Walmart pulled “Juneteenth ice cream” from its freezers and apologized Tuesday after a social media backlash and accusations of commercializing a holiday meant to commemorate the end of American slavery.
The retail giant was set to sell “swirled red velvet and cheesecake” ice cream in a container adorned with Pan-African colors and an image of two Black hands high-fiving each other. “Share and celebrate African American culture, emancipation and enduring hope,” the label read.
But the product drew swift online condemnations from users who accused the retailer of treating a solemn day as a moneymaking vehicle.
In a statement to Fox television stations, which first reported on the products, the company said it would “remove items as appropriate” as it reviews its Juneteenth products.
“Juneteenth holiday marks a celebration of freedom and independence,” Walmart’s statement said. “However, we received feedback that a few items caused concern for some of our customers and we sincerely apologize.”
The company did not respond to a request for comment from The Washington Post.
Walmart’s website on Tuesday offered a wide array of Juneteenth products, including a T-shirt with a word cloud of social-justice and Black empowerment themed phrases in the shape of Africa and Juneteenth party decorations.
Another product listing features a White model wearing a black tank-top with the words “Because my ancestors weren’t free in 1976,” an apparent mistaken reference to American independence in 1776.
“This is what happens when you commercialize federal holidays,” comedian Kevin Fredericks said in a viral TikTok. “It just became a federal holiday. Now you can celebrate with this ice cream.”
Juneteenth marks the anniversary of freedom for enslaved people in Texas after the Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation freed enslaved people in states that seceded during the war, but it was largely unenforceable, and many enslavers fled to Texas to continue the practice.
On June 19, 1865, the Union army took control of Texas and outlawed slavery.
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all enslaved people are free,” Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger wrote in General Orders No. 3. “This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and enslaved people, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.”
The 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which permanently banned the practice, was ratified six months later, and on June 19, 1866, many formerly enslaved people began celebrating the date as the anniversary of their freedom.
Congress passed legislation in 2021 to make Juneteenth a national holiday as the country continued to reel from the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of a White Minneapolis police officer and violence toward civil rights demonstrators.
This year, the holiday will occur nearly one month after 10 Black shoppers and supermarket employees were killed at a Buffalo grocery store in an attack prosecutors say was fueled by racist hate.
A Washington Post-Ipsos poll conducted after the shooting found almost three-quarter of Black Americans say they are worried that they or someone they love will be attacked because of their race, 65% said it was a “bad time” to be a Black person in America and 53% expect race relations to worsen in their lifetimes.