Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day and Emancipation Day, is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. This annual holiday recognizes the events of June 19, 1865, when news of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation finally reached Galveston, Texas, freeing enslaved people in the furthest reaches of the South. The event took place two and a half years after Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863.
The Juneteenth flag was created in 1997 by activist Ben “Boston Ben” Haith, founder of the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation (NJCF). He collaborated with others including artist and illustrator Lisa Jeanne Graf. The Juneteenth flag is laden with symbolism that goes beyond liberty and freedom. From the deeply reflective history of the celebration that began in 1865 to the present and future significance of justice and equality for all Black people, this flag tells a powerful story.
To start, the flag depicts the traditional colors of the American flag—red, white, and blue. This sends the clear message that it too is very much an American flag. The colors also denote that enslaved people were indeed Americans and descendants of enslaved Americans. Beyond the colors, the three symbols depicted in the flag represent:
- The Arc where the colors red and blue converge and horizontally cross the flag represents a new horizon, fresh new opportunities and a promising future for Black Americans. It evokes a call to look toward the horizon where hope awaits.
- The Star has dual meanings. It represents Texas, the Lone Star State, where Juneteenth was first celebrated after the last remaining enslaved people were notified of their freedom—two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. But it also signifies the freedom of Black people in all 50 states of America.
- The Burst or Nova that encircles the star signifies a brand-new start, the birth of a new day and a new beginning not only for enslaved people in Galveston but for all Black Americans.
In 2007, June 19, 1865, was added to the flag.
On June 19, 2023 — the 156th anniversary of Juneteenth— join us in celebrating Black Freedom. You can purchase a flag and fly it on June 19 and on June 20—a U.S. federal holiday [signed into law by President Biden on Thursday, June 17, 2021].