Democratic Gov. Tony Evers raised the Juneteenth flag over the Wisconsin State Capitol for the fifth year on Tuesday during a celebration that honored the end of slavery in the U.S. and called for action to defend democracy and people’s freedoms.

The governor joined members of the Wisconsin Legislative Black Caucus and local leaders for the celebration of the federal holiday that recognizes the end of slavery in the United States on June 19, 1865 — the day about two-and-half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 when Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas, to announce to more than 250,000 enslaved Black people that they were free. 

“Raising the flag is not an end all, be all solution for the challenges facing Black Wisconsinites in our state, but it does send a clear and decisive message that, here in Wisconsin, we celebrate Black history and culture and we celebrate the progress and resilience of our Black communities,” Evers said. 

The red and blue flag will fly over the Capitol through sunset on June 19. The colors of the flag are meant to represent that enslaved people and their descendants are Americans, while the bursting star in the center is meant to represent the end of slavery in the United States and a new beginning for African Americans.

The Juneteenth flag flying over the Wisconsin State Capitol. (Baylor Spears | Wisconsin Examiner)

Evers said at the celebration that the flag would continue to go up over the Capitol every Juneteenth for as long as he is in office. The flag is temporarily replacing the Progress Pride Flag, which was raised on May 31 to fly over the Capitol for the duration of Pride month, because the flag pole on the East corner of the Capitol can only accommodate three flags (the other two being the American and Wisconsin flags). The Progress Pride flag will be restored for the rest of the month after Juneteenth.

State Rep. Dora Drake, who chairs the Legislative Black Caucus, said it’s important to recognize the history that has “brought us to this moment. There were people in Texas that didn’t even know they were free.”

While the celebration served as a moment to recognize the history, speakers also used it as an opportunity to recognize the ongoing challenges that Black Americans and others face and to call for action. 

“It is not just acknowledging the freedom that we have but… the things we have to fight for — whether it is protecting our voting rights, our democracy and freedoms that people have yet to see,” Drake continued. 

Evers said he is grateful to the members of the Legislative Black Caucus and others for their work towards a state that is more just, equitable and free. He said in his speech that “disparities based on race persist in Wisconsin at alarming rates, and Black Wisconsinites continue to fight for many of the fundamental rights and freedoms others take for granted. These disparities are unacceptable.”

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers raised the Juneteenth flag over the Wisconsin State Capitol for the fifth year on Tuesday. (Baylor Spears | Wisconsin Examiner)

Ruben Anthony, the Urban League of Greater Madison president and CEO, said people “must understand that freedom ain’t free…Our predecessors paid a tremendous price so that we could be free.” 

Anthony called for people to pay attention to recent threats to freedom and stand up for democracy, especially in this presidential election year. He said recent  threats to progress in Wisconsin include the state’s fake electors in 2020, Republican state legislators’ decision to withhold money for UW System employees until there were some concessions on diversity, equity and inclusion, attempts to ban books in schools and past opposition to implementing fair maps.

On the federal level, he noted the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions eliminating federally protected abortion rights and affirmative action in college admissions.

“The biggest mistake we can make is to go to sleep at the switch and not pay attention to what is going on in states like Wisconsin and the rest of the nation,” Anthony said. “These are times when we must lead and we must vote.”

“We are in the fight of our lives, and don’t think we can’t be stripped of our freedoms,” Anthony said.