On June 19, 1865 — nearly nine decades after our Nation’s founding, and more than 2 years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation — enslaved Americans in Galveston, Texas, finally received word that they were free from bondage.
June 19th was declared a federal holiday, the newest federal holiday since 1983, by President Joseph R. Biden Jr. on June 18, 2021. Juneteenth National Independence Day is
to acknowledge and celebrate the end of the Civil War and the emancipation of Black Americans, and commit together to eradicate systemic racism that still undermines our founding ideals and collective prosperity.
Juneteenth has been observed by various communities since 1866 as Jubilee Day, Black Independence Day, and Emancipation Day. Celebrations include picnics, rodeos, street fairs, cookouts, family reunions, park parties, historical reenactments and blues festivals.
In 1997, activist Ben Haith, founder of the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation (NJCF), created the Juneteenth flag, which was further refined by illustrator Lisa Jeanne Graf. In 2000, the flag was first hoisted at the Roxbury Heritage State Park in Boston by Haith. The star at the center represents Texas being the last state where its local African American slaves were freed, and the extension of freedom for all African Americans throughout the whole nation. The burst around the star represents a nova and the curve represents a horizon, standing for a new era for African Americans. The red, white, and blue colors represent the American flag, which shows that African Americans and their enslaved ancestors are Americans, and the national belief in liberty and justice for all citizens.
As President Biden remarked when he signed Senate Bill 475:
It’s a reminder that our work to root out hate never ends — because hate only hides, it never fully goes away. It hides. And when you breathe oxygen under that rock, it comes out.
And that’s why we must understand that Juneteenth represents not only the commemoration of the end of slavery in America more than 150 years ago, but the ongoing work to have to bring true equity and racial justice into American society, which we can do.
In short, this day doesn’t just celebrate the past; it calls for action today.