• A Juneteenth flag was created in 1997 that included the colors red, white and blue.
  • Many Black people celebrate Juneteenth with a flag that is red, black and green.
  • Some social media users called out a Virginia city for merging July 4th and Juneteenth holidays and only using red, white and blue decorations.

Juneteenth represents independence for Black people, and since its recognition as a federal holiday in June 2021, the holiday – as well as its flag – has ignited conversations surrounding how people celebrate it.

One such conversation happened in Newport News, Virginia, this week when a handful of Facebook users called out the city for merging July 4th and Juneteenth decorations. A city employee hid social media comments on the post that pushed back against the move before the city restored them.

Juneteenth, set in place as a federal holiday just recently, has a lot of nuances that will need to be worked out in the coming years among both Black people and the larger community, said Tim Goler, an assistant professor of sociology and urban affairs at Norfolk State University and research director at the Center for African American Public Policy.

Here some things to keep in mind.

A red, green and black flag or red, white, and blue?

Juneteenth is celebrated on June 19 and commemorates the date in which Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger told community members in Galveston, Texas about President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

The proclamation was issued to free enslaved Black people in secessionist states on January 1, 1863, but news of the change was relayed nearly 2½ years later on June 19, 1865. Enslavers were tasked with telling enslaved people they were free, but some chose not to.

On June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, establishing June 19 as a federal holiday.

Juneteenth is known as Independence Day for Black people, Goler said.

Most Black people celebrate Juneteenth with a red, green and black flag, similar to the Pan-African Flag or the Black Liberation Flag, he said.

The original Juneteenth flag was designed in 1997 by Ben Haith, activist and founder of the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation. The flag has a blue and red stripe, a white star in the middle, an outline and an arc that extends across the width of the flag.

The Juneteenth flag commemorates the day that slavery ended in the U.S. -- June 19, 1865, several years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

Juneteenth is Sunday: What’s the significance behind the federal holiday?

Goler: Celebrating July 4 and Juneteenth together is ‘disrespectful’

Some cities have chosen to celebrate Juneteenth and July 4th together using red, white and blue colors, which doesn’t sit well with some Black people.

Goler, from Norfolk State University, said the issue is much more complicated than red, white, blue, black and green.

“You have this municipality issue versus community,” he said. “It’s true Ben Haith designed and patented this Juneteenth flag in 1997 … But if you just do a simple Google search and you Google Juneteenth, and you just click images and you scroll as far as you can, (most of the) colors are going to be red, black and green.”

Goler said that while he thanks Haith for creating the red, white and blue Juneteenth flag, even Haith himself said the purpose of choosing the colors was because he wanted it to serve as a reminder that Black Americans who descended from slavery are Americans.

But to some Black people, the American flag does not represent freedom, equality and liberty, Goler said.

Just look at the failures of Reconstruction, Jim Crow laws, voting rights, mass shootings, as well as “the continued inequities and discriminations against Black people that we deal with on a daily basis,” he told USA TODAY.

He also said the U.S. flag has been deliberately weaponized and redefined as a conservative symbol, “owned by some Americans and not others.”

“You can see why cities would (use the 1997 flag),” Goler said. “Some cities will use the red, white and blue colors because they have a constituency larger than just African Americans they’re trying to appease. A lot of times, (using red, black and green) might cause problems, but if you look at most community-based organizations, pretty much every single Black organization, they all use red, black and green.”

Goler also said celebrating July 4 and Juneteenth together is “unwise,” “disrespectful” and an “oxymoron” because July 4th commemorates the Declaration of Independence being signed in 1776.

“Black people were still slaves in 1776,” he said. “You’ve just got to do your research, look out in the world and see what we really use. The Pan-African Flag really is the most appropriate flag for Juneteenth. It’s the Black Liberation flag and it was designed to represent people of the African diaspora. That’s why we call ourselves African American. We acknowledge the diaspora in our identity. That flag also symbolizes Black freedom.”

Juneteenth and how it’s celebrated has become a political issue and localities that try to celebrate it with other holidays are trying to play both hands, he said.

“They have to figure out how they appease not just Black people, but the larger community,” he said. “(The 1997 flag) works to their benefit. They can make sure that they squelch any kind of opposition to celebrating or commemorating a Black holiday.”

He stressed that racism has not been abolished like some people believe.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Goler said. “Freedom is one thing; equality is quite another.”

Controversy in Virginia

The discussion about how to honor Juneteenth came to light this week in Virginia, which designated it as a state holiday in 2020.

Social media users called out the city of Newport News for merging July 4th and Juneteenth decorations.

In response, a city employee hid social media comments on the post that pushed back against the move, but the comments were restored Thursday morning.

City spokesperson Kim Lee said the comments on the post were “hidden by a staff member who should not have done that.”

“The comments have now been unhidden,” she told USA TODAY Thursday.

City officials posted about the decorations on Facebook Wednesday. The post included a photo of the city’s signature “LOVE NN,” decorations donned in red, white and blue flowers.

“The Love NN letters are now decked out in red, white, and blue for the summer honoring both Juneteenth and the Fourth of July,” the original post read.

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On Wednesday and Thursday, at least 14 social media users criticized Newport News officials for their post claiming that red, white and blue represent both July 4th and Juneteenth.

Some argued that the colors were not reflective of the Juneteenth holiday.

Education:Attacks against teaching the history of enslaved Africans and their descendants in America

The city commented on the post to address the backlash.

“We’ve seen a lot of concerns over the colors of these letters not representing Juneteenth accurately and would like to address the confusion,” the comment read. “The red, white, and blue color scheme comes from the Juneteenth flag, created by Ben Haith in 1997. You may have seen this flag around the city as we are honoring Juneteenth this week.”

One of the updates to the Facebook post read “These colors represent not only the American flag, but the official Juneteenth flag as well, created in 1997.”

Saleen Martin is a reporter on USA TODAY’s NOW team. She is from Norfolk, Virginia – the 757 – and loves all things horror, witches, Christmas, and food. Follow her on Twitter at @Saleen_Martin or email her at sdmartin@usatoday.com.

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