"Food and drink play an essential role in independence celebrations the world over. For many Black Americans, Independence Day is celebrated on June 19, or 'Juneteenth' — the day in 1865 when residents of Galveston, Texas, learned that slavery in the United States had been abolished, two months after the end of the Civil War and 2 1/2 years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Today’s Juneteenth celebrations take place everywhere: backyards, parks, as well as at large festivals and parades. And Congress finally got in on the action last year, declaring Juneteenth a federal holiday." (source: Washington Post)
|Hibiscus Tea from the|
Washington Post article.
Some writers also associate the color red with the blood shed by the slaves. For example in the TV series "High on the Hog" a descendant of people who were freed on the original Juneteenth explained about red food: "It was a reminder, in a lot of ways," Eugene Thomas said. "Of the blood that was shed prior to the Emancipation, by all those that came before us that did not get the chance to taste the freedom that we're tasting right now." (source)
Traditional African hibiscus ginger tea was a red beverage that continued to be popular among the enslaved Americans and then among their free descendants, and it has recently been popularized again as an import from the Caribbean. In the past, many red beverages were enjoyed, including in many families, drinking red Kool-Aid! The book Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine One Plate at a Time by Adrian Miller presents a detailed exploration of how red Kool-Aid relates to traditional African beverages. For a detailed history of how the African hibiscus plant was imported from Africa to the American South, and how it influenced many American red beverages, see "The History of Hibiscus Drinks in the African Diaspora."
|For many recipes and ideas for Juneteenth food traditions, like this drink,|
see The Soul Food Pot, "12 Juneteenth Red Foods."
Celebrating Juneteenth in the past has had challenges, as well as joys. Author Melanie McFarland, writing at Salon.com, says: "History tells us that the earliest Juneteenth celebrations were joyful, but they took place under threat of violence – which also made celebrating the holiday an act of defiance. Surely our ancestors dreamed of many of the freedoms and opportunities Black folks take for granted today." (source)
Honoring history by learning the facts about traditional foods is exciting for many people -- including me. Author Michael Twitty has written a great deal about his research into the African-American food of his forebears, honoring them through his efforts. I particularly enjoyed his book The Cooking Gene: reviewed here.
In an interview, Twitty was asked what he hoped to learn by studying what his ancestors ate and drank, and he replied:
"It’s not just a question of what did they eat, it’s a question of how did they take agency and ownership over their lives, over their food supply. When you open up the average American textbook you never, ever see the enslaved Black person as thinker. They make us look like pets. They make us look like people who simply didn’t have any sort of agency, ownership, curating, caretaking of their own reality. It’s also about acknowledging that in a lot of cultures, especially where there is oppression and marginalization, it’s a gesture of love. Anything that gives you pleasure, happiness, joy in your culture, it’s a gesture of love. Especially in Black traditions, sharing a beverage, sharing food—especially food that’s rare, seasonal, a delicacy—it’s love." (source)
Blog post © 2022 mae sander. Quotes and photos as attributed.