“South Dakota is the only state in the Union that happens to have a 60-foot statue of the Great Emancipator carved into the side of a mountain, so I think South Dakota is a great place to celebrate Juneteenth,” said South Dakota state senator Reynold Nesiba.
As the nation prepares for Juneteenth celebrations this weekend, many are reflecting on the long journey toward making a holiday founded in Texas and with deep regional ties to the Southwest into a nationwide observance.
Juneteenth is the anniversary of June 19, 1865, when General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas with an estimated 2,000 Union troops, including regiments of United States Colored Troops (USCT).
On that day, roughly 250,000 enslaved people in Galveston received the long-awaited news of their freedom, according to the National Museum of African American History and Culture and since then, Juneteenth has marked a symbolic end to slavery in the U.S.
Although Juneteenth originated in Texas and has long been celebrated there, it did not become an official paid holiday in the state until 1980.
Since then, 48 states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday or observance, according to the Congressional Research Service. So far, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington have made Juneteenth an official state holiday, giving the day off to state employees.
For years, Hawaii was also an outlier, but it just signed legislation into law to observe the holiday, which makes South Dakota the only remaining state that does not recognize it. Some elected officials are working to change that.
“We should all be able to celebrate the end of slavery,” said Democratic state senator Reynold Nesiba. “South Dakota is the only state in the Union that happens to have a 60-foot statue of the Great Emancipator carved into the side of a mountain, so I think South Dakota is a great place to celebrate Juneteenth.”
Nesiba and Republican state senator Jim Bolin have both introduced legislation for South Dakota to recognize Juneteenth this year. However, Nesiba’s bill would give workers the day off and Bolin’s, which did not pass the South Dakota House the last time around, would not, per The Hill report.
“I was very disappointed when my bill didn’t pass this last time,” Bolin told the Hill. “I just thought that, after the tragedy of George Floyd at the end of May of last year, I didn’t want South Dakota to be the last state to [honor the holiday]. Now it’s going to work out that way.”
However, Bolin told the Hill that now that Juneteenth is a federal holiday, he believes that South Dakota will soon celebrate with the rest of the nation.
“I am quite sure that South Dakota will recognize this national holiday as we have other holidays,” he said.
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