Following Chicago and Cook County, Illinois has made June 19 — known as Juneteenth — a state holiday.
In addition to signing a bill Wednesday commemorating the date the last slaves were freed in Texas in 1865, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said the state will fly a Juneteenth flag to honor the date every year starting Saturday.
“These advancements are yet another essential step in our journey toward justice,” the governor said. “With this new law, no longer can a child grow up in Illinois without learning about Juneteenth in school. With this change, the people of Illinois will have a day to reflect on how the freedom that we celebrate just two weeks later, on the Fourth of July, was delayed to Black Americans and in many ways is delayed still.”
Pritzker urged Illinoisans to learn more about the history of Juneteenth, a 1908 race riot in Springfield and the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People as the holiday approaches.
The governor said he hopes that will help residents understand “the reasons why our beloved dream of freedom and opportunity for all is not yet truly, fully realized.”
Pritzker was joined by Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton and state legislators at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum for the signing of House Bill 3992, which creates the Juneteenth National Freedom Day.
The governor signed the bill near a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Abraham Lincoln. That 1863 document freed slaves in Confederate states.
Stratton said she often reflects on the fact that while she does her work to “advance justice, equity and opportunity” members of her bloodline “did their work in the fields of Mississippi from sun up to sun down, brutalized ... spending all day, every day working to build wealth for those who owned them as their personal property.”
Juneteenth marks a “true independence day” and is “a time of celebration ... a time of telling our stories of hope,” Stratton said.
“Juneteenth National Freedom Day will help ensure every Illinoisan knows our history, and that future generations know our history, and that, in itself, is liberating.”
State Rep. La Shawn Ford, D-Chicago, called for a moment of silence, saying the bill signing was a moment “for reflection about our ancestors.”
He also advocated for the state to figure out the equity issues plaguing the cannabis industry, painting it as a “modern day comparison to Juneteenth.”
“Four hundred days later, there’s not one black majority owner in the cannabis industry — they’re behind,” Ford said.
Illinois becomes the 47th state to observe Juneteenth as a paid state holiday.