Juneteenth has been celebrated since the late 1800s, but the holiday has gotten more recognition in recent years, especially during the summer of 2020 when demonstrators across America fought to liberate black people, whether through calls to abolish the police or through legislative action against systemic racism.
Also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day, and Emancipation Day, Juneteenth celebrates the emancipation of those who had been enslaved in the United States.
How did Juneteenth originate?
Juneteenth celebrations originated in Galveston, Texas (the first state to recognize the day as an official holiday). On June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger issued an order declaring, "The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free…" This was 2.5 years after President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, in which he said "all persons held as slaves" within the rebellious states "are, and henceforward shall be free." Why the delay? Despite Lincoln's orders, Texas slaveowners failed to tell their slaves that they were free. Their freedom was enforced when Union soldiers entered Galveston on June 19, 1865, and General Order Number 3 was read to the slaves: "The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer."
How do you celebrate Juneteenth?
To commemorate Juneteenth, black communities celebrate by having parades, going to festivals, hosting barbecues, and coming together in fellowship and prayer. Growing up, Juneteenth was the day we were able to ate all the foods considered "luxuries"—things that enslaved people weren't served or given to make meals out of. My favorite Juneteenth delicacy was always strawberry soda.
While traditional soul food (think collard greens, grilled meats) are eaten on Juneteenth, red foods also have a prominent role on the menu. Red velvet cakes (or cupcakes), hot links, watermelon, and some type of red punch always make an appearance. I'll always remember my second grade teacher Ms. Purnell making Juneteenth punch for our end-of-year celebration. (Head here to watch me make my favorite sorbet fruit punch recipe.) Why red you may ask? Enslaved people who were freed celebrated by drinking red soda—yes, a luxury but also the color symbolizes and is the representation of the bloodshed and resilience of the enslaved
Recipes to make on Juneteenth
If you're celebrating Juneteenth, here are a few of my favorite recipes to commemorate the day:
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