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GSA reflects on Juneteenth amid continued equity push for Black communities

| GSA Blog Team
Post filed in: Equity

Although Juneteenth National Independence Day is the newest federal holiday—signed into law in 2021–it has been celebrated for more than 150 years. 

Juneteenth, or June 19, is the oldest known celebration marking the end of slavery in the United States. For many Black Americans, it’s an independence day. It’s also known as Freedom Day.

However, according to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, most Americans are still learning what this landmark event means in the context of our nation's history.

Despite President Abraham Lincoln declaring "that all persons held as slaves" within the confederate states "are, and henceforward shall be free" on January 1, 1863, that portion of the Emancipation Proclamation wouldn’t be fully enforced for  two years. 

On June 19, 1865,  Army Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, Union Commander for the state of Texas, along with about 2,000 union troops – many of whom were Black and formerly enslaved people themselves  – marched throughout the city announcing General Order No. 3, which informed the people of Texas that all enslaved people were now free.

An excerpt from General Order No. 3 states: 

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor..."  

According to the Smithsonian Institution, more than 250,000 African Americans in Texas finally embraced their long deferred freedom on that Juneteenth.

Building on Civil Rights Progress: GSA’s work with HBCUs

After the end of the Civil War, communities of newly emancipated African Americans were met with the promise of Reconstruction, which meant a fresh start as full and free citizens of the United States. 

Many of the first colleges allowed to educate African Americans were also founded during this hopeful period. Between 1861 and 1900 more than 90 institutions of higher learning – today known as Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) – were established.  

Under the presidential priorities of the Biden-Harris Administration, great strides have been made to advance educational equity, excellence, and economic opportunity through HBCUs. In support of these efforts   GSA has committed to increasing the number of Historically Black Colleges and Universities doing business with the federal government through procurement activity.  Also, GSA is committed to providing training and technical assistance  to help HBCUs build capacity, optimize opportunities, and strengthen sustainability.

In March 2023, GSA senior leaders met experts from HBCUs to explore ways to obtain GSA contracts and how HBCUs can achieve success in the federal marketplace.

During the discussion, GSA's National Capital Regional Administrator Elliot Doomes, a graduate of Atlanta-based HBCU Morehouse College, described GSA’s efforts to drive change for HBCUs.

“This event is a testament to GSA's and my personal commitment to help HBCUs and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) receive countrywide recognition, support and access to opportunities that they have worked so hard to receive,” Doomes said. 

To celebrate the nation's "second independence day" and newest federal holiday, GSA will raise the Juneteenth flag at its headquarters in Washington D.C.