City Council recognizes Juneteenth — but stops short of declaring it a city holiday

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) delivered an impassioned speech, talking for eight minutes and 46 seconds — which is how long a Minneapolis police officer had his knee on George Floyd’s neck.

SHARE City Council recognizes Juneteenth — but stops short of declaring it a city holiday
Chicago City Hall

No city holiday — yet — on June 19, also known as Juneteenth, which is celebrated as the end of slavery in the United States. But a resolution honoring the day was passed by the Chicago City Council on Wednesday.

Rich Hein/Sun-Times file

The City Council agreed Wednesday to recognize June 19th — known as Juneteenth — to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States, but stopped short of declaring it an official city holiday.

“It’s certainly worthy of consideration given the importance of the holiday — the historic meaning of it,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot told City Hall reporters after Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

“But obviously in these difficult budgetary times, tough choices have to be made. I expect to continue my dialogue with the sponsors of the resolution to see what is appropriate given our incredibly difficult fiscal circumstances.”

Last fall, aldermen Maria Hadden (49th) and David Moore (17th) introduced an ordinance that would declare Juneteenth an official paid city holiday.

The ordinance didn’t stand a chance; Chicago has been roundly criticized over the years for granting city employees far more paid holidays than counterparts in private industry.

But the death on Memorial Day of George Floyd at the hands of now- former Minneapolis police officers — and the anger, protests, rioting and violence that have followed — has turned the political tide.

On Wednesday, the City Council approved a non-binding resolution that could lay the groundwork for declaring June 19 an official city holiday.

It states: “Be it resolved that the city of Chicago recognizes the value, sacrifice and contributions of the African-American Community has made to this city and will commit to publicly and widely recognizing the great significance of June 19th every year.”

The resolution goes on to designate June 19 of each year as a day of observance “to reflect on the suffering endured by early African Americans, promote public awareness and celebrate African-American freedom and achievement.”

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) delivered the most impassioned in a parade of speeches, speaking for eight minutes and 46 seconds — which is how long that police officer had his knee on George Floyd’s neck.

“I am angry and I don’t apologize for that because I have been discriminated against my whole life,” Hairston said.

“We have trouble getting businesses into our neighborhood. Well, here’s a message: If you don’t want to come to our neighborhoods, we’re taking our money elsewhere. And we’re gonna fight. And I encourage the protesters to continue. Don’t stop. Don’t stop. Black lives matter. Black lives matter.”

Hairston said it’s “time for this City Council to wake up and stop being dismissive.” She called out Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st), without mentioning him by name, for defending police officers accused of relaxing in the campaign office of U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush as stores were looted. Napolitano conducted a TV interview surrounded by boxes of popcorn; Rush had accused officers of popping corn in the office microwave.

“Fight is in my blood. I am a proud direct descendant of Frederick Douglass,” Hairston said.

“Stop sweeping under the rug people who are advancing progressive legislation,” she added. “We will never get there unless we look at things differently. ... I need everybody to open up their eyes and to see what role they play in continuing to be biased against Black people and the color of our skin.”

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, added: “To get some things we have never had, we need to do some things we have never done. ... Let’s look at this as a starting point.”


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