CHICAGO (CBS) — The Chicago City Council on Wednesday voted for an annual commemoration of Juneteenth – the June 19th anniversary of the end of slavery – calling it an opportunity to examine the harms of institutional racism and fight for change.
The measure stops short of declaring Juneteenth an official city holiday, which would grant city employees a paid day off.
Ald. Maria Hadden (49th), who was the chief sponsor of the resolution, said Juneteenth is the oldest recognized celebration observing the freedom of African Americans from slavery in the U.S.
“For more than 200 years, the enslaved were stripped of their humanity by forced family separation, rape, branding, whipping, mutilation, and death,” she said.
Hadden noted Wednesday is the 5th anniversary of the mass shooting Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. She honored the victims by reading off the names those killed in the church shooting, as well as the names of several African Americans recently killed by police – including George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor.
Aldermen spent more than an hour discussing Junetenth and the history of institutional racism in the United States.
Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) spent 8 minutes and 46 seconds discussing the commemoration of Juneteenth, the same amount of time a white police officer pressed his knee against George Floyd’s neck in Minneapolis on Memorial day, causing Floyd’s death.
Hairston said she is angry because she has faced discrimination her entire life, and she encouraged protesters who have taken to the streets since Floyd’s death to continue fighting for change.
“Fight is in my blood. I am a proud, direct descendant of Frederick Douglas,” she said.
Hairston said “it is time for this City Council to wake up and stop being dismissive” of progressive legislation, and urged aldermen to stop allowing progressive measures to get stuck in committee without a vote.
She also called out Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st) – without using his name – for appearing on television with boxes of popcorn after 13 police officers were caught on video lounging in Congressman Bobby Rush’s campaign office, drinking coffee and eating popcorn, while looters were raiding nearby stores on June 1.
“It means you don’t get it,” Hairston said.
Several aldermen said commemorating Juneteenth could serve as a starting point for addressing systemic racism.
“We are still somewhat not completely free and that completely emancipated from the years of slavery in our past,” Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) said.
Ald. James Cappleman, said it’s a shame that slavery and systemic racism still haunt the nation to this day.
“The fact is we all suffer when we allow institutional racism to exist. Juneteenth is another opportunity for white people to reflect on the harm that was done to African Americans, and another chance to examine ourselves, to see what we can do to right this wrong,” he said.
Hadden last November introduced an ordinance that would have recognized Juneteenth as an official city holiday, but that proposal has languished over its budget impact, despite having 41 sponsors. Adding another official holiday to the city’s calendar could add about $100 million in costs.
Despite the potential financial impact at a time when the city is already facing a $700 budget shortfall this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) urged aldermen to approve Juneteenth as an official city holiday.
“Put your words to action, and push for the ordinance that makes this an official holiday recognized by the city of Chicago along the same lines as Memorial Day, Labor Day, Veterans Day, and all of the other holidays that warrant the city’s closure and attention. That is how we truly show that we care, that we honor, and that we recognize,” he said.