By Terry White
On June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas, the descendants of Africans brought to America as slaves were finally freed from bondage. They had remained enslaved for two years after the Emancipation Proclamation—and TWO MONTHS after Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, officially ending the Civil War.
Union General Gordon Granger’s proclamation of the end of slavery quickly spread across the plantations and farms throughout the state. That announcement was a day of celebration. In the years that followed, former slaves in Texas who had been freed from their chains turned the date of their emancipation—June 19—into an annual commemoration of their hard past and the more hopeful future for themselves and their families. The day became known as Juneteenth.
What began as a community celebration among African Americans was recognized as a statewide holiday in Texas in 1980. As the descendants of those men and women from Texas spread across the United States, they took the celebration—and the pain, joy and hope that is all part of Juneteenth—with them. The day is a reminder that even after many generations, we are still very connected to those men and women in Texas. And while history indicates that bondage continued for many even after June 19, 1865, it is that day that the African-American community has traditionally commemorated the end of slavery.
We are proud that in 2022, Juneteenth is now a paid holiday for King County employees. Juneteenth is also recognized federally and – as of this February – in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
June 19 is a day of celebration—but it is also a day of recognition that, as far as we have come as a nation, challenges still face the descendants of those slaves from Texas and all communities of color, regardless of how they arrived.
For King County Metro, Juneteenth is an opportunity to continue discussions that started in earnest after the May 2020 murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. How do we acknowledge and address the racial disparities in our region and our country while building better communities for everyone?
We invite you to be part of Metro’s journey to becoming an anti-racist organization to help our county and our country be an anti-racist society. We are reimagining what a safe and welcoming transit system looks like for all who ride Metro, especially those communities that have historically borne the brunt of racism and discrimination. Being a new arrival to this country, living with a disability, your gender identity, your sexual orientation or your ethnicity should not be a barrier to feeling secure whenever you ride with us.
Metro is committed to creating a workforce across our organization that reflects the community we serve, and building a workplace where everyone feels appreciated, empowered and heard. Metro offers forums to listen and learn from personal truths and experiences, and is committed to increasing accountability and providing enhanced trainings. Metro also is working internally to implement long-lasting systemic shifts that build, nurture and sustain a culture of belonging throughout our organization and across all our services.
Metro knows that Black Lives Matter is a movement, not a moment. Two years ago, we asked the talented employees of Metro to show us what “Black Lives Matter” meant to them, and we are still so proud of what they produced. Their art graces two of our coaches as bus wraps as well as exterior transit advertisements, and permanent art installations at all our worksites.
On this, the first celebration of Juneteenth as an official holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr. County, let’s recognize it with more than a celebration. Let’s recognize it by taking the steps necessary to create an equitable future. By doing so, we honor the courage of those who waited two years to learn they were free.
Terry White is General Manager of King County Metro.