It’s often been said that Americans are not well acquainted with their own history, except in a nostalgic, sentimentalized, or a dramatized and often inaccurate version produced by Hollywood.  When objectively viewing our history of racism and enslavement, even more emotional, social, and political dynamics come into play to color our views of our past and its legacy we live with today.  In this last Covid 19 pandemic year with all its disruption, grief and loss, many Americans experienced additional distress concerning deaths of African American citizens in police excessive force incidents.  Many people came to recognize for the first time that this as a pattern of use of excessive force by law enforcement embedded in a culture of institutional racism in some agencies.  These events have generated strong and widespread feelings of anger, grief, and disappointment.  They have been energized to vote, demonstrate and unfortunately in some instances, engage in additional violence.  Such events and the ensuing social unrest tested Americans in many ways,  including our emotional resilience and wellbeing.

These events have prompted some Americans to re-examine their knowledge of the history and events that have led to the current state of heightened awareness of institutional racism and the legacy of human enslavement.  Many Americans do not know there is an awareness and learning opportunity on Saturday, June 19.  It is called Juneteenth and many awareness activities this week will commemorate it.  Juneteenth is a blending of the words June and nineteenth.  It is the oldest known celebration of the end of the institution of human slavery in the U.S.

A History of Juneteenth

Juneteenth marks the arrival of U.S. General Gordon Granger to Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865 to ensure the freedom of all enslaved people in the former Confederacy.   This was over two months after what many consider the end of the Civil War- Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, VA. This event came two and ½ years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Lincoln on January 1, 1863.  It was limited in scope to places under Confederate control, where it had little practical effect and not to slave-holding border states that remained loyal to the Union.  As a remote area, Texas had no large-scale fighting or presence of Union troops during the war.  Slavery had continued there and many additional slave owners from nearby states moved to Texas to escape the enforcement of the emancipation of their slaves.

Was This the End of the Civil War?

The arrival of General Gordon and the announcement of General Order No.3 which granted freedom to over 200,000 enslaved people in Texas marked the birth of Juneteenth.  Some historians say this was the end of the Civil War. One year after this event, Texas freedmen organized the first annual celebration of “Jubilee Day” on June 19.  In 1980, Juneteenth was designated as an official holiday in the state of Texas. Georgia recognized the holiday in 2011. Today, 47 states consider Juneteenth as a state holiday.  There have been continuous efforts to make Juneteenth a national, Federal holiday.

About the Author

Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, NCAC II is the Chief Clinical Officer at Espyr for over 30 years, Norman has practiced in mental health, substance misuse, and EAP settings. He has also worked in leadership positions in both public and private sector behavioral health organizations. An author of four books, he is frequently called on for presentations and as a panelist to share his expertise and experience as a mental health professional.

About Espyr

For over 30 years Espyr has provided innovative mental health solutions – solutions like our AI powered chatbot, TESS – to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized counseling, coaching and consulting solutions help people and organizations achieve their full potential by providing mental health support and driving positive behavioral change. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.

Sources

https://www.juneteenth.com/history.htm

https://www.history.com/news/what-is-juneteenth

https://www.pbs.org/wnet/african-americans-many-rivers-to-cross/history/what-is-juneteenth/