John Harbaugh calls on leaders to make Juneteenth a national holiday

Juneteenth: A day of growth and encouragement of change (3:29)

On June 19, 1865, slaves in Galveston, Texas, were granted their freedom. Ryan Smith explains the meaning of Juneteenth and how African Americans still tussle with social injustice. (3:29)

Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh is calling on leaders in the United States to make Juneteenth a national holiday.

"It is a venerable and highly honorable day in our history as a nation on par with Independence Day and Memorial Day," Harbaugh told ESPN. "It represents the redeeming of the ideals that our country was founded on. Juneteenth or Freedom Day marks our true turn towards liberty for all."

Harbaugh's comments were made on Juneteenth, which observes the effective end of slavery in the United States. Although the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect Jan. 1, 1863, it wasn't until June 19, 1865, after the April 1865 conclusion of the Civil War, when the last of the newly freed slaves were read President Abraham Lincoln's decree in Texas.

"I'm angry about it and I'm embarrassed about it. I'm embarrassed as an American. Our nation was founded on ideals that are far greater than that kind of behavior." Ravens head coach John Harbaugh on racial inequality

The Ravens are among the many teams in the league that have given players and coaches off in observance of the day, but Harbaugh is the first NFL coach who has suggested that Juneteenth should be recognized as a national holiday. Former Dallas defensive end Greg Ellis has been involved in pushing for that since he wrote a play about Juneteenth in 2018 and started a petition about it.

Harbaugh first came up with the idea after speaking with players this week.

"Personally, I feel strongly about this, and am trusting our leaders to do the right thing," Harbaugh said.

The Ravens have been vocal on the issue of social justice. A week ago, Harbaugh was among the 20 people in the organization who called for the end of racial inequality in the United States in a 10-minute video released by the team.

"I'm angry about it and I'm embarrassed about it," Harbaugh said on the video. "I'm embarrassed as an American. Our nation was founded on ideals that are far greater than that kind of behavior. We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal."

Earlier this month, the Ravens pledged $1 million for social justice reform in the Baltimore area. A committee of current and former players will determine which programs will directly benefit from the contribution.