On June 19, 1865—two and a half years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation—the last group of enslaved people in Texas learned of their freedom. The United States now celebrates the anniversary of the liberation of Black Americans every year on Juneteenth. When June 19 arrives, you may see a red-and-blue banner with a white star in the middle flying from flagpoles. Since it was created more than two decades ago, the Juneteenth flag has become an important symbol of the holiday.
According to Oprah Daily, National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation founder Ben Haith designed an early version of the flag in 1997. Three years later, artist Lisa Jeanne Graf revamped the design into the banner people recognize today. The final big change came in 2007, when the date “June 19, 1865” was added to the side of the flag.
Every element of the flag signifies an important part of the holiday. The top half is red and the bottom half is blue. Instead of a straight line dividing the two colors, they are separated by an arc. This shape is meant to resemble a horizon, symbolizing a hopeful future for Black Americans.
The smaller, white star in the middle is a nod to the Lone Star State—the state where the last enslaved people were emancipated—as well as the freedom of Black Americans in all 50 states. The starburst surrounding it is meant to be a nova, or new star, symbolizing new beginnings. The colors are also significant. By mirroring the red-white-and-blue colors found in the U.S. flag, the banner emphasizes that enslaved Black people were Americans and so are their descendants.
The first official Juneteenth flag-raising ceremony was held in the year 2000 in Boston’s Roxbury Heritage Park. Today, flag-raising is one of many ways the holiday is observed. Here are more facts about Juneteenth.
[h/t Oprah Daily]
A version of this story originally ran in 2021; it has been updated for 2023.