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Juneteenth and the Path Forward

At Pfizer, our Purpose – breakthroughs that change patients’ lives – will not be achieved if we don’t work with our colleagues, our partners, and the communities we serve to increase equity in our healthcare system, reduce bias in our workplace, and build more inclusive communities.

For that reason, this week, we are commemorating Juneteenth by educating our colleagues about the historical and cultural significance of the day, while renewing our commitment to our Equity Value – Every person deserves to be seen, heard, and cared for. This happens when we are inclusive, act with integrity, and reduce healthcare disparities.

Here’s what you should know.

What is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. [1]

Although President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, declaring that “all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states of the Confederacy (the Southern secessionist states) “are, and henceforward shall be free,” it did not end slavery in the United States.[2] The proclamation was not effective in freeing slaves because it only applied to states that had seceded from the United States and exempted parts of the Confederacy that were already under Northern control.

In Texas, the Proclamation had no effect on slavery. In fact, many slave owners viewed Texas as a safe haven and moved there with the slaves to escape the Civil War and Union soldiers. Many slaves were also unaware that they had been freed because their slave masters withheld that information from them.

On January 31, 1865, the House of Representatives passed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. Section 1 of the amendment “outlawed chattel slavery and involuntary servitude (except punishment for a crime) and Section 2 gave the U.S. Congress the power “to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”[3] The amendment wasn’t ratified into law until December 6, 1865. However, it was an important military occupation that occurred on June 19, 1865, that helped to turn the tide.

On June 19 or Juneteenth, two months after the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee at Appomottax Court House in Virginia, which ended the Civil War; Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas with 1,800 federal troops to take control of the state and enforce the Emancipation Proclamation.[4] This marked the official end of slavery in the U.S.

How Is It Commemorated?

Although Juneteenth has been commemorated since 1866, it wasn’t until 1980 that Texas (a former Confederate state) became the first state to declare Juneteenth a legal state holiday.

Early celebrations included a prayer service, stories from former slaves, readings of the Emancipation Proclamation, and political rallies to teach African Americans about their voting rights.[5]In addition, in many parts of Texas, former slaves purchased land or “emancipation grounds” for Juneteenth gatherings in Houston and Austin, Texas including what is now known as Emancipation Park in Houston and Booker T. Washington Park in Mexia, Texas.

These gatherings have now spread throughout the U.S. and are celebrated similar to July 4th – with picnics, parades and family gatherings honoring and remembering this important moment in American history.[6]

Our Path Forward

“Last year, we identified ‘Equity’ as one of Pfizer’s core values because we knew that to achieve our Purpose – breakthroughs that change patients’ lives – we must foster an inclusive environment,” said Albert Bourla, CEO. “Still, we know there is much more work to do. In recent days, Pfizer colleagues have displayed the courage and excellence we so cherish by speaking up directly to management to encourage even deeper dialogue and more meaningful action. We are grateful for their ideas and input on how to move forward and learn from the sad events of recent days.”[7]

As we continue to learn from the past and strive toward creating a better future for our colleagues and the communities we serve, we are committed to increasing the representation of Black colleagues within our company. We are also committed to working with organizations that are focused on increasing health equity and eradicating racial injustice in the Black community. These organizations include:

Learn More About Juneteenth and Racial Inequities in America

While there are many ways that you can commemorate the day, the best way is educate yourself about Juneteenth, African American history and some of the inequities that still exist in the Black community due to racism and other discriminatory laws and policies.

To learn more, check out the following books, movies, and podcasts:

  • “Juneteenth” by Ralph Ellison
  • “The Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead
  • “The Water Dancer” by Ta-Nehisi Coates  
  • “The Warmth of Other Suns” by Isabel Wilkerson
  • “How to Be An Antiracist” by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi
  • “So You Want to Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo
  • “Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-First Century” by Dorothy Roberts
  • “Stony the Road” by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
  • “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander
  • “Unseen: Unpublished Black History from the New York Times Photo Archives” by Dana Canedy, Darcy Eveleigh, Damien Cave, and Rachel L. Swarns
  • “13th” – Netflix (movie)
  • “The Hate You Give” (movie)
  • “When They See Us” – Netflix (miniseries)
  • “16:19” from The New York Times (podcast)
  • “Intersectionality Matters!” from The African American Policy Forum (podcast)
  • “Throughline” from NPR (podcast)

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