‘Watermelon and Red Birds’ Offers a Guide to Juneteenth—and Black Celebration Culture

May 31, 2023 | Source: Civil Eats | by Lindsey Margaret Allen

James Beard Award-nominated writer and producer Nicole A. Taylor felt called to write a Juneteenth cookbook long before the occasion was first recognized as a national holiday last year. For Taylor, Juneteenth has been a time to both reflect and celebrate for more than a decade.

Then, in summer 2020, the dynamic of the holiday changed, and Taylor knew the time was right. Following the murder of George Floyd in May of that year, people across the U.S. started acknowledging long-ignored African American histories and realities, and awareness of Juneteenth—of freedom delayed—spread outside of the Black community.

Formerly enslaved people celebrated the first Juneteenth on June 19, 1866 in Galveston, Texas. On this day, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, supposedly ending slavery, federal troops arrived in Galveston to ensure that all enslaved people were indeed free. Ever since that first celebration, Juneteenth has migrated, grown, and transformed in the same ways that Black Americans have been forced to in order to survive and thrive in the U.S. For some, the festivities include strawberry soda and backyard barbecues. For others, it has long been an opportunity to gather at block parties and celebrate Black-owned businesses.

In her new Juneteenth cookbook, Watermelon and Red Birds, published today, Taylor makes note of the way Juneteenth traditions differ in cities like Oakland and Atlanta. “As Americans started to migrate and started to move out of the American South, Texas in particular, we know they went up to Chicago, they went out West, they went to L.A., they went to Milwaukee, Seattle, and Oakland. That’s when you started seeing these public Juneteenth events across the country,” said Taylor.