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June 19th, 'Juneteenth,' Now Paid State Holiday

June 19th, ‘Juneteenth,’ Now Official State Holiday

Governor J.B. Pritzker signed House Bill 3922 into law this morning, officially making June 19th – also known as Juneteenth – a state holiday. The governor said recognizing Juneteenth was one more step in making Illinois “a national leader in confronting racism with real policy changes.”

“It brings me exceptional pride to sign into law the declaration of Juneteenth as a formal state holiday in Illinois, making us one of the few states in the nation to give it the full status it deserves,” he said.

State employees and public education workers will get a paid day off when Juneteenth lands on a weekday. Should the 19th fall on a weekend, the following Monday will be observed instead. Juneteenth commemorates June 19th, 1865, the day the last Black slaves in the Confederacy were liberated by Union forces in Galveston, Texas. By that time, the Emancipation Proclamation freeing all slaves in the Confederacy had already been signed into law for more than two years.

“National Freedom Day”

The signing of the bill took place in a ceremony at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield. Numerous Black lawmakers and community leaders, including Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton, State Representative La Shawn Ford (D-8), and Forest Park Mayor Rory Hoskins, took the opportunity to speak on the occasion. They commented on the historical significance of the day, and the importance of its recognition to Black Americans’ ongoing struggle for equity in the U.S.

Lt. Governor Stratton called the day “national freedom day,” a sentiment that Rep. Ford and others echoed.

“Today is more than a bill-signing moment… It’s a moment of reflection for all of us,” Ford said, later adding, “[Juneteenth] is not a Black holiday, it’s an American holiday that we all should celebrate.”

Recognizing History

Mayor Hoskins said the bill signing had extremely personal connotations for himself. Hoskins originally hails from Galveston, Texas, where the first Juneteenth celebrations began more than 150 years ago. He said he recalled a time in the 1980s when Juneteenth was little recognized outside of the Black community. Since then, June 19th had entered national prominence – a development he said pleasantly surprised him. He also commented on the importance of a government body in recognizing Black peoples’ history.

“Galveston is my hometown… It’s extremely important when a holiday is marked as an official holiday,” Hoskins said.

 Fighting For Freedom

During the ceremony, Stratton said that while recognizing Juneteenth as a state holiday was important, it was far from the end of achieving true racial and economic equity in the U.S. Pritzker echoed this sentiment in his closing remarks, and reiterated his state commitment to addressing racial inequity in Illinois.

“People care deeply… about the emancipation of so many of our brothers and sisters that are deeply American,” he said.

Earlier in the ceremony, Stratton made a more straightforward statement on the state of civil rights struggles in the state.

“We will never stop fighting for freedom,” she said.

Naperville News 17’s Dave Byrnes reports.

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