UAA celebrates Juneteenth with annual barbecue

Juneteenth 2010 at UAA. Photo courtesy of UAA Archives

When people hear the term “Juneteenth,” they immediately think of music, soul food and large gatherings of people. And while this has been the case for most of the tradition’s history, that’s not all it is.

In 1865, two years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, Texas slaves finally learned that they were free. According to Juneteenth.com, the official Juneteenth website, Major General Granger is the man credited for announcing the proclamation in  Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865. One reason the new law wasn’t enforced in Texas sooner was because there wasn’t a sufficient Union presence to do so; after the surrender of General Lee in April 1865 and the arrival of Granger’s soldiers, that was no longer the case.

Once they were free, African-American men and women wanted to celebrate their newly established freedom and chose to do so by getting together, cooking and socializing, some even making yearly pilgrimages back to Galveston to do so.

Nowadays, most Juneteenth celebrations still include a cook out (typically barbecuing) and large gatherings of people, but different places celebrate it in different ways. When UAA began celebrating Juneteenth in the mid-90s, they invited local performers to participate.

“We started having a special barbecue that was specific to Juneteenth,” said Annie Route, UAA’s director of Student Life and Leadership. “We had different performance groups, maybe a choir, or the kids’ tumbling team, a whole variety of different performers; a real festive atmosphere with great food and a gathering.”

According to Route, past Juneteenth celebrations have also included public speakers, educational handouts, the singing of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (by James Weldon Johnson and his brother John Rosamond Johnson, and unofficially named the “Negro National Anthem”), and even recipe booklets full of traditional Juneteenth food.

In recent years, the Juneteenth barbecue has featured live music by musicians brought up by Student Activities, such as the blues singer Shemekia Copeland at the 2011 Juneteenth. This year, they’re bringing up the Soul Rebels, an eight-piece brass band from Louisiana who fuse jazz, hip hop, rap and pop (among others) together to get their personal sound.

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As far as the food of Juneteenth is concerned, Route says that the university would partner with local restaurants to supply Juneteenth-related food for the barbecue, a tradition that still exists despite the existence of Dining Services.

“Campus catering hasn’t been here for forever and ever,” said Route. “Before that time, we didn’t have anyone to go to, so it was natural to go to the different restaurants; now we’re working with Catfish Haven, we’ve worked with Sourdough Mining Company and then we’ve also added in Dining Services for the things that they’re good at doing.”

Despite its historic roots in Texas, Juneteenth is celebrated all over the U.S. and even in other parts of the world as the tradition has travelled. And while UAA’s own tradition is less than two decades old, it has its own history and growth that continues to unfold each year.

UAA’s Juneteenth barbecue will be held on the Wells Fargo front lawn on Monday, June 18th at 11:45 a.m. and is free for students. It is $8 for UAA staff and faculty, and $10 for the general public. The Soul Rebels will be performing a free teaser at the event, and will perform a full concert on Tuesday, June 19 in the Wendy Williamson Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are free to UAA students with a valid ID, $15 advance and $20 at the door for UAA staff, faculty, and students from other schools with a valid ID, and $20 advance and $25 at the door for the general public. Tickets can be purchased at UAAtix.com.