PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Juneteenth is now an official holiday in Illinois and could soon become one across the country.
Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed legislation Wednesday morning and the U.S. Congress approved a federal bill in support Wednesday night.
Peoria Black leaders said this action is a step forward for the Black community.
Leaders said June 19th is a day signifying Black independence, recognizing the official abolishment of slavery in the U.S. in 1865.
Gov. Pritzker made a trip to Springfield Wednesday morning to sign House Bill 3922 declaring June 19th National Freedom Day in Illinois.
“Making us one of the few states in the nation to give it the full status that it deserves,” Pritzker said.
Pritzker said he hopes the new change will inspire people to look into the history of the day.
“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,” Pritzker said.
According to the bill, the day will also be a paid holiday for state workers and public education professionals when it falls on a weekday. Marvin Hightower, president of Peoria’s NAACP branch, said he’s happy both state and federal leaders are acknowledging the importance of the day.
“We shouldn’t take this lightly. It’s a significant move in progress for us as a people,” Hightower said.
Hightower said he didn’t know about Juneteenth as a child and said he’s looking forward to the history of it being taught in schools.
“Now it’s an awareness, but also it’s a celebration, but also it marks our independence,” Hightower said. “So, I think that it’s important for school children now as well as adults to find out what it actually means what Juneteenth really means and what it meant to us as a people.”
He said going forward he’d like to see people of all races take part in future Juneteenth festivities.
“Go be a part of it and celebrate this great commemoration of something that’s so important to American history because Black history is American history,” Hightower said.
The bill goes into effect Jan. 1 2022.
Under the federal legislation, the federal holiday would be known as Juneteenth National Independence Day. Democrats hope President Biden signs the measure into law by Saturday.