Michael Suguitan / Sun Staff Photographer

Juneteenth, the holiday that celebrates African American emancipation, has seen renewed interest in the light of recent protests against police brutality.

June 18, 2020

Cornell to Observe Juneteenth With Paid Holiday for Staff and Faculty

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On Wednesday, the University gave faculty and staff the day off Friday for Juneteenth, the oldest national commemoration of ending slavery in the United States.

Juneteenth recognizes the date when enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas, were told they were free, and has been celebrated since the 1880s as “Freedom Day” or “Emancipation Day.”

“This year, as our country confronts its history of racism and oppression, it is especially important for us to pause on Juneteenth to reflect on how we – collectively and individually – will act to finally address barriers to equality that exist across our nation,” President Martha E. Pollack wrote in a message to faculty and staff on Wednesday.

Pollack asked Ithaca and Cornell Tech faculty and staff to “read, reflect, and engage in conversations with family, friends and colleagues” on the day off. She also promised premium pay for essential work that must continue through Friday.

The announcement came after Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) issued an executive order the same day recognizing Juneteenth as a holiday for state employees.

“Although slavery ended over 150 years ago, there has still been rampant, systemic discrimination and injustice in this state and this nation,” Cuomo said in a press release, proposing to make Juneteenth an official state holiday next year.

On June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, to inform enslaved African-Americans of their freedom and that the Civil War had ended — two months after Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered. The announcement finally put President Abraham Lincoln’s Jan. 1, 1863 Emancipation Proclamation into effect for the area, as it had previously had little impact on Texans.

In 1980, Texas was the first state to designate Juneteenth as a holiday. Since then, 45 other states and Washington, D.C. have officially recognized the day.

In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in the holiday, particularly after the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and other Black Americans and the resulting nationwide protests.

“In the midst of the pandemic and the protests, this is an important way to recognize, honor and learn from the legacy of Emancipation, and that amplifies the long and continuing struggles for freedom unfolding in national and global contexts,” Prof. Riché Richardson, Africana studies, wrote in an email to The Sun.

President Donald Trump drew criticism after announcing his first rally since the coronavirus outbreak shut down most of the country would take place June 19 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Trump claimed that the rally was not set for Juneteenth on purpose, but he has since announced it has been moved “out of respect” to the following day.

“[R]ecognizing it within various institutions is an important step that I hope will concomitantly help underscore the importance of increasingly making work environments, including campuses, more diverse, inclusive and safe for those who have often felt marginalized,” Richardson wrote.