Celebrating Juneteenth

Background: blue on top, red on bottom. In white text: Juneteenth. June 19,1865


Today is Juneteenth, or Emancipation Day, the holiday created by Black Americans to celebrate and commemorate the end of slavery in the United States.  

Historians affirm what celebrants of Juneteenth have long known: that slavery’s overthrow was the culmination of countless acts of resilience, resistance, organizing, and uprising by enslaved and formerly enslaved people.  

Similarly, the Black community created and preserved Juneteenth traditions over many years while continuing to be victimized by systematic oppression.  

In light of current debates, Juneteenth is a good day to take a stand for looking honestly at the full reality of our nation’s history. If the rich and varied history of Juneteenth is new to you, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture has created a wonderful site where you can learn more. Let us follow the example of the Black community in celebrating a momentous step forward while never losing sight of how far we have to go to secure full freedom and equality for all.  

At the Department of Labor, we are mindful that slavery was a system of labor exploitation, the legacies of which are yet to be fully eradicated.

So as we celebrate, we also rededicate ourselves to the work of eliminating racism and achieving equity across all economic and social systems in our nation and around the world. 

Earlier this week, I sent my colleagues at DOL an update on our goals for implementing Executive Order 13985, Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government. In that work, as well as in our day-to-day duties – be it the enforcement of wage laws in occupations dominated by members of underserved communities, training young people in Job Corps centers for good careers, empowering women workers of color with education about their labor rights, and so much more –  we can help complete the unfinished work we celebrate on Juneteenth. 

On Thursday, President Biden signed the bill making Juneteenth the 11th federal holiday, following the example of Texas, which was the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday in 1980. The unanimous passage of the bill in the Senate and the overwhelming support in the House of Representatives testify to Juneteenth’s undeniable significance across the political spectrum.  

Please join me in observing this essential day of national commemoration, and have a joyful Juneteenth. 

Marty Walsh is the secretary of labor. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @SecMartyWalsh.