By Erick Johnson, Chicago Crusader
The big party at the DuSable Museum of African America History was all set. The catered food was on its way. Guests were planning what to wear. Everything was looking good for the Juneteenth celebration on Monday, June 19.
When one Black leader saw the Illinois State Seal and Governor Bruce Rauner’s name on the invitation, the party was over before the first drink was served. The party was cancelled, and a minority group that sponsored the event is in hiding, leaving a trail of questions about why it would celebrate a historic Black event with a governor that has hurt the Black community with deep budget cuts.
It’s still concern as the state’s budget crisis turns one-year-old. The crisis has made Rauner a villain in the Black community, where the cuts are impacting parks, schools and medical clinics.
One hour before the canceled Juneteenth celebration was scheduled to begin, dozens of uninvited guests showed up at the site, where they shut down the event before it all began. What began as a protest outside under a shaded area next to DuSable’s elegant courtyard seemed like a victory celebration. Protesters used blow horns and placards to express their delight in protecting the sanctity of a day where millions of Blacks in the South learned they were free after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
Many expressed their anger at organizers for having an unpopular governor whose big budget cuts crippled programs in the Black community host an event that marks a significant chapter in Black history.
“What day, what hour, what year did you seek your freedom?” asked Lillian Drummond and 91-year old activist with Act Now, a social organization in Chicago. “What you should be doing is freeing us from all your rich billionaire friends.”
State Representative Litesa Wallace (D-67th) said by celebrating Juneteenth, Rauner is a “hypocrite.”
“The governor has hurt so many people,” she said. “There are people enslaved in their homes, who have no help with funds to get basic services.’
One protest organizer, Greg Greer, president of the Freedom First International (USA) wrote a letter to the governor and DuSable officials June 14, expressing his opposition to the June 20th event. Greer said he learned of the event through the Crusader. He sent his letter to major media organizations, announcing his plans to stage a protest outside the DuSable Museum, which received numerous complaints of the Rauner’s involvement in the Juneteenth celebration.
“We feel it is of bad taste and a serious offense that on Juneteenth Independence Day or Freedom Day, which is a holiday that commemorates the announcement of slavery, more generally, the emancipation of African-American slaves throughout the Confederate South that the governor would accept an offer to appear- more specifically, it is bad timing,” the letter reads.
Saint Sabina’s Father Michael Pfleger, took to social media Friday to condemn Rauner’s event at the museum.
Rauner’s press secretary, Catherine Kelly, sent this statement from the governor.
“It is unfortunate that special interests politicized what was supposed to be a celebratory event. Out of an abundance of caution and respect for the safety of visitors and the museum, we have regretfully cancelled the planned Juneteenth event at the DuSable Museum.”
Hiding from the raucous is sponsor of the event, the Chicago Minority Development Supplier Council (CMDSC), a non-profit organization that held a massive business diversity Conference at the Hyatt Regency Chicago two months ago for Black, Hispanic Asian-owned businesses. Best-Selling Author and Award-Winning Actor Hill Harper was the keynote speaker.
The organization is one is one of 24 affiliates of the National Minority Supplier Development Council, which was founded in 1972 to help address economic problems facing minority businesses.
The CMDSC staff and board of directors are loaded with many influential and high-ranking Black executives, according to its website. Headed by President/CEO Sheila Morgan, the group advocates business opportunities for minority-owned firms seeking contracts with the city. The organization also helps these business certified and meet stringent requirements in order to secure lucrative deals that boost profits and the profile of companies trying to compete in a tough market.
On the invitation to the Juneteenth event, the CMDSC is listed as a sponsor. At the top it says “Governor Bruce Rauner cordially invites you to a Juneteenth Celebration.”
An official at the DuSable Museum said told the media that it was not affiliated with the event, claiming the governor merely rented the space for an hour Monday afternoon to host a Juneteenth celebration.
With Rauner’s cuts closing down mental clinics and social programs across Black communities in Chicago, why did a minority group choose the governor to host Black-oriented event at a prominent Black facility?
“That’s an outstanding question” said Greer. “I reached out to them, but was left on hold. I think this was a huge level of oversight. I can’t make any excuses for them, but why would they do that (sponsor an event with Rauner as host)?”
The Crusader emailed the CMDSC staff, but did not get a response by press time Tuesday, June 21. An email to the governor’s aide, Terrance Hill was also not returned.