“Oh, it was like Christmas,” Dr. Opal Lee recalls of Juneteenth celebrations years ago.
Growing up in Marshall, Texas, she was accustomed to the extended festivities like they were from early days. After moving to Fort Worth as a little girl, the woman who would later become known as the “Grandmother of Juneteenth” noticed the activities had dwindled in Cowtown, and she was inspired to help her community.
Lenora Rolla, journalist and political activist, gathered with a few other local activists and Lee. Together, the group coordinated the mega event that took place at Sycamore Park in Fort Worth in 1975. The party garnered attendance from over 30,000 people over the three-day period and is credited as being the catalyst for what was to become a Juneteenth revival in the city.
Rolla founded the Tarrant County Black Historical and Genealogical Society two years later and worked diligently to curate material culture and artifacts on the Black history of Fort Worth. Opal Lee was one of the founding members, so it’s only fitting that she will again stir up excitement over this day she holds dear and when the National Juneteenth Museum opens June 19, 2025.
There is a renewed interest in this day but also some misconceptions attached to Juneteenth. From our food traditions to the typical ways we celebrate, much has been misconstrued recently, like the belief that the date, June 19, 1865, marked the end of slavery in the United States. The Emancipation Proclamation, which abolished slavery effective Jan. 1, 1863, only applied to the Confederate states, which included Texas. This meant that the other states and territories (the Union states, “border states” and Oklahoma territory) still enforced slavery. This continued until the ratification of the 13th Amendment.
For a full list of states and emancipation dates check here under “United States.” The Juneteenth we celebrate today is an opportunity to recognize all of those days, and collectively amplify the message of hope and determination.
As for the celebratory food traditions often associated with Juneteenth, the menu is dictated by region. The evolution of traditional foods that have been largely consumed on this holiday, such as barbecue, strawberries and watermelon, for instance, were most likely eaten because either the fruits were in peak season, or in the case of barbecue and its crimson sticky sauce, outdoor methods of preparing foods were common practice.
In other words, the reddish hue of these foods in these examples, had little if anything to do with symbolic meanings. Now that Juneteenth is an official federal holiday, each of us has an exciting opportunity to educate ourselves on the authentic meanings and celebrate in ways that you deem appropriate, whether it be festive and jovial celebrations as past generations once did or a more introspective day of remembrance. There are so many activities going on in Tarrant County this month leading up to June 19. Here are a few you may not have heard about:
- Jim Austin presents the Juneteenth Gospel Jazz Brunch featuring performances by Knice 2 Know. The event is from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on June 10. For more information please call 817-438-4368. General admission tickets start at $35.
- Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo is June 17 and celebrates Black Cowboys and Cowgirls. Rodeo culture has been associated with Juneteenth celebrations for many generations now. Tickets range from $15-$55 and start times are 1:30-7:30 p.m. at Cowtown Coliseum.
- AT&T Stadium in Arlington will host its second annual Dallas Cowboys Juneteenth Celebration from 4-8 p.m. June 17. Live entertainment, lawn games and a variety of Black-owned businesses will be available to shop.
Wilder Sweets Dessert Bar owned by Baylor alum Kiara Wilder is one food vendor to watch at AT&T Stadium. The registered nurse by day is the insanely talented brains behind this deceptively plant-based popup usually found at the Dallas Farmers Market. The vegan artisan home baker is testing some markets out in Tarrant County, and now would be the perfect opportunity to support her business if you’ve never tasted any of her yummy desserts. Kiara offers dessert jars and other unique gourmet sweets.
As a non-vegan, it’s worth noting that I have not tasted one thing that didn’t make me want to buy her entire menu offering. If I must choose a favorite, I’m going with the Biscoff churro cup. The taste experience is remarkable. After I cracked the top layer, it revealed a silky-smooth custard underneath that did not disappoint.
The young alum found inspiration in creating her craft goods while she was a student attending Baylor University. At the time she struggled finding plant-based options for herself because they either lacked flavor or didn’t have the right texture she was accustomed to before going vegan. After trying too many recipes to count, the biochemistry major, decided to concoct her own recipe with a chewy center that oozed chocolate to satiate her cravings, while not compromising her goal of remaining plant based.
She also offers crowd-pleasing stuffed cookies which she also has gluten-free and soy-free versions of by request. Although she’s been baking consistently, Kiara opened Wilder Sweets to rave reviews in 2020, and the namesake has been establishing her brand at local wineries, outdoor markets and delivering her online orders. When COVID-19 hit, like many other businesses, this slowed the progress of her business tremendously. Although she offers a variety of unique treats her top seller remains her cookies, which is what started it all for the baker. Her unique rotating menu of artisan baked goods can be found online if you’re unable to visit her at AT&T Stadium for this festival. Follow her on Instagram at @WilderSweets and she will share her updated website and prices by this weekend.
Other events to support during this year’s holiday can be found here: Juneteenth in Fort Worth: Here’s where to celebrate.
Deah Mitchell writes about more than food. You can email her at email@example.com.