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The historical and present-day links between Juneteenth and health equality are significant. With this article we delve into the enduring legacy of racial disparities in healthcare that African Americans face due to systemic racism and socio-economic challenges, underlining the urgent need to confront these issues. 

  • Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery and highlights the ongoing struggle against racial healthcare disparities.
  • Historical racial inequalities have led to a significant gap in healthcare quality and accessibility for African Americans.
  • African Americans currently face numerous health disparities, such as being uninsured, having barriers to accessing healthcare, and disproportionately suffering from chronic illnesses.
  • Juneteenth inspires healthcare activism, with initiatives addressing social determinants of health and racial bias in healthcare.

Juneteenth is a day that commemorates the emancipation of slavery and represents the ongoing struggle against racial inequalities, including those existing within the healthcare system. For many, the celebration of Juneteenth serves as a reminder of the health disparities that persist for Black communities. Access to healthcare, treatment, and prevention methods is often hindered due to systemic racism and socio-economic challenges.

The intersection of Juneteenth and healthcare emphasizes the need to tackle health inequities. All stakeholders, from patients to hospital administrators, can take action and work towards a more equitable future within the healthcare system.

The History of Juneteenth and Healthcare Disparities

Juneteenth, celebrated on June 19th, signifies the end of slavery in America. Although the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863, it wasn’t until June 19, 1865 that all enslaved people were given freedom [1]. The term “Juneteenth” combines the month of June with the 19th day, marking the date that the last groups of enslaved individuals learned of their freedom.

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Despite the progress made since the end of slavery, the legacy of healthcare disparities experienced by African Americans persists. Systemic inequities and social determinants have contributed to a significant gap in health care quality and accessibility. For example, maternal health disparities are a major concern, with a three- to four-fold higher chance of death from complications in Black women versus White women [2].  

The African American community has a long history of unequal healthcare access. From the days of slavery, when enslaved people had limited or no access to medical care, to the era of racial segregation, when facilities were separate and unequal, African Americans have struggled to obtain adequate health care. Even after the Civil Rights Movement, access to quality care remained an issue for many, further worsening the health disparities that persist today.

Current Health Care Inequalities Faced by African Americans

African American adults are less likely to see a doctor due to high costs, a lack of accessible care, or other barriers [3]. Institutional racism contributes to these disparities, as the health concerns of Black patients may often be taken less seriously than those of White patients, often resulting in the diagnosis of serious health issues at later stages. 

African Americans are also more likely to be uninsured compared to their White counterparts [4]. The expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has helped reduce the insurance coverage gap, but disparities still exist. Further initiatives to broaden insurance coverage could improve access to necessary medical care and address health disparities affecting African Americans.

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Chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease, may disproportionately affect African Americans. Addressing the social determinants of health, including socioeconomic status, education, and access to healthy food options, may help mitigate the impact of these disparities. Additionally, culturally-sensitive public health interventions and targeted health screenings may be helpful in preventing and managing chronic illnesses among African Americans.

Impact of Juneteenth on Healthcare Activism

Juneteenth celebrations often include community-led health initiatives, such as organizing health fairs, providing free health screenings, and arranging workshops on preventive care. These initiatives enable community members to gain a better understanding of their health and increase access to essential health services.

Advocates are working to influence policy decisions at the local, state, and federal levels to confront racial disparities in health care. This includes pushing for policies that address social determinants of health, such as income inequality, education, and access to healthy food. Juneteenth serves as a powerful reminder of the continuous efforts required to ensure medical equity and provide quality health care for all.

Educators, activists, and health care professionals often use this day of celebration as an opportunity to engage in conversations about racial bias in health care, implicit bias training, and the long-term effects of historical and structural injustice on health outcomes. By creating a supportive and informed environment, the Juneteenth movement encourages individuals to take an active role in advocating for a more equitable healthcare system.


  1. The Historical Legacy of Juneteenth. (n.d.). National Museum of African American History and Culture. https://nmaahc.si.edu/explore/stories/historical-legacy-juneteenth 
  2. American Medical Association & American Medical Association. (2022, January 17). What drives Black maternal health inequities in the U.S. American Medical Association. https://www.ama-assn.org/delivering-care/population-care/what-drives-black-maternal-health-inequities-us 
  3. Health Coverage by Race and Ethnicity, 2010-2021. (2023, April 12). KFF. https://www.kff.org/racial-equity-and-health-policy/issue-brief/health-coverage-by-race-and-ethnicity/ 
  4. Nadeem, R. (2023, March 1). Black Americans’ views about health disparities, experiences with health care| Pew Research Center. Pew Research Center Science & Society. https://www.pewresearch.org/science/2022/04/07/black-americans-views-about-health-disparities-experiences-with-health-care/ 
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