A Day to Remember, A History We Should Never Forget

By Eve J. Higginbotham SM, MD, ML

As we approach the Juneteenth Holiday, it is important to consider the what, the why, and the where this day should take us on a journey of deep reflection.  In many ways, weaved into this day of remembrance and celebration, there is a dual tribute - acknowledging what this day represents and the hope it should inspire within each of us for the future. 

What Is Today?

On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger proclaimed the following order to the people of Texas:

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.”General Orders, Number 3; Headquarters District of Texas, Galveston, June 19, 1865

This proclamation, celebrated as the end of slavery in the United States, was not the only notable milestone in the journey of this country’s egress from this horrific period that preceded it. Rather it followed more than two years after the actual signing of the Emancipation Proclamation in September of 1862 and the day it was official, the first of January of 1863.   In fact, Frederick Douglass celebrated January 1 as the day to commemorate the end of slavery.  However, regardless of whichever date remains in the minds of our community, not everyone experienced the same freedom at the same moment.  There were significant delays in sharing the news, punctuated by the arrogant reluctance of slaveowners to release fellow humans and bring the promise of freedom to every American. 

Why Should We Be Reflective?

The remnants of bondage took on new shields of armor, transitioning to lynchings, Jim Crow laws, and overt and subtle limitations on countless lives which otherwise could have transformed the world with underappreciated talent and innate skills.  The soft bigotry of low expectations prevented many from realizing their full promise.  In many ways the more than two years that transpired between 1863 and 1865 represent a metaphor for the inescapable truth that continued effort is needed to address the inequities in our society, despite the remarkable milestones we have already experienced.  Just consider the 389 bills introduced in 48 states, which aim to negatively impact voting rights, as the current thread that places limitations on liberty.  If a significant number pass, our progress as a robust democracy will be adversely impacted.

Where Should These Reflections Take Us?

This is a time to turn reflections into action and move forward to strengthen our country, lean into our core values, and work towards a more equitable and just society.  This thread of hope can also be linked to Juneteenth, a day for reflection and celebration.  The proximity of this holiday to the summer solstice which this year will occur on June 20 at 11:32 PM EDT, reminds us of a brighter future, but only if we remain engaged and vigilant.  It is remarkable that the Senate has approved this day as a national holiday.  Now it is up to the House to make the next critical step in this process.  To keep us inspired in our collective efforts, we should remember the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, who once stated, “But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars.”  The stars light our path to a future of aspiration, action, and advocacy.