10 Ways to Observe and Celebrate Juneteenth This Year
Here are the celebrations, foods and reflections these dynamic Black food tastemakers will enjoy on Juneteenth — and you can too.
Guest edited by Hali Bey Ramdene for FoodNetwork.com.
When it comes to holidays, there are three that Americans hold high in terms of liberty and pride: Memorial Day in May, Labor Day in September, and — of course — Independence Day in July. While each one represents its own part played in the country’s movement to freedom, for Black Americans, the story is more complicated.
The Fourth of July is memorialized due to the passage of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. And while white Americans widely celebrated their newfound freedom from Great Britain with the now historic proclamation, Black Americans wouldn’t have a reason for their own version of celebratory freedom until nearly nine decades later on June 19, 1865.
Juneteenth, as it is now known, originated in Galveston, Texas and is recognized as both the official African American Emancipation Day and the oldest oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of slavery ending. On that day, more than a quarter million enslaved Black people were informed by Major General Gordon Granger that while they were still operating under the guise of control by oppressors, they were actually freed by an executive order that was issued more than two years prior: The Emancipation Proclamation.
Referred to as the country’s "second Independence Day" by some, Juneteenth — much like the Fourth of July — has a rich history of celebration that includes reflecting on the plight of our ancestors and how far we’ve come discovering once forgotten stories about historical figures, and enjoying plenty of cultural foods and drinks that deliver immeasurable southern comfort.
While Black southerners have long since celebrated the day with "prosperity" menu items like collard greens, black-eyed peas, and cornbread as well as red-colored foods and drinks, now — 157 years later — the day has officially been deemed a federal holiday. And while the length of the celebration depends on where it’s being celebrated (some celebrate just for the day, while others opt to take a week or expand throughout the month with numerous events), to help solemnize the monumental accomplishment, we’ve talked to 10 people who are influencing and amplifying the Black food space to see how they’ll be observing Juneteenth this year.
Tiffanie Barriere, Master Mixologist
"In the past years, I focused on educating multiple people on Freedom Day, but this year I plan to enjoy the holiday. No events, no work, all celebrations! I’ll actually be flying to Houston where I grew up this Juneteenth and driving into Galveston to celebrate. Galveston, being the home of the first celebration, is full of poetry readings, live music, and Buy Black pop-ups. The day before Juneteenth, I plan on attending Emancipation Park in Houston held by Jack Yates' great granddaughter and party — family reunion style. Most likely there will be Texas BBQ, an outrageous table of side dishes, and of course red velvet cake and Jubilee Punch a.k.a. 'Red Drink.'
History is so valuable to the Black culture and if you grew up in the South, it definitely translates differently. In my cocktails, presentations, and social posts, I always make a point to uplift and educate Black names of the past because of their hard work and often struggles. Many Black lives were under-appreciated and this year, I would like to take the time to thank and celebrate them close to my home — which happens to be the groundwork and historical land of Juneteenth."
Will Coleman, Chef & Food Stylist
"When I was growing up, Juneteenth wasn’t really celebrated in my community. In fact, I didn’t learn about the holiday’s significance until a few years ago. But this year, I’m taking the opportunity to transport back to my childhood by revisiting foods that I grew up eating and celebrating with friends and family.
Additionally, I’m spending time reflecting on the farmers, line cooks, maids, and other laborers who came before me in the agriculture and hospitality industries. Without them, our communities wouldn’t have been able to survive the many obstacles that have arisen throughout time. So I will continue to build upon that work by inspiring new journeys through food that can aid in building a bigger table to create space for healing and joy."
Darel Scott, Founder, Earth in Color
"With this year being the first year that Juneteenth is federally recognized, I will be doing something special — preferably outside, with good food, with good music, and with Black people. Juneteenth is a few days before the summer solstice, so it really kicks off what I am calling 'cookout season.'
All summer long, our community enjoys being in and around water, soaking up the sun's rays, grilling, and being together. At Earth in Color, we are publishing a collection of flavorful, plant-rich recipes for a summer season filled with picnicking and cooking out. These recipes speak to the joy and liberation Black folks encounter when we are outside, laughing, cooking, eating, and celebrating — in community."
