Cook County will recognize Juneteenth as one of the 14 paid holidays granted to its employees next year. Juneteenth, a portmanteau of June and nineteenth, marked the June day in 1865, which commemorated the abolition of slavery in Texas. General Gordon Granger and his Union soldiers told enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas, that the Civil War had ended and they were now free. Enslaved African Americans were still held in captivity after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed the slaves in the South two years prior, in 1863.
Many protestors took to the streets on Juneteenth to demand police accountability for the killings of unarmed African American men and women and systemic racism. After the murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd, the call to recognize Juneteenth in an unprecedented year filled with racial and civil unrest was growing more reverberant. Earlier this year, many state leaders, including LaShawn Ford, called on Governor Pritzker to lower state flags to half-mast on June 19th.
“Illinois should lead the nation in condemning hate and racism. I urge the governor to show that we stand together by lowering flags to half-mast across the state and pausing for a moment of reflection,” said State Rep. La Shawn K. Ford. “Juneteenth serves as a time of reflection and a time for more action to deliver justice for those who have faced racism throughout their lives.”
Pritzker issued a proclamation honoring Juneteenth and ordered all flags lowered in Illinois. The Board of Ordinance unanimously voted to make Juneteenth a paid holiday for 22,000 county workers.
Juneteenth is a ceremonial holiday in 47 states, but it is not a federal holiday. However, there is a push for it. Governor J.B. Pritzker will work with the General Assembly to pass a law commemorating Juneteenth as an official state holiday.
Kelly Washington is a freelance writer living on the southside of Chicago. You can follow her on social media @SunriseandSugar (Facebook) and @BlackBFly7 (Twitter).