Meiko Temple’s 2021 Juneteenth Celebration Is Filled with Joy, Family, and Lots of BBQ Chicken
In addition to a global pandemic, 2020 was also an unfortunate marker for numerous recorded injustices against the Black community. The one bright spot I found through all of this was witnessing the massive resurgence of Juneteenth and feeling like I may have contributed to its expanded awareness. You see, every year since 2017, I’ve organized virtual potlucks, bringing together hundreds of Black content creators to celebrate cultural holidays like Black History Month and Juneteenth. And with the recent Senate vote, unanimously passing a bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday, the 2021 festivities feel even more special to me.
This year’s Juneteenth Virtual Cookout includes more than 40 Black cooks who contributed recipes from across the African diaspora. As you can imagine, coordinating a project like this is no small feat, but it’s worth every minute of toil because our collaboration helps amplify and drive appreciation for Black foodways.
It is also vital that we share the history of Juneteenth, a significant holiday that shines a light on the true legacy of slavery and liberation in America. Also known as Freedom Day, Juneteenth commemorates the moment on June 19th, 1865, when news of emancipation reached the last 250,000 enslaved people in Galveston, Texas. A year later, newly freed Black Americans began the observance of Juneteenth, and it continues to gain traction 156 years later. Juneteenth is most commonly celebrated with picnics, cookouts, street fairs, outdoor activities, pageants, collective prayer, and time devoted to reflecting on progress. And food is at the heart of many of these celebrations.
When it comes to grub, the cornerstones of Juneteenth are red foods and BBQ. Red is a symbolic color representing resilience and the blood that was shed in the struggle for freedom. And considering the holiday has Texas roots, it should be no surprise that BBQ is a staple at every Juneteenth celebration — my Dallas household included.
Keeping with current COVID restrictions, it’s not possible to convene in bountifully populated cookouts and festivals as we normally would. So instead, I planned a smaller gathering, inviting a small group of family and friends. After years of living across the country from my family, my husband and I were especially excited to share our Juneteenth traditions with two new Texas residents: my mom and step-dad. For us, those traditions include smelling up the neighborhood with smoked meats, getting down to some old-school music, announcing affirmations of progress, and enjoying the outdoors with family and friends.
Unfortunately, a small detail got in the way of fulfilling my Juneteenth fantasy: the weather. Here in Texas, we’ve been experiencing an unusually rainy June, which threatened to put a damper on my plans. But come hell or high water, I had committed to celebrating Juneteenth and I wasn’t going to let the weather get in the way. To guarantee the party could go on, I planned activities and a menu that were weatherproof, making sure everything was suitable and flexible for both indoors and outdoors.
As I planned my menu, I selected cookout-friendly, soul food sides that could be prepared in advance, like coleslaw, baked beans, and cornbread muffins. This relieved any day-of pressure since I would have to pivot depending on what the weather threw my way. The dishes I was most excited about were the main entree and the beverage. As I mentioned before, BBQ is a must, so my Kansas City-style BBQ chicken wings were a shoo-in because they can be either baked in the oven or cooked on the grill.
With watermelon at peak season in Texas, it only made sense to make my watermelon limeade. It’s tangy, refreshing — and red. It also can be spiked with any kind of alcohol for the adults.
On the day of the party, there were light showers, which forced us to kick things off indoors, but no one was the wiser. Our home felt inviting, the smell of caramelized meats filled the air, and a sense of optimism filled the room as we each shared what Juneteenth meant to us. Next, my husband prayed over our food, and in proper cookout fashion, we hastily made an assembly line around the spread to fill our plates. As we ate, we licked the sticky BBQ sauce off of our fingers and washed everything down with tall glasses of watermelon limeade.
We followed the food with intense games of spades and dominoes. The only rule? No mercy! Rain or not, with a bit of preparation, we all still enjoyed breaking bread together indoors. And as luck would have it, all of my outdoor Juneteenth dreams did come true. Eventually, the showers subsided, the dark clouds broke, the sun began to beam, and we made our way outside, watermelon limeade in hand, to enjoy the fresh air of freedom together.