While it’s not a federal holiday, many in Chicago will observe Juneteenth this year, thanks to employers that say they are taking part in a fight for inclusivity, equality and diversity.
Juneteenth, which takes place every year on June 19 to celebrate the end of slavery in the United States, has been celebrated by many for decades but has gained new attention this year amid protests following the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery.
“It’s a day of education,” Rev. Jesse Jackson of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition said. “It’s a day of emancipation.”
On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers entered Galveston, Texas and declared an end to the Civil War.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot
While some cities are debating whether to observe Juneteenth as an official holiday, including Chicago, many area businesses are deciding to halt normal business operations on their own, adding the holiday to their official calendar.
In the city, the Chicago Bears announced Thursday that Juneteenth would be added to the franchise’s list of official holidays, meaning that the team’s offices in Lake Forest will be closed.
RxBar, another Chicago-based business, decided that they would also celebrate the holiday.
“RxBar wanted to give employees an opportunity to learn more about Black history, to uplift and appreciate Black culture,” Senior Communications Manager Chelsea Jenkins said.
Nationally, several companies are also adding Juneteenth to their company calendars, including Target, GrubHub, Fifth Third Bank, Lyft and Kraft-Heinz.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations is replacing Columbus Day as a holiday for their employees, and will instead choose to observe Juneteenth.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker is also having the state observe the holiday, ordering flags to be flown at half-staff to “honor the memory of those who have died simply because of the color of their skin,” according to a press release.
Even while companies are initiating Juneteenth celebrations, protests are still planned to bring attention to causes important to the Black community, including an ongoing effort by community activist Ja’Mal Green to call attention to alleged discriminatory lending practices at Chase Bank. According to a report by WBEZ, Chase handed out $7.5 billion in home loans over a six-year period, but only 1.9 percent of those loans went to Chicago’s Black neighborhoods.
“1,250 slaves were used as collateral to build this empire,” Green said. “So why wouldn’t they come to the table on Juneteenth? Even after all the time since they owned slaves, why wouldn’t they come to the table and make up for it?”
To protest the bank, Green and other supporters are going to stage a series of peaceful protests at Chase locations, demanding reparations for Black-owned businesses and those who had sought home loans with the bank.
Two Chase branches were temporarily closed due to protest activity on Wednesday, according to the company.