Chicago’s Cook County votes to make Juneteenth a paid holiday

Renee G

Cook County’s 22,000 employees to observe June 19 as a holiday, recognizing emancipation of Black Americans

Juneteenth is now officially recognized as a holiday for Cook County employees to celebrate Black Americans’ emancipation from slavery.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the Cook County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to make June 19 a paid day off for 22,000 county workers. The ordinance outlines centuries of mistreatment of Black people in America. Chicago, which has one of the largest black populations in the country, is the county seat of Cook County.

Although President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, Black people in Galveston, Texas remained in captivity until Union soldiers sent word in 1865 that the Civil War had ended and that they were free.

Juneteenth Emancipation Day Celebration, June 19, 1900, Texas (Mrs. Charles Stephenson/Wikimedia Commons)

For many, the killings this year of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd by police, and the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery by two white men, is a reminder of how much more progress the country has to make after state-sponsored slavery was abolished more than 150 years ago.

Read More: Michelle Obama reflects on Juneteenth and family’s slavery history

“This year, Cook County and the nation have experienced unprecedented racial and civil unrest,” Stanley Moore, lead co-sponsor Commissioner, told the Tribune. “The call to recognize Juneteenth in light of these unfortunate events is stronger than ever. The passage of this ordinance is the first step towards the healing process for African Americans and for all.”

(theGrio/Natasha S. Alford)
(theGrio/Natasha S. Alford)

To date, Juneteenth is not a national holiday, but Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker intends to work work with the statehouse to designate the date as an official state holiday.

Read More: GOP Sen. Ron Johnson blocks bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday

At Thursday’s Board meeting, Commissioner Deborah Sims recalled that she was old enough to remember when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.‘s birthday was not a designated holiday, and she also remembered when Black history was not included in school curriculum.

“Now we have Dr. King’s birthday, we have Juneteenth, and Black Lives Matter are doing a lot of things,” Sims said. “So I can look back on this when I’m older-older and say that my grandchildren have a lot of things when they look in the mirror and can say Black people did a lot of great things in this country.”

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