News & Events

Juneteenth: Letter to Employees from First State Bank President Gene Lovell

Jun 19, 2020

I am writing today about race, and some of the racial issues we are living with. It is a topic I have too long delayed addressing with you. Why? Frankly, it is hard to have a respectful, decent, and honest conversation about such a painful issue. This is a poor excuse though, and I apologize for not dealing with the subject sooner. The pain will not end until it is addressed.  Until we are willing to show empathy for one another, to see from a perspective that differs from our own, we will never resolve, or even understand, the root cause of our conflicts.

Today is Juneteenth, a day to commemorate the ending of slavery in the United States. One hundred and fifty-five years ago, on June 19, 1865, Union soldiers, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that enslaved people were now free. For the preceding 246 years, in these colonies, and in this country, men, women and children were bought and sold as chattel, held in bondage and forced into lifelong, transgenerational servitude.

We all know from our history: the Civil War freed them. Yet, we know this too: they were not free. Not free by the ideals of our country’s founding, not free by the ideals of our cherished Declaration of Independence. For more than one hundred years following their emancipation, black people were not free to go where they chose, they could not live where they chose. They were restricted in how they could travel, where they could attend schools, where they could shop, where they could drink and attend to the most basic of human needs. These restrictions were codified into the laws of the United States and the several individual states. This is not ancient history. This existed in my lifetime. I am not an expert in these matters, but I presume this is what is meant by the term “systemic racism”. Yes, the laws have changed, but the vestiges of those times remain. As a “white” person, I did not personally suffer from this. I believe this is what is meant by white privilege.  If so, it is true, and it should be acknowledged.  We should do our best to make things right.

We have seen recent protests against racial injustice. Some of this has unfortunately been accompanied by violence. The violence is wrong, terribly wrong. Yet we are making a grievous error if we allow this wrong to distract us from the very real issues many of these protesters are asking us to examine within our society and, more importantly, within our hearts. We have seen people, some in positions of power, rage in threatening anger against some of the most peaceful of protests.  We often do not see, or we turn a blind eye to, the ugly disgusting messages being conveyed on today’s social media. We need to be much better than this.  Injustice allowed to fester here will turn rotten in many places until it eventually consumes us.

I am persuaded that, if you are not a black person in this country, many of the ugliest, cruelest elements of racism touch you only peripherally, if at all.  We know there are problems out there.  Yet, our thinking goes, we have made so much progress. That has certainly been my own perception. It is a skewed perception, too often used to justify inaction.

In fairness, we have seen progress.  Still, we have so very far to go. Centuries of institutionalized injustice will not be solved in a few short years, or even decades. We must remember progress is not assured. We must be diligent and work continuously toward a better tomorrow. We owe that to all of our children.

Abraham Lincoln recognized that we as a people could never be free so long as some of us were held in bondage. It is my hope that Juneteenth will one day be a day we can all celebrate as a day that truly led to freedom for all of us.  I need to do more than express my hope.  I commit today to work with you to help ensure a more just and equitable environment for our employees, our customers and our communities.  I referred earlier to our Declaration of Independence.  It states: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  Let us all work together to keep this ideal alive.