Juneteenth Significance, History: What to Know About the New Federal Holiday

Here are some ways to celebrate Juneteenth around Chicago

Juneteenth is now both a federal holiday and a state holiday in Illinois. When is Juneteenth and what does it celebrate? Here's a look at what you need to know.

What is Juneteenth and when is it observed?

The holiday, long celebrated by African Americans in the U.S., recognizes June 19, 1865, when many enslaved people in Texas learned they had been freed. Although President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation two years earlier, it could not be enforced in many places until after the end of the Civil War in April 1865. Two months after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered, Union Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger and his troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. 

While Texas was the first state to make Juneteenth a state holiday, the vast majority of states recognize Juneteenth as a holiday or have an official observance of the day. Juneteenth is a paid holiday for state employees in Texas, New York, Virginia, Washington and now Illinois, and hundreds of companies give workers a day off for Juneteenth.

Across the country Friday, people gathered in observance of Juneteenth, a day that celebrates the end of slavery in the U.S.

Why is it called Juneteenth?

The term Juneteenth is a blend of the words June and nineteenth. The holiday has also been called Juneteenth Independence Day or Freedom Day.

When did Juneteenth become a federal holiday?

After passing the House and Senate earlier this week, President Joe Biden signed into law Thursday a bill designating Juneteenth as the 12th federal holiday, the first new federal holiday since 1983.

“This is a day of profound weight and profound power, a day in which we remember the moral stain, the terrible toll that slavery took on the country and continues to take,” Biden said.

When does the federal holiday go into effect? 

The legislation does not set an effective date for the federal holiday. With the Senate having passed the bill on Tuesday and the House on Wednesday, Congress seemed intent on making it law ahead of this year's observance. 

Will federal employees get a day off for Juneteenth 2021? 

Because June 19 falls on a Saturday this year, most federal employees will observe the holiday on Friday, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management announced in a tweet. 

The law makes Juneteenth the 12th federal holiday. Usually, federal employees have 10 paid holidays, with Inauguration Day serving as the 11th paid day off. 

Will markets and banks be closed for the holiday? 

The Federal Reserve System currently does not include Juneteenth on its list of observed holidays. 

However, as protests against racial injustice and police brutality swept the nation last summer, several U.S. banks closed branches and offices early to observe Juneteenth. JPMorgan Chase & Co., U.S. Bank, Capital One Financial Corp, Fifth Third Bancorp and PNC Financial Services Group all shortened their work days on June 19, 2020. It’s unclear if they will do the same this year. 

While the New York Stock Exchange closed on Memorial Day and will be closed on Independence Day, it is unclear if the stock market will close this weekend for the new federal holiday. 

Who voted against the Juneteenth holiday?

The bill passed the House and Senate this week with overwhelming bipartisan support. The only votes against the bill came from 14 Republican lawmakers in the House. The 14 House members were:

  • Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala. 
  • Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz. 
  • Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn. 
  • Rep. Tom Tiffany, R-Wis. 
  • Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif. 
  • Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala. 
  • Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C. 
  • Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas 
  • Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz. 
  • Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif.
  • Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Mont.
  • Rep. Ronny Jackson, R-Texas
  • Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky.
  • Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga.

When did Juneteenth become a state holiday in Illinois?

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill on Wednesday to make Juneteenth an official state holiday.

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.

How will Illinois mark Juneteenth?

All Illinois government offices are closed Friday to observe Juneteenth, according to an order from Pritzker. Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White also noted that all offices will be closed Friday to observe the new holiday.

This year, Illinois will also lower all flags covered by state law to half-staff on June 19. The state will, this year and every year in the future, fly a Juneteenth flag over the state Capitol in Springfield as well.

What events are happening across the Chicago area to celebrate Juneteenth?

Juneteenth events are already taking place entering the weekend in Chicago. Here's a look at some of the celebrations to commemorate the holiday:

  • Juneteenth West Fest: The three-day Juneteenth "Freedom Day" West Fest will come to Columbus Park, located at 500 S. Central Ave., from Friday to Sunday. The event will include entertainment, vendors and games, organizers said. Friday will be dedicated to a Youth Rally, while Saturday is Family and Women's Health Day and Sunday is Fathers and their Families Day.
  • Dr. Charles R. Drew Blood Drive: An annual blood drive, hosted by the Omega Psi Phi fraternity, will take place Thursday from 1 to 6 p.m. at Malcom X College, located at 1900 W. Jackson Blvd.
  • Juneteenth Illinois Speakers, March For Us: Following up to the March For Us Saturday from 701 S. State St. to 50 W. Washington St., Juneteenth Illinois has been hosting speakers throughout the week on topics such as culture, justice, education, health and economics. The speakers and events Thursday and Friday will be hosted in-person at Chicago's Malcom X College, located at 1900 W. Jackson Blvd.
  • 1865 Fest in Garfield Park: The 1865 Fest to celebrate Juneteenth will take place Saturday and Sunday in Garfield Park. The festival will include live music, dance competitions, and family activity, according to organizers.

See more events in this round-up.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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