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The Lawmaker Sculpture is one of five statues representing the history of Juneteenth at the Juneteenth Memorial Sculpture Monument at the George Washington Carver Museum, Culture and Genealogy Center in Austin.
The Lawmaker Sculpture is one of five statues representing the history of Juneteenth at the Juneteenth Memorial Sculpture Monument at the George Washington Carver Museum, Culture and Genealogy Center in Austin.
Jennifer Rangubphai

The Food and Traditions of Juneteenth Amid Protest and a Pandemic

This Friday, June 19, marks the 155th anniversary of Emancipation Day in Texas, when in 1865 Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger read federal orders in Galveston proclaiming that all enslaved people in Texas were free. Even though the Emancipation Proclamation declared that slaves in rebellious states were free on Jan. 1, 1863, word didn't reach those enslaved in Texas until Granger's arrival.

This year, the date has a certain heft. The word “celebration” is used tentatively as so many protests over systemic racism have flooded our streets and news feeds. Plus, with cases of COVID-19 spiking, large gatherings are a risk that some might not be willing to take.

But there are still ways you can commemorate the day through the one thing that binds us all: good food and conversation. 

Traditional Foods
Red is a traditional color for Juneteeth. The color symbolizes the blood and resilience of former slaves. It’s also traced back to red hibiscus tea from Africa. Cups of red soda, platters of watermelon and hot sausages are traditional fixtures at celebrations and many meals are finished off with red velvet cake.

Barbecues that have long brought people together, again, might be skipped this year, although many will certainly go on. If you’re looking for alternatives, Alex Gonzalez reported earlier this week that Smokey John’s Bar-B-Que & Home Cooking (1820 W. Mockingbird Lane) will launch a Color Without Consequence shoebox lunch for $12.50. The boxes are symbolic of the racism black Americans experienced at restaurants, which forced them to pack lunches in shoeboxes. The event will run through July 4 and 10% of the proceeds will go to Impact Ventures, a nonprofit providing support to female and minority entrepreneurs. 

Support Black-Owned Restaurants
Say what you will about social media, but sometimes it can be amazingly delicious. A Facebook group titled DFW Black Owned Restaurants™ was created on June 3 and has already amassed more than 223,000 members. The site is a mix of endorsements, questions and conversation. 

Anyone can join the group by answering a few quick questions. Then, just scroll through the feed and try not to feel overwhelmed. Party tip: use the search bar on the left side of the page to search for a particular type of food. 

Eric Mayne runs another Facebook group called DF Grub and recently spoke with the founders of DFW Black Owned Restaurants about their mission and collective goals for supporting black owned businesses. That video interview is posted on his Facebook page or it can be found on his Umochi YouTube channel.

Mayne spoke about the importance of throwing a lifeline to these small businesses. “Whether we’re just doing take out, ordering online or just donating to the cause, we’re trying to bring attention to the importance of supporting these black owned businesses right now," he said.

The effort has been working. Restaurateurs who have been highlighted on the page have since logged on to say thanks for the business and also to apologize for longer wait times as they’re adjusting to the influx of new business. 

Reflection and Contemplation
If you step back from it all, it can feel petty to point to food as a way to commemorate such a historic day. In that vein, Lazarus Lynch, a chef and two-time Chopped champion, recently wrote a searing perspective for The Washington Post expressing how right now he’d rather march and chant “No Justice, No Peace” than cook and play cards with loved ones. He beautifully laid out words that help highlight the redemption of gathering around food:

“Lately, I find myself at the altar of the barbecue pit, finding comfort in the smoke and quiescence of gentle flames. I have the proclivity to make jerk chicken, fry okra, and douse mango chutney and hot pepper sauce on outrageous portions of rice. The pit is that holy meeting place where time slows, patience is required, and where sight, sound, smell, intuition and the ancestors guide you. It’s a romance between opposites, hot and cool; it’s a place for reflection and contemplation.”

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