Illinois House passes Juneteenth state holiday bill, heads to governor

“I’ve been sponsoring this bill for a number of years, but when I tried to pass this previously there just wasn’t an appetite. Now, post-George Floyd, this is the time,” said Illinois Rep. La Shawn Ford.

On Thursday, the Illinois House passed legislation that would make Juneteenth a state holiday. Now that bill is pending a signature from Illinois Governor Jay Robert Pritzker, which if approved, would take effect in time for this year’s Juneteenth observance.

Read More: Chicago’s Cook County votes to make Juneteenth a paid holiday

Championed by Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-IL) and State Senator Kimberly A. Lightford (D-IL), Senate Bill 1965 already passed the state senate in April and would make Juneteenth National Freedom day a school holiday and a paid day off for state employees, the Chicago Tribune reports. In cases when June 19 falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the holiday would be observed on the following Monday. 

“I’ve been sponsoring this bill for a number of years, but when I tried to pass this previously there just wasn’t an appetite. Now, post-George Floyd, this is the time,” said Ford. “Some would say this is an African American holiday, but it’s an American holiday.”

Rep. La Shawn Ford March 16, 2021. (Jose M. Osorio / Chicago Tribune)

In April, Lightford spoke of the legislation saying “Juneteenth should be a state holiday – it’s the oldest national celebration of the freedom of all slaves in this country. It should be celebrated by all Illinois residents in order to highlight how far our society has come.” 

Last year, renowned record producer Pharrell Williams asked Pritzker to make Juneteenth an official holiday in Illinois, writing on Twitter, “@JBPritzker, please join Virginia and New York and make Juneteenth a paid holiday in Illinois for state employees. Thank you.”

Another version of the bill, also led by Ford and Lightford would make Juneteenth a state holiday but it wouldn’t take effect until 2022 and it would not give state employees the following Monday off, the State Journal-Register reports. 

Read More: What is Juneteenth?

On June 19, 1865, the enslaved people in Galveston, Texas were informed of the Emancipation Proclamation two and a half years after former President Abraham Lincoln signed the historical act.

Juneteenth is an annual holiday that celebrates the abolishment of slavery in the U.S. The National Museum of African American History and Culture calls it our country’s second independence day. 

The majority of states and the District of Columbia legally recognize Juneteenth with Hawaii, North Dakota, and South Dakota being the only states that have never made it a holiday or observance, WUSA reports.

Illinois legally recognized Juneteenth in 2003, but the legislation waiting on Governor Pritzker’s desk would make it an official state holiday.

Read More: Booker, Jackson Lee reintroduce bill to make Juneteenth a national holiday

In February, Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass), Tina Smith (D-Minn), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) reintroduced the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act which would recognize Juneteenth as a paid, federal holiday.

theGrio’s DeMicia Inman contributed to this report. 

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