The Juneteenth celebrations are held each year on June 19 to celebrate the emancipation of Afro-American enslaved people in the United States after the American Civil War. Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862 effective January 1, 1863 which freed all enslaved peoples in the Confederate States of America. Since there were no means in 1863 to enforce this proclamation in the Confederate States, the freedom of the slaves did not occur until after the Civil War in many locations. Texas being distant and more isolated from the Union troops did not enforce the Proclamation until Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas along with 2,000 Union troops. On Monday, June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger issued General Order No. 3 which stated:
“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 personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”
General Orders, No. 3. U.S. House, 54th Congress, 1st Session (H. Doc. 369, Part 2).
“General Order Number 3,” 1896. U.S. Documents Collection. Y 1.1/2: SERIAL 3437;
Texas State Library and Archives Commission
Though the Juneteenth celebration is often described as the celebration of the end of slavery, it was not until the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution proclaimed on December 18, 1865 that slavery was abolished throughout the country as the Emancipation Proclamation did not free enslaved peoples in border or Union states, only in the Confederate States.
Juneteenth, a portmanteau of “June” and “nineteenth”, also called Freedom Day and Jubilee Day among other names, is often a celebration centered on food, rodeos, barbecuing, baseball, street fairs, fishing, and family gatherings along with educational and historical components and was first celebrated in 1866. The number of people observing the holiday has grown and ebbed over the last 150 years with an increase in observance over the last several decades with more cities and states now officially recognizing the holiday with Texas being the first state to establish Juneteenth as a state holiday on January 1, 1980. In 1996, the holiday, Juneteenth Independence Day was recognized in the House of Representatives via Resolution 195 which was sponsored by Representative Barbara-Rose Collins (D-MI). On Tuesday, June 15, 2021 the Senate passed a resolution establishing June 19 as the US holiday “Juneteenth National Independence Day”. The next day, Wednesday, June 16, 2021, the House of Representatives the passed the same resolution, and on Thursday, June 17, 2021 President Biden the legislation into law.
The Juneteenth Flag
The Juneteenth Flag was created in 1997 by Ben Haith (founder of the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation), other collaborators, and illustrator Lisa Jeanne Graf, and revised in 2000. In 2007, the date “June 19, 1865” was added to the flag. The red, white, and blue colors align with the American Flag and reminds everyone that African American slaves and their descendants are American citizens. The arc across the middle of the flag represents the horizon and the new opportunities that await in the future. The solid white star represents both the Lone Star state of Texas where Juneteenth was born and the freedom for all African Americans throughout the 50 states. Finally, the outer star burst called a nova represents the birth of a new beginning for African Americans.
Image: Juneteenth Flag, Public Domain Image by Nafsadh-Own work, CC0; Wikipedia: Juneteenth
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As noted in the article, “The Traditional Foods of Juneteenth Carry a Rich History, Dating Back Centuries” by McKenzie Jean-Philippe (May 18, 2022) in Oprah Daily, many of the traditional foods served on Juneteenth are red in color. This preference aligned with the specific groups of Africans being forcibly transported to the United States through Galveston, TX with the African groups coming through Galveston being Yoruba and Kongo peoples. As noted by culinary historian Michael Twitty, “The practice of eating red foods—red cake, barbecue, punch and fruit—may owe its existence to the enslaved Yoruba and Kongo brought to Texas in the 19th century.” The color red was associated with their cultures with the color representing sacrifice, transition, and power.
Image: Flickr user ~Twon~, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Hence, their homeland traditions and culture may have filtered into the foods and traditions used to celebrate the Juneteenth emancipation celebrations. A series of red-color drinks, fruit, and foods are often served during the Juneteenth celebrations. For example, punch, hibiscus tea, red velvet cake, red beans and rice (see the Tasting Table New Orleans Rice and Beans recipe by Kirsten Carli), and fruits such as strawberries and watermelon, are all common traditional Juneteenth foods. Since family and community are part of the focus and emphasis of Juneteenth, barbecuing a range of meats (pork, chicken, ribs, and brisket) strengthens the community and has a rich history in Texas. From the article by McKenzie Jean-Philippe, “Smoked, sauce-covered barbecued meats are also considered a red food that Twitty calls ‘the most important’ feature on the Juneteenth table.” From Michiel Perry, who created the lifestyle brand Black Southern Belle, many of the side dishes “are a must. These include black-eyed peas and pork, collard greens, and corn, the last of which symbolizes gold.”
Image: Tasting Table New Orleans Red Beans And Rice by Kristen Carli
Finally, in an article by Ben Mims of the L.A. Times (June 9, 2022), “Nicole A. Taylor shares her Juneteenth recipes for Black celebrations”, he notes that her book, Watermelon & Red Birds: A Cookbook for Juneteenth and Black Celebrations, is the first book solely devoted to the recipes and customs of Juneteenth. In the article, two recipes from Watermelon & Red Birds are provided in the L.A. Times: Corn Dogs (pdf) and Sweet Potato Spritz (pdf). For a few more Juneteenth recipes, visit the Food Network’s The Juneteenth Menu hosted by Michiel Perry.
Juneteenth Local Events (2022)
- Thursday, June 16, 3:00-4:00pm: “Juneteenth and the Transformative Power of Time” with Xernona Clayton; online event; sponsored by DreamBank; Registration
- Friday, June 17, 1:30-3:00pm: “Opal Lee and What It Means to Be Free: The True Story of the Grandmother of Juneteenth“: big screen picture book reading: after the reading: Community Art Activity led by Auzzie Dodson; Sun Prairie Public Library (Community Room); 1350 Linnerud Dr., Sun Prairie, WI
- Saturday, June 18, 10:00am-6:00pm: Juneteenth Celebration; Kujichagulia Madison Center for Self-Determination; Penn Park, 2101 Fisher St., Madison, WI || Schedule || Register
10:00-11:00am: Greetings from Governor Evers, Fountain of Life Convenant Church, 633 W. Badger Rd., Madison, WI
12:00-6:00pm: Penn Park
- Saturday, June 18, 2:00-5:30pm: Juneteenth Celebration; Sun Prairie Community Schools; Carriage Hills Estate Park, 540 N. Musket Ridge, Sun Prairie, WI
- Sunday, June 19, 8:00pm: Christian McBride; Christian McBride is an eight-time GRAMMY Award winning bassist, composer, and band leader; Madison Jazz Festival; Shannon Hall, Wisconsin Union Theater; Seats: $10 (UW-Madison Students), $20 (under 18), $30-$50 (general admission); 800 Langdon St., Madison, WI
- YouTube video: Why all Americans should honor Juneteenth? (7:12)
- YouTube video: The history behind Juneteenth and why it resonates today (2:32)
- YouTube video: What is Juneteenth? (4:33)
- Wisconsin Public Radio: Morning Show (June 19, 2019): Celebrating Juneteenth (12:30)
- Wikipedia.org: Juneteenth
- Juneteenth.com: History of Juneteenth