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Illinois makes Juneteenth an official state holiday

“Today, we can all stand proud that Illinois will officially recognize America’s second independence day,” said House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois has become the latest state to make Juneteenth an official state holiday. Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a proposal Wednesday near a rare copy of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Under the Illinois law, state employees and educators will get June 19 as a paid holiday if it falls on a weekday. Pritzker's office says since Juneteenth is on a Sunday next year, the first paid holiday will be 2023.

Juneteenth commemorates the 1865 date when the last enslaved Black people in the U.S. learned from Union soldiers in Texas that they were free, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.

“Today, we can all stand proud that Illinois will officially recognize America’s second independence day,” said House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch (D-Westchester). “As the first African American Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives, this moment will forever be a treasure in my heart, and I hope it will become a treasure for all Illinoisans. It’s a day of remembrance, but also a day of joy and perseverance.”

Illinois will recognize Juneteenth throughout the state by lowering all flags covered by the Illinois Flag Display Act to half-staff. Also beginning this year, a Juneteenth flag will fly over the Capitol in Springfield.

Credit: AP
The Juneteenth flag, commemorating the day that slavery ended in the U.S., flies in Omaha, Neb., Wednesday, June 17, 2020. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

The bill officially goes into effect Jan. 1, 2022.

Momentum is gaining nationwide to also recognize Juneteenth as a federal holiday.

The Senate voted by unanimous consent agreement Tuesday to pass the "Juneteenth National Independence Day Act," to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. The bill now heads to the Democratic-led House, where it will likely be approved, though the timing is still uncertain, as the Washington Post noted. It would then be sent to President Joe Biden for his signature.

The bill would lead to Juneteenth becoming the 12th federal holiday.

Juneteenth already is commemorated in 49 states and the District of Columbia either as a state holiday or with an official observance of the day.