A Late Juneteenth
My Process of Learning
Growing up, I never learned about Juneteenth, a holiday marking the end of slavery when the last enslaved people in America walked free. The holiday takes its name from the date, June 19, 1865 -- two and a half years after the Civil War ended -- when Union officers brought news of the fall of the Confederacy to Galveston, Texas. This holiday is the oldest nationally celebrated day commemorating the end of slavery and is celebrated every June 19th.
"Every year we must remind successive generations that this event triggered a series of events that one by one defines the challenges and responsibilities of successive generations. That’s why we need this holiday." – Al Edwards, Texas Democratic Representative
Photograph of Juneteenth celebrations in Richmond, Virginia, ca. 1905 — Source
In school we learned about the end of slavery of course, but never the injustice of how slow the news spread. As a biracial woman, I am still registering the hurt caused by this omission. Because it wasn't even until the past few years when I learned or thought about the annual festivities. This year, politicians are moving to declare Juneteenth a national holiday and this date has taken on a special meaning with the #BlackLivesMatter protests. This is a social justice celebration.
I am excited to continue learning about Juneteenth, the celebrations and connections with food and social justice as I write this.
As a community-driven celebration, Juneteenth is rich in symbolism and tradition. Food during Juneteenth has special significance with an emphasis on the color red. Strawberry soda, barbecue sauce, sweet potatoes, baked beans, watermelon, and red velvet cake. Red foods symbolize "ingenuity and resilience in bondage".
In an interview, renowned food writer, independent scholar, and culinary historian, Michael W. Twitty discusses red is significant because "it symbolizes perseverance, because for our ancestors in West and Central Africa, red, was one of the most important colors: it's the color of creativity, the color of fire, the color of war, the color of resistance." To participate in the cooking and eating of these dishes is to continue this legacy and remember the past.
Food was abundant because everyone prepared a special dish. Meats such as lamb, pork and beef which were not available everyday were brought on this special occasion. A true Juneteenth celebrations left visitors well satisfied and with enough conversation to last until the next. (Juneteenth.com)
On the Official Juneteenth website, the red and barbecue fed the senses in a way that "Juneteenth participants could share in the spirit and aromas that their ancestors - the newly emancipated African Americans, would have experienced during their ceremonies." On Juneteenth, food is a way to remember the past and to recognize the present.
I missed this year's Juneteenth. And all the ones prior. I knew about it before and forgot during. 'I was moving,' was my excuse this year. But as I try and live a more ethical and socially just life, I have to remind myself to stop and think about the ways to also celebrate the victories, even when we have so far to go, to recognize our past, to pause and share a sensory experience with our ancestors.
On the one hand, my family celebrates Passover to remember the Jews' deliverance from slavery. We make the traditional foods, say (most of) the blessings, and take a moment to tell the story. This part of my heritage and food inheritance are acknowledged every year so we do not forget. Yet, we do not celebrate Juneteenth. Despite half of our family's intimate history. This is not to assign blame or speak to disappointment. Rather to recognize what the Juneteenth website discusses -- that Juneteenth celebrations went through decades of decline and is still is in the midst of a resurgence.
Juneteenth today, celebrates African American freedom and achievement, while encouraging continuous self-development and respect for all cultures. As it takes on a more national, symbolic and even global perspective, the events of 1865 in Texas are not forgotten, for all of the roots tie back to this fertile soil from which a national day of pride is growing. (Juneteenth.com)
Right now, I have no barbecue sauce in my house, no watermelon, or sweet potatoes. Not even a red velvet cake (I'll work on remedying this soon enough). But today, in writing this, I will drink a red drink and remember. Even though it's not Juneteenth, the food and experience are still important. And perhaps especially because it is not Juneteenth: Next year I will remember.
While researching for this blog, I found so many excellent resources to learn more about: the origins of Juneteenth, historic photos of celebrations, Juneteenth and red food and drink, how Juneteenth was ignored by companies and governments, how to celebrate, and best foods to celebrate. And check out this amazing reading list for all readers to learn more about Juneteenth.
Share any resources you have in the comment section!