Nearly a year to the day after ruling it out as too costly, Mayor Lori Lightfoot declared Monday that Chicago will recognize June 19th, known as Juneteenth, as an official city holiday to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States.
The mayor’s surprise announcement came during an event at Daley Center Plaza that kicked off a week-long Juneteenth celebration.
“I, like many others, didn’t even know anything about Juneteenth until I was an adult. And that’s because it has never been treated with the reverence that it should be. If you look at the … history books that are used to teach our children, you may only see a passing reference, if at all. We must change that,” Lightfoot told a crowd at Daley Center Plaza.
“Juneteenth deserves more than a passing mention in a textbook or headline. Here in Chicago, we are taking an important step forward to ensure Juneteenth receives its proper recognition. So ladies and gentlemen, I am proud to announce that, starting next year, the city of Chicago will officially recognize Juneteenth as a city holiday to fully honor its history and legacy.”
The decision to declare Juneteenth as a city holiday marked an about-face from the stance the mayor took last year on the day the Chicago City Council voted to recognize Juneteenth, but stopped short of declaring it a city holiday.
“It’s certainly worthy of consideration given the importance of the holiday — the historic meaning of it,” Lightfoot told City Hall reporters on that day.
“But obviously in these difficult budgetary times, tough choices have to be made. I expect to continue my dialogue with the sponsors of the resolution to see what is appropriate given our incredibly difficult fiscal circumstances.”
On Monday, the mayor explained her change of heart just days before Gov. J.B. Pritzker is set to sign a bill declaring Juneteenth a state holiday.
What she didn’t say is that by declaring June 19 an official city holiday, Lightfoot can appease those still pushing to rename Outer Lake Shore Drive in honor of Jean Baptiste Point DuSable over her strenuous objections.
“We are doing this because Juneteenth must be treated like any other of the special days we observe and celebrate here in the U.S.,” the mayor said.
Nearly two years ago, Aldermen Maria Hadden (49th) and David Moore (17th) introduced an ordinance declaring Juneteenth an official paid city holiday.
The ordinance didn’t stand a chance; Chicago has been roundly criticized over the years for granting city employees far more paid holidays than counterparts in private industry.
But the death on Memorial Day 2020 of George Floyd at the hands of now- former Minneapolis police officers — and the anger, protests, rioting and violence that followed — has turned the political tide.
During Monday’s rally, Hadden thanked the mayor.
“Some would have us ignore our history, gloss over it in service to just moving on. They tell us that our calls to acknowledge the wrongs that we face are dividing us. Don’t heed their call. Do not be silent, for there can be no healing without truth and reconciliation,” Hadden told the Daley Plaza crowd.
“As Ida B. Wells said, the way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them. Celebrating Juneteenth is an opportunity for us all to shine that light. Second, celebration can be an act of resistance.”