With Juneteenth fast approaching, events are popping up all over the city – including on the West Side – to commemorate the end of slavery in Texas.
This week of culturally-relevant dialogues and activities has been organized in partnership with the Black United Fund of Illinois, the Black Remembrance Project, The Maafa Redemption Project, META 24, Legacy Health and Wellness Foundation, and Firebrand Arts Network.
LaCreshia Birts, co-chairwoman of the Black Remembrance Project, has been pushing for Juneteenth to be recognized as a city and state holiday since 2019.
Cook County became the largest county in the country to make Juneteenth a paid holiday for government employees. The state currently observes Juneteenth on the third Saturday of June, but it isn’t yet an official state holiday.
Birts finds this disrespectful, noting how July 4th is celebrated on its day rather than being relegated to a weekend.
“This day is about Black Americans, and I think it’s very important for us to highlight this because Black Americans were not free on the 4th of July,” she said. “I think holding space for us in a ceremonious way is very important.”
Birts helped create the Black Remembrance Project in 2019, citing three major historical events as having anniversaries that year.
First, was the 400th anniversary of Black enslaved people on American land. The year also marked the centennial of the 1919 Chicago race riots. And it was the 50th anniversary of Fred Hampton’s assassination.
Juneteenth commemorates June 19th, 1865, when slaves in Galveston, Texas, received the news they were free. Although President Abraham Lincoln signed the emancipation proclamation in 1863, this news didn’t reach the Texas town for another two years.
Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth an official state holiday in 1979. Today, 47 states and the District of Columbia recognize Juneteenth as a state or ceremonial holiday.
Legislation recognizing Juneteenth as a state holiday unanimously passed in the Illinois House and Senate in late March. Once Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs the bill, it will take effect immediately, making June 19th a paid day off for state workers and a public school holiday.
Garfield Park is holding its first annual 1865 fest this year. Spearheaded by Carol Johnson, the three-day event will be held June 18th, 19th and 20th from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. in Garfield Park’s music court circle.
There will be free food available from local eateries, vendors from West Side businesses such as Tops and Bottoms, culturally-oriented activities like hair wrapping demonstrations, hair braiding stations and even a spades tournament.
On the last day – Sunday, June 20th – a vaccine truck will be available for those who are not yet vaccinated for COVID-19.
Johnson said in previous years, different organizations held their own separate events, so this year the community wanted to come together as a collective to do one big event.
“This is our personal 4th of July holiday, this is our personal Emancipation Day, and so it’s a big deal among the black community,” she said.
The event will be following CDC guidelines and enforcing mask-wearing for all attendees.
Find more information here about Black culture week events.
A state-wide Juneteenth Initiative – Juneteenth Illinois – also will feature events all week long.
Activities and discussions, organized by the initiative – a collaboration of Cook County, the state of Illinois and the city of Chicago – will focus on justice, culture, education and other topics.
On the actual holiday, June 19th, the Cook County Juneteenth Planning Committee has organized a March For Us 2021, with marchers traveling from 701 S. State St. to 50 W. Washington St. to bring attention to systemic racism and unfair policing practices.
Juneteenth Illinois is sponsored by PepsiCo, Comcast, Aetna Better Health of Illinois, Superior Ambulance Service, Cook County Health, New Covenant Community Development Corp., Malcolm X College, Gift of Hope, Beyond Catering Events, Garfield Park Rite to Wellness Collaborative, Wyn-Win Communications, the Black Culture Collective and the Cook County Juneteenth Joint Planning Committee.
For more information, visit the Juneteenth Illinois website.