Juneteenth (June 19) is the one of the oldest known commemorations related to the abolition of slavery in the United States. The word “Juneteenth” is a Black English contraction, or portmanteau, of the month “June” and the date “Nineteenth.” Juneteenth celebrates the date of June 19, 1865, when enslaved people of African descent located in Galveston, Texas, finally learned of their freedom from the slavery system in the United States.
Freedom was granted through the Emancipation Proclamation signed on January 1, 1863, by President Abraham Lincoln. Texas was the farthest of the Confederate states, and slaveholders there made no attempt to free the enslaved African Americans they held in bondage. This meant that President Lincoln’s proclamation was unenforceable without military intervention, which eventually came nearly 2.5 years later.
From 1865 forward, the day has held special meaning for people of African descent in the United States. Juneteenth continues to be celebrated in cities with Black populations through a series of parades, family reunions, speeches, and consuming of specific foods with a red color including barbeque, watermelon (an African fruit), and “red soda water” (primarily strawberry soda). The use of the color red in ceremonies is a practice that enslaved West Africans brought to the United States. Contemporary food items that maintain this cultural connection include kola nut tea and hibiscus tea, also known as bissap in the Caribbean or jamaica (ha-MY-kah) in Latin America; both areas received large shipments of West African slaves. Strawberry soda is the contemporary replacement of these teas in US Juneteenth celebrations. Juneteenth is an important date on the timeline of slavery history in the United States.