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Honoring Freedom: Teammates Explore the Origins of Juneteenth Where It All Began

Juneteenth, celebrated on June 19, marks the emancipation of enslaved African Americans in the United States. While its recognition and celebration have grown, one lesser-known aspect of this historic day, also known as Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, and Juneteenth Independence Day, is that the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, however, it wasn’t until June 19, 1865, that Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, to announce the end of slavery, over two and a half years later. Contributing factors to this delay included slow communication methods at the time, Texas’ geographical isolation, and resistance by some enslavers to free their slaves.

Diving into History

A group of Texas-based TeamHealth coworkers recently came together to learn more about Juneteenth. Rex Everett, Vice President of Business Development and Black Cultural Resource Group Co-Chair, with Rose Everett, his wife, Debra Lacy, Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and Lawan Smith, Vice President of Operations, West Group, and Black Cultural Resource Group Steering and Awareness Committee member reflectively, thoughtfully, and jubilantly explored Galveston’s Juneteenth Story firsthand. They interactively stepped back in history as they navigated And Still We Rise…Galveston’s Juneteenth Story which introduces the context and consequences of the Emancipation Proclamation announcement from 1865 to the present day on a long journey toward “absolute equality.” Join them as they explore the exhibit at the beautiful 1859 Ashton Villa which is one of the first brick structures in Texas built by slaves.

As you approach Ashton Villa, the exhibit title immediately catches your eye. You are also greeted by a larger-than-life image of The Legislator, located on the lawn of the villa, which honors Texas State Representative Al Edwards and his successful efforts that established Juneteenth as a Texas holiday in 1980 (and later, a federal holiday in 2021). Once inside, the group took in the history and courage of the people who persevered again and again. Throughout the exhibit, Rex, Rose and Lawan reflected as they studied and took in the history and meaning of this impactful exhibit and place in history.

As the explorations, introspection, and reflections continued, the group traveled to a 5,000 square foot mural in downtown Galveston located at the site of the issuance of General Order No. 3 which demanded absolute equality between enslaved and former slave owners after the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. This mural, entitled “Absolute Equality,” was painted in 2021 by world-renowned artist Reginald C. Adams who engages in creating public art installations in historic and underserved communities across the United States. While there, Rex and Lawan had an unexpected encounter and treat! They met Miss Juneteenth USA, Sunshine Higgins. Ms. Higgins, who is from Virginia, won the inaugural title of Miss Juneteenth Virginia and was visiting Texas for the first time.

Fellowship Following Remembrance

The first Juneteenth celebrations involved church-centered community gatherings, barbecues, prayer services, and other festivities. Early celebrations often included the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation. After a full day, the teammates gathered at a local soul food restaurant in Galveston to reflect on a collective rich history and to honor and celebrate sacrifices that have made so much possible for them, their families, and so many others.

Reaffirming a Commitment to Equity

Juneteenth stands as a poignant testament to the enduring spirit of resilience and hope in the face of profound adversity. It commemorates not just the end of slavery, but the relentless pursuit of freedom and justice that defines the African American experience. As we celebrate Juneteenth, we honor the sacrifices and struggles of those who came before us, acknowledge the progress made, and reaffirm our commitment to achieving true equality for all. This day is a reminder that the journey toward justice is ongoing, and it calls upon each of us to continue the work of building a more inclusive and just society. In celebrating Juneteenth, we celebrate the strength of the human spirit and the unwavering belief in the promise of freedom. See more stories from members of the TeamHealth family here.