About a week ago or so, the NFL announced that it would be recognizing Juneteenth, on June 19, as a league holiday. June 19, 1865 (not 1985) marks the day that the final slaves in Texas were read the words of Abraham Lincoln contained in general order no. 3, which ordered the freeing of slaves, which came months after the official end of the Civil War.
Juneteenth celebrations go back to as early as 1866 to mark the one-year anniversary of this event, but it has not been substantially formally recognized on a national level. Many are learning about it for the first time now, amid a time of racial tensions in our country.
That is one of the reasons that the league chose to take this actions, and many teams have followed suit, though not all have made formal announcements that they would be recognizing the date as an organizational holiday. The Pittsburgh Steelers are among those who will recognize it tomorrow.
Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was the first to report that the Steelers will close their facilities tomorrow to honor the date. The team has not, at least as of this writing, made any kind of formal announcement or acknowledgement of this, but that doesn’t mean they won’t.
They are just one of many teams who have already stated or been reported to have made the date an organizational holiday, among others being the Bengals, the Ravens, the Raiders, the Packers, the Cardinals, the Bills, the 49ers, and more. Some have gone further than others; for example, the Jaguars encouraged their employees to use this time to learn about the history of the date and what it means.
As I wrote about when discussing the league making Juneteenth a holiday, June 19 is seen as a second day of liberation, after July 4, 1776, when the American colonies declared their independence from Great Britain. While they declared themselves free, they continued to own hundreds of thousands of Africans as property, that number accounting just for Virginia all by itself. During the early days of the country, it wasn’t uncommon for the number of slaves to outnumber the number of free men in a state, though in others, the slave population would be extremely small.
There are those living here today whose ancestors resided in the United States and who were not included in the liberation of the Declaration of Independence, but who remained in chains for nearly a century later.
We should as a country recognize this second Independence Day as part of our history and honor it, and this feels like one small step toward doing that. As some teams have asked their employees to educate themselves on the topic, I figured perhaps I would include a link to some resources as well. If you’re interested in learning more, you can start here.