Origin of the Chicago Juneteenth Ordinance

Black Remembrance Project
4 min readNov 27, 2019


Black Remembrance Project members hold up a copy of the Chicago Juneteenth ordinance at City Hall on Wednesday, November 20, 2019. (From left to right: Linda Jennings, LaCreshia Birts, and Lonette Sims)

The request to make Juneteenth an official holiday in Chicago was officially made by the Black Remembrance Project. The Black Remembrance Project is a grassroots, Chicago-based organization dedicated to uplifting Black American history. On June 19, 2019, in honor of the 400th year anniversary of Black American Descendants of Slavery in the United States, the Black Remembrance Project demonstrated downtown and released a public statement asking the city to make Juneteenth an official holiday. The request was followed up with outreach to individual aldermen. Alderwoman Maria Hadden was the first Alderperson to oblige our request. Her office worked with the Black Remembrance Project to draft the Juneteenth ordinance. Alderman David Moore and other Aldermen signed on after the legislation was drafted. We are hopeful that the ordinance will pass unanimously.

Importance of A Juneteenth Holiday
Having Juneteenth officially recognized in Chicago as a holiday is not merely about city workers getting a day off. The request for the holiday comes directly from the desire to uplift the painful and tragic history of slavery in America.

The first documented Africans in America were forcibly brought to this country as slaves in 1619. Although enslaved Black people were technically emancipated through President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, during the Civil War, many would not experience freedom until years later. Union soldiers had to travel to southern states to spread the news that the war had ended and that slavery was over. June 19, 1865, is recorded as the day that that enslaved people in Texas (one of the last states to free slaves) received the news from Union soldiers. In celebration of their liberation, newly freed people declared June 19th a holiday which they named "Juneteenth."

Juneteenth has been unofficially celebrated in America for centuries. In the early 2000s, many local municipalities and states began to pass legislation to recognize the holiday. As it stands, the holiday is not federally recognized and celebration of the day is not equal. For instance, the state of Illinois recognizes the third Saturday in June as Juneteenth. Whereas, in Texas and the majority of other states, Juneteenth is celebrated on June 19th, the day that our formerly enslaved ancestors declared their holiday.

Furthermore, there is a national resurgence in conversation around slavery, racial inequality, and reparations for slavery descendants. This conversation has been expanded by a special publication by the New York Times called, "1619 Project.” The project is dedicated to understanding the history of slavery in America. At the same time, Juneteenth is being pushed to be recognized as a federal holiday by several longtime Juneteenth advocacy groups. One Juneteenth advocate is a 93-year old woman named, Opal Lee. Lee is currently walking across the nation to raise attention to get Juneteenth declared as a national holiday.

As we await national Juneteenth recognition, the Black Remembrance Project is asking for greater upliftment of the holiday in Chicago. After all, Jean Baptist Pointe Du Sable, an African American man, founded Chicago. Chicago was also involved with the underground railroad through the Quinn Chapel AME church. The church was an underground railroad hub and a meeting place for abolitionists. Unfortunately, Chicago's connection to slavery and the influence of Black Americans in this city are not widely known. Greater recognition of Juneteenth can promote a deeper awareness of Black American history.

Other than the proposed Juneteenth ordinance, there hasn't been much acknowledgment of Juneteenth from Chicago's City Council or public institutions. Currently, there is no formal mention of Juneteenth in Chicago Public Schools. On the state level, there has been more participation in Juneteenth festivities. Governor Pritzker acknowledged the significant contributions that African Americans have made in Illinois, by announcing a Juneteenth Proclamation on June 19, 2019. The Black Remembrance Project would like to see more involvement and acknowledgment from public officials in Chicago--particularly from Black Aldermen and the city's first Black woman mayor, in regards to Juneteenth.

Black Remembrance Project Co-Chair, LaCreshia Birts and Alderwoman Maria Hadden at City Hall September 2019

How You Can Support

  1. Sign the national petition
    To support efforts to recognize Juneteenth nationally, you can sign onto the national petition for Juneteenth at http://chng.it/BdKxJwFx9k
  2. Reach out to your Alderperson
    If you're in Chicago, you can support the Black Remembrance Project's efforts by contacting your Aldermen and letting them know how important this holiday is to you.
  3. Join us!
    Contact the blackremembrance@gmail.com to sign up for our Juneteenth Political Action Team or to join our City-wide Juneteenth Planning Committee



Black Remembrance Project

The Black Remembrance Project is an initiative creating space for Black Americans in Chicago to reflect and build on their 400 Year History in the U.S.