The volunteer behind Port Arthur’s Juneteenth celebration finds passion for another celebration

Published 12:34 am Friday, March 31, 2023

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Gail Pellum has a vision for Juneteenth.

“I know my desire for Juneteenth is that our activities, particularly our parade, become nationally televised,” the president of the African American Cultural Society told councilmembers Thursday. “In order for that to happen, we have to get the whole community to come together.”

Pellum appeared in the council meeting to make a plea to the council and individual members regarding this year’s celebration.

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“Every year I swear I’m not doing Juneteenth anymore, and for some reason they still get me back up here to do Juneteenth,” Pellum said. “And God knows from the bottom of my heart, this is something that is very, very close to me. I’m telling you, it’s been a struggle, and I want us to remember the ancestors and those who sacrificed so much for us to be here today. Let’s make Juneteenth beautiful. It is a federal holiday, and it is our day.”

Juneteenth, or June 19, is an annual event recognizing the day in 1865 when military members arrived in Galveston to share the news that slavery had ended. The Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863; Texas wasn’t made aware until two years later.

It was signed into legislation as a national holiday in 2021.

Mayor Thurman Bartie called Pellum “Mother Juneteenth.”

“You’ve always done this,” he said. “I can recall in the early 80s I believe it was…on Thomas Boulevard. You’ve stuck with it. And you’ve probably been divinely inspired because I know you’ve said you weren’t going to do it again, but we always see you the next year.”

Pellum called on Bartie to bring choirs together to join in the singing of “Lift Every Voice,” which is also this year’s theme. In addition, she asked councilman Thomas Kinlaw III to emcee, Councilwoman Charlotte Moses to get area churches involved, Councilman Cal Jones to bring car dealerships and clubs into the parade, Councilman Kenneth Marks to help spread the word and Councilman Donald Frank to assemble the fraternity and sorority members.

“Mr. Burton, I just thought maybe you could help us find a little money,” she said to the city manager as audience members laughed.

Pellum said she works with a budget of $50,000.

Each councilmember pledged to assist with Pellum’s requests.

Additional details for this year’s event will be released at a later date.