The Chicago Juneteenth Planning Coalition (CJPC) is a coalition of Black community members that have come together to promote fun and educational Juneteenth events throughout the city of Chicago. The coalition includes Juneteenth planners from the Northside, Westside, and far Southside, all working together to make each year’s celebration more collaborative and meaningful to the Black community. CJPC emerged from an alliance between the Black Remembrance Project, Black Culture Week, and Alderwoman Maria Hadden of the 49th Ward’s office who united in 2019 to get the city of Chicago to officially recognize Juneteenth as a holiday. In April 2021, the coalition expanded to other Juneteenth organizers across the city.
Juneteenth is short for June 19th. It is also known as “Freedom Day” or second independence day to Black Americans. Juneteenth celebrates the official end of slavery in the United States. June 19th highlights the day when Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas in 1865 to free the country’s last remaining enslaved people. Despite Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, slave-holding border states like Texas which were already under Union control did not follow the proclamation.
For more than 150 years, Juneteenth has been a day celebrated by many Black communities. However, there was no federal holiday off for such celebrations until the year 2021. It officially became a federal holiday on June 17th of 2021, as declared by President Biden. However, Chicago made it an official holiday on June 14th, at its first flag-raising ceremony honoring Juneteenth. This was due to the tireless work of organizers and policy leaders.
Some of the local organizers who pushed for Juneteenth holiday recognition include LaCreshia Birts of The Black Remembrance Project (BRP), Theodore “TJ” Crawford of Black Culture Week, and Alderwoman Maria Hadden, and Torrence Gardner. In 2019, BRP sought to memorialize historic Black events: the 400th year anniversary of forcible enslavement of Black Americans starting in 1619, the 100th year anniversary of the 1919 Chicago Race Riot, and the 50th year mark of Fred Hampton Sr’s death in 1969. In honor of the history of formerly enslaved Black Americans in the United States, BRP felt Juneteenth was one of the historical events that deserved more recognition.
The Black Remembrance Project created a campaign to seek the passage of Juneteenth as a paid holiday at the city level and needed a city council ally to push the legislation. Alderwoman Maria Hadden of the 49th Ward became that ally that would help push Juneteenth through council. However, this was not an easy victory. Torrence Gardner and Tiffany Liner of Ald. Hadden’s office would write the city’s first-ever legislation aimed at making Juneteenth a citywide Holiday. The beautifully written language and Ald. Hadden’s leadership helped secure the majority of the council to support it prior to it being voted. The paid holiday legislation would stall for two years as we entered the pandemic and faced pushback by a few skeptical elected officials concerned about the cost of adding another holiday. Despite internal pushback and amid COVID-19, the City Council passed a resolution acknowledging Juneteenth. The resolution was the Council’s first symbolic recognition of Juneteenth. However, the fight to make it a holiday was still not over.
After George Floyd’s Murder in 2020, a renewed energy of Black pride swept the country. BRP utilized that energy and formed a campaign that obtained signatures from over 5,000 Chicagoans demanding the City make Juneteenth a holiday in November. Torrence Gardner and LaCreshia Birts used those signatures as proof that we deserved more than a resolution during negotiations with city leaders. Later that year the city would make Juneteenth a day of observance, meaning it would be marked on city calendars but employees would not get a day off. The fight continued. LaCreshia, Torrence, and TJ who led an org called Black Culture Week at the beginning of 2021 met with the mayor’s Chief Equity Officer, Candace Moore to at least have an official city recognition event for the day of observance. Months of planning and negotiations occurred which led to the city’s first ever Juneteenth flag-raising ceremony. The morning of the event we discovered Mayor Lightfoot had a change of heart and decided to officially make Juneteenth a paid city holiday.
Now that Juneteenth has been recognized all over the country, members of the Chicago Juneteenth Planning Coalition aim to celebrate, collaborate, and commemorate Juneteenth for years to come.
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Image of Chicago Juneteenth action on Wednesday, June 19, 2019 hosted by Black Remembrance Project