.