Juneteenth: history and recipe to celebrate
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
So states the beginning of the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America. Said to be a thought so radical that it sent political philosophy shock waves through Europe. Many posit its ideas to fomenting the philosophical tenants of the French Revolution. The American Revolution became something of legend in Europe and certainly that in the United States. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote,
“Here once the embattled farmers stood
And fired the shot heard round the world.”
The idea that simple men-farmers, sailors, blacksmiths- caught hold of an idea, an idea that all people were equal and should be free was a simple and poetic idea in Europe during the age of “enlightened despots”- absolute monarchs who ruled with their subject’s wellbeing at heart and many who claimed authority to their crown from God. Continental European aristocrats were worried.
But should they have been worried? How radical was this idea? It is well known now that the Declaration of Independence in fact only declared freedom for a small minority- white landholding men. Infamous in the Constitution is the 3/5ths compromise which counted enslaved Black Americans as 3/5ths a person when tallying the number of representatives for each state.
Many don’t realize that slavery was already big business in the United States. By the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, enslaved Black Americans comprised 20% of the entire population of the colonies. Meaning at the time the founders penned a document stating that “all men are free,” 1/5 of the entire colonial population was not. This number of course doesn’t take into the account the rights that women, indigenous peoples and the poor did not have.
About one decade before the Civil War, Frederick Douglass in 1852 gave a keynote address at an Independence Day celebration which eloquently showed both the irony and injustice of Independence Day. He said, “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.
Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the old world, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.”
Many point to the beginning of the receipt of a few rights for Black Americans as the holiday “Juneteenth.” Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, is the holiday that commemorates June 19, 1865, as the day that slavery began to be enforced as abolished in the state of Texas and more generally the emancipation of enslaved African Americans throughout the former Confederate States of America. Despite the beginning of the enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, abolition wasn’t enforced in the more remote areas of the Confederacy for almost two years! It’s important to note that at this point, the actual announcement from General Granger encouraged people to stay where they had been enslaved and work for wages, few of whom did and that for some time, some slave owners did not follow the law and release those they enslaved.
After the announcement, formerly enslaved people celebrated and rejoiced in the streets and in the following year they pooled their funds to purchase land to hold their celebrations as they were barred from using public parks. After some time, celebrations waned as people struggled with the many other forms of oppression, but in recent years, the holiday has gained steam and recognition by some states, though not yet federally.
To find out more about black history, racial justice and resources for kids, take a look at our other articles. Our friends over at Multicultural Kid Blogs also have the best resources listed there.
There are a few foods traditionally eaten at Juneteenth celebrations but none so universal as hibiscus tea. Though modernly it’s often replaced by red soda or any red drink, the red is said to symbolize the blood lost during the struggle for emancipation though some say it’s drank as hibiscus tea was the drink most commonly had by people during their enslavement at celebrations.
There are Juneteenth celebrations popping up all over the country. Perhaps try your hand at making a traditional hibiscus tea this next Juneteenth and talk about what it means to be truly free in the US and other countries. What can we do to give others the rights they deserve? Do we support the restrictions of others freedoms in some ways? What can we do to help others recognize the importance of universal liberty?
Juneteenth Hibiscus Tea
Hibiscus is a plant native to West Africa, and its flower petals are used to make a tea called bissap—a hospitality drink that remains popular in several countries to this day.
- Dried hibiscus flowers, rinsed (You may be able to find these in your local Mexican grocery store. They are also called ‘Flor de Jamaica’.)
Combine 1 cups of dried hibiscus flowers, 2 cups of water and 1/3 cup of in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool until room temperature. Strain, add 6-8 more cups of water and serve with ice.
About the author: Alexandria Scott is a writer, educator and community advocate who helps readers better connect students and educators as well as children and parents to access and internalize multicultural and anti-bias education.