Data News Staff Edited Report
Juneteenth is now a national holiday in the United States. It commemorates the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States. Data News Weekly shares a brief history of this most meaningful holiday for our nation.
What is Juneteenth?
On June 19, 1865, shortly after the end of the Civil War, Union Troops arrived to take control of Galveston, Texas. This is when the remaining enslaved Blacks in Texas finally learned of their freedom, nearly three years after the Emancipation Proclamation. The day became a holiday known as Juneteenth, a portmanteau of “June” and “19th.”
Sometimes called Juneteenth Independence Day, Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, the holiday celebrated on June 19th commemorates the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States. It was first celebrated in Texas. In 1872, Black ministers and businessmen in Houston purchased 10 acres of land and created Emancipation Park for the Annual Juneteenth gathering.
Over the years, Juneteenth continued to be celebrated in Texas and spread throughout the South. But the day is becoming increasingly well-known across the country, and many state and local governments now recognize Juneteenth as an official holiday.
How Do People Celebrate Juneteenth?
To commemorate Emancipation Day, friends and family gather to celebrate the legacy of resilience and acknowledge, the ongoing struggle through marches, prayers, and other remembrances. During gatherings, participants often picnic with traditional soul food dishes, one of the nation’s most identifiable culinary traditions.
Today, soul food is associated with comfort food, but it was born out of struggle and necessity. Enslaved African people turned meager, low-quality rations into delicious fried, boiled, roasted, and baked dishes. In the process, they preserved old food traditions and created new ones. Delving into the history of soul food and Juneteenth is an exploration of Black culture, values, and traditions.
The Red Trinity—barbecue, watermelon, and red soda—is at the heart of the meal. But no Juneteenth menu is complete without traditional side dishes and desserts like collard greens, potato salad, cornbread pudding, peach cobbler, and banana pudding.
This traditional cooking is an ode to history and heritage, and perhaps no region has had more impact on America’s culinary history than the South.
Why Is Juneteenth Food Red?
According to culinary historian and food writer Michael Twitty, the popularity of red foods in the community might date back to the enslaved Yoruba and Kongo who were brought over to Texas in the 19th Century. Both cultures consider the color red as “the embodiment of spiritual power and transformation,” and enslavement narratives from Texas even contain stories of an African Ancestor being lured using red flannel cloth.
Historian Fred Opie theorizes that this could be traced back to Asante and Yoruba Special Occasion Celebrations, which included “offering up the blood of animals (especially the red blood of white birds and white goats) to their ancestors and Gods.”
There’s also another theory—namely, that the color represents bloodshed. Lynda Jackson Conyers, Publisher of the Milwaukee Times, says that the city’s signature Juneteenth strawberry soda and other red foods “symbolize the blood that was shed by the slaves.”
However, you choose to celebrate, remember the journey of those who have come before us. As we continue our fight for freedom, justice, and equality in America.