Juneteenth: Past, Present, and Future

As food trucks, local island vendors, professors and students came together this past Saturday, June 19th, 2021, the Black Medical Student Association (BMSA) invited the AUC community to celebrate a newly U.S. federally recognized holiday. Though the fight against systemic racism is an ongoing battle, this is certainly a step in the right direction for the United States.

A couple BMSA leaders share their thoughts:

“I am embarrassed to say, I never heard about Juneteenth until two years ago. It wasn’t something that was taught in schools, and it really wasn’t mentioned amongst conversations where I grew up. Juneteenth signifies the slow march of progress and the long, unrelenting struggle to reach freedom. We celebrate how far Black Americans have come, but also think about how much further there is to go. I hope that we continue to celebrate Juneteenth and with the celebration comes educating those who are unaware of the significance. I also hope that by celebrating Juneteenth, many will understand that they are active participants in the story and become aware that there is still much work to do around racial equality and dismantling racial systems.” –Tioluwani Tolani, BMSA’s President

Juneteenth to me, is a day that celebrates black excellence and togetherness. It’s the day when some black people in the US (those in the confederacy), were made aware that they were in fact free even though technically they had been so for 2 years prior. Though it is a holiday worth celebrating, there is still work to be done in our country. Juneteenth reminds us of where we’ve come from, the work to be done and where we’re headed.Mary Besong, BMSA’s Event Coordinator

One of the first steps towards freedom for African-Americans came with the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1st, 1863 during the Civil War. This proclamation stated that all slaves should be set free. An important aspect of the Emancipation Proclamation held that black men were allowed for the first time, to serve in the US Army and Navy. This empowered the newly free men to help free others. However, there were long-term setbacks as the proclamation itself was limited by the events of the war instead of overarching the entire nation. The grey area left by the Proclamation led to many states having loopholes in which they were still able to legally have slaves.

It wasn’t until two years later when the Thirteenth Amendment was passed on January 31, 1865, and ratified on December 6, 1965, that all states were placed under the same laws and regulations. This amendment states “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” There were no longer statewide loopholes for slavery.

So where does the June 19th date come from? Texas.

Texas was the absolute last state to abide by the anti-slavery federal laws. In early April 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered in Virginia. This was the closing of the Civil War. Two months later, June 19th 1865, Union General Gordan Granger informed the African-American population of the Galveston, Texas area, of their freedom. This date is celebrated as the official end of slavery in U.S. federal history.

After the past few years of social media bringing to light the ongoing systemic racism still acted upon across the country, there has been a greater push toward understanding and celebrating Black History. Juneteenth becoming a federal holiday is one of the positive outcomes that came from the world-wide availability of current events through social media. BMSA made sure to bring the celebration to AUC.

One of the greatest aspects of attending The American University of the Caribbean, is our diverse population of races and cultures comprising the AUC community. On June 19th, 2021, BMSA brought together our eclectic community to celebrate the freedom of African-Americans. Juneteenth-also known as Jubilee Day, Emancipation Day, and Black Independence Day-was brought to Sint Maarten with music, fun activities, and local food trucks and vendors. In a year full of turmoil, uncertainty, and health disparities coming to light, we were able to have a day of celebration. AUC’s first Juneteenth celebration was kicked off with smiles and dancing with allies such as AMWA, SIG, CMDA, and FMIG, coming to show support, love and admiration.

(AMWA: American Medical Women’s Association; FMIG: Family Medicine Interest Group; SIG: Surgery Interest Group; CMDA: Christian Medical and Dental Association)

The BMSA mission statement:

The primary mission of the Black Medical Student Association (BMSA) is to serve as an academic, social, and professional support network for its members, as well as a service organization for the community. We are committed to addressing the special health needs of the Black community, educating ourselves and the greater medical student community on issues of minority health and the elimination of racial/ethnic health care disparities. BMSA is a special community in which we support, motivate, inspire, encourage, and uplift one another as we simultaneously work toward achieving our goals.

BMSA Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bmsaauc/?hl=en

AUC Student Groups: https://www.aucmed.edu/student-life/clubs-and-organizations

Citations

National Archives and Records Administration. (n.d.). The Emancipation Proclamation. National Archives and Records Administration. https://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured-documents/emancipation-proclamation.

National Archives and Records Administration. (n.d.). 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Abolition of Slavery. National Archives and Records Administration. https://www.archives.gov/historical-docs/13th-amendment.

Taylor, D. B. (2020, June 13). So You Want to Learn About Juneteenth? The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/article/juneteenth-day-celebration.html.

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