Recognizing and Celebrating juneteenth

By Patty Hayes, Director of Public Health — Seattle & King County

Our public health department hasn’t observed Juneteenth in the past as we should, and that will change. Going forward, we will be more intentional about the ways in which we center Black voices and honor the history that’s shaped where we are today.

We have committed to leading with race, equity, and inclusion. Living up to these values means raising the standard. We want to lead these efforts by highlighting Black achievements, celebrating Black culture and continuing to ally in the fight for Black freedom. To King County’s Black residents, we see you, we hear you, we celebrate you. 

While we commemorate Juneteenth, let us remember and recognize the important and too often untold stories of Black resiliency, strength, and achievements that American history books failed to teach.

Juneteenth is not the day enslaved people were freed, nor the day slavery ended in the US. It marks the day enslaved Texans found out they had been freed nearly two and a half years earlier. The Emancipation Proclamation passed legislation that granted slaves freedom. Many enslavers continued to hold enslaved people captive, and it was not until two and a half years later, on June 19, 1865 that all enslaved people finally learned of their freedom.

This painful history has taught us that words spoken or put on paper will not be enough. True freedom comes by listening, hearing, seeing, understanding, and putting words into physical action.

Yesterday, the Board of Health passed a resolution declaring racism as a public health crisis. Our thanks go out to the many community members and King County employees who helped to make this happen.

But this is just the first step. Our health department has work to do around truly leading with race and equity, as well as eradicating racial health disparities in our community. We need to make sure this resolution is not just words on paper, as the Emancipation Proclamation was all those years ago, but rather, words backed with action, sacrifice, and willingness to change.  

Today we hope and encourage Black folks in our community to take time for healing, reflection and celebration. For all others, take time today to make this a day of service and commemoration. This could include volunteering, donating to a Black-led organization, or advancing an issue prioritized by Black communities. If you are new to Juneteenth, take the time educate yourself further on Black history and White supremacy.

Let the remembrance and historical significance of Juneteenth be a sobering reminder to recommit ourselves to the work of dismantling historical and immoral systems of White supremacy and eradicating institutional racism.

Resources for further learning:

Originally published on June 19, 2020.