Sam Davis-Allonce, Chef
"Since I am not African-American, but instead a Jamaican-American who definitely gives reverence and much respect to the significance of the holiday and its cultural meaning, on Juneteenth, I will be preparing traditional meals that celebrate and pay homage to the day. My menu will more than likely consist of spare ribs, grilled shrimp made with my Hot N Saucy Garlic N Peperoncini hot sauce, corn on the cob, mac and cheese, red velvet cake, and homemade strawberry soda.”
Nicole Taylor, Author & Producer
"Juneteenth celebrations are a time to block out the extraneous noise of the workaday world and feast on food and freedom. Juneteenth has become my annual tradition through the years, even when I am miles away from the places I call home. This year, I'm lucky to be celebrating Juneteenth in my hometown of Athens, Georgia, where I'll be kicking off with a party at my favorite local bookstore — Avid Bookshop — and hosting a happy hour at a former Firehall (now the offices of Historic Athens) and a classic cookout on Sunday. I'll be ending all three celebrations with desserts from my cookbook, Watermelon and Red Birds: A Cookbook for Juneteenth and Black Celebration. We’ll be sharing hibiscus snow cones, cucumber granita, and roasted nectarine sundaes."
Jamila Robinson, Food Editor
"I’m going to have a big pie party and invite people over to my house for pie in the backyard. I always like to make things that are reflective of where I’m from, which is Michigan, so I’ll have cherries and probably a Greek Spinach Pie — because that’s something I grew up eating — and something more Middle Eastern and lemony. I grew up eating that kind of food and I always like for my Juneteenth to sort of reflect where my family is from and what I grew up eating in Detroit. That is my American story.
Juneteenth is really important to me because when I started celebrating the day, it felt as if it kind of closed the circle. The Fourth of July always felt incomplete to me, but Juneteenth acknowledges the history of the country in a way that the Fourth of July never did. This is why I always like to really have a reflection of where I’ve lived when I have a Juneteenth party. If you’re Black American — specifically African-American — having a sense of place is fundamental. So I make food that reflects where I’m living, who I am, and where I’m from. I know that people say you’re supposed to make certain foods that are traditional, but I think that’s traditional if your family is from a certain region or if that’s what others ate in that part of the country. So, it’s really important for me to give that place and that red food that people always talk about, for me, it’s going to be a cherry pie rather than something like a red soda.”
Danie Abraham, Celebrity Chef
"This Juneteenth falls on a Sunday, so I’m going to have a super soul food dinner planned out and host some amazing people that I’m grateful for. Being of Haitian descent and born in the United States in a southern state, the history of Juneteenth feels like a final chapter from my ancestors in Haiti being the first free Black republic to the US finally abolishing slavery.
A lot of the stories that were told to me growing up by my African-American friends and my family were always around the dinner table and many of the times, the recipes that were being created made everything come together full circle. It made you appreciate and savor each bite that much more. So for me, Juneteenth is more than a holiday, it's a piece of who we are as a people."
Christa Barfield, Black Farmer
"On this Juneteenth, I celebrate my ancestors. So often we focus on the plight of slaves and all that they endured with lessened emphasis on their triumphs. They came unwillingly, saw pain and sorrow, and still conquered fear to survive.
So as I reflect over the wins of my kin, I know that I am the fruit of their achievement of survival. Therefore, I will exercise my freedom to increase organic black foodways, create intergenerational wealth, and impact urban health through farming, unapologetically! Agriculture is the Culture!"
Richard Ingraham, Celebrity Chef
"This year, Juneteenth is a federal holiday, so I plan to fire up the grill and make my Champagne Cola-Barbecued Ribs. Afterwards, I am taking my family to the 10th Annual Juneteenth Atlanta Parade & Music Festival!”
Deborah VanTrece, Chef & Restaurateur
"For Juneteenth, we will be hosting a private dinner at our newly opened restaurant, Oreatha's at the Point. The menu will consist of creative takes on classic Juneteenth cuisine. We are extremely excited to be celebrating in the historic neighborhood of Cascade Heights. The history of this neighborhood really highlights what an important celebration Juneteenth is to our community and culture."