Juneteenth: Celebrating History

On June 19, 1939, a 12-year-old girl experienced the loss of the home her family moved into four days earlier. A mob of 500 people who didn’t want her kind there destroyed the home, and it was burnt to the ground. Fourteen law enforcement vehicles were at the scene that evening but they did nothing to prevent the property damage and destruction.

Seventy-four years to the day before, Major General Granger had ridden in to Galveston, Texas and made the announcement that President Lincoln, who had since died, had set the slaves in all the confederate states free. The news arrived two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation had gone into effect! Celebrations have been held on June 19th, also known as “Juneteenth” since.

Seventy-eight years after the fiery loss of her family’s home, the 90-year-old woman, Opal Lee, went on a walking campaign to Washington, D.C. to meet with President Obama and to urge US Congress to recognize Juneteenth as a national day of observance.

Texas, appropriately, had been the first state to officially recognize Juneteenth in 1980. Today, 47 out of the 50 states recognize it as a state holiday or day of observance. Only Hawaii and the Dakotas do not observe this Cel-Liberation, as some call it. It is also known as Freedom day or Jubilee day.

Opal Lee sees Juneteenth as a celebration for all, not just for the descendants of those who were freed to celebrate the Emancipation. “The slaves didn’t free themselves. It took all kinds of people — Quakers, abolitionists — to get the slaves free,” she says.

I think this celebration of the last people to hear of the freedom of the slaves in the confederacy is an important bit of history. And I can’t help but admire the indomitable spirit of this retired teacher who promotes the remembrance of it.

If you want to learn more about Mrs. Opal Lee or about Juneteenth, you can watch an oral history interview here. I encourage you to do it. Her story is a fascinating one.

Stress and the Brain

In sharing this, I risk over-simplifying something I learned from the book “The Disordered Mind: What Unusual Brains Tell Us About Ourselves” by Eric Kandel. As a side note, it is a fascinating book for anyone interested in how the mind works.

Here is the part that I still remember over a year later, in lay terms: On-going stress and depression have virtually the same physical effect on the neurology of the brain. This effect is somewhat cyclical, as the changes in neurological connections lead to patterns of thinking and experience that result in growing depression and reinforce the neurological effects.

In order to correct these patterns once they are developed, the most effective treatment is both medical intervention to interrupt the physical effects and training to change the way the brain works.

The treatments do not work as well alone. Without addressing the physical changes in the brain, retraining thinking is less effective, if it works at all. Without the brain training, the medical intervention doesn’t change the brain, so the same problems remain as soon as any medical treatment discontinues.

An analogy: There is a road full of potholes. Because of the potholes, the road is not as useful as it was made to be. A road crew could come out and work on the road, but if people are driving on it while they are working, the road will not be smooth. But just closing off the road will not change the potholes. In order to fix the problem properly, the road crew needs to close the road down, and resurface the road.

Now, why on earth would I bring this up a year after I read it?

I doubt I am the only one who has experienced stress recently. How is your brain doing?

Setting the Stage

I had a whole page  written about why I am writing, and what kinds of interactions are acceptable here. But it’s really simple. I’m human. I’m going to make mistakes and get things wrong, even though I’m not going to try to do that. I’ll probably offend people too.

And like so many of us, I have spent a lot of my life worrying about what people think. But the problem with worrying is that not only does it not actually tell you what they think, it also prevents you from improving their impression! So I will do my best not to worry about impressions here, but just do the best I can to communicate well.

One of my passions in life is learning. I love to learn, and I also love to pass on that learning to others.  And very simply put, that’s what this is about. Because once upon a time, I wanted to write. And I started to write. And I realized how very little I really knew about life. So I set out to learn as much as I could – only to realize I had far more to learn than I first knew.

Eventually I realized I could either go ahead and write what I do know, or give up on my dream.

I’m not fond of giving up.

So here we are, in a place created so I could share some things I’ve learned. And most likely, I’ll learn more along the way.

Maybe you can too. Welcome.