Suburbs to mark new Juneteenth holiday with parades, remembrance starting Friday
A unity motorcade and community festival in Aurora. A parade of African flags in Elgin. Two Wheaton churches -- one white, one Black -- coming together in a show of solidarity.
These are some of the ways suburbanites will mark the newly recognized federal and state holiday of Juneteenth on Saturday.
Observed June 19, it marks the day when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, in 1865 to take control of the state and to proclaim and ensure all enslaved people are freed. The troops' arrival came 2½ years after signing of the Emancipation Proclamation ending slavery.
Juneteenth is considered the longest-running African American holiday and akin to the Fourth of July independence celebration for Blacks.
"A lot of significant things happened in our history that went unnoticed," said Earl Dickens, 49, of Streamwood, vice president of the African American Coalition of Kane County, which is organizing Elgin's Juneteenth Motorcade Parade and Festival. "Freedom delayed is freedom denied. That harmed generations of families, futures, economic (prospects) and so forth. Juneteenth is about total freedom. We just want to acknowledge them and what they had to go through."
This is the second year for the parade. A motorcade showcasing 54 flags representing all the countries of Africa will wend through the city starting at noon Saturday from 24 Tyler Creek Plaza.
Attendance in 2020 was marred by COVID-19, but Dickens expects a huge crowd this year due to pent-up frustration from a pandemic year marked by huge losses in lives within Black communities and Black Lives Matter protests for racial justice after George Floyd's death.
A music and dancing gathering, "Steppin on Main Street," kicks off the weekend celebration at 6 p.m. Friday at Gallery 611 Event Venue in East Dundee, and a Juneteenth Gospel brunch is 11 a.m. Sunday at Dee's Place in South Elgin. Both are open to the community.
Both Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Secretary of State Jesse White announced on Thursday that state offices and facilities will be closed Friday to recognize Juneteenth.
While Juneteenth represents freedom from slavery, some in the Black community are conflicted about recognizing it with celebrations because it is a painful reminder of the government's failure to protect Black people -- a theme repeated today when law enforcement officers go unpunished for the unjustified killing of unarmed Black men and women, experts say.
"Juneteenth should have never happened, first of all," said Steve Rogers, a retired Harvard University business professor from Evanston. "The federal government allowed the state of Texas to have slavery to continue for two more years ... solely for the purpose of allowing white plantation owners to enslave Black people. I look at Juneteenth as sort of bittersweet."
Declaring the day a national holiday is not enough -- leaders must focus on how to make reparations, Rogers said.
"When people understand the story of Juneteenth, it is just a continuation of the economic and financial exploitation of Black people, which drives inhumane behavior on the part of other people," he said. "It's a punch in the gut."
Some Blacks who are descendants of freed enslaved people might feel offended by Juneteenth celebrations.
"I have mixed feelings about what it actually stood for," said Regina Brent, founder of Unity Partnership, a DuPage-based group that works to build relationships between law enforcement and minority communities. "I'm still trying to figure that out for myself as an African American descendant of slaves. African American people are forever waiting for an apology for slavery, not just for Juneteenth."
She suggested commemorating the day by establishing scholarships and grants for the education of Black children.
Many suburban communities commemorated Juneteenth with gusto after the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, and Black Lives Matter rallies nationwide. That enthusiasm has waned somewhat since the April trial and conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in Floyd's death, said Michael Childress, 64, president of the DuPage County NAACP.
"Everybody jumped on the bandwagon," Childress said. "Now, a lot of allies of the Black Lives Matter movement have lost interest since the trial. I find that very disappointing (that) all of the other things that we are fighting for, they can just go away."
Childress said Juneteenth should be commemorated as a day of social justice, through giving back to the community and a more comprehensive teaching of Black history in schools. He called on local elected officials to adopt Juneteenth observances in their communities beyond paying lip service to diversity and inclusion that has become a common mantra.
"(Racism) will never really go away until white people are taught the atrocities that were heaped on people of color," he said.
Aurora's Juneteenth celebration -- now in its 20th year -- is expected to draw thousands, organizers said.
"This could be much larger and bigger than in the past because people are becoming more aware of the day itself," said Ricky Rodgers, executive director of the African American Men of Unity, the group organizing the event.
It features a unity car parade at 3:15 p.m. on Smith Street at Phillips Park, and a free festival at 3:30 p.m. at MLK Park, 42 S. Farnsworth Ave.
Juneteenth should highlight historical injustices and disparities that exist within Black communities, but the day also is about celebrating their triumphs and accomplishments, Rodgers said.
"It's important for African Americans, in particular, to be conscious and aware of their history, their culture and their heritage," Rodgers said. "We need to have a sense of who we are ... the contributions that our ancestors have made to make America a great country."