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Juneteenth Could Become A State Holiday

State Sen. Kimberly Lightford
State Sen. Kimberly Lightford

Illinois could have a new state holiday commemorating the day in 1865 when the last enslaved people were freed. A state senate committee Wednesday approved making June 19 Juneteenth National Freedom Day.

State Sen. Kimberly Lightford, a Democrat from Maywood, sponsored the bill, which would create a paid holiday for state employees. She said the day is a milestone for Black Americans that should be celebrated and used to educate youth.

“Making Juneteenth a state holiday is a way of highlighting our freedom, and reminding us how far we've come and a reminder that black Americans are still recovering from the terrible legacy of slavery,” Lightford said.

Juneteenth has grown from the celebration of the abolishment of slavery into a day to appreciate African American arts, culture and the impacts of the civil rights movement in the United States, she said.

Despite casting a vote in favor of the measure, Republican Sen. Jil Tracy of Quincy questioned whether another holiday could be swapped to save payroll funds.

“I appreciate what we're trying to commemorate, but I just think that it's part of our obligation to figure out how much it's going to cost,” Tracy said.

The bill calls for the legislation to be enacted immediately, but a spokeswoman for the Central Management Agency wrote: “CMS is open to the inception of Juneteenth as a holiday for State employees. However, the agency would need more lead time to identify the necessary funding plan the implementation with labor partners. CMS is open to working with the sponsor for SB 1965 to address the implementation.”

Copyright 2021 NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Maureen Foertsch McKinney is the NPR Illinois News Editor and a lead editor of Illinois Issues' feature articles, working with freelance writers, and is curator of the Equity blog. Maureen joined the staff in 1998 as projects editor. Previously, she worked at three Illinois daily newspapers, most recently the suburban Chicago-based Daily Herald, where she served stints as an education reporter and copy editor. She graduated in 1985 with a bachelor's in journalism. She also has a master's degree in English from the University of Illinois at Springfield.