Keynote Remarks

Illinois Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton

Click on the arrow below to listen to the remarks. Audio courtesy of WCBU-FM 89.9. A transcript is below the photo. All photos courtesy of the City of Peoria.

Good morning, everyone. And thank you, Mayor, for that introduction. And I will say in front of everyone, I will gladly be adopted as a Peorian. I am Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton, she/her pronouns, and I want to thank you, Mayor Ali, for that warm introduction. And I also want to thank Colleen, thank you so much for your steadfast leadership at the Peoria Historical Society.

As the Lieutenant Governor and as chair of the Military Economic Development Committee, it is indeed an honor to join you in Peoria to honor our past, to imagine our future, and pause in this present moment to reflect on what brings us here today and realize the significance of this occasion.

Again, I want to just say to the City of Peoria’s highly qualified mayor, Rita Ali, and the entire city council, thank you for making today possible. And I do want to say we have some incredible partners in the Illinois General Assembly, including Leader Dave Koehler, who I think I saw in the audience. Thank you for serving and representing your district so well, and our state so well.

The Freedom and Remembrance Memorial is not only about honoring our ancestors as they have been laid to rest. It’s also about honoring the lives they lived, the families they loved, and the doors they opened for all of us to live as our freest and truest selves. It’s not lost on me that we gathered just days away from celebrating Juneteenth, or as some refer to it as Freedom Day. And while today is about all of the diverse Peorians that are buried, that were buried in Moffatt Cemetery, I do want to talk just a little bit if that’s okay about Juneteenth because history is important.

See, there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t recollect that I am the descendent of enslaved people, only four generations removed. There’s not a day that goes by in my work to advance justice, equity and opportunity for all Illinoisians that I don’t reflect on the fact that those in my bloodline worked in the fields of Mississippi from sun up to sundown, brutalized, being separated from their children, forbidden from being able to learn how to read or write, and who spent all day, every day, working to build wealth for those who owned them as personal property. And I think about how they must have prayed for our freedom. There may have been days that they never imagined it for themselves, but they prayed for their children and their grandchildren and their great-grandchildren. And so many of us standing here today that we would one day be free, that we would no longer be viewed as property but as human beings who deserved safety and equality and prosperity and yes, freedom. Ancestors, like those buried in the old Moffatt Cemetery, who spent their lives working for, fighting for, and praying for a better future for all of us, deserve to be laid to rest with dignity and respect and memorialized in a way that demonstrates that they are not just the forgotten citizens of Peoria. They were mothers and fathers and grandmothers and grandfathers. They were somebody’s sons and daughters, and they were veterans. And they were fully human. And their humanity is what we are honoring today.

Whether it was Nance Legins-Costley, a formerly enslaved woman and abolitionist, that lawyer Abraham Lincoln helped free in 1841, we will remember. Or the patriots who bravely served our country, like the Union soldiers who fought for our freedom in the Civil War, including those who delivered the news of emancipation in Galveston, Texas for that first Juneteenth. And other veterans who fought for all of us to be free, we will remember. Or the almost 2600, everyday Peorians, some with unmarked graves whose names we may never know, well, my faith tells me that God knows who they are and knows them by name. And today, we will remember.

To everyone who organized and funded, volunteered and supported the creation of the Freedom and Remembrance Memorial. Thank you. Today is not just about preserving history. Today is an act of justice. In some respects, it is a way of reclaiming the land, placing markers in the ground to say that these souls will no longer be ignored or overlooked or diminished. And as a community, you have come together here in Peoria to make it abundantly clear. We will tell their stories. We will commemorate this history. And they are forgotten no more. Thank you again for having me.