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Illinois leaders recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday

A Juneteenth flag on display outside the Illinois State Museum in Springfield, Illinois.
A Juneteenth flag on display outside the Illinois State Museum in Springfield, Illinois.(Mike Miletich)
Published: Jun. 20, 2022 at 4:06 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) - Monday marked the first time Illinoisans could celebrate Juneteenth as a paid state holiday.

Juneteenth honors the historic day in 1865 when union soldiers told slaves in Galveston, Texas that they were freed. Unfortunately, that news came two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill into law last year officially recognizing Juneteenth as a state holiday. Pritzker said Illinois could bring hope to the rest of the nation by tackling structural racism head-on.

During a celebration Monday morning, Pritzker and other elected leaders stressed there is still work to do to have a country that is free and equitable for everyone.

“It’s why we’ve invested record amounts of funding into community organizations for violence prevention, for youth jobs, making sure that we’re doing our best to provide programs that uplift a community and investments that will make a difference,” Pritzker said.

Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton joined Pritzker during the Freedom Day celebration at Kenwood Academy High School on Chicago’s southside. Stratton is the state’s first Black lieutenant governor and she is also the great-great-granddaughter of enslaved people who worked in fields in Mississippi.

“Having their DNA serves as a daily reminder to me, and to all of us really, that we are our ancestors’ wildest dreams,” Stratton said. “That we represent what they hoped and prayed for so that we might be able to authentically be able to live out the freedom that they were never able to fully realize.”

Congressman Bobby Rush said people must remember that independence was not equally granted in the United States until the end of slavery. Rush also said that America was built on the immense pain and suffering of millions of enslaved Black men and women. He stressed that Black people are enslaved once again - not by others, but by violence.

“Juneteenth has got to mean the end of this violence,” Rush said. “This violence has really captured and enslaved our people.”

A Juneteenth flag on display above the Illinois capitol dome in Springfield, Illinois.
A Juneteenth flag on display above the Illinois capitol dome in Springfield, Illinois.(Mike Miletich)

A special Juneteenth flag is on display above the Illinois state capitol dome. That flag will be flown on Juneteenth each year moving forward. The Pritzker administration also ordered all flags to be flown at half-staff Sunday and Monday to recognize the holiday.

“There is no power like the power of mobilization,” Pritzker said. “Together, we will create the Illinois that our ancestors dreamed of.”

Illinois Legislative Black Caucus members hope people will enjoy the day each year. However, they also think it’s important to tell the stories of the horrific period of enslavement in US history.

24 states and Washington D.C. recognized Juneteenth as a public holiday this year. Connecticut will join the list next year and several other states have proposals to officially recognize Freedom Day. Juneteenth is also recognized as a federal holiday.

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