In an earlier version of this column, the Reveille published Juneteenth began on June 19, 1855. It has been corrected to June 19, 1865.
Two months after Confederate leader Robert E. Lee surrendered in Appomattox, VA, Union army general Gordon Granger traveled to the last remaining holdout of the Confederacy. Granger announced to the people of Galveston, TX, that in accordance with the Emancipation Proclamation, which had been issued nearly three years prior to his arrival, all enslaved persons in the state — roughly 250,000 of them — were to be released as free citizens of the United States.
That was June 19, 1865, a date which would later become the annual holiday known as Juneteenth.
The Civil War ended, reunifying the states, and summer — balmy in the Deep South — was now well on the horizon. The air still stank of old blood, yes, and certainly there would be battles yet to come, but for the former slaves of Texas, that day represented a victory like no other.
Though initial Juneteenth celebrations consisted of small church gatherings among members of the newly freed population in Texas, the holiday permeated the South during the early twentieth century, eventually spreading throughout the United States with the concurrent Great Migration and expanding into a widely commercialized, festival-like celebration of African American culture.
After fading into relative obscurity amidst the more pressing civil rights struggles of the 50's and 60's, the holiday saw an unexpected revival when it was rediscovered by activists and reestablished as a commemoration of African American culture and liberation from slavery.
As a result, Juneteenth would again rise to prominence in a number of African American communities. For many it remains tradition, with celebrations often taking place in the form of local and or family gatherings, such as block parties, cookouts and picnics.
Still it remains firmly peripheral to other calendrical markers of equal or lesser historical importance. In fact, shockingly few Americans have ever heard of Juneteenth; of those who have, even fewer are aware of its actual origins.
Today, despite compounded efforts from generations of civil rights activists, and the fact that the holiday is now formally observed in 49 of the 50 states, Juneteenth has yet to be recognized on a national level. Why is that?
Given its incredible bearing on the course of American history — that it marks such a significant moment for progress in the centuries-long plight of African Americans in this country — Juneteenth deserves to be made into a national holiday. It deserves our celebration, our dedication and respect; our reds and whites and blues.
For a country that was founded on the principle of freedom for all, in which every citizen is equally entitled to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” where is the patriotism for this holiday? Where are the fireworks?
This Juneteenth, let's work on starting new traditions. Remember — there's no time like the present.
Grace Pulliam is a 19-year-old creative writing senior from Zachary, LA.