Illinois Legislature approves Juneteenth as a state holiday

Midwest

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – JUNE 19: Attendees hold signs in support of Black Lives Matters during the Million Man March on June 19, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when a Union general read orders in Galveston, Texas stating all enslaved people in Texas were free according to federal law. (Photo by Natasha Moustache/Getty Images)

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Illinois is closer to making Juneteenth a state holiday.

Legislation making June 19 a paid day off for all state employees and a school holiday was unanimously approved by the Illinois House last week and by the state Senate last month. It states that if June 19 falls on a Saturday or Sunday the holiday will be observed the following Monday. The measure would take effect immediately if Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs it.

Juneteenth commemorates the date in 1865 when the last enslaved Black people in the U.S. 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 says 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.

Ford is sponsoring another bill to make Juneteenth a holiday, though it wouldn’t take effect until 2022. It has passed the House and is awaiting Senate approval. Ford said if that bill passes the Senate it will be up to Pritzker to decide which legislation to sign.

The bills are SB1965 and HB3922.

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