Juneteenth: A Day of Freedom, A Day of Reflection

Reflection. Celebration. Freedom. Darkness. Hope. Reconciliation.

What words come up for you when you think about Juneteenth?

When the Emancipation Proclamation (a document declaring all slaves free) was signed in January of 1863 by President Lincoln, not all slaves received the news. Two and a half years later on June 19, 1865, the last of the slaves in Texas were finally freed. This day, known as Juneteenth, became a day of independence for slaves. Starting in Galveston, Texas, and spreading across the country, families gathered, celebrated with food, song, prayers, and recognized the achievements of Black Americans. Juneteenth was first commemorated as a state Holiday in Texas in 1980, and in 2021 it became a federal holiday in the United States.

While a time to commemorate and celebrate the emancipation of slavery, Juneteenth serves as an opportunity to reflect on the grueling history of slavery in America and its lasting impacts on society today.

Recognizing Juneteenth at MillerKnoll

This year, our Black Equity Team is sharing an internal series of educational posts on Juneteenth and the history behind it throughout the month. The Black Equity Team is an internal group advancing the understanding and inclusion of Black associates while increasing equity across the organization and in our communities. The team also invited associates to attend a conversation about the realities of slavery featuring one of MillerKnoll’s CEO Action Fellows, Tracee Bruce.

We caught up with Liza Landrum, Black Equity Team Lead and Ancillary Relationship Executive at MillerKnoll, to get her thoughts and perspective on Juneteenth. Read what Liza had to share below.

Q: What does Juneteenth personally mean to you?

A: Juneteenth is a day of reflection – another year added to the anniversary of “freedom.” It is a day to celebrate and take stock of what is currently happening in the world, to understand how far we have come since slavery while realizing there is much work to do.

Even after slaves were freed, Black Americans endured years of segregation, racism, and discrimination – and continue to face oppression in education, healthcare, our economic systems, and more. Black Americans were enslaved longer than they have been free…

Q: It took a long time for Juneteenth to be officially recognized as a federal holiday and a holiday in many states. Why is it important for all Americans to recognize this day as such?

A: Holidays in the United States are days of celebration and commemorating ideals important to our collective citizenship. Juneteenth celebrates something our Founding Fathers wrote about, even though it was not truly embraced – “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."

It is important to understand what it took for those words to become fully realized since they were not initially created with Black Americans in mind and in some cases, that is still true when we look at the racial tensions in our country today.

Q: Juneteenth came to be 157 years ago – and is now a representation of freedom and independence for Black Americans. How does that resonate in today’s social and racial climate?

A: We have made significant gains in our educational, economic, social, and political achievements in the 157 years since Juneteenth came to be. We celebrate those achievements on this day. But we also see glaring examples of injustices still played out today including unfair social policies and differences in treatment within the justice system. Black Americans are still impacted by laws that inhibited land ownership and generational wealth accrual.  

Today's climate shows how volatile race relations still are in America. Some of our country’s most newsworthy events in the past two years have been directly related to racial violence against Black people and other underrepresented groups in our country.

Q: What can others do to educate themselves on Juneteenth and America’s past with slavery?

A: There are so many resources, books, podcasts, and movies out there that tell the story of our nation’s grapple with slavery and its dark realities that people need to know and see. There is so much to understand from when slavery began in 1619 to today, that is not in history books. If you are someone wanting to do your part to help make change, self-educate, and have tough conversations with your families and across generations and cultures.