Recognizing Juneteenth’s unsung heroes
Many of us are now familiar with the federally recognized holiday, Juneteenth. This holiday commemorates the Union Army soldiers who issued a proclamation in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, which ordered the freedom of more than 250,000 enslaved Black people in the state of Texas.
For those of you who are history buffs, you know that this comes a little over two years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863.
So, why is Juneteenth so important? And what is the history behind this federal holiday? To answer this question, we need to introduce two very important people.
Frederick Douglass was a former slave in the United States, self-educated (he taught himself to read and write and then went on to teach other slaves) and is considered one of the nation’s most respected orators, writers, civil rights leaders and abolitionists.
Douglass was also important because he was a presidential consultant to none other than Lincoln himself. It was Douglass’ tireless efforts that persuaded President Lincoln to put forth the Emancipation Proclamation.
Douglass aided President Lincoln by recruiting black soldiers to fight for the Union army, including his two sons, Charles and Lewis. Douglass continued to advocate for black soldiers by encouraging equal pay and treatment for those enlisted. Ultimately, his goal was to prove not only to President Lincoln, but to the nation, that the freed black men were willing to fight for their rights, their continued freedom and the freedom of others.
It is said that many of those Union soldiers who appeared in Galveston on June 19, 1865, were indeed the Union regiments of the U.S. Colored Troops (USCT). Imagine the jubilation and the collective sigh that must have resounded in Galveston that day. Then imagine what it must have felt like to hear this news from a soldier who looked like you and who fought for you.
The second person who is pivotal to the history and making of Juneteenth is Opal Lee. Opal Lee is a 96-year-old retired teacher, counselor and activist. She is also considered to be the “Grandmother of Juneteenth.”
Lee was born in Texas in 1926, and when she was 12 years old, her family’s home in Fort Worth was burned to the ground by white rioters. Years later she recalled, “The fact that it happened on the 19th of June has spurred me to make people understand that Juneteenth is not just a festival.”
Lee campaigned for decades to make Juneteenth a federal holiday, but it wasn’t until September 2016 that her effort gained traction. That year, and at the age of 89, Lee decided to make a symbolic walk from Fort Worth, Texas, to Washington, D.C., where she arrived in January 2017.
While her efforts did not secure a federal holiday by then-President Barack Obama, she ultimately received enough attention and political support that Juneteenth was signed into law on June 19, 2021.
All Lee wanted was a national holiday — one that she could see in her lifetime. Today she still lives in Texas. She won the “Texan of the Year” award in 2021 and continues to be an activist and educator.
Juneteenth is more than a day to honor all the unsung heroes who fought for the abolishment of slavery, it is also a day to celebrate the resilience and achievement of the Black and African American communities.
The ABIDE (Asante Belonging, Inclusion, Diversity and Equity) team is honored to bring awareness for holidays such as this, in addition to finding new ways to further equity, diversity and inclusion at Asante.
If you would like to celebrate this holiday, look no further than the color red. Red is an important color in the celebration of Juneteenth and is tied to West Africa where it is associated with strength, spirituality, life and death.
You can incorporate red drinks, like hibiscus tea or juice, and foods like red velvet cake or red beans and rice. A national favorite is Louis Armstrong’s family red beans and rice recipe.
What ABIDE has been up to
The Asante Belonging, Inclusion, Diversity and Equity team has been busy over the past two months. Our work has included:
- Reviewing Asante’s Behavioral Standards to fold more inclusive and equitable language into behavioral expectations.
- Joining the regional All in for Health’s equity networking group to collaborate on the Community Health Improvement Plan for Jackson and Josephine counties.
- Creating Asante’s health equity operational team to identify how we can improve health equity for our patient communities.
- Expanding the work of ABIDE’s employee engagement team, which has created four exciting initiatives centered around awareness, communication and education of inclusion and belonging.
The ABIDE team attends department and staff meetings to share information about our work in belonging, inclusion, diversity and equity.
If you would like a member of the ABIDE ream to come speak at a staff meeting, or to join ABIDE employee engagement or ABIDE health equity operational teams, please reach out to ED*@as****.org.
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