Chicago mayor changes course, announces Juneteenth an official city holiday

“I, like many others, didn’t even know anything about Juneteenth until I was an adult," Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday to kick off Juneteenth celebrations in the city.

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After initially saying it was too expensive, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced on Monday that Chicago will recognize Juneteenth as an official city holiday, the Chicago Sun Times reports. 

“I, like many others, didn’t even know anything about Juneteenth until I was an adult. And that’s because it has never been treated with the reverence that it should be,” Lightfoot said at Chicago’s Daley Center Plaza on Monday.

“If you look at the history books that are used to teach our children, you may only see a passing reference, if at all. We must change that,” Lightfoot added. The city will start observing Juneteenth as an official holiday in 2022. 

Local Politicians Kick Off Pride Month In Chicago
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks to guests at an event held to celebrate Pride Month June 7, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Last year, the Chicago City Council voted to recognize Juneteenth by making June 19 an annual day of observance, but the upgrade to an official city holiday will provide a paid day off.

Chicago aldermen Maria Hadden and David Moore originally introduced an ordinance to do just that almost two years ago, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. Juneteenth was also made an official paid holiday for Cook County employees in Dec. 2020. 

“Some would have us ignore our history, gloss over it in service to just moving on. They tell us that our calls to acknowledge the wrongs that we face are dividing us. Don’t heed their call. Do not be silent, for there can be no healing without truth and reconciliation,” Hadden said on Monday, per the Sun Times.

The event where Lightfoot made the announcement was a flag-raising ceremony to kick off Juneteenth celebrations in the city.

Chicago now joins  St. Louis, Minneapolis, and Fayetteville, in making Juneteenth an official city holiday.

As theGrio previously reported, the birthplace of the holiday—Galveston, Texas, also made Juneteenth an official holiday earlier this month, which will give city employees a paid day off and close non-emergency government offices. 

Legislation to make Juneteenth an official state holiday in Illinois is also pending a signature from Governor J.B. Pritzker.

On June 19, 1865, enslaved people in Galveston, Texas were finally informed of the Emancipation Proclamation two-and-a-half years after former President Abraham Lincoln signed it in 1863. The decree delivered by General Gordon Grange read in part: 

“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.”

Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States and has grown in popularity in recent years as the political climate has changed.  

TheGrio’s DeMicia Inman contributed to this report. 

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