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For over 150 years African Americans across the US have celebrated freedom from slavery each year on June 19. The Texas holiday commemorates the day in 1865 when tens of thousands of enslaved African Americans learned that they had been emancipated.

In light of the continued over-policing of black communities, structural racism, and racist policies such as red-lining and the “war on drugs,” advocates argue that slavery never truly ended.  Nevertheless, Juneteenth is as much a celebration of emancipation as it is an opportunity for black joy and hope, and so is the flag.

The Juneteenth flag was devised by activist Ben Haith in 1997. We’ve broken down the meaning behind the symbols and colors within the flag, below.

The Star

The star at the center of the flag has a dual meaning. Firstly, it represents Texas, “the Lone Star State,” where the last remaining enslaved people learned that they were free. The Emancipation Proclamation had been issued two years earlier.

The star also acts as a metaphor for all African Americans, in each of the 50 states.

The Date

The “June 19, 1865” date was added in 2006 to commemorate the exact day enslaved people in Galveston learned about the Emancipation Proclamation.

The “Nova”

A cloud burst or nova encircles the star. This represents a new beginning for the African Americans of Galveston and throughout the United States.

The Arc

The arc that divides the flag laterally is another symbol of hope. The curve that extends across the width of the flag represents a new horizon and reveals the opportunities and promise that lay ahead for black Americans.

The colors

The red, white, and blue color scheme is the same as the American flag. This serves as a reminder that enslaved people and their descendants were and are Americans.

 

Weekend Staff Writer

Isabelle is an Australian writer based in Berlin.