June 17, 2021
Juneteenth celebrates uncompleted work.
Though it is a day dedicated to recognizing the end of slavery in the United States, events of the last year have made it clear to anyone willing to see and hear that we have yet to fulfill the promise of freedom and equal rights for all.
Many people think—mistakenly—that Juneteenth is the anniversary of Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation. In fact, it took two-and-a-half years before Union Army General Gordon Granger made it to Texas and issued General Order No. 3 on June 19, 1865, ending slavery in the Lone Star state.
The delay was a harbinger of things to come. Freedom didn’t begin when slavery ended. The segregationist Jim Crow laws that followed in the Confederate states created economic and social consequences that were simply another form of enslavement. Many of the inequities in those laws live on as inequities in access to our healthcare system, in health outcomes, in quality of life, and economic inequity that is almost as inescapable as the bondage of slavery itself.
Juneteenth is testimony to the resilience, endurance, and strength of people who have suffered generations of mistreatment and discrimination.
Let’s all use Juneteenth 2021 as a time to consider how nurses, as health professionals, can help identify the best path to fulfilling the promise that was made more than 150 years ago. Slavery has ended. It is time for freedom for all to begin.