You've probably seen it on your calendar or pop up as a reminder on your computer but never knew exactly what it meant. Coming up on June 19 is Juneteenth, an American holiday celebrated by Black Americans commemorating the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation which was read aloud by Union general Gordon Granger in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865, two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln had formally freed the enslaved people. Because of how remote the state of Texas was and the low level of Union soldier troops, the People of Texas didn't hear about the end of slavery until news of Robert E. Lee's surrender on April 9, 1865, had reached the state almost a month later. Juneteenth food is full of symbolism.
Today Juneteenth is mainly observed in local celebrations with red food and red drinks since it is still not a nationally observed holiday. It wasn't until 1970 that Texas declared it a "holiday of significance [...] particularly to the blacks of Texas". Activists have been fighting to declare Juneteenth a national holiday since 1996, and it was only back in 2018 that Apple added Juneteenth to their holiday calendars. It's also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day among American black people.
How Black Americans Celebrate Juneteenth
Even though slavery was abolished, segregation laws and Jim Crow laws in the United States made it difficult for African Americans to celebrate in public spaces like parks. Black communities had to pool together finances ($800) to purchase 10 acres of land, one of which was Houston's Emancipation Park, the oldest park in Texas, and during portions of the Jim Crow laws, the only public park available to African Americans.
Today Black communities organize local Juneteenth celebrations which include the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, singing traditional songs, participating in cookouts, picnics, street fares, and rodeos. Soul food such as fried chicken, sweet potatoes, and black-eyed peas, are usually served as well as food in one particular color.
Juneteenth and Its Food
It's not a celebration without food! According to Texas Monthly, some of the first Juneteenth celebrations featured barbecue along with watermelon, which is in season in June. Texas Monthly shared:
The Galveston Daily News reported on celebrations across the state in 1883 including one in San Antonio where "twenty-three wagons loaded with watermelons...were destroyed with marvelous rapidity." By 1933, the menu had been cemented per the Dallas Morning News. "Watermelon, barbecue and red lemonade will be consumed in quantity."
Traditional Juneteenth foods and drinks are red. Strawberry soda, red velvet cake, and Big Red soda are all enjoyed as many people wear red. According to culinary historian and food writer Michael Twitty, the use of red dates back "to the enslaved Yoruba and Kongo brought to Texas in the 19th century."
Twitty goes on to write, "enslavement narratives from Texas recall an African ancestor being lured using red flannel cloth, and many of the charms and power objects used to manipulate invisible forces required a red handkerchief." In West Africa, the color red is a symbol of strength, spirituality, and life and death.
This refreshing salad combines sweet watermelon with salty feta cheese and crisp cucumbers.
Made with three ingredients, this strawberry lemonade is quenching!
Which recipes are you going to make?
Originally published on June 16, 2020