With recent tragic events involving the killing of unarmed Black Americans, including the deaths in Minneapolis, Atlanta and Louisville, the United Auto Workers (UAW) is one organization taking the lead in showing how to commemorate Juneteenth.
A quick refresher: Juneteenth is the holiday that memorializes the date when Union army General Gordon Granger entered Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, and read federal orders that all slaves in Texas from that moment onward were finally freed. Despite President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, and the end of the Civil War in April 1865, the news had not reached Texas, the most remote state and one with relatively few Union troops. General Granger’s proclamation finally made it clear to as many as 250,000 people that they were free.
This year, the events leading up to the day have led to Juneteenth becoming a holiday for employees at companies including Nike, Target and Twitter. The UAW’s membership in particular is standing out for how its rank-and-file will remember this day.
Today, at 8:46 a.m. in each time zone, UAW members and their allies worldwide will pause and reflect for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time George Floyd was pinned down by his neck by a white police officer while he cried out for help. There is one caveat – how members will remember this day at that moment will depend on where they are. “We know that our members work in different circumstances and industries,” the UAW said in a public statement. “Please do not stop work unless authorized.”
As of press time, none of the major automakers has declared Juneteenth as a company holiday. However, General Motors’ autonomous driving technology subsidiary, Cruise, said it will recognize Juneteenth. And the Detroit Free Press reports that GM has said it will allow employees to participate in the day’s commemoration. GM employees, depending when they are on the clock, will be able to take those 8 minutes and 46 seconds to reflect at 8:46 a.m. or p.m.
While the UAW has had to deal with its share of troubling incidents over the years, by and large the union’s leadership has been at the forefront of the push for racial equality. Much of the UAW’s work on this front reflects the legacy of Walter Reuther, president of the union during the time of the U.S. auto industry’s spectacular growth from the post-World War II era until he died in a plane crash in 1970. Among his many efforts during the Civil Rights era, Reuther was instrumental in bailing out several hundred followers of Martin Luther King, Jr., after they were jailed during the 1965 civil rights marches in Alabama. King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, eulogized Reuther at his funeral.
With today being the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth, the UAW’s actions are an example of the many ways in which citizens can take action, reflect or celebrate. J’na Jefferson of The Root offers a list of virtual events people can attend today and throughout the weekend.
Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's worked an lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.