Wisconsin Legislative Black Caucus celebrating raising of the Juneteenth Flag above the state Capitol for the first time in history.

The Juneteenth Flag, celebrating the day that commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S., was hoisted high above the Wisconsin Capitol for the first time in state history, as the founder of Madison’s Juneteenth Day celebration burst with joy.

Gov. Tony Evers ordered the Juneteenth Day flag to fly over the Capitol’s east wing on June 19, replacing the rainbow gay pride flag for one day.  Juneteenth flags were also flying over some government buildings in Milwaukee. 

“It’s an unbelievable sight to witness,” said Annie Weatherby-Flowers, who used her passion and sweat equity to organize a Juneteenth celebration in Madison more than 30 years ago. “Knowing the Juneteenth Day flag was flying over city, county and now the state Capitol, is truly a historic moment.” 

The Juneteenth holiday was being observed across Wisconsin with marches, calls for action, and virtual discussions moved online due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

“As a state that sees some of the most disparate outcomes for Black Wisconsinites, it is as important as ever that we recognize and reflect on our history, celebrate Black resiliency, and move forward in solidarity and strength toward a more racially equitable and just society,” Evers said in a statement. 

“This year, Juneteenth has particular significance as we find ourselves in the midst of a movement for racial justice and an end to systemic racism,” said Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes. “We have won significant freedoms since 1619, but our work will not be over until all Black lives matter by way of equity and the opportunity to thrive.” 

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when news finally reached African Americans in Texas that President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves living in Confederate states two years earlier. When Union soldiers arrived in Galveston to bring the news that slavery had been abolished, former slaves celebrated. 

The flag was created in 1997 by Ben Haith, the founder of the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation. It was later revised in 2000 and again in 2007. The red, white and blue design with a star in the middle is meant to represent the history and freedom of American slaves and to declare that they, along with their descendants, are all Americans, according to the foundation’s website. 

Juneteenth is formally recognized and celebrated in 47 states and the District of Columbia, with Wisconsin joining as the 32nd state to recognize this day in 2009. Juneteenth, which is also called Emancipation Day and Freedom Day, is supported by a movement nationally to bring more recognition to the day, including making it a holiday in more states and nationally. 

The main person responsible for Madison’s Juneteenth, Annie Weatherby-Flowers, standing near Rep. Sheila Stubbs the day of the historic raising of the Juneteenth Flag.

Rep. Shelia Stubbs, the first Black state legislator ever elected from Dane County, and the Wisconsin Legislative Black Caucus held a ceremony to honor the inaugural raising of the Juneteenth Flag. Rev. Dr. Marcus Allen, president of the African American Council of Churches and pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church began the program with a prayer.  His wife, Terra Cook Allen sang, Lift Ev’ry Voice & Sing, and members of the Black Caucus took turns reading the Emancipation Proclamation. 

Stubbs said Juneteenth serves as a time to recognize the sacrifices African Americans have made on the battlefields of the American Civil War, on the streets during the Civil Rights Movement, and even now in this nation-wide fight against police brutality. 

“This is a historic moment for the African American community,” said Stubbs. “It a true honor to witness the raising of the Juneteenth Flag at the state capitol, and to commemorate the liberation of slaves in this country. We were honored to take the lead in requesting that the flag be flown across the state of Wisconsin. … Today we not only celebrate African American history; we celebrate American History.  We recognize the importance of Juneteenth, and we commit to making systemic change so that African Americans in this state can realize the freedom and equality first promised by the Emancipation Proclamation.” 

Weatherby-Flowers is a Milwaukee native who grew up attending Juneteenth celebrations that united communities, even for just a day. When she moved to Madison and found that the day was not being observed, she stepped up and made it happen. 

As she witnessed the historic flag raising moment, Weatherby-Flowers said her foremost thoughts were the words to Maya Angelou’s Still I Rise poem. 

  “I was overjoyed as I stood in representation of my ancestors,” Weatherby-Flowers said. “A descendant of the enslaved. …  Leaving behind nights of terror and fear. I rise. Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear. I rise. Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream and the hope of the slave. I rise. I rise. I rise.”