Although we are taught that the Emancipation Proclamation freed the confederate slaves, history books often fail to mention that it took two and a half years for all enslaved African Americans to receive their freedom. Juneteenth is a day that not only commemorates the last day of slavery but also the beginning of reconstruction in the United States.
In January 1863, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, an ordinance that would free all slaves owned in confederate states. However, as the war raged on, many southern slave owners refused to comply, and given the lack of Union troops in the area, it was impossible to enforce the new statute. It was not until June 19, 1865, that Union troops, led by General Gordon Granger, arrived in Galveston, Texas, and notified nearly 250,000 slaves that they had been freed.
As news spread throughout the state, African Americans began to rejoice in their new freedom. For the next century, the black community would continue to celebrate on June 19 in recognition of the end of slavery, and in 1979, Texas made it an official holiday. Today, many states commemorate Juneteenth; however, celebrations vary across the country. Some families host a family gathering and barbeque, while others will use this day to simply bring awareness. Additionally, some organizations bring in speakers and hold seminars to aid in the education and self-improvement of the African American community.
For many Americans, July 4 is seen as the official celebration of freedom and independence from oppression. However, many black Americans know that at the time of the American Revolution, they were still considered less than human and were far from being free. That is what makes Juneteenth so special. It is a day for the black community to celebrate the beginning of our journey to freedom and equality. And although there is still a great amount of progress to be made, it is nice to acknowledge how far we have come.
As we witness the countless protests regarding police brutality and the systemic oppression of black Americans, we must understand our history and how centuries of injustice can push a community to their breaking point. As future health care professionals, it is our obligation to educate ourselves on the communities we will be serving so that we can confront our own biases and become allies for the voiceless.
Nevertheless, Juneteenth is not only a celebration of the ending of slavery in the United States but also a reminder of how long it takes to enact change. The Emancipation Proclamation was merely a stepping stone. It took countless troops fighting the confederacy to finally see a change in the south, and even that change included another 100 years of segregation, lynching and Jim Crow.
So in honor of Juneteenth, I challenge all readers to be a part of a movement that helps enforce the change you want to see in the world, whether it is an end to police brutality, income inequality or health disparities. If we do not stand up for what is right, we are complicit in what is wrong.
~ Christen Thompson, Detroit Mercy ‘22