The following message was sent to all Ohio State students, faculty and staff on Friday, June 19, 2020.
Dear Ohio State Community:
Juneteenth celebrates the day, June 19, 1865, when enslaved people still in bondage in Texas, on the western edge of the confederacy, were finally read the federal orders that legally freed them under the terms of the Emancipation Proclamation. The proclamation was dated January 1, 1863, but only applied to slaves held in the confederacy and thus had no power of enforcement until the end of the Civil War. And although the confederacy had surrendered two months before, federal troops bearing the news did not arrive in Texas until June. The celebration of that day is now observed officially in 49 states (Ohio’s recognition dates to 2006), and there is a movement, which I support, to declare it as a federal holiday.
It is important that we reflect on the significance of Juneteenth every year. This year, it has taken on special importance. As we see in stark terms every day, freedom is more than the absence of bondage. One hundred and fifty-five years after the end of the Civil War, we still struggle as a nation to rid ourselves of the yoke of our original constitutional sin.
As frustrating and infuriating as the progress-backlash cycle of human justice can be, there are from time to time hopeful signs. Over these past three weeks, people around the world have raised their voices and demonstrated passionately. We are denouncing racism and all forms of bigotry. We demand a better world. In towns large and small, new allies have emerged to join the fight.
Policies are under review, and change is underway. Meaningful change is difficult and elusive. But change we must. And change we will.
As a member of our Ohio State community, in recognition and celebration of Juneteenth, please set aside a part of your day today to contemplate and reflect on the meaning of emancipation, the importance of freedom, and the obligation that we all share to make this world a better place.
The Office of Diversity and Inclusion has compiled information on a number of ways we can commemorate Juneteenth:
- Learn how other countries have sought to reconcile their difficult histories: South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission or Rwanda’s Justice and Reconciliation Process.
- Volunteer with a local service and/or social justice organization whose work aligns with the spirit and intent of Juneteenth.
- Attend a virtual or socially distanced Juneteenth event in your area. Columbus is hosting many events from which to choose.
- Read a book about Juneteenth.
- Virtually explore the National Museum of African American History & Culture.
I am proud of our community, and I know that we have the power to make a difference.
Michael V. Drake, MD