Commemorating Juneteenth

This year, we’re unpacking the history of Juneteenth and sharing how Bon Appétit teams across the country are commemorating the holiday. Taking inspiration from the wisdom of our previous Juneteenth partner CheFarmer Matthew Raiford, we are using this day as an opportunity to reflect on the sacrifices made – and continue to be made – in the struggle to dismantle the structures of racism and white supremacy. As Raiford astutely puts it, “freedom ain’t free”.

In the summer of 2021, President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law, making Juneteenth a federal holiday in the United States. The declaration of the holiday, which was long celebrated in certain communities but only recently recognized by the government, sparked waves of celebration, and some criticism, across the country.

Juneteenth marks June 19, 1865, when Union General Gordon Granger led 2,000 troops into Galveston, Texas to announce, through General Order No. 3, that the more than 250,000 enslaved Black people in the state were finally free. The General Order was meant to bring news of the Emancipation Proclamation, which had been signed by executive order into law two years prior in 1863, to Texas.

But as the African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS) notes, the actual implementation of General Order No. 3, and the historical legacy of General Granger’s action, masks the complicated and ongoing struggle of Black Americans. Despite the order being issued, slaveholders sought to preserve their oppressive system, and formerly enslaved people “put their bodies on the line in a collective protest of their subjugation,” joining the Union army, and fleeing plantations across state lines. Even after the war, Jim Crow laws segregated Black Americans and more subtle forms of enslavement, like convict leasing, and ensnared them in a system dubbed “slavery by another name.”

Just as formerly enslaved people continued to be oppressed after the end of the Civil War, Black Americans are still the victims of institutional racism and often unchecked discrimination. In the words of AAIHS, until the eradication of slavery’s legacy, the promise of Juneteenth remains unfulfilled.

For Bon Appétit teams, Juneteenth represents an opportunity to partner with affinity groups at the companies and campuses we serve. Rather than developing a cookie cutter event, we want to create space for our community partners in our cafés. This could look like a celebration with food, but it also could look like an informational session to encourage contemplation and conversation that pushes for further systemic change.