Juneteenth in Texas, Social Work values

Tuesday, Jun 18, 2024 • Jaelon Jackson :

By Jaelon Jackson
School of Social Work

Opal Lee

What is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth, celebrated on June 19, marks a pivotal moment in American history. 

Known as Emancipation Day, it commemorates the day in 1865 when enslaved African Americans in Texas were informed of their freedom, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. 

The Emancipation Proclamation, signed by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, declared that all enslaved people in Confederate states were free. However, due to the slow spread of information and the resistance of enslavers, many enslaved people in Texas were unaware of their freedom until June 19, 1865. 

This day is not only a celebration of freedom but also a reminder of the ongoing struggles for civil rights and equality in the United States.

Why Do We Celebrate Juneteenth?

Juneteenth is celebrated to honor the end of slavery in the United States and to acknowledge the strength and resilience of African Americans. 

On June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and announced all enslaved people were free, effectively enforcing the Emancipation Proclamation in the last Confederate state where it was still being ignored. 

This day symbolizes a significant step toward equality and justice for all, and it is a time to reflect on the progress made and the work that still needs to be done.

How Did Juneteenth Become a National Holiday?

The path to making Juneteenth a national holiday was long and involved persistent advocacy and recognition of its importance in American history. Efforts to commemorate Juneteenth began in Texas, where it was first celebrated. 

Over the years, as awareness grew, more states recognized the day. Finally, in June 2021, President Joe Biden signed a bill into law, officially recognizing Juneteenth as a federal holiday. 

This recognition highlights the importance of acknowledging the history and contributions of African Americans and reinforces the commitment to civil rights and equality.

A significant figure in this advocacy was Opal Lee, referred to as the "Grandmother of Juneteenth." 

At 89 years old, she walked from her home in Fort Worth, Texas, to Washington, D.C., to bring attention to the significance of Juneteenth and to advocate for its recognition as a national holiday. Her dedication and activism played a crucial role in achieving this milestone.

Why Is Juneteenth Important in the Story of Social Work?

Juneteenth holds significant relevance in the field of social work, which is deeply rooted in the values of social justice, dignity, and the upliftment of communities. Social workers have a professional and moral obligation to address racism. 

The NASW Code of Ethics explicitly states social workers should not condone or collaborate with any form of discrimination and should actively work to remove barriers limiting marginalized communities from achieving their full potential.

Social workers are called to speak out against injustices, support marginalized communities, and engage in social and political action to dismantle systemic racism and promote cultural competence and humility.

The Role of Social Workers in Promoting Equality

Social workers play a critical role in advocating for civil rights and equality. 

The NASW Code of Ethics emphasizes the importance of social justice and cultural competence, requiring social workers to be aware of their own cultural backgrounds and to engage in practices respecting and enhancing the well-being of different populations. 

This involves addressing issues such as racial identity, class, gender, and other factors that influence the experiences of marginalized groups.

Social workers must also engage in advocacy and activism to challenge institutional and structural oppression. 

By participating in Juneteenth celebrations, whether virtually or in-person, social workers can educate themselves and others about the history and ongoing struggles of African Americans and work towards making society more just and equitable.

In conclusion, Juneteenth is a day of celebration and reflection, reminding us of the progress made and the challenges remaining in the pursuit of equality and justice. 

It is a day to honor the contributions of African Americans and to recommit to the values of social justice and civil rights central to the profession of social work.