SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - June 19 will now be recognized as National Freedom Day in Illinois. Gov. JB Pritzker signed a bill into law making Juneteenth an official holiday Wednesday morning.
With this bill signed into law, Pritzker says no child will grow up in Illinois without learning about the importance of Juneteenth in school. Juneteenth marks the monumental day in 1865 when union soldiers told slaves in Galveston, Texas that they were freed. Unfortunately, that took place over two years after Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery.
Pritzker signed the legislation in front of a signed copy of the historic document on display at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. Although, the governor and sponsors want people to realize this isn't a Black holiday. They note Juneteenth is an American holiday that everyone should celebrate.
"This is a blessed day," said Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford. "For I know whose shoulders I stand on. For I know the sacrifices and the pain and the resilience my ancestors endured. And I am thankful to all of them."
Previously, most people never learned about that date in school. Illinois is now the 47th state to recognize June 19 as a paid state holiday. Sponsors say making Juneteenth a holiday reminds everyone that freedom and racial equality have always been a hard-fought battle for Black Americans.
"Every day we see our nation's past failures reverberate through the soul of our nation. But, we are not without hope," said Pritzker. "And Illinois can bring hope to the rest of the nation."
The governor noted Illinois led the nation by being the first state to ratify the 13th Amendment ending slavery. He also stressed Illinois is leading the way in tackling structural racism head-on thanks to the leadership of the Legislative Black Caucus.
Flags will fly at half staff to recognize the holiday and a new Juneteenth flag will fly above the Capitol dome each year.
Black Caucus members hope people will enjoy the day each year. However, they also think it's important to tell the stories of the horrific period of enslavement in US history. Rep. La Shawn K. Ford says Juneteenth is a moment to reflect on what happened to our ancestors.
He asked for a moment of silence to recall how the country treated Black people. Yet, he also acknowledged how far the country has come by Illinois passing the bill with bipartisan support. Several Republicans sat alongside Democrats for the signing ceremony.
"It shows that as much as we think we have a lot of work to do, and we do, we do come together to do things to prove that it's possible for us to do a lot more," Ford explained.
Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton is the descendant of enslaved people only four generations removed. Stratton expressed how she constantly thinks of her ancestors working in fields in Mississippi while owners beat them.
"I think about how they must have prayed for our freedom," Stratton said. "There must have been days that they never imagined it for themselves, but they prayed that their children, and their grandchildren, and their great grandchildren and those of us standing here today, that we would one day be free."
She said her ancestors would be so proud to see her become the first Black Lt. Governor of Illinois. Stratton also acknowledged Emanuel "Chris" Welch who became the first Black Speaker of the Illinois House this year. Lightford became the first Black Senate Majority Leader in 2019.
"Despite Black codes right here in Illinois that discouraged free Blacks to live in this state, we will never stop fighting for freedom," Stratton said. "That despite lynchings and other forms of racial violence that happened blocks away from where we stand right now, we would never stop fighting for freedom."
The law goes into effect on January 1.