Juneteenth in Illinois is now a state holiday after Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill to commemorate the date in 1865 when the last enslaved Black people in the U.S. learned that they were free.
Pritzker signed House Bill 3922 Wednesday at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, officially recognizing Juneteenth as National Freedom Day in Illinois.
The new law, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2022, will make June 19 a paid day off for all state employees and a school holiday when it falls on a weekday. Because it falls on Sunday in 2022, the first paid state holiday for Juneteenth will be in 2023, Pritzker's office 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 thanks to the guiding vision of Leader Lightford, Representative Ford, Speaker Welch and the entire Illinois Legislative Black Caucus,” Pritzker said in a statement.
“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," he continued.
This year, Illinois will lower all flags covered by state law to half-staff on June 19. The state will also, this year and every year in the future, fly a Juneteenth flag over the state Capitol in Springfield.
Juneteenth marks the date in 1865 when the last enslaved Black people in the country learned from Union soldiers in Texas that they were free, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. The day is also known as Emancipation Day and Freedom Day.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. La Shawn Ford, has sponsored similar legislation in the past. There “wasn’t an appetite” for passing it previously, the Chicago Democrat told the Chicago Tribune. He said that changed after the murder of George Floyd, who was Black, by a white police officer in Minnesota.
“Now, post-George Floyd, this is the time,” Ford said. “Some would say this is an African American holiday, but it’s an American holiday.”
Cook County, the largest county in Illinois, recognized Juneteenth as a holiday for workers its last year.
The U.S. Senate on Tuesday passed a bill that would make Juneteenth a federal holiday. It is expected to easily pass the House, which would send it to President Joe Biden for his signature.