Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation into law Wednesday that made Juneteenth a paid state holiday in Illinois.
HB 3922, co-sponsored by Rep. LaShawn Ford, D-Chicago and Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, was signed by Pritzker during a ceremony at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield. Juneteenth, celebrated each year on June 19, commemorates the final liberation of slaves in the Confederacy in 1865, following the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.
It now joins New Year's Day, Martin Luther King Day, Lincoln's Birthday, Casimir Pulaski Day, Good Friday, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus (or Indigenous People's) Day, Veterans' Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas as paid state holidays. All state flags will be lowered on Saturday and future Juneteenths will include a Juneteenth flag flying alongside both the state and American flags.
The bill will be effective beginning Jan. 1, 2022 and notes that state employees will receive a paid holiday whenever June 19 falls on a weekday. With Juneteenth next year taking place on a Sunday, the first paid state Juneteenth holiday will be in 2023.
Pritzker said that the move to make Juneteenth a state holiday continued Illinois' commitment to fighting for racial and social justice, building upon the efforts of the General Assembly during the 102nd session.
"It brings me exceptional pride to sign into law the declaration of Juneteenth as a formal state holiday in Illinois, making us one of the few states in the nation to give it the full status it deserves," Pritzker said. "Just as Illinois led the nation as the first state to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment, in 2021, we are leading the nation in tackling structural racism head on."
Sen. Doris Turner, D-Springfield, said that the declaration of Juneteenth as a state holiday is a recognition of Black history that went well beyond just making it a paid day off from work.
"You will hear many people say that it's a symbolic gesture and just another state holiday," Turner said. "I assure you, nothing could be further from the truth. The signing of this legislation is a recognition of the history of Black Americans and an opportunity to reflect on the long struggle for freedom and how far we still must go."
Christina Shutt, the new executive director of the ALPLM, said the legislation carried significance for the institution — which was displaying a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation until July 6 at the museum — due to its direct connection to the 16th president.
"(It's) important on it's own, but it carries a special resonance for us because of its direct connection to Lincoln and his vision for an America without slavery," Shutt said. "With the Emancipation Proclamation, he made ending slavery an official goal of the Civil War. He transformed a battle for a nation's survival into a battle for the nation's soul."
Lightford, who helped shepherd the bill through the Senate, called the signing a "breakthrough" in the state's history.
"It reminds us that freedom and racial equality have always been a hard-fought battle for Black Americans and gives us an opportunity to celebrate our culture and achievements," Lightford said.
Illinois Speaker of the House Emanuel "Chris" Welch, D-Westchester, said that he would forever remember the day that Pritzker made Juneteenth a state holiday, stating that June 19 was "America's second independence day".
"We can all stand proud that Illinois will officially recognize America's second independence day," Welch said. "I hope it will become a treasure for all Illinoisans. It's a day of remembrance, but also a day of joy and perseverance."
Ford, his colleague in the House, said that it helped the state move forward in recognizing not just the pain of the Black experience, but fixing the inequities that impact Black lives in Illinois.
"Governor Pritzker made a commitment that he would work with the General Assembly to pass a bill to commemorate Juneteenth as a state holiday and today it happened," Ford said. "Today is the first day for Illinois to officially recognize the pain of the Black enslaved and a day to move forward with work to repair the harms for Black people."