What's the Meaning of the Symbols and Colors on the Juneteenth Flag?

There’s more to the patriotic colors and stars than you may think.

First celebrated in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, Juneteenth (also known as Emancipation Day, Freedom Day or Jubilee Day) celebrates the freedom of enslaved people following the U.S. Civil War—and two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

The holiday has been celebrated by African American communities throughout the country for the past 157 years. From rodeos and parades to community fairs and celebrating with red foods and beverages, Juneteenth celebrations come in many forms.

One of the most enduring emblems commemorating the day that tens of thousands of enslaved people in Galveston first learned that they were free is the Juneteenth flag. The colors and symbols emblazoned on the flag have deep meaning that transcend aesthetics.

Activist Ben Haith, the founder of the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation (NJCF), created the Juneteenth flag in 1997 in collaboration with Verlene Hines, Azim and Eliot Des. Their work subsequently cemented the holiday in the minds of all Americans and solidified the flag as an undying symbol of liberty and freedom for African Americans.

What Do the Colors and Symbols of the Juneteenth Flag Represent?

juneteenth flag meaning
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The flag’s colors — red, white and blue — were deliberately chosen by Haith to demonstrate that even throughout enslavement, African Americans were always American. Some experts say the red on the flag also represents the blood shed on the journey to freedom. And the flag’s 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.

    It’s also common to see the red, black and green Pan-African flag at Juneteenth celebrations. According to the Pan-African Alliance, the three colors represent the blood, soil and prosperity of Africa and its people.

    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 became a federal holiday last year, 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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