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Nike makes Juneteenth an annual paid company holiday

The company's CEO says the June 19 celebration of the notification of the last freed slaves is an 'important opportunity' to celebrate black history.

WASHINGTON — Starting this year, Nike will recognize Juneteenth as an annual paid holiday in the U.S., the shoe and sportswear company's CEO told employees.

The June 19 holiday celebrating when the last enslaved people were notified about the Emancipation Proclamation is also now being recognized by other companies, including Twitter and Square.

Nike CEO John Donahoe made the Juneteenth announcement in an internal memo sent to staff on Thursday, according to Yahoo Finance and Forbes. The news reports quote him as saying that recognizing the holiday is an “important opportunity to better commemorate and celebrate Black history and culture.”

Donahoe became CEO of the Oregon-based company in January. He also says Nike will launch a diversity education program for employees next week.

His two-page memo was sent after Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey announced on Tuesday that Juneteenth will be a holiday for employees at both companies. Dorsey tweeted that it's, "A day for celebration, education, and connection," also saying the holiday will be honored every year going forward.

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Juneteenth, celebrated on June 19th, is the commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States. 

President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves in January 1863. But it took two more years for the last remaining enslaved African Americans, in Galveston, Texas, to be told of their freedom. A Union general read them the proclamation on June 19, 1865.

The name Juneteenth comes from a blending of the date. The holiday serves as an opportunity to cherish freedom, but also poignantly acknowledge the history of slavery in the country. 

Credit: AP
Shoppers walk past the Nike Miami store on the Lincoln Road Mall, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018, in Miami Beach, Fla. Nike's stock was falling in early trading on Tuesday following an announcement that former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has a new deal with the athletic clothing and footwear maker. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

The Juneteenth company holiday declarations are happening amid nationwide protests against systematic racism and police brutality. The civil unrest across the U.S. was sparked by the May 25 death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody. His death, as well as those of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and other black people, has been the recent catalyst for demonstrations nationwide.   

Days after Floyd's death, Nike released an ad replacing its standard "Just Do It" slogan with a message that starts, "For once, Don't Do it. Don't pretend there's not a problem in America. Don't turn your back on racism." Even top competitor Adidas retweeted Nike's message.

The focus of demonstrations this year is the same protested over years ago by Colin Kaepernick, whom Nike made the surprise move of signing to an endorsement deal in 2018. The former San Francisco 49ers quarterback created controversy when he started kneeling during the national anthem before games to protest police brutality and racial injustice. He has not been on an NFL roster since 2016.

Donahoe reportedly wrote in his Nike memo, “When we say that Black Lives Matter, it applies to the world outside of Nike and, importantly, it applies to our Black teammates within Nike. Simply put, we need to hold ourselves to a high standard given the heritage of our company and our brand.”

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