Chicago-area residents on Friday planned to eat, dance and protest to celebrate Juneteenth, a holiday that commemorates when some of the last enslaved African Americans learned they were free 155 years ago.
Celebrations have typically included parades, barbecues, concerts and readings of the Emancipation Proclamation.
On Chicago’s South Side, the Roseland Matters community group planned to give away fresh spring rolls, sandwiches, jerk chicken and a variety of homemade sorbets. In Bronzeville, Hyde Park and Washington Park, a Black business crawl stopped at local restaurants and coffee shops. And in north suburban Buffalo Grove, organizers planned a march and speeches.
“It’s a day for reflection and for us to think about what happened and any progress that we’ve made,” Dr. Kim Dulaney, director of education and programs at Chicago’s DuSable Museum of African American History, told WBEZ’s Mary Dixon Friday.
Gov. JB Pritzker and U.S. Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin, all Democrats, joined faith leaders and hundreds of residents Friday afternoon at Roosevelt Road and Columbus Drive to hold a large banner in memory of George Floyd, who was killed last month in police custody in Minneapolis.
The group, playing a song that had a chorus mentioning Black Lives Matter, marched to Grant Park, where faith leaders implored the white people in the crowd to go back to their communities and fight racism in them.
Pastor Chris Harris led a prayer for “good” police officers, and said “bad police officers” will become the “prey.” Harris hoped the peaceful event would draw thousands, but only a few hundred showed up for the two-hour event.
At the Black owned business crawl about five miles south of downtown, the line was out the door at Two Fish Crab Shack at 641 E. 47th St. The restaurant is known for its lobster tails, shrimp and crab legs made with “a selection of 3 The Chi-Way, Garlic Butter, Lemon Pepper, Cajun and Jerk flavors,” according to their website.
Two Fish owner Yasmin Curtis said she doesn’t know how her restaurant got on today’s crawl, but said the website crashed from so many orders. Circulating the Black dollar is important, Curtis said, “today if no other day we should definitely support each other.”
Nearby Shawn Michelle’s Homemade Ice Cream at 46th E. 47th saw an even longer line Friday afternoon, as the temperature climbed into the upper-80s.
Shawn Michelle’s owner Nataki Muhammad stepped out in the hot sun to tell customers the ice cream is worth the wait. Shawn Michelle’s, named after Muhammad’s late sister-in-law, is known for vanilla, black walnut and rum raisin flavors.
Muhammad said she also doesn’t know how she made the list for today’s business crawl, but “we are really, really thankful to be a part of it.”
She added that Juneteenth takes on a different meaning this year because “people are realizing the value of Black businesses in the community. We’re able to provide a quality product and quality service and employ our community. It means a lot to have the support of our community.”
Buffalo Grove teenagers organized what they believe is the first ever Juneteenth celebration in their village, where hundreds gathered at Willow Stream Park to listen to speakers. Many sat on the ground in small groups at least six-feet apart. Kayla Constabileo said she only recently learned about Juneteenth and came to the rally with her friends Camilla Kulikova and Aubrey Tomochek, who said the day should be a national holiday because “slavery was a big part of our history and we should be celebrating that it’s over.”
Democratic U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider added: “We need to have one system where all people get a fair shake under the law.”
Protests, growing recognition make this year different
And with support growing for the racial justice movement, 2020 may be remembered as the year the holiday reached a new level of recognition.
After massive demonstrations over Floyd’s death, there has been a seismic shift to further elevate Black voices. That desire is being felt as some states and cities move to make Juneteenth an official paid holiday.
This year, fast food cooks and cashiers will also be protesting work conditions during the coronavirus pandemic, which has hit the Black population especially hard. Striking workers will march to McDonald’s downtown headquarters.
“Black workers have been fighting injustice at McDonald’s for years, but this pandemic has made it a matter of life and death,” wrote Ieshia Townsend, a striking McDonald’s worker in Chicago, in a press release. “McDonald’s can’t say it’s against racism, when its corporate policies put our lives at risk and force hundreds of thousands of Black and brown workers to live in poverty. If Black lives matter at McDonald’s, then listen to our demands: we need $15 and a union, and we need to be safe at work.”
And earlier this week, Chicago aldermen passed a resolution to celebrate Juneteenth every year. Still, an ordinance that would make Juneteenth an official city holiday is languishing in a City Council committee. Ald. Maria Hadden, 49th Ward, introduced that ordinance last November, and Hairston and 40 other aldermen signed on as co-sponsors.