June 19th, or Juneteenth, honors the day in 1865 on which, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, Union soldiers landed in Galveston, Texas, and announced the news of the proclamation to enslaved African Americans. That coastal area of Texas was the last to hear that the Civil War had ended two months earlier.

Many companies are beginning to recognize the importance of Juneteenth, and are making it a paid annual holiday. Wornie Reed, director of Virginia Tech’s Race and Social Policy Center, however, rejects the notion that it should become a national holiday.

“I don’t think it warrants a national holiday, because it wasn’t even national. If you wanted to have a holiday surrounding this, it would be the Emancipation Proclamation, which established that all slaves were free who lived in states that were not Union-controlled. It was written by President Abraham Lincoln in September of 1862 and was put into effect on Jan. 1, 1863. It was a national decision, so it’s a national holiday and it’s more meaningful.”

Reed appreciates the efforts to recognize and celebrate the day.  Still, he calls Juneteenth an unlikely holiday.

“This was basically a Texas celebration. I had barely heard of Juneteenth growing up in Alabama. They celebrated in Texas into the 20th century, then it waned around World War II, and came back briefly around 1950. Then it wasn’t celebrated for about 25 years. In the mid-70s, it began to be celebrated again, and it’s grown ever since. One of the reasons for its growth was the movement of Blacks from Texas to the rest of the country.”

As celebrations become more widespread, Reed points to the importance of the words from the Texas proclamation.

“The reading of that proclamation is very key. That’s the center of the celebration. It also surrounds food, which usually includes red velvet cake. It’s African Americans feeling that they are connecting with their history and doing something related that has historical importance.”

About Wornie Reed

Wornie Reed is the director of the Race and Social Policy Research Center and a professor of Africana Studies and sociology in Virginia Tech’s College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. His areas of expertise includes race, ethnic health disparities, social policy and criminal justice.

Reed also has several connections to the civil rights movement: he marched alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and saw over 30 of his speeches; he attended King’s funeral in Atlanta and marched in Memphis; he participated in the Poor People's’ Campaign, the 1963 March on Washington and the Montgomery Bus Boycott; He also participated with the Olympic Committee for Human Rights which sponsored the Black Power salute boycott.

Schedule an interview:  Contact Bill Foy at fwill55@vt.edu or 540-998-0288.

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