The Meaning Behind Juneteenth

silhouette of a person with the text Juneteenth


By Rachel Friederich, ICSEW Communications Chair

This Saturday is Juneteenth, also known as ‘Emancipation Day,” and “Freedom Day. It commemorates June 19, 1865 when Union soldiers at Galveston, Texas—the westernmost state in the former Confederacy—brought the news that the Civil War had ended and all enslaved people were now free. The news didn’t arrive to enslaved African Americans in Texas until two and half years after then President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which ordered all states in the Confederacy to release enslaved people and put an end to chattel slavery,  the system which allowed Blacks to be bought, sold and owned forever.

While Juneteenth as been long celebrated in African American communities, its history has been marginalized and still remains largely unknown to the wider public. The Juneteenth holiday is meant as an occasion for celebration, it also offers an opportunity to learn about and reflect about the definition of freedom and the ongoing struggle for Black people to achieve true equity and not fall victim to systemic oppression. The history of systemic racism in our country has directly impacted the work that we do in corrections.

While more needs to be done to address racial bias and address institutional racism, we’re proud of the work the state of Washington has done to be a leader to conquer these societal evils.


One recent step is the creation of the Blacks United in Leadership and Diversity (BUILD) business resource group. BUILD offers support to state agencies in creating more inclusive workspaces for people of color. Members of BUILD have spoken at several past ICSEW meetings and we’ve participated with BUILD in numerous diversity, equity and inclusion activities with BUILD. We look forward to continuing our allyship with BUILD.


And just this year, the state legislature designated Juneteenth as state holiday.


In honor of Juneteenth, ICSEW would like to share some resources and opportunities to find out more about the day’s history compiled from the Washington State Employee Assistance Program’s June 2021 Employee Frontline newsletter.


Juneteenth Resources

  • Listen to Laura Smalley, a formerly enslaved person in Texas, describe what it was like to hear the news about freedom on that first Juneteenth in 1865