On June 19, 1865 — two months after Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House — Union Army Major General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, and told African Americans that the institution of slavery was dead. The 250,000 enslaved people in Texas had actually been freed two and a half years earlier, when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, but the news had not yet reached the Lone Star State.
Even then, enslaved people in Texas were not immediately freed. Some slave owners withheld the news until after harvest season had ended.
A year later freed people in Texas celebrated “Jubilee Day” on June 19th. The celebrations spread to other states as African Americans moved from Texas to other parts of the country.
Over time, “June 19th” became known as “Juneteenth.” It was first recognized as an official holiday in Texas in 1979, and is considered the longest-running African American holiday in the country.
In 1997, activist Ben Haith, also known as “Boston Ben” and the founder of the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation, created the Juneteenth flag with help from a slew of contributors. Illustrator Lisa Jeanne Graf helped refine the design, and in 2000, the flag was first hoisted at the Roxbury Heritage State Park in Boston by Haith. Seven years later, Juneteenth’s official date was added to the flag.
The flag will be raised in Boston again on Wednesday, June 16.
According to The National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, the Juneteenth flag has several important symbols, each representing an important aspect of the holiday.