As we celebrate Black History Month this February, DHEC would like to take this opportunity to honor the past and present achievements of African Americans who have and are making a difference in the environmental, health care and public health fields.
To help us in this pursuit, we have worked with our programs and will be featuring individuals throughout this month who have worked to help achieve our shared vision of healthy people living in healthy communities. This includes a featured post each week highlighting the past and current work of African Americans who have made and/or are making a difference in the Palmetto State and beyond, including members of our own DHEC team.
On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers landed in Galveston, Texas, where they shared the news that the Civil War had ended and the enslaved were now free. The Emancipation Proclamation had officially ended slavery in the states fighting against the Union on January 1, 1863, but it only took effect when Union forces took control of an area. Of note, the first area it took effect was Beaufort and surrounding islands, since the Union already held this area.
Galveston and the surrounding area of Texas was the last area to fall to Union forces, so June 19, 1865 (Juneteenth) marks the end of slavery in the South. This event led to Juneteenth as the nationally celebrated remembrance of the ending of slavery in the United States.
Juneteenth is a holiday that has many meanings for the community, and DHEC’s Public Health Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and Deputy Area of Environmental Affairs are recognizing the important role African Americans have had and continue to have in the fields of environmental protection and public health. This includes, here at home in South Carolina.
At DHEC, we are committed to building upon our agency’s existing internal structures and community relationships as well as creating new ones to enhance health equity in South Carolina and better reach our vulnerable communities. While work is ongoing, we recognize that we all must continue to take actions to proactively address long-standing equity gaps and reduce disparities.
Many today celebrate this holiday by having educational programs and fellowshipping with family and friends. Some communities also raise the Juneteenth flag, which highlights this day’s connection to Texas, African Americans, and the reminder that those that were enslaved, and their descendants, were and are Americans.