“We absolutely have to stand up and do something to give this day and our ancestors their rightful recognition during this time,” Black Remembrance Project initiator LaCreshia Birts said | Photo taken by Darius Griffin/The TRiiBE

“We need to continue to protest, we need to continue to actually get more people who have a platform in Chicago to stand in solidarity with us.”

This is the hope of LaCreshia Birts, initiator of Black Remembrance Project. For the past two years, through the project, she’s been fighting for the Chicago officials to properly recognize Juneteenth — the oldest nationally celebrated day of the ending of U.S. slavery —  by declaring it an official city-wide holiday and celebrating it with an annual downtown parade; similar to the city’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade. 

On June 17, however, Birts’ efforts didn’t quite go as planned. During a virtual City Council meeting, after a number of heart-felt speeches on the importance of Juneteenth, the council approved a resolution to honor Juneteenth as a day of remembrance. A separate ordinance, that’s been stuck in City Council since 2019, didn’t come up for vote. According to Block Club Chicago, the city couldn’t afford to declare Juneteenth a city-wide holiday this year

Once again, Birts said, Black Chicagoans asked for something specific pertaining to their freedom, and got denied. But this time around, it seems, Black folks in Chicago are prepared to honor their ancestors and fight for the freedom of future Black generations, despite anyone or anything getting in their way.  

“We absolutely have to stand up and do something to give this day and our ancestors their rightful recognition during this time,” Birts said. 

On June 19, Black Remembrance Project is joining other groups including Black Culture Week and The Black Mall to host a “Chicago Juneteenth Caravan March.” The march is set to start at 3:00 p.m. on the West Side on the corner of Kildare and Washington and end at 6:00 p.m. Pullman Porter Museum located at 10406 S. Maryland Ave. 

The event was originally planned months ago as a march downtown, but when COVID-19 came into play, the organizers thought a car caravan would be a good way to promote social distancing. 

Photo taken on June 17, 2020 by Darius Griffin/The TRiiBE

In addition to the car caravan march, Black Remembrance Project encourages all participants and groups who are hosting other Juneteenth events to sign their online petition, asking the city to make Juneteenth an official holiday in Chicago, and to use their platforms to help promote the petition.

“Amidst the protest and even COVID-19, we continue to see that Black Americans, descendants of slavery particularly in this country, suffer at far higher disparities in terms of our quality of life compared to other people,” said Birts. “Of course, we feel like Juneteenth is a time where we can highlight specific grievances and issues pertaining to Black American descendants of slaves in this country.”

In addition to taking over the streets, Black folks in Chicago are also taking over the airwaves.  On June 19, Rev. Otis Moss III of Trinity United Church of Christ, located at 400 W. 95th Street in Washington Heights, will be the guest producer at WVON 1690AM — Chicago’s Black-owned talk radio station —  from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Moss and other guests — including Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, State’s Atty. Kim Fox, and Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton — will take over the radio station to discuss topics such as economic empowerment, criminal justice and the arts. Moss said the event will feature local activists, poets, pastors, and Black venture capitalists. 

Moss said that now more than ever, Black folks need to understand and rightfully celebrate Juneteenth and that it should be recognized as a city-wide holiday. 

“In this moment we have people that are crying out for justice in the same manner as Juneteenth in 1865,” Moss said, referring to 19th century abolitionists such as Harriet Tubman, Leonard Grimes and Frederick Douglass who fought for the abolishing slavery. 

Juneteenth commemorates the day Union army General Gordon Granger read the federal orders in the city of Galveston,Texas on June 19, 1865 proclaiming that all slaves in Texas were free — two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln freed slaves with the Emancipation Proclamation.

Moss said he’s delighted to see all the local events honoring Juneteenth across the city this weekend. He encourages young Black people to participate. 

“What we are witnessing now is you have people in the streets ending a system that has been in place far too long and it has got to end,” Moss said. 

Moss said he hopes Black Chicagoans are inspired, educated, and forced to reflect on history after tuning in to Friday’s broadcast on WVON. A symbolic part of that history, Moss remembered, is standing to pledge allegiance to the American flag and singing The Star-Spangled Banner alongside his classmates in school.

However, on Juneteenth, according to Andrea Bowman-Butler, Black folks in Chicago are honoring a different flag  — one that tells a story of their ancestors and doesn’t include the “American Dream” they were sold in failing schools with bare necessities. 

Bowman-Butler is the owner of the Urban Wreath Project and a retired military veteran living on the South Side. She has nearly sold out of the Juneteenth flags that she makes for her online store. Her Juneteenth flag depicts an American flag with the Pan-African colors of red, green and black —  with red representing the blood that unites the African people, green for the African land and black for the people. She’s selling the flags for $10 to local residents who are either attending Juneteenth events or honoring Juneteenth at home.

Bowman-Butler said Juneteenth is a historical moment that should be taught to all Black youth in Chicago’s schools and the flags that she’s provided to local residents are symbolic of the history of Black people in America that she believes young Black people should know and embrace. 

“One thing I know about this country is that this country really is attached to symbols and ideals,” Bowman-Butler said. “As a child, I was never taught the lesson about Juneteenth. We went straight from Memorial Day to the Fourth of July.”

A photo of Bowman-Butler's Juneteenth flag | Photo courtesy of Bowman-Butler

When it comes to events, The Woodlawn, a Black-owned pop-up restaurant located at 1200 E. 79th Street, is hosting an unadulterated Juneteenth Block Party. Donnell Digby, lead chef, said the event will feature speakers and poets, along with activities such as a double-dutch contest, a Spades tournament, domino tournament and a movie viewing of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. He said security will be in place to encourage social distancing and enforcing attendees to wear face coverings.

“We are behind the ball as a people and as men,” Digby said. “We should have been holding large gatherings to celebrate our history. [Tragedies] like Breonna Taylor and George Floyd will be a lot less common if we as men put together [events], host [events] and come together as a people.”

One mission of The Woodlawn, Digby said, is to teach Black Chicagoans a sense of community. As a Black man, he said, he ultimately feels responsible for how the younger generation is educated on Black history. Not only should Juneteenth be a city-wide holiday, he said, but it should be honored every day. 

“As a Black man, it is my responsibility to understand and communicate our history,” Digby said. “As Black men, we have been behind the ball and it’s time for us to get in front of the ball. Juneteenth is one of the ways we can show a force to a community that’s hurting right now. Nobody else will celebrate us. We have to celebrate us.”

Vee L. Harrison is a staff writer for The TRiiBE: vee@thetriibe.com.