This Juneteenth Historical Perspective is written by Kimberlydawn Wisdom, M.D., M.S., HFHS senior vice president of Community Health & Equity and Chief Wellness and Diversity Officer.
Juneteenth is a celebration of the African American journey to freedom that still continues today. With the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery and the subsequent protests that swept the country last year, people reexamined their own long-held beliefs and reflected on the core structure of our society. With new knowledge and perspective, individuals and corporations made pledges to create a better, more equitable country for all. We must now put these words into action to drive change.
President Lincoln, himself, found that words without action cannot deliver on the promise of freedom. While the Emancipation Proclamation was issued on January 1, 1863, declaring that all in rebellious States "shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free," few slave owners immediately released the more than four million enslaved people in the U.S. at the time. In addition, the ongoing Civil War limited enforcement in Confederate States. It was not until the surrender of General Robert E. Lee more than two years later that enslaved people in Confederate States were emancipated.
When the Civil War ended in May 1865, Union armies marched throughout the South to deliver and enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. Juneteenth marks the date General Gordon Granger made the last Union announcement of the emancipation of enslaved people in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865. General Order Number 3 reads:
"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 laborer. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere."
“It’s time to move from reflection and awareness to empowerment and action to truly achieve equity for all.”
– Kimberlydawn Wisdom, M.D., M.S.
Today, Juneteenth remains a day of mourning for those whom freedom never reached and an opportunity to celebrate the progress we have made towards true freedom. As we reflect this year, we know that we have made great strides, but we still have work to do. At Henry Ford Health System, we are working to complete our 5-Year Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice (DEIJ) Strategic Plan. We hope that you join us on this journey to deliver on our commitment to equity for all of our team members, patients, community partners and business partners.
Ways to celebrate
- Read the Emancipation Proclamation.
- Experience the a virtual tour of the Slavery and Freedom exhibition and the “Calling Freedom” Celebrating Juneteenth interactive tour at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
- Take some time to view What is Juneteenth? History behind holiday that examines the history behind the American holiday celebrating the end of slavery.
- Join the American Philosophical Society for a virtual discussion of, Pulitzer Prize winning author and Harvard University Carl M. Loeb University Professor, Annette Gordon-Reed’s new book “On Juneteenth" at 2 p.m. EDT, Friday, June 18.
- Learn more about African American history by exploring the digital resources of the Charles H. Wright Museum and the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
- Protect yourself and your family as you celebrate the holiday by scheduling your COVID-19 vaccination today!