The Origins of Juneteenth and its New Flag

Before June 19 became a national holiday on June 17, 2021, nearly all the states recognized it in some way. Texas, where Juneteenth was founded more than a century ago, led the way in 1979, promoting it from a symbolic holiday to an official one in the state Congress. Beginning in 1980, it was celebrated as a paid state holiday for the first time in the Lone Star State. The Juneteenth flag is gaining increasing significance, not just for Black Americans but for all Americans. This month the nation celebrates Juneteenth, a Federal Holiday, on Monday, June 20th .

Juneteenth, or the “19th of June” recognizes June 19, 1865, when over 250,000 remaining enslaved people were freed in Texas, over two months after the end of the Civil War and almost two years after the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued.

The star, the starburst and the horizon are the three main symbols of the flag developed for this day (also called Jubilee Day, Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, and Black Independence Day). The brainchild of activist Ben Haith, founder of the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation (NJCF), it was developed in 1997 with the help of collaborators, and Boston-based illustrator Lisa Jeanne Graf and represents the history and freedom of the American slaves and their descendants.

The star at the center of the Juneteenth flag symbolizes the state of Texas, which played a pivotal role in the holiday’s origin story. The star stands not for the freedom of people in one state but for the freedom of Black Americans in every state. The burst around the star represents a nova, which, in astronomical terms, is a brand-new star. It was intended to symbolize a new beginning for Black Americans in the country they helped build. The curve, or horizon, is symbolic of the hope that drove Black Americans then and continues to drive them to this day, even as institutional racism persists.

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