Juneteenth is not just another holiday or a time for performative action within the American community. It is a representation of the history, current events and future of the United States. Questions of identity, psyche and American philosophy are constantly under review and crucial discussion. And although within certain groups the question is easily answered, we have to stop and ask “What is an American?”
The Foundation for Juneteenth
Juneteenth sets its roots in a mash up of celebratory emotions as well as disheartened thoughts and feelings. We can trace the origins of Juneteenth back to Galveston, Texas in 1865; 89 years after the United States Declaration of Independence was issued by the Second Continental Congress and two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. On June 19th, 1865, emancipation was demanded for a group of enslaved people in Texas, after not being notified that they were supposedly freed from institutional slavery.
Juneteenth, the amalgamation of “June” and “nineteenth”, is attributed to the success of General Gordon Granger’s oration of General Order Number 3. This order [states] that:
“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.”
What Happened to Juneteenth?
Through the United States, many African Americans celebrate the holiday. However, there was a moment of time where the celebrations were put on hold. During World War 2, the momentum was lost. Unfortunately the woes of the Jim Crow era still are evident today, where the United States isn’t a safe place to be Black. Newly emancipated Africans were constantly being terrorized by White Americans, unlawful incarcerations were dealt to break up the Black family. In the 1960s, the holiday resumed its open observation. Massachusetts sets to recognize this historical event as an official state holiday in 2021.
Political & Cultural Recognition, Beyond the South
Til this day, in 2021, Juneteenth is not a nationally recognized holiday. In 1980, it was first recognized as an official holiday by Texans. In 2020, Juneteenth is recognized as an annual official city holiday, in New York City. Yet, although needed, appreciated and expected, having a day off is not what is being asked of in America today. Rep. Bud William, co-chair of Joint Committee on Racial Equity, Civil Rights, and Inclusion encourages businesses to provide workers paid time off. He also states “I believe it would show a simple measure of solidarity, with hopes of obtaining a better understanding of the realities of black and brown individuals.”
What is an American?
What makes an American, if not the history it’s people add to its existence? Laws and policies should not be the basis of how people are treated, yet unfortunately even with such statements written on paper, crimes against African Americans continue til this day. Juneteenth is a day of celebration, but also a day of reflection and review of the projectory of the United State’s morality. From Bill Clinton to Barack Obama, no president has used their political power to declare Juneteenth a National holiday. A day that holds meaning, power, sorrow and happiness all at once. Juneneenth is not just the “second Independence Day”; it is the representation of the reality of division between what is an American on paper and how it is represented and respected in actuality.
Historic & Present Day Celebration
From 1866 and beyond, many African Americans in the south began large celebrations which included spiritual readings, prayer services, food, red soda water, dances, games and a multitude of inspirational messages and speeches. With the notification of General Order No. 3, many emancipated people exercised their rights by purchasing land throughout Texas. Some places to note are Emancipation Park (Houston, Texas), Emancipation Park (Austin ,Texas), and Booker T. Washington Park (Mexia, Texas). Historic celebrations had many crucial aspects. However, music, clothing and food are very essential in the celebration of Juneteenth.
Music is ancestral and spiritual as much as the preparing and consumption of food. Similar to the drums played in West and Central Africa, the hymns performed during Juneteenth celebrations gave the festivities body and spiritual upliftings. Newly emancipated Black people made a distinction in their clothes by wearing bright colors, flowing and lively attire.
The color red in many of Juneteenth’s food is not purely coincidental. Like other behavior within the African diaspora community, the color of the food is intentional, purposeful and meaningful. Red soda, watermelon, red lemonade, red velvet cake are some examples of food consumed during this time. In Africa, red is the color of transformation, regeneration, life, death, strength and spirituality. In West Africa, red also symbolizes sacrificial rites and bloodshed.
For this Juneteenth, we will celebrate with a plum cobbler, flavored with cured sumac and Ceylon cinnamon. The flavors are similar to a tart cherry pie, bright red like the Juneteenth and Pan African flag.
Cured Sumac Plum Cobbler
Prep Time: 20 mins
Cook Time: 30 mins
Total Time: 50 minutes
For the filling:
- 8 cups of fresh plums, pitted and sliced
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter (alternative: plant based butter)
- 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp ground Ceylon cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground cured sumac
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 1/4 to 1/3 cup granulated sugar (adjust by taste)
- 1 tablespoon pear brandy (optional)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 tbsp cornstarch + water to dissolve
- 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- ⅔ cup heavy whipping cream (alternative: plant based cream)
- 1/3 tbsp granulated sugar
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed and cold (alternative: plant based butter)
- 1 tablespoon coarse brown sugar for topping
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the plums, butter, nutmeg, sumac, cinnamon, salt, brown sugar, granulated sugar, brandy, vanilla extract and cornstarch slurry. Make sure not to slice the plums too thin, or they will fall apart during the cooking process. Pour the mixture into a 10" cast iron skillet.
- In a medium mixing bowl combine the flour, baking powder, salt and granulated sugar. Add the butter and using a fork or pastry cutter, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles a coarse meal.
- Add the cream and stir with a fork just until moistened. Gently press the mixture together using a spatula, forming a loose dough. Crumble the dough on top of the plum mixture.
- Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of coarse brown sugar.
- Bake until the top is golden brown and the filling is bubbling, about 30-35 minutes.
Let the cobbler cool for about 10-15 minutes to allow the juices to sit. Serve the plum cobbler warm or at room temperature, with whipped cream or creamy, frozen dessert. The cobbler topping will soften the longer it sits.