Large companies join those who say 'the time is now' to make Juneteenth a national holiday

154 years ago Friday, Texans celebrated the first Juneteenth.

A century-and-a-half later, civil unrest is renewed by racial injustice. Some say the unofficial holiday should be made official.

"Recognizing the independence of black people in America, I feel like is very important," Tampa Bay Juneteenth Coalition Member Adria Johnson said. "The time is now. Yes, it would have been nice to get recognized before, but the time is now."

Several major corporations agree, now recognizing Juneteenth as a company holiday. Google, Lyft, Target, J.C. Penney, Nike and the NFL made announcements this week.

"Celebrating Juneteenth is just one step in our ongoing journey toward racial equality," a spokesperson for Lyft wrote in a statement.

The push to make Juneteenth an official national holiday is the focus of a petition, which has a quarter of a million signatures as of Tuesday night.

The holiday is currently recognized by 47 states. Hawaii, North Dakota and South Dakota have no legislation on the books.

It's a celebration of a historic moment. While the Emancipation Proclamation officially ended slavery, it wasn't fully enforced in Texas until June 19, 1865 when Union General Gordon Granger read the following order:

“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. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”

Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration of the end of slavery in the United States. (Source: Galveston Convention & Visitors Bureau)

The order informed the people of Texas all slaves were free solidifying June 19 as a historic day in history.

"There were people who have never heard of Juneteenth and now it has become sort of a phenomenon where people are just like having a better understanding," Johnson said.

Tampa Bay has a list of events to celebrate Juneteenth:

Black Lives Matter Business Expo: A free event supporting black-owned businesses will include 100 vendor booths. Masks are required and social distancing will be enforced; noon to 7 p.m. Friday; Expo Hall, 2810 34th St. S, St. Petersburg; 727-254-8104.

Juneteenth Celebration: The Tampa Bay Juneteenth Coalition will host a picnic with free food, music and 25 vendors. Masks are encouraged; 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Saturday; Kings Forest Park, 8008 E Chelsea St., Tampa.