Happy Juneteenth! We’re flying the Juneteenth flag for the second time and I’m happy to report that this year Elmira College has designated the day as an official college holiday.
“Juneteenth,” also known as “America’s second independence day,” is a recognized holiday in all 50 states since South Dakota recognized it this February. It’s an official state holiday in 24 states and the District of Columbia. It commemorates the end of slavery in the US after the Civil War.
The name “Juneteenth” is a contraction of “June nineteenth” or a “portmanteau” if you want to be all fancy about it. It’s been a national holiday since President Biden signed the “Juneteenth National Independence Day Act” into law on 17 June 2021. That was long overdue; we should be celebrating the moments when we actually got closer to the ideals the US is supposed to represent.
President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation and it took effect on 1 January 1863. It proclaims that “all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” This changed the character of the war, transforming it from a conflict that could be perceived as an internecine squabble to a quest to expand basic human rights, Of course, it wasn’t that simple. But it meant that the tide of freedom advanced as the Union gained territory.
The Army of the Trans-Mississippi was the last major Confederate force to surrender. On 19 June 1895, when General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas to take command of the Army forces there, one of his first actions was to issue General Order 3, which informed the citizens of Texas that slavery there was ended. It read in part:
“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 rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.”
Celebrations erupted as Granger’s men traveled forth announcing the order. A few months later, slavery finally ended throughout the US on 18 December 1865 when the 13th Amendment officially became part of the Constitution. One year after General Order 3, the first commemoration took place in Galveston as “Jubilee Day.” That became an annual tradition.
The Flag and its Symbolism
The Juneteenth flag is stunning! it was originally designed by Ben Haith in 1997 and refined by graphic designer Lisa Jeanne Graf. The symbolism of the flag is profound.
The colors are an intentional callback to the American flag emphasizing that the people freed that day and their descendants were, are, and remain Americans.
The central five-pointed star not only represents the freedom of African-Americans in all 50 states but also symbolizes Texas, the Lone Star State, where the celebration originated.
The burst that surrounds the star is a nova, a new star that represents a new freedom, a new people, and a new beginning for African Americans.
Finally, the arc depicts the horizon; a new horizon representing the promise and opportunities that lie ahead.
- The Emancipation Proclamation accessed 18 June 2021
- Army of the Trans-Mississippi accessed 19 June 2021
- Design: Flags accessed 19 June 2021
- General Order No. 3 accessed 18 June 2021
- Have a Happy and Proud Juneteenth! accessed 18 June 2021
- The history of Juneteenth, the nation’s newest federal holiday accessed 19 June 2022
- How a Juneteenth National Holiday Went From Pipe Dream to Reality accessed 19 June 2021
- Juneteenth accessed 18 June 2021
- The Juneteenth flag is full of symbols. Here’s what they mean accessed 19 June 2021