Resilience Through Food: The Celebration of Juneteenth
June 19, 1865, the date enslaved Africans received their freedom from slavery in Texas. We celebrate that freedom, our true Independence Day, with the anniversary of Juneteenth.
And in our commemoration of that freedom there also lies a connection to food in the celebration of Juneteenth which is essential to the day as we celebrate Black joy.
Historically red foods are customary for Juneteenth, the crimson a symbol of ingenuity and resilience while in bondage. Because many of the more common foods of the day were white, green, or brown, there was an excitement that came with the rarity of eating red colored treats. With many Africans coming through Galveston, the color red is highly associated with the tribes that would have come through the later years of the slave trade such as the Yoruba of Nigeria, Benin, and Togo; and the Kongo of Angola. Enslaved people from these countries placed great philosophical and spiritual value in the color red. For many symbolizing sacrifice, transition, and power.
Africans while enslaved and once freed, brought their homeland traditions with them, which manifested itself through food and generations of Juneteenth celebrations… think red beverages like hibiscus tea (which came to America during the slave trade), red velvet cake (one of my favorites) and red beans and rice (another favorite) and Strawberry Slab Pie (see the recipe below) which would not be out of place either. These meals once considered waste by others, for the enslaved were considered “prosperity meals” and were made up of delicious grilled meats (barbecue) and side dishes such as black-eyed peas, collard greens and sweet potatoes (both were foods that were easy crops for the enslaved to harvest, store over the winter, and prepare themselves at mealtimes) all representing wealth and good fortune that would be served on Juneteenth.
From West Africa to slavery to freedom. From the red clay of Benin to the red clay of Georgia, Juneteenth is a story of the resilience of a people who were enslaved and through their courage also transformed the landscape and feel of American cuisine.
Through food, there is certainly more that connects us than separates us… so welcome to our communal table of joy. Blessings.
Here are ways to properly celebrate Juneteenth
List comes from an article via Purewow.com, with a few local adaptations to recommendations:
1. FIND AN EVENT IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD
Juneteenth is a day filled with rodeos, parades and street fairs. At these events, you can expect music, performances and food. While the pandemic has shifted the way we celebrate, many events are beginning to pop up again this year.
2. HOST YOUR OWN BACKYARD PARTY
No events in your areas? Try a small gathering at home instead. The holiday has always been around community and bringing people together. So fire up the grill and host your own barbecue shindig. Invite your family and friends over and enjoy a day of fun games, delicious food and great music.
3. COOK SOME TRADITIONAL FOODS
Nothing says celebration like food, food and more food. You can opt for regular ol’ barbecue favorites or try your hand at traditional dishes associated with the holiday (and luckily we have a few cookbooks to get you started). Main courses like pork, beef or lamb are typically the star of the show. Plus most meals are traditionally red to represent the resilience of the enslaved— which is why strawberry soda is a staple at every party. (Oh, and if cooking isn’t your thing, order from Black-owned businesses! This list includes some good options to begin.)
4. SUPPORT BLACK-OWNED BUSINESSES
Treat yourself and shop at Black-owned businesses on Juneteenth (and beyond). Whether you’re in the market for your own Telfar bag, a little self-care or even an upgrade to your home decor, show your support to these brands.
Here's a list of Black-owned businesses to support locally.
5. LISTEN TO BLACK ARTISTS
Music brings good vibes to any surrounding—plus June is also Black Music Month. Whatever genre you enjoy, put together a playlist highlighting your favorite artists. And if you’re ready to expand your song choices, Spotify has plenty of playlists like Black Lives Matter, Black Girl Magic and The Black Power Mixtape that highlights past and present artists.
6. READ BOOKS WRITTEN BY BLACK AUTHORS AND POETS
Whether you want to brush up on your history or dive into a new world, pick up a book written by a Black author. Books by Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison and Ralph Ellison are just a few iconic Black authors and poets. Also, check out your local Black-owned bookstore (or buy from them online) and browse through their collections. From fun picture books (like The ABCs of Black History) to YA novels (like The Hate U Give) there’s a book out there for whole family.
7. WATCH BLACK TV SHOWS AND MOVIES
There are TV shows, movies and documentaries that shed a light on the historical holiday. Watch shows like Black-ish and Atlanta (who have Juneteenth-centered episodes), films like Miss Juneteenth (a fictional look at the holiday’s pageants) and/or PBS’s docuseries Juneteenth Jamboree about the cultural significance of the day. But aside from learning more about Juneteenth, just put on one of your favorite classic (or recent) Black shows (like A Different World, That’s So Raven or Lovecraft Country) that showcase Black joy and culture in a positive light.
8. VISIT AN EXHIBIT OR MUSEUM DEDICATED TO BLACK CULTURE
Immerse yourself in art and culture at a museum. Explore The Studio Museum, The National Museum of African American History and Culture, The National Civil Rights Museum and the Northwest African American Museum, to name just a few. Find a museum or cultural center near you (or even browse through their sites for some virtual exhibits to check out right at home).
9. VOLUNTEER IN VOTER REGISTRATION
The first celebrations of Juneteenth were actually political rallies. One of the key things was helping freed enslaved people register to vote. Don’t just wait until the presidential elections to get involved—help folks register to vote, become a poll worker or get in touch with organizations like Rock The Vote, HeadCount and Fair Fight that need volunteers to spread awareness about voting rights and the importance of voting at a local, state and/or national level.
10. DONATE TO ORGANIZATIONS AND CHARITIES
Use this day to give back. There are organizations, mutual aids, bail funds and charities committed to fighting for the Black community every single day. Non-profits like Black Lives Matter, The Loveland Foundation and Justice for Breonna Taylor are a great start to giving whatever you can (especially Act Blue, The Bail Project and the Mutual Aid Hub that splits your donation into many community funds). There are also a bunch of petitions that need your attention, so Juneteenth is the perfect opportunity to make a difference.
11. CELEBRATE OUR NEWEST FEDERAL HOLIDAY
Opal Lee, a 94-year-old Texan, started a petition asking Congress to make Juneteenth a national holiday. While many big companies (i.e. Nike, Google) and 47 states (minus Hawaii, North Dakota and South Dakota) have acknowledged it as a day of observance, it only just became a federal holiday this week thanks to Congressional action.