Juneteenth Traditions Evolve Amid Coronavirus

Juneteenth barbecue
Getty

Adrian Lipscombe, a native Texan and owner/chef of Uptowne Café & Bakery in La Crosse, Wisconsin, grew up celebrating Juneteenth at a table filled with foods from all the places her family had roots.

“There’s different realms within Texas,” says Lipscombe. Relatives would bring signature dishes from their county or region, like sausage links from one aunt and strawberry ice cream from another.

“I was that badass kid running around everywhere… grabbing some food quickly and running away before they saw me,” says Lipscombe with a laugh. “Leaving the park and smelling like barbecue, it was just a feeling of comfort for me, especially during Juneteenth.”

Desserts at the Juneteenth dinner led by Adrian Lipscombe at the James Beard House in NYC last year / Photo by Clay Williams for Iconoclast Dinner Experience

Also known as Emancipation Day, Juneteenth commemorates African-American freedom. While the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863, it wasn’t until two-and-a-half years later, on June 19, 1865, that Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas with news that the Civil War had ended. He announced that slavery had been abolished, and the formerly enslaved people were free.

Juneteenth has been an official state holiday in Texas since 1980, and communities throughout the country celebrate in a variety of ways. Some host potluck-style gatherings in public parks, like the ones Lipscombe attended. There are also festivals, street fairs, musical performances, games and, of course, lots of food.

Due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, many Black Americans will celebrate differently this year, at socially distanced public venues or at home with their immediate family.

Typically, Lipscombe would travel to Texas for the holiday. This year, however, she plans to close her restaurant and cook at home with her immediate family. She’s already made her Emancipation Cake, which was featured at the James Beard House’s Juneteenth dinner last year. She’ll also smoke pork, brisket and chicken, as well as enlist her husband and children to help choose the sides.

“We’ll probably just lay low, and, with Father’s Day coming up, that’s another holiday that wraps up right behind it,” says Lipscombe.

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Tambra Raye Stevenson, MPH, founder and CEO of Women Advancing Nutrition, Dietetics and Agriculture (WANDA), is publishing digital Juneteenth content for those quarantined. She created a “Juneteenth Jubilee” okra and tomatoes cooking demonstration for the United States Botanical Garden’s YouTube channel. She’ll also host a Facebook Live on WANDA’s page.

Stevenson celebrated Juneteenth as a child, but she’s since adapted her menu. These days, she doesn’t fry anything. While she still serves barbeque, a cornerstone of the holiday, it’s cooked in the oven instead of grilled. She seeks to make dishes that are “good for our health while we still hold onto the tradition.”

This year, she will attend a small gathering with her “makeshift family” in Washington D.C., which is currently in Phase One of reopening.

“I’m making my version of my healthy version of a Kool-Aid, which is my hibiscus with ginger, spices and sweetened with brown sugar,” she says. “Along with a fruit salad, that’s how we’re going to celebrate.”

Hibiscus iced tea
Hibiscus iced tea / Getty

Enrika Williams, founder of Fauna Food Works in Jackson, Mississippi, did not celebrate Juneteenth growing up, with the exception of two years that she lived in Texas. She connected with the holiday in later years, and developed a dish for the James Beard House’s dinner in 2019.

This year, she will prepare a Juneteenth meal for her family for the first time.

“This is kind of energizing to me, that this is the first time that I actually get to cook with my family for Juneteenth, so this is like extra special for me,” says Williams.

She associates Juneteenth with barbeque and “delicious, delicious desserts.” Her mother will bring 7-Up pound cake, one of Williams’ favorites. The rest of the menu will include what Williams calls “celebration food.”

“We’re gonna do a brisket, smoke some chicken, and I’m going to buy some teacakes,” she says. “I have some hibiscus and I’m going to make red drink and we’re going just take it easy, enjoy the food, each other and just be in that space.”

“The current climate emphasizes the importance of connection and community, Williams says. “In the midst of these things, it’s made people, especially, Black people, want to connect to something that makes them feel whole, that makes them feel included… There’s so much destruction and so much harm, hurt and all of these harsh realities that you can sometimes lose sight of who you are and where you come from.

“I think that there’s a definite reconnection of, ‘Let me plug back in to the things that I did know. And let me find out more, so that can help me now.'”

Published on June 19, 2020
Topics: Holidays