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Illinois led the movement to end slavery 150 years ago. We transformed our country’s landscape by championing the Emancipation Proclamation and being first to ratify the 13th Amendment.

In fact, we were in such a rush to ratify the amendment that we started the act of ratification before Lincoln even signed the Emancipation Proclamation, seeing the document’s ratification as a point of local pride for this area and our state. The Illinois legislature has been at the forefront of freedom and progress in the distant and recent past and we will continue in this spirit on into the future.

We are now home to the first African-American president, Barack Obama, but let’s take some time to remember who fought to allow him to run for the highest office in the land.

Illinois was home to Dred Scott, whose story has become famous for his fight for manhood.

Illinois was home to an impactful abolitionist, Elijah Lovejoy, as he published his newspaper attacking the evils of slavery and inequity; and men like Frank McWorter, a former slave, who bought his freedom and founded a town he named New Philadelphia, where he made enough money to buy the freedom of his wife, 13 children, and 6 grandchildren.

We have come a long way since 1865, since such times when men and women had to fight for their right to be free from bondage and the ability to live equally under the law, and we can continue to learn from their struggles, and apply them to the continued injustices of today’s world.

We need to continue to ensure that everyone has reasonable access to the voting booth. We need to make sure that constitutional, inalienable rights are upheld for everyone, everywhere.

In 2015, women still do not have the same rights as men in the workforce. Women of color, especially, face a persistent income disparity. It is time for Illinois to lead the charge in unleashing women from the shackles of the gender pay gap. And in this same spirit, we need to assure that those working for the minimum wage in this state are able to live off of their work, that their hard work is properly and justly rewarded.

Throughout the last 150 years, we supported the Emancipation Proclamation, inspired the formation of the NAACP and served as the home of abolitionists, pioneering politicians and our current president, Barack Obama.

In the immortal words of Dr. King, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle,” and it is in the spirit of these words that on the anniversary of the abolishment of slavery in America, that we continue to stand proudly for equality and justice for all.