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Cook County kicks off weeklong celebration of Juneteenth, now a paid county holiday

Marking the first celebration of Juneteenth by Cook County since it became an official paid holiday, the county’s week-long celebration kicks off Monday with a mix of virtual and live programming. Juneteenth recognizes the freeing of the last slaves in Texas, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

Marking the first celebration of Juneteenth by Cook County since it became an official paid holiday, the county’s week-long celebration kicks off Monday with a mix of virtual and live programming. “Juneteenth has become a national movement as more states have embraced the significant role this date played in solidifying the freedom of all enslaved Africans in this country,” says Cook County Commissioner Dennis Deer, who with Commissioner Stanley Moore led efforts to pass the legislation.
Marking the first celebration of Juneteenth by Cook County since it became an official paid holiday, the county’s week-long celebration kicks off Monday with a mix of virtual and live programming. “Juneteenth has become a national movement as more states have embraced the significant role this date played in solidifying the freedom of all enslaved Africans in this country,” says Cook County Commissioner Dennis Deer, who with Commissioner Stanley Moore led efforts to pass the legislation.
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Marking the first year that Juneteenth will be a paid Cook County holiday, the county’s weeklong celebration kicks off Monday with a mix of programming commemorating the June 19, 1865, freeing of the last slaves in Texas, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

Activities under a Cook County Juneteenth Joint Planning Committee include panel discussions addressing issues important to the Black community, from justice and education, to culture and health and wealth.

Events Monday through Wednesday will be held virtually. Thursday and Friday events will be held at Malcolm X College on the Near West Side — Thursday featuring a health and resource fair, Friday, a Black culture week caravan march.

In the post-George Floyd era, 46 states to date have made Juneteenth a paid state holiday.

Illinois is poised to become the 47th — a bill passed by the Illinois House and Senate now sits on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk.

Cook County’s paid holiday ordinance, crafted by Commissioners Dennis Deer and Stanley Moore, passed in December. That was six months after similar efforts failed in the Chicago City Council, which approved only a non-binding resolution making it a day of observance.

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District was the first government body to make Juneteenth a paid holiday — one of four optional holidays employees can choose.

“This was the only day of the year that we had not really acknowledged in Cook County,” said Deer, who is spearheading events.

“We are recognizing the historical significance of that day in 1865, in Galveston, Texas, when Union Major General Gordon Granger declared General Order No. 3, freeing all slaves in Texas, more than two years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. It would finally erase what remained of slavery in this country.”

Thursday’s health and resource fair will include on-site COVID-19 vaccinations and testing, a blood drive and critical care training for the public — CPR, and in a nod to Chicago’s increasing gun violence, how to stop the bleed in gunshot injuries.

Cook County Commissioner Dennis Deer, along with Commissioner Stanley Moore, led the charge on legislation passed in December, making Juneteenth an official Cook County paid holiday. Forty-six states have made Juneteenth a state holiday, and a bill passed by the Illinois House and Senate this legislative session now sits on Gov. Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk.
Cook County Commissioner Dennis Deer, along with Commissioner Stanley Moore, led the charge on legislation passed in December, making Juneteenth an official Cook County paid holiday. Forty-six states have made Juneteenth a state holiday, and a bill passed by the Illinois House and Senate this legislative session now sits on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk.
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Friday’s Black culture week caravan march will leave from Malcolm X and end at the A. Phillip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum in Far South Side Pullman.

Saturday, the county will mark the date by supporting March For Us 2021. The event follows last year’s Juneteenth event in which thousands marched downtown to commemorate the holiday, highlighting systemic racism and police brutality. Kicking off 11 a.m. at 701 S. State St., the march is scheduled to end at 50 W. Washington St. at 2 p.m.

“We put into the county legislation that this isn’t just a day off,” said Deer.

“This is a day of liberation and education, so there was no way in the world that we could not do all that we have planned. Our focus is the same four pillars the Illinois Black Caucus focused on this legislative session — education, health, wealth and justice,” he said.

“This year is just the springboard. My vision is that this will become one of the most prominent conferences around Black achievement and Black excellence nationwide within the next three years.”

The county has collaborated with the state and city on a Juneteenth Illinois website, providing a one-stop portal for events taking place across the state.

Organizations and businesses are encouraged to submit their events on the site by June 14, to be included in its listings.

(L-R) Congressman Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.) and the revered late civil rights leader and Congressman John Lewis (D-Ga.) with Cook County Commissioner Dennis Deer, who co-led efforts to make Juneteenth a paid Cook County holiday, after spearheading legislation that in July 19 declared racism and racial inequality a public health crisis in Cook County.
(L-R) Congressman Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.) and the revered late civil rights leader and Congressman John Lewis (D-Ga.) with Cook County Commissioner Dennis Deer, who co-led efforts to make Juneteenth a paid Cook County holiday, after spearheading legislation that declared racism and racial inequality a public health crisis in Cook County.
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Commemorating Juneteenth was a step considered by several municipalities and corporations in the weeks following the May 25, 2020, murder of Floyd, a Black man, under the knee of a white police officer.

The seminal tragedy reverberated across the globe, triggering America’s reckoning with race across all sectors of society. Cook County had earlier begun its own reckoning.

In November 2018, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle unveiled a five-year road map that for the first time centered on equity, historically acknowledging county government’s role in creating racial inequities.

Deer, a clinical psychologist, then introduced legislation declaring racism and racial inequality a public health crisis in Cook County, which like the Juneteenth bill passed unanimously, in July 2019. And September 2019 saw the county hold its inaugural racial equity week.

Juneteenth reminds us that Africans, brought to America’s shores through the barbaric transatlantic slave trade in 1619, were considered “three-fifths of a person” under the U.S. Constitution. News of the Emancipation Proclamation, issued Jan. 1, 1863, was intentionally withheld from slaves in Texas, the most remote state, so that 2 12 years later, they were the last to be freed.

So named as a portmanteau of “June” and “nineteenth,” Juneteenth then is considered by African Americans the accurate end date to America’s great sin of slavery.

“This week of commemoration is about helping to move the needle around diversity, equity and inclusion,” Deer said.

“Juneteenth is important to acknowledge, not only because it is a reminder of how far we’ve come, but because it’s also a reminder that there’s so much more work to be done to reconcile the racist history of our past that can not be fixed by one holiday.”