The holiday Juneteenth (also known as Emancipation Day, Freedom Day or Jubilee Day) commemorates the day, June 19, 1866, that tens of thousands of enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, first learned that they were free.
These days, communities around the country celebrate Juneteenth by gathering for barbecues and enjoying red foods and beverages, a nod to the blood shed during the transatlantic slave trade. The Juneteenth flag has also come to be an important emblem of the celebration, and its colors and symbols are rife with meaning.
The Juneteenth flag was created in 1997 by activist Ben Haith, also known as Boston Ben, who also founded the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation (NJCF). Haith created the flag in collaboration with Verlene Hines, Azim and Eliot Des to solidify the holiday in the minds of all Americans and to serve as an undying symbol of liberty and freedom for African Americans.
What Do the Colors and Symbols of the Juneteenth Flag Represent?
The flag’s colors — red, white and blue — were deliberately chosen by Haith to demonstrate that even throughout enslavement, African Americans were always American. And its design is just as symbolic.
- The curved surface on the flag represents a new horizon and possibility for African Americans.
- The flag is emblazoned with a star, a callback to the U.S. flag demonstrating Black people are free in all 50 states and a nod to Texas, “The Lone Star State.”
- The star is surrounded by a burst, which represents new opportunities that lie ahead for Black people. African American history is American history, and the flag reminds us of just that.
- The date “June 19, 1865” was added in 2004 so no one would ever forget what the flag stood for.
While Juneteenth is a celebration of Black freedom, the holiday isn’t just for the Black community, explains historian and Dean of the College of Humanities and Fine Arts at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Barbara Krauthamer, Ph.D.
“Juneteenth gives people an opportunity to reflect on what it means to live in a country and in communities that say we value individual rights, we value freedom, we value freedom of the press and freedom of speech,” says Dr. Krauthamer. “And if we value that, we need to value that for everybody.”
Juneteenth, which just a couple of days ago became a federal holiday, provides an opportunity for all Americans to put Black culture at the center of their perspective for a day and to think about the richness and complexity of African American history: both the history of slavery and emancipation and the history of how Black people not only survived slavery but built and developed thriving cultures and communities that endured.
As we look back in reverence and celebrate the present, it’s just as important to look forward to imagine a more inclusive and equitable world for us all. For Dr. Krauthamer, this bright future steeped in freedom lies with our youth.
“Freedom looks like having the opportunity and ability to ask questions, to pursue knowledge and to advocate for change,” she says. “Being able to send my children to school and know they are able to ask questions and not be dismissed because of what they look like: that’s what freedom looks like now.”
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