Black people all across the Chicago area took part in Juneteenth celebrations in Chicago and Oak Park. (Paul Goyette/Contributor)

Last year on June 19, Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford (4th) announced in Broadview that she and state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (7th) (who is now the Illinois House speaker) were going to push to make Juneteenth a holiday across the state.

“I’m going to do what I can and I know Rep. Welch will join me, as we request for the governor to make Juneteenth a state holiday,” Lightford said at the time.

Three days before Juneteenth 2021, it appears Lightford has kept her promise.

On Wednesday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker HB 3922, which makes Juneteenth an official state holiday. In Illinois, Juneteenth, which originated in Texas, will be recognized as National Freedom Day, effective Jan. 1, 2022.

“Just as Illinois led the nation as the first state to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment, in 2021, we are leading the nation in tackling structural racism head on thanks to the guiding vision of Leader Lightford, [Rep. La Shawn K. Ford], Speaker Welch and the entire Illinois Legislative Black Caucus,” Pritzker said. “It brings me exceptional pride to sign into law the declaration of Juneteenth as a formal state holiday in Illinois, making us one of the few states in the nation to give it the full status it deserves.”

In a statement, Pritzker said that Illinois will recognize the holiday throughout the state by “lowering all flags covered by the Illinois Flag Display Act to half-staff on Saturday, June 19. In addition, this year and henceforth, a Juneteenth flag will fly proudly over the State Capitol in Springfield.”

Juneteenth will also be a paid holiday for state workers and public school employees starting in 2023.

“Making Juneteenth a state holiday is a breakthrough in Illinois history,” Lightford said. “It reminds us that freedom and racial equality have always been a hard-fought battle for Black Americans and gives us an opportunity to celebrate our culture and achievements.”

“Today, we can all stand proud that Illinois will officially recognize America’s second Independence Day,” said Welch. “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.”

“On June 19, 2020 Governor JB Pritzker made a commitment that he would work with the General Assembly to pass a bill to commemorate Juneteenth as a state holiday and today it happened,” said Ford. “Today is the first day for Illinois to officially recognize the pain of the black enslaved and a day to move forward with work to repair the harms for black people.”