juneteenth signing 061621On June 19, 1865, two and half years after the Emancipation Proclamation, Federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas to announce the end of slavery and ensure that all enslaved people were freed. Today, over 150 years later, Illinois now declares June 19 a state holiday to recognize Juneteenth National Freedom Day.

The initiative, led by Senate Majority Leader Kimberly A. Lightford (D-Maywood) began as an effort to keep Black history alive in Illinois by creating a statewide celebration of African American freedom and independence. 

“Making Juneteenth a state holiday is a breakthrough in Illinois history,” Lightford said. “It reminds us that freedom and racial equality have always been a hard-fought battle for Black Americans and gives us an opportunity to celebrate our culture and achievements.” 

“Juneteenth is a day to commemorate the end of the ‘peculiar’ institution of slavery. The abolishment of America’s original sin on June 19, 1865, was the manifestation of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation,” said State Senator Christopher Belt (D-Swansea). “Make no mistake about it, the date slavery was eradicated in America should be a date held in high sacrosanctity, not only in Illinois, but in all America.”

This day came to be recognized as Juneteenth after many influencers around the world pushed for the reflection and celebration of African American achievements. Members of the Black Caucus believe telling the stories from a horrific period of enslavement to the journey toward progress and change is certainly one worth celebrating. 

As of today, Illinois is among 47 other states that recognize the day as a holiday, and many honor it by hosting cultural celebrations.  Over the years, members of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus have championed thousands of pieces of legislation throughout the entirety of their careers – to address the many problems that had held them, their children and so many others back in the Black community.

“After many months of pain and loss in communities of color and beyond, Juneteenth feels especially significant this year, as an occasion to come together and celebrate Black freedom, aspiration and joy,” said State Senator Adriane Johnson (D-Buffalo Grove). “I’m thrilled Illinois is leading the movement to uplift Black stories, voices and culture by finally making Juneteenth a state holiday.”

 “Several years ago, I passed a law to commemorate Juneteenth on the third Saturday in June. Today, I’m glad that it will now be an official state holiday,” said State Senator Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago). “The celebration of Juneteenth is a reminder to young people of what we’ve overcome, and that with unity and commitment, they hold all the power they need to transform our racist systems.”

“Juneteenth is Freedom Day for all African Americans and should be treated similarly to how we would celebrate the Fourth of July,” said State Senator Patricia Van Pelt (D- Chicago). “Juneteenth is a time to reflect on our past and celebrate how far we’ve come, while acknowledging the places we have yet to go.”

House Bill 3922 creates Juneteenth National Freedom Day on June 19, which will be a paid day off holiday for all state employees and a school holiday if the day falls on a weekday. 

Juneteenth honors the end to slavery in the United States. Today, Juneteenth has grown from the celebration of the abolition of slavery into a celebration of Black arts, culture, and the impacts of the civil rights movement throughout the country.

“In this moment we have the opportunity to look back at this nearly century-and-a-half journey of progress,” said State Senator Elgie Sims (D-Chicago). “The story of Americans of African descent is one that contains pride, resilience and determination and will always be historically important. I am so proud of this movement to uplift and celebrate Black history as American history and will do so proudly, as we continue to claim victory on the road toward freedom.”

The legislation was signed into law today and will become effective Jan. 1, 2022.