A food historian explains why the color red plays an important role in the June 16 celebrations

  • Culinary historian Adrian Miller spoke to Insider about the importance of red foods June 16th.
  • Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States after the Civil War.

Recent June 16 celebrations usually involve barbecues or neighborhood parties, but during its inception, observers hosted a lively community-wide jamboree, inviting black people to commemorate freedom.

“Usually it was a mixture of a religious celebration, a patriotic celebration and a party.” culinary historian and author Adrian Mueller insiders said.

June 16th created on June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas, as Federal Union troops ensured enslaved African Americans were free after the Civil War. Although slavery technically ended with that declaration of emancipation In 1863, not all areas under Confederate control recognized the decree, insider reported.

People attend Louisville Juneteenth Festival in June 2021.Jon Cherry/Getty Images

Miller explained that African Americans at the time probably knew they were free because many had left their plantations and traveled to the nearest urban centers, including Galveston.

“It’s the arrival of Union troops that brings freedom because they can enforce the law,” Miller said. “Otherwise, slave-owning whites often yelled, ‘You all can’t force me,’ but the presence of Union troops brought the law.”

The first June 16 celebration took place 1866

Miller told Insiders that the initial June 16 celebrations began with prayers before moving on to patriotism — perhaps someone would read the Declaration of Independence — followed by musical performances and finally a party.

And like any party Food was one of the most important things.

A food historian explains why the color red plays an important role in the June 16 celebrations
Food plays a big part in June 16th and other emancipation celebrations.Heels Griffin/Getty Images

“There would be a huge public feast, usually with a barbecue,” Miller said. “Barbecue is one of the best party foods because it’s scalable and requires community. Old-school barbecue was cooking whole animals, so a lot of people had to eat that food.”

Emancipation celebrations are typically public events, Miller said, so it makes sense that food would still be the focus 157 years later.

“Community is an important feature of Juneteenth, and few things build community like food,” Miller said.

The color red plays a huge role in Juneteenth, which usually includes Southern and black cuisine

A food historian explains why the color red plays an important role in the June 16 celebrations
A vendor prepares food during the 48th Annual Juneteenth Day Festival in Wisconsin.Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The color red takes center stage on June 16, especially when it comes to food. According to Miller, there are several theories as to why red foods and drinks have become the norm on vacation.

“What I hear a lot is that red symbolizes the blood shed by enslaved West African ancestors,” he told Insider. “Red pays homage and respect to the ancestors who died during the Atlantean slave trade.”

The importance of red to African Americans could also date back to West Africa, according to Miller, where some dishes have a red and orange hue because they’re cooked with palm oil.

“When people come to a new place, they try to recreate their homes, and often they have to find replacements,” Miller said. “We’re seeing rice-based dishes in America that are reminiscent of African dishes, but in a different format.”

Miller pointed to it Low Country of South Carolinawhere the locals prepare red rice by adding tomatoes.

A Juneteenth menu in Texas might include barbecue as the main course, your choice of red beverage, and a cooling dessert

A food historian explains why the color red plays an important role in the June 16 celebrations
Barbecue is often a main dish in June 16 celebrations.Marc Guitard/Getty Images

Most June 16 celebrations feature traditional Southern fare, although this may vary depending on the host’s region.

“Barbecue comes out red by smoking the meat and adding a tomato-based barbecue sauce,” Miller said. “Then you would have some kind of red drink and a watermelon for dessert.

But amid the potlucks and cookouts this year, Miller is hoping June 16 revelers will take the time to really celebrate the holiday.

“As a newly established federal holiday and something to introduce people to, I think June 16 will have multiple expressions,” Miller said. “But I hope people don’t see it as a party.”

“It’s like Martin Luther King Jr. Day,” Miller added. “It’s a day on, not a day off. It is a reminder to stand up for social justice.”

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