On June 19, 1865, Texas became the last state in the nation to honor the Emancipation Proclamation, marking the day that slavery in the United States came to an end. Even though President Lincoln signed the proclamation in 1863, the Civil War would continue for two more years, and it would take two months after Robert E. Lee’s surrender for federal troops to reach Galveston and put an end to the practice. The following year, June 19 emerged as a day of celebration that would become known as Emancipation Day, or Juneteenth.
But Juneteenth isn’t just a day for people living in Texas or for the Black community. In 2021, Juneteenth was recognized as a federal holiday, increasing its visibility and enabling people across the country to gain further understanding and appreciation of its significance.
Juneteenth has a special meaning to so many people, and its official designation as a federal holiday signifies change that extends beyond ending slavery. Though there’s still a long way to go to put an end to injustice, there has been an evolution.
At Parsons, we recognize the importance of Juneteenth and embrace diversity as a core value in all that we do.
“What Juneteenth means to me and my family is to remind ourselves that our ancestors once had to endure slavery and that we will never again put ourselves in a position to be controlled. We need to take advantage of the opportunities we have now and not take them for granted,” says Parsons senior estimator Ibn Hagler, who is currently working on the International Terminal Redevelopment Program at George Bush Intercontinental Airport, in Houston.
Ibn grew up celebrating the holiday with barbecues and visits to the park. In the inner city, where he lived as a kid, there were also community parades. Even though Ibn lives in suburbia now and isn’t close enough to the city to enjoy many community events, celebrating Juneteenth is something he’s passed on to his own children. “It wasn’t until I was grown up that I understood why we were getting together on June 19, so I didn’t want to make that mistake with my own kids. I want them to know why we’re celebrating, and I want young people in general to really take the time to understand Juneteenth and see it as a time for reflection,” he says.
Storytelling is an important aspect of appreciating Juneteenth and everything it stands for. Ibn’s own father, James Hagler Jr., moved from California to Texas back in the ’60s—during the Jim Crow era—and, not knowing the laws that were in place at the time, once sat down in the front of a bus. His innocent choice garnered glares from the White passengers, but fortunately for him, he was wearing his military uniform, which granted him some respect from people who may have otherwise acted violently toward him.
Despite living during a time of legal segregation, when the right to vote, get an education, and make a good living were denied the Black population, Ibn’s father always taught him to pursue his goals with abandon, do well in school, and treat his fellow man as he would like to be treated. Ibn, who was always naturally curious and enjoyed creating and “building stuff,” took this advice to heart as he pursued a career that tapped into all his talents. He says, “With estimating, you have to be creative, especially when you’re asked to develop an estimate from nothing. You have to put together your imagination and experience to come up with a number.”
Andra Haskins-Bryant, a Parsons Technical Support Services Contract 4 (T4) mobility coordinator for our Federal Solutions segment, as well as a member of the Parsons DEI Metrics Subcommittee and chair of the Parsons T4 DEI Council, has her own story to tell. Like Ibn, Andra has family members who also grew up during the Jim Crow era. Her grandfather told a story about how Blacks were afraid to drive their nice cars to town. Instead, people would park their cars in a rural area, then walk into the local town.
Both Andra’s grandfathers were extremely hard workers and well respected in their communities by both Blacks and Whites. They instilled in Andra the importance of respect, compassion, and resilience, and Andra credits the wisdom of her family with the success she’s achieved today. Her grandfathers also each had big farms, and her paternal grandfather had 13 children, so when Andra was young, Juneteenth was just as big a holiday as Thanksgiving and Christmas. She says, “All of us cousins got new clothes on Juneteenth, and many people from Douglassville and Atlanta, Texas, would come over to celebrate with us. We played softball and dominos, had cookouts, and listened to music and danced.” Her family on her maternal side also celebrated, and the cooking mostly fell to her grandmother, Harriet King, who was famous for her pound cake and egg pies.
Like Andra’s great-great uncle, Gordon Haskins, who started the Juneteenth celebration in Lansing, Michigan, in 1993, and her distant relative, Bessie Coleman—the first Black female to fly an airplane—she continues the tradition of celebrating diversity and educating others on the importance of inclusion in every facet of life. She credits her coworkers Caroline Chin, Tara Strafford, Nicole Smith, Svetlana Sindler, and Wanda Lucas for helping to create innovative ways to share knowledge to promote diversity awareness.
Fred Lillie, a Parsons QA inspector at Houston Airport, didn’t grow up celebrating Juneteenth. In fact, it wasn’t until he was in his thirties, living and working in Southern California, that he learned what the holiday was about. Since then, Juneteenth has taken on a very personal meaning for him. A self-described history buff, Fred began researching his family through Ancestry.com and was able to trace his roots back to the 1830s. He discovered that some members of his family were free men, but some were slaves from the Congo sold all over the South, from Louisiana to Arkansas to Texas, and survived to see the day on June 19, 1865, that they were finally free.
The fact that I work for a company that recognizes Juneteenth is extremely important to me. Not only does it signify that we’re an inclusive culture, but also that by observing the holiday, you’re giving people who are survivors with a shared history of prejudice and violence their due respect”
Juneteenth is a holiday that can mean different things to different people. For some, it’s about honoring their family’s and culture’s story, for some it’s about progress, for some it’s about paying homage to a day that changed the course of history for the better, for some it’s a time to reflect, and for some it’s about appreciating the activists, politicians, and lawmakers who fought to keep the memory of Juneteenth alive. And for some, it’s all of those things and more. But no matter who you are or how you celebrate, June 19 is a crucial day in American history that belongs to everyone, and now—at long last—this particular struggle, to be recognized as a federal holiday, is over. And that’s cause for celebration.