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Thousands march, dance downtown to celebrate Juneteenth, demand justice

Participants danced to Daley Plaza, accompanied by a marching band. A separate interfaith rally took place in Grant Park.

March For US 2020 “Million Man March” participants marched to Daley Plaza, June 19,, 2020.
Victor Hilitski/Sun-Times

Thousands of people converged downtown Friday in two separate celebrations of Juneteenth, marching and dancing to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States.

The first march kicked off at 11 a.m. near State Street and Balbo Drive, headed forDaley Plaza, led by a marching band.

Participants were seen dancing and having fun along the way. Many wore masks to protect themselves from the coronavirus.

At Daley Plaza, some in the crowd did the electric slide in front of the Picasso.

Though the event was celebratory, some participants said it was also about demanding justice for victims of police violence.

“The march was so fun, we all danced and celebrated our holiday that people often forget about,” said 24-year-old Denise Richards. “But we are also here to demand justice for our people who have been brutalized by police.”

The demands include declaring Juneteenth a city, state and federal holiday with paid time off — something that failed to pass the Chicago City Council this week.

Ashley Munson, a march organizer, said Black-owned businesses should receive one-third of city contracts, roughly the percentage of Blacks in the city’s population.

“On Juneteenth 2020, today, we are saying enough is enough and demanding real policy change to the system in control,” said Munson. “We will not settle for symbolism.”

Munson also said police must be held accountable for misconduct and asked that all officers be licensed and certified.

Grant Park march

A separate march organized by Pastor Chris Harris of Bright Star Church kicked off around noon at Roosevelt Road and Columbus Drive, headed for Grant Park. Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle, among other elected officials, took part.

Sonya Tompkins attended the second march and was so proud to see how joyous it was. She hopes more events like this can happen in the future.

“We got July 4th for Independence Day. Well, Juneteenth was independence for us,” Tompkins said. “We need to be able to celebrate that.”

While the event was jubilant at times there were moments of sadness as folks remembered lives lost to police violence.

“I don’t ever want to say something like ‘defund the police’ because we need them in our neighborhoods, but they need to realize they need us too,” Tompkins said.

“I, as a Black woman, want things to get better in our neighborhoods. I want the relationship between cops, Black folks and minorities to get better as I would want for all racism to be abolished,” she added. “But I would love for theses cops that are killing, putting their knees on our necks and shooting us in the back be held accountable.”

Participants raised their fists while singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” known as the Black national anthem. There was a moment of silence for Laquan McDonald, killed by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke in 2014. Van Dyke was later convicted of his murder.

Sonya Tompkins poses for a photo near Grant Park during a rally and celebration of Juneteenth on Friday.
Sonya Tompkins attended a rally and celebration of Juneteenth on Friday in Grant Park. “I don’t ever want to say something like ‘defund the police’ because we need them in our neighborhoods,” Tompkins said. But they need to realize they need us too.”
Manny Ramos/Sun-Times

As Pritzker marched, his office issued a proclamation honoring this year’s Juneteenth celebration. The governor said he is working with the General Assembly to pass a law to make Juneteenth as a state holiday for future years.

“This Juneteenth comes as hundreds of thousands of protestors across the nation and across Illinois, from Rockford to East St. Louis to Chicago to Springfield to Champaign to Anna and dozens of towns in between, have taken to the streets to call for justice and change,” Pritzker said in a statement. “I encourage all Illinoisans to take today to reflect on our history, our future and the actions we can take, individually and collectively as a state, to truly build ourselves into the equitable nation of our ideals.”

A portmanteau of June and 19, the holiday celebrates the day when the last enslaved African Americans learned they had been freed.

While the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in the South in 1863, it wasn’t enforced in many places until the Civil War ended, two years later. Confederate soldiers surrendered in April 1865, but word didn’t reach the last enslaved Black people until June 19, when Union soldiers brought the news to Galveston, Texas.

“Since the moment people of African descent landed on these shores, they have been fighting to breathe,” said Rev. Otis Moss III. “They fought to breathe throughout the antebellum south, they fought to breathe even at the moment of emancipation, they fought to breathe even during Reconstruction.”

Moss III added the names of abolitionists who also should be celebrated, including Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass and Nat Turner.