The Design and History of the Juneteenth Flag

On June 19th, 1865, General Gordon Granger of the Union Army dispatched this order in Galveston, Texas: “The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.” This announcement came more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation—but until the surrender of General Robert E. Lee two months before, there hadn’t been Union troops in Texas to enforce it.

This month, Juneteenth—a portmanteau of “June” and “nineteenth”—celebrations will once again commemorate the end of slavery in the U.S., and some will raise the official banner: a red, white, and blue emblem that “gives all Americans the opportunity to recognize American freedom and African-American history,” according to the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation. The flag was first hoisted in 2000 at the Roxbury Heritage State Park in Boston, Massachusetts, by the foundation’s founder Ben Haith, who also created its design. 

A group of Texans gather on June 19th, 1900, to celebrate Juneteenth. 

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson calls for Juneteenth to be a National Holiday in 2003. 

Haith, who’s known as Boston Ben, drafted the flag’s inchoate elements in 1997 alongside a host of contributors. To reflect the celebration’s slogan—”a new freedom, a new people, a new star”—the banner included a red arc, blue background, and “a star of Texas bursting with new freedom throughout the land, over a new horizon,” says the foundation. Then, in 2000, in preparation of that inaugural flag-raising in Boston, illustrator Lisa Jeanne Graf lent her expert eye to arrive at the flag’s current design. “As an illustrator, I fine-tuned their vision,” she reflects. Beginning in 2007, the flag would see Graf’s iteration occasionally emblazoned with the historic date “June 19th, 1865.” 

The flag by Ben Haith, later refined by Lisa Jeanne Graf, features “a star of Texas bursting with new freedom throughout the land, over a new horizon,” says the celebration’s foundation. Its red, white, and blue colors echo the American flag.

A poster for Seattle’s first Juneteenth celebration in 1980 cues up a days-long celebration.

States in pink recognized Juneteenth prior to year 2000, while the states in yellow acknowledged the holiday between 2000 and 2009. States in blue began in 2010 or later. 

Though efforts to make Juneteenth a federal holiday are ongoing, it is currently recognized by 45 states and the District of Columbia. Some noticed the date was added to Apple’s Calendar in 2018, while Google Calendar just added it, according to The Verge. A growing number of companies, like Nike, Twitter, and Square, are adding the date to their PTO calendars to honor Black heritage, and to make space for continued education, celebration, and connection.

Related Reading:

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Black-Owned Design Businesses You Can Support Right Now

Image of Sheila Jackson courtesy of Johntex 

Image of Texans courtesy of Grace Murray 

Infographic courtesy of Eddie891 

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