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Juneteenth: Two Different Flags, Two Different Meanings

Updated: Jun 27


Juneteenth is an American holiday which commemorates the day federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas to take control of the state and ensure that all enslaved people be freed.


“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the

Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor."


— General Orders, Number 3

Headquarters District of Texas, Galveston, June 19, 1865


Juneteenth, short for June Nineteenth, is also known as “Juneteenth Independence Day,” “Freedom Day” or “Emancipation Day.”


In 1996, the first federal legislation to recognize "Juneteenth Independence Day" was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. However, it wasn't until June 17, 2021 President Biden signed legislation that made Juneteenth a federal holiday.


During Juneteenth celebrations it is common to see two different flags: The Juneteenth Flag and the Pan-African Flag.


The Juneteenth Flag:

The Juneteenth Flag was originally designed by Ben Haith, the founder of the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation (NJCF), with contributions from Verlene Hines, Azim, and Eliot Design.


However, just three years later, artist Lisa Jeanne Graf posted on her website that she "fine tuned" the flag, which resulted in the flag we see today.


"The Juneteenth flags represent the history, and freedom for American enslaved people and their descendants. The design of the Juneteenth flag depicts a bursting "new star", on the horizon. The star represents A NEW FREEDOM, A NEW PEOPLE, A NEW STAR. The red, white, and blue colors communicate that the American Slaves, and their descendants were all Americans." -Lisa Jeanne Graf


According to NJOF, here's what the individual symbols depicted in the flag represent:

  • The Arc: A new horizon, meaning fresh opportunities and promising futures for Black Americans

  • The Star: A nod to the Lone Star State, but it also stands for the freedom of every Black American in all 50 states

  • The Burst: The outline surrounding the star is meant to reflect a nova (or new star) which represents a new beginning for all



The Pan-African Flag:

The Pan-African flag was created in 1920, by a group known as the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA). The group, led by Jamaican political activist, journalist, and speaker Marcus Garvey, created the flag in direct response to anti-Black folk songs. The organization and it's members created the Pan-African flag to act as a unifying symbol for Black people; Flags symbolize the union of governance, people, and territory, this flag was created to unify Black people in America and around the world.


  • Red: the blood that unites all people of Black African ancestry, and shed for liberation

  • Black: for the people whose existence as a nation, though not a nation-state, is affirmed by the existence of the flag

  • Green: the abundant and vibrant natural wealth of Africa, the Motherland.


Although both flags act as symbols of pride and freedom for Black people, the Juneteenth flag was intentionally created to honor this holiday, whereas the Pan-African flag can be used in any number of ways in representation of all Black people dispersed across the globe.


References:

https://www.nytimes.com/article/juneteenth-day-celebration.html

https://www.gpb.org/news/2019/01/23/red-black-and-green-the-symbolism-of-the-pan-african-flag

https://www.bestcolleges.com/blog/pan-african-flag-meaning/

https://www.oprahdaily.com/life/a36233221/juneteenth-flag-meaning/

https://www.csusm.edu/bsc/pan-afflag.html

http://www.ljgraf.com/flag_designs.html



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