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State Government Offices, Sec. Of State Driver Services Facilities Closed For Illinois’ First June

Surrounded by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, Gov. JB Pritzker signs a law making Juneteenth a state holiday in Illinois on Wednesday in Springfield.
Hannah Meisel/NPR Illinois
Surrounded by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, Gov. JB Pritzker signs a law making Juneteenth a state holiday in Illinois on Wednesday in Springfield.

State government offices — including Secretary of State driver services facilities — will be closed Friday in observance of Juneteenth National Freedom Day after it was made both a state and federal holiday this week.

Gov. JB Pritzker earlier this week signed legislation making Juneteenth a paid day off for state employees every year June 19 falls on a weekday, which isn’t until 2023. But after President Joe Biden on Thursday signed a measure making Juneteenth a federal government holiday, Pritzker announced state government offices would be closed on Friday to align with the new law.

Illinois is the 47th state to make Juneteenth a paid holiday for state employees.

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when enslaved people in Texas finally learned via a Union Army general that they’d been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation — two and a half years earlier.

At a signing event in Springfield this week, just steps away from an original copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, Senate Majority Leader Kim Lightford (D-Maywood), said formally commemorating Juneteenth is a step forward for the recognition of the Black experience in America.

However, she said, a new holiday doesn’t make up for more than a century of systemic racism even after slavery ended.

“Juneteenth is a day of remembrance and celebration,” Lightford said. “But it’s also a reminder that Black people still do not have all of the rights and privileges enjoyed by others, and that our fight is not over.”

Lightford was the chief sponsor of a measure that would have given state employees a paid holiday on June 19th every year, except for years the date fell on a Saturday. If it fell on a Sunday, the holiday would’ve been observed the next day on Monday. Lawmakers passed the measure unanimously this spring.

However, Pritzker chose to sign another piece of legislation — also passed unanimously — sponsored by State Rep. LaShawn Ford (D-Chicago), that only gives paid days off when June 19 falls on a weekday.

At Wednesday’s signing ceremony at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Ford said he knows that to many people, Juneteenth might be an entirely new concept.

“And we don’t have to be ashamed of that because it’s our school systems that have failed all of us — not just Black people, but also white people, brown people have been miseducated in our school system,” Ford said.

But both he and Lightford pointed to a measure pushed by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus in January mandating statewide curriculum changes to include more Black history. It’s a provision in a larger education-focused law Pritzker signed earlier this year aimed at making K-12 education more equitable for Black and brown students in Illinois.

Lightford said she didn’t learn about Juneteenth until she was a freshman at Western Illinois University in the mid-1980s, in an African American studies class.

Pritzker touted both the education law and the Juneteenth law as “yet another essential step in our journey toward justice” this week.

“With this new law, no longer can a child grow up in Illinois without learning about Juneteenth in school,” Pritzker said. “With this change, the people of Illinois will have a day to reflect on how the freedom that we celebrate just two weeks later, on the Fourth of July, was delayed to Black Americans and in many ways is delayed still.”

Illinois’ strongest connection to the Civil War and slavery is, of course, "The Great Emancipator" Abraham Lincoln, who made Illinois his home for 30 years — mostly in Springfield — until his election as president in 1860.

Though Illinois was a free state, slavery was alive and well in both pockets of southern Illinois and even in Springfield for more than 100 years.

Dozens of so-called “sundown towns” — all-white cities where Black people were sometimes banned after dark or were otherwise unsafe — also have been chronicled in Illinois; some are still believed to retain that status on an unofficial basis.

Springfield was the site of a deadly race riot in 1908, and six months later, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP, was founded in Springfield.

Nearly 50 years after that, Martin Luther King Jr. lived in Chicago for much of 1966, organizing against housing segregation. But King and other organizers in the Chicago Freedom Movement faced tough opposition from Mayor Richard J. Daley, and more than a half century later, Chicago remains one of the most segregated cities in the nation.

Copyright 2021 NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS. To see more, visit NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS.

Meisel works for Capitol News Illinois.