The Symbolism Behind the Juneteenth Flag
Juneteenth, short for "June nineteenth," is officially a federal holiday. On Sunday, June 19, 2022 (with a public holiday of Monday, June 20, 2022), it will be celebrated nationally for the first time.
Unlike other federal holidays, which fly only the American flag, the Juneteenth flag is one that was created for this special day. Here's everything to know about this special piece of history.
Juneteenth is known by many names, among them Juneteenth National Independence Day, Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Black Independence Day and Juneteenth Independence Day. No matter its name, this day commemorates the end of slavery in the United States.
In 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation declared freedom for slaves in the Confederate states. However, slavery didn't end everywhere in the U.S. overnight. The order was difficult to enforce in Texas — some historians believe this was due to a lack of Union troops and poor communication. However, others believe Texas slaveowners withheld this information on purpose.
It would take two years before the news reached the enslaved people of Texas. On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, to deliver the news that slavery had indeed been abolished. The first celebration to commemorate this day took place on June 19, 1866. Juneteenth was made a federal holiday on June 17, 2021.
The Flag's Creator
The first version of the flag was created in 1997 by activist Ben Haith, founder of the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation (NJCF), in collaboration with three others — Verlene Hines, Azim and Eliot Des.
Its color and each of its elements have distinct meanings. "This country has so many aspects to it that are spiritual, and I believe this flag is of that nature. It [the idea for the design] just came through me," said Haith.
Just three years after its creation, artist Lisa Jeanne Graf modified the flag to the design it is today. The first Juneteenth flag was flown the same year in Boston's Roxbury Heritage State Park. In 2007, the date June 19, 1865, was added to the flag.
The Flag's Colors
The colors of the Juneteenth flag are red, white and blue, like the U.S. flag, as African American history is one with America’s history.
With these colors, Haith and the flag's designers wanted to show that all U.S. citizens have access to "liberty and justice for all."
The Star's Dual Meaning
There are two meanings to the white star in the Juneteenth flag's center. Firstly, the star in the flag represents Texas — the "Lone Star" state — as it was in Galveston that the last remaining enslaved people were informed of their freedom.
The star also represents African American freedom in every state.
The Burst or "Nova"
The burst around the star is representative of a nova, which is an astronomical event that brings about the sudden appearance of a new, bright star.
This bursting star on the Juneteenth flag is a symbol of new beginnings for Black people in Galveston and all over the country.
The Date on the Flag
On June 19, 1865, Union Major-General Gordon Granger read General Order No. 3 to the people of Galveston, announcing freedom for African Americans through the Emancipation Proclamation. It said:
"The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere."
"June 19, 1865" was added to the flag in 2007 to commemorate the day enslaved Galveston residents learned they were free.
Hope in the Arc
The arc that extends across the flag horizontally is symbol of hope.
It represents a new horizon of opportunities and promises for all Black Americans.