An Essay on Juneteenth by Dr. Ebony White
June 18, 2020
Two and a half years after the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, on June 19, 1865, the army was sent to occupy Texas, where a quarter-million Black people remained enslaved, to declare and enforce the law that proclaimed their freedom. A part of that order stated, “This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves,” which is significant for three reasons. First, this edict acknowledged that Black people in the Confederate states were no longer slaves. Secondly, it was recognized that white people in the Confederate states were no longer masters. Finally, it unequivocally, overtly highlights “absolute equality” regarding personal rights and property.
However, it wasn’t until 100 years later, in August 1965, that the Voting Rights Act was signed into law to prohibit discriminatory practices that prevented African Americans from voting. Although the 15th Amendment, which was signed into law in 1870, already established African Americans’ right to vote, it took almost 100 years, and another law, to enforce it. Unfortunately, voter suppression in Black communities continues to exist. The examples provided above offer a necessary context for the Juneteenth holiday. Juneteenth is not simply a recognition of freedom for African Americans. It is a reminder of the promise of freedom. Throughout history, as noted above, statements in the forms of laws have been issued that affirm the personal and property rights of African Americans. However, history has shown that those statements/laws did little to ensure their rights to the extent that years, decades, and even a century later, more needed to be done to actually enforce them.
In 2020, our Juneteenth celebration occurs during a time of upheaval and reminder. Many of our brothers, sisters, and non-binary family have stormed the streets to declare that Black Lives Matter. Although this movement was specifically developed to highlight and address abusive and murderous policing against Black people and within Black communities, this declaration is not specific to law enforcement. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the injustice and disparity that exists within every area of our healthcare system. It has amplified under-resourced communities and under-funded education. These egregious events and documentation thereof have validated the voices of African Americans, opened the eyes and minds of many Americans, and hopefully result in long-overdue change.
As we celebrate Juneteenth, in recognition of the end of slavery and a promise of freedom, let us commit to not only engaging in self-reflection but more importantly to doing the work and standing by the mission of our College to be “committed to leading the way in improving health and reducing health disparities.” Over the past few weeks, we have seen a lot of statements. Let us now enforce them. We must recognize this work is necessary at all levels, from the boardroom to the patient’s room. Let us celebrate Juneteenth by declaring not only that Black Lives Matter, but that they are valuable and deserving.
Dr. Ebony White, LPC, NCC, ACS
Ebony E. White, PhD, LPC, NCC, ACS
Assistant Clinical Professor
Program Director – Master in Addictions Counseling
Counseling & Family Therapy Department
PP&L Chair, New Jersey Counseling Association
Advocacy Chair, Counselors for Social Justice
Chair Elect, North Atlantic Region-American Counseling Association