Juneteenth a day all Americans should celebrate

Juneteenth is this Saturday, and the day commemorating African American emancipation from slavery has never had such a high profile locally and nationally.

Cook County established June 19 as an official paid holiday last December, and Chicago recognized the day as an official city holiday on Monday.

Yesterday, Gov. JB Pritzker signed legislation declaring Juneteenth an official state holiday to be called National Freedom Day. In remarks following the signing, Pritzker highlighted the state’s role.

“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,” Pritzker said from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. “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.”

Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 that word finally reached Galveston, Texas, that President Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation, abolishing slavery and setting all slaves free throughout the United States and its territories.

“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,” declared Gen. Gordon Granger to the people of Galveston.

According to https://www.juneteenth.com, the occasion emphasizes education and achievement.

“It is a day, a week, and in some areas, a month marked with celebrations, guest speakers, picnics and family gatherings. It is a time for reflection and rejoicing. It is a time for assessment, self-improvement and for planning the future. Its growing popularity signifies a level of maturity and dignity in America long over due. In cities across the country, people of all races, nationalities and religions are joining hands to truthfully acknowledge a period in our history that shaped and continues to influence our society today. Sensitized to the conditions and experiences of others, only then can we make significant and lasting improvements in our society,” the site explains.

At the federal level, Juneteenth moved a step closer to national recognition this week after the U.S. Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would recognize it as a federal holiday. The bill now heads to the House of Representatives.

Illinois will recognize Juneteenth throughout the state, lowering all flags covered by the Illinois Flag Display Act to half-staff on Saturday and on June 19 from this year on. Additionally, a Juneteenth flag will fly over the state capitol in Springfield.

May we all take this opportunity to celebrate the gift of freedom. It has become routine for many of us to extol the virtues of liberty on July 4 when the upstart Colonies asserted their independence. But while that was the dawn of freedom for millions in this country, Blacks would wait nearly another century for their justice to come. And the struggle continues. May the pain and joy mixed together in the embrace of Juneteenth inspire us all to do our part.