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Juneteenth

From Juneteenth at Mama Sugar’sGastronaut blog at Houstoniamag.com

The food is one reason why the Juneteenth BBQ at Mama Sugar’s little horse ranch just south of Pearland on Trammel-Fresno Road is one my favorite parties of the year. This is where I first met photographer O Rufus Lovett while we were both working on an article for Gourmet magazine in 2006. The article with Lovett’s haunting photos appeared in Gourmet in the June 2007 issue.

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The state holiday known as Juneteenth (short for June 19th) commemorates the anniversary of June 19, 1865, when Union general Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas and read a proclamation announced the freeing of the slaves. The slaves had actually been free for over a year, but nobody told them until Granger showed up with troops to enforce the law.

For over a century the date was celebrated among African-Texans with Juneteenth parades, pageants, and barbecues. Because blacks were barred from congregating in public parks, Juneteenth celebrations were often held out in the country on private ranches. Horseback riding and cowboy riding gear became a part of the Juneteenth tradition.

The black holiday had largely died out by the early 1960s. But Juneteenth was revived on June 19, 1968, the final day of the Poor Peoples’ March on Washington, when Reverend Ralph Abernathy called for people of all races to show solidarity. Since then, Juneteenth celebrations have spread across the country. The holiday is big in Milwaukee and Minneapolis, among other places. In 1980, it became an official state holiday in Texas.

The spirit of Juneteenth is sort of a cross between Martin Luther King Day, Passover, and the 4th of July—a celebration of African-American heritage and freedom from slavery. At Mama Sugar’s, that means barbecue, music, and dancing.

1 comment to Juneteenth

  • jim sherman

    Afraid my blues research contradicts your culinary research… the indications I’ve gotten from elderly black folks I’ve interviewed is that celebrating Juneteenth pretty well died out during the Great Depression, and was revived during the mid-1950s at the beginning of the Civil Rights movement in Texas. I remember a great piece for the amateur-hour “State Lines” essay in the Chron’s old Sunday magazine supplement which was a white guy’s memories of Juneteenth when he was a kid. He recounted how his mom (much to his dad’s disapproval) would give the maid a bonus on June 19th every year to pay her poll tax. I looked the guy up in the phone book and talked to him, and he was talking about mid-late 50s. As the maid often babysat the kid at her home, he had vivid memories of being the only little white kid at Juneteenth family reunions. I’ll swing by the meat market and ask Mr. Davis if the revival was the 50s or 1968.

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