Summer is quickly approaching. And for many, including myself, that means enjoying warmer weather, longer days, seasonal delicacies, and holiday celebrations. In my home, we're kicking off the summer holiday stretch with Juneteenth. The holiday has made headlines recently, with the governor of Virginia declaring June 19 a state holiday, but many still don't know what it is. Here's where to begin:
Juneteenth dates back to the end of the Civil War.
On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger and Union troops landed in Galveston, Texas to tell the enslaved African-Americans living there that the Civil War had ended and that they were now free. While President Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, it only applied to Confederate states, and it didn't apply to those enslaved in Union-held territories (they were not freed until the proclamation of the 13th Amendment). In Texas, a Confederate state where there was no large Union Army presence, slavery continued even after the Emancipation Proclamation — meaning many enslaved people in the state were not initially made aware that they were freed. In 1866, formerly enslaved Black Texans began celebrating annual "Jubilee Day" festivities. This commemoration is now known as Juneteenth (June + nineteenth) — also known as Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, or Jubilee Day.
Early celebrations involved helping newly-freed men with voting instructions. Today, traditions include rodeos, public readings, voter registration efforts, parades, community gatherings, street fairs, fishing, and more.
Juneteenth has its own flag.
The original Juneteenth flag was created in 1997 by the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation (NJCF) founder, Ben Haith. While the Juneteenth flag has the same colors as the American flag, it is a unique symbol of American freedom and Black history.
The original red, white, and blue design later underwent revisions in the 2000s, and the date June 19, 1865 was added to the flag. According to the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, the Juneteenth flag includes an exaggerated star of Texas “bursting with new freedom throughout the land.”
On Juneteenth, festive foods have deeper meaning.
Juneteenth celebrations wouldn’t be complete without food, a tradition that dates back to 1872, when Black leaders in Texas raised money to purchase a plot of land to hold Juneteenth celebrations. In particular, red foods and drinks make up the bulk of traditional Juneteenth meals. The red, like crimson blood, symbolizes strength and courage. Watermelon, strawberry shortcake, red beans and rice, red velvet cake and strawberry soda are often served alongside other celebration staples like collard greens, barbecue, and tea cakes.
St. Louis-based culinary researcher Robin Caldwell suggests that “one of the best ways to celebrate Juneteenth is by incorporating food.” Caldwell, creator of the Fresh and Fried Hard blog, recommends starting with simple recipes for red foods and drinks. “The first celebrants of Juneteenth drank hibiscus tea. Hibiscus punch is a fun, easy red drink to make for the entire family,” she says.
Juneteenth is much more than a celebration.
“Celebration is not without understanding how we got here,” says Caldwell. “For African-Americans, especially, Juneteenth is not solely a day of food and fun. It is also a day of education, reflection, cultural appreciation, and hope for true liberation.”
Now, 155 years after the ratification of the 13th Amendment, the recent murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Oluwatoyin Salau, Riah Milton, Dominique Fells, and sadly many more, have sparked worldwide protests against systemic anti-Black racism, critical dialogue about long-standing racial disparities, and acknowledgment of the overall historical mistreatment of Black Americans.
This year, given the widespread protests, far-reaching changes, and the coronavirus pandemic, Juneteenth celebrations will look different — and resonate in new ways. For example, Cleveland’s Karamu House, the country’s oldest African American playhouse, is hosting its first-ever live-streamed performance on June 19. Freedom on Juneteenth will feature musicians, vocalists, spoken word artists, and dancers responding to the recent murders of Black Americans through art. The one-hour production will stream at 7 p.m. EST on social media, includingFacebook and YouTube, and platforms including Vimeo, Roku and Fire TV, followed by a live, 30-minute panel discussion and interactive dialogue with community leaders on the recent developments of the Black Lives Matter movement. Tuning in offers everyone an opportunity for a moment of reflection.
Ways to Celebrate and Commemorate Juneteenth
Streaming the Karamu House performance is just one way to honor Juneteenth. Whether you plan to continue social distancing by staying at home or venturing out into the world, here are a few more family-friendly ideas for celebrating.
- Sign a petition. Juneteenth has been celebrated since the late 1800s, and yet, it's still not legally recognized as a national holiday. In 1980, Democratic state representative Al Edwards and the Texas Legislature made Juneteenth an official state holiday. As of today, 46 U.S. states (in addition to the District of Columbia) have recognized Juneteenth as a day of observance, state holiday, or ceremonial holiday. You can sign a petition to help encourage legislators to pass this national day of observance into law.
- Take the day off. A growing list of American companies, including Target, Best Buy, Nike, Quicken, TikTok, Twitter, Spotify and Hearst (Good Housekeeping's parent company), have declared Juneteenth as a paid day off. If your employer hasn’t declared Juneteenth a holiday, consider using leave to enjoy a day of rest and reflection. Doing this further supports initiatives to declare Juneteenth a national holiday.
- Learn about the history of Juneteenth. Education about Juneteenth is key to understanding why this day is so important to Black Americans. Reading Juneteenth-themed books with children or watching documentaries on the topic can help to provide an understanding of the holiday. Miss Juneteenth, an independent film that is based on the historical Texas Miss Juneteenth beauty pageant, premieres this year on June 19th.
- Patronize a Black-owned restaurant. No Juneteenth meal at home? No worries. Last year, I enjoyed Nashville’s "Taste of Freedom" — a unique weeklong culinary roundup of local eateries. With many events on pause this year, consider grabbing takeout from a Black-owned establishment.
- Attend in-person or virtual events. In your city or town, there might be a few live Juneteenth events scheduled throughout the weekend. For instance, if you’re in Houston, the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum will be reopening to the public for a special Juneteenth celebration. In order to keep social distancing guidelines, there will be a host of virtual Juneteenth events including author readings, panel discussions, and a virtual art bazaars taking place. Check out a list of more virtual Juneteenth events here.
You Might Also Like