Monday is Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day. Juneteenth (June 19th) marks the day in 1865 when enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, the last of the former Confederate states to abolish slavery, were informed by Union Troops the Civil War had ended and they were free.
The event took place nearly two and a half years after Abraham Lincoln’s issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. And history tells us that even after Maj. General Gordon Granger delivered “General Order No. 3” in Galveston, throughout the South, some slave owners refused to comply or didn’t notify the enslaved they were free. It is a reminder that even today, just speaking our values is not enough. We have to live them. Dr. Martin Luther King noted “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. Change takes a long time, but it does happen.”
The VCU community, likewise, has actively sought change by reckoning with its past inhumane treatment of those of African descent through Project Gabriel and the university Office of Health Equity’s History and Health Initiative. I am also proud of the work undertaken by our own Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to harness the collective talent amongst our learners, faculty, staff and community to create meaningful, sustainable change in our undergraduate medical curriculum and clinical training.
The work continues. This holiday, I’d encourage you to learn more about Juneteenth and seek ways to be a part of advancing our society. June 19, 1865, was another step in our long journey to becoming a more perfect union. Acknowledging, learning and most importantly, acting on the lessons to be learned from our past is how we at the School of Medicine will continue progress toward a culture of respect ― and a more equitable and inclusive community of care for all our patients, learners, faculty and staff.
Arturo P. Saavedra, M.D., Ph.D.
Dean, VCU School of Medicine
Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs, VCU Health System