Understanding Juneteenth
Written By
Jaimie K. Wilson
April 25, 2024

Understanding Juneteenth

History can be tricky. It may seem like a subject defined by absolutes – dates, events, immutable facts – but like most things, the “truth” of history can be a matter of perspective.

In America, young public school students are frequently taught that slavery in the United States ended with the Emancipation Proclamation – a decree issued by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, that declared "all persons held as slaves" within the rebellious states "are, and henceforward shall be free." This is wrong, but a 2017 survey conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center revealed a third of the students surveyed believed the Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery. In fact, most of the survey participants (about 92 percent) didn’t know slavery was the central cause of the Civil War.

The idea that the Emancipation Proclamation marked the end of American slavery is an oversimplification at best. The reality was far less idyllic. As the Civil War neared its third year, the promise of freedom for the enslaved still hinged on military victory. Even if victory was assured, the proclamation would only apply to slaves in states that had s eceded. It excluded slaves in loyal border states, as well as those in Confederate states held by Union forces.

But the intention behind that proclamation was no small thing; the Civil War became a war about freedom, paving the way for Black men to enlist and fight, which was held up as “ proof” that Black people deserved equality. Still, two years passed before the United States passed the 13th Amendment, which officially abolished slavery throughout the Unites States. It took five years to pass the 14th and 15th Amendments, which established citizenship, equal protection and voting rights to all men regardless of race. (Women would have to wait another 50 years for their equality.)

Even after the 13th Amendment was passed, slavery continued to be a problem, especially along the western edge of the former Confederate states. “Since the capture of New Orleans in 1862, slave owners in Mississippi, Louisiana and other points east had been migrating to Texas to escape the Union Army’s reach,” wrote Henry Louis Gates, Jr., in “What is Juneteenth?”

Eventually, Major General Gordon Granger was sent to Texas to exert the Union Army’s authority over the people of Texas, informing everyone that all slaves are free. On that day – June 19, 1865 – enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas, were told they were free. It was the birth of Juneteenth – a celebration of freedom, a remembrance of those lost and a swelling pride in family and community. It began that day – a truer independence day for Black people. Over time, the tradition grew, traveling beyond state borders. And in 2021, Juneteenth was named a federal holiday, officially cementing its place in American history instead of being a sidenote known only to some.

Jaimie’s Red Juneteenth Shrub

There are many mouthwatering food traditions that go along with Juneteenth. One traditional treat is the serving of a fruit shrub, often red to symbolize the blood shed in the long fight for freedom.

A shrub is typically a syrup made from fruit, sugar (or another sweetener) and vinegar. This was developed to avoid food spoilage and waste. By combining macerated fruit with sugar and vinegar, the fruit was saved from rotting and turned into a sweet, tangy syrup that was then combined with water and/or alcohol for a tasty celebration drink.


    2 cartons or 2 pounds of fresh Florida strawberries

    2 pints or 1 ½ pounds of fresh red raspberries

    4 ½ cups of sugar

    1 ½ cups of apple cider vinegar


Using a food processor, chop the fruit up into small pieces, saving all the juice. You should have about 4 ½ cups of fruit.

Mix the chopped fruit with 4 ½ cups of sugar in a large jar, stir well and store at room temperature for 24 hours.

After 24 hours, stir the fruit and sugar mixture again and then strain. Press the solids against a sieve to extract all the juice. Discard the solids.

Add 1 ½ cups of apple cider vinegar to the fruit syrup and mix well. Feel free to adjust according to your taste, but the sharp tang of the vinegar will subside after a day or two of cold storage. It should be bright, sweet and pleasantly tangy. You may use any fruit, herb and spice, or sweetener combination you prefer, but stick with apple cider and red wine vinegar to avoid overpowering the syrup with a strong vinegar taste.

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