Celebrating Juneteenth: The Power of the Red Drink

Posted on: Jun. 18, 2022 | | By: Tiffany Barranco

Juneteenth is and has been recognized as Black Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, and Manumission Day because of the announcement made to free all slaves. It has been celebrated mainly in the area of Texas and Louisiana because of the announcement’s location and later began to become recognized across the nation. In 1979 Al Edwards, a freshman state representative, authored and sponsored House Bill 1016, making June 19 (“Juneteenth“) a state-paid holiday in Texas which wasn’t approved until 2007. As of June 17, 2021 Juneteenth National Independence Day is the second Black recognized holiday to be added to the list of federal holidays since the recognition of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday in 1983.

Quick Juneteenth cliff note: Just before the Civil War, there were 19 free states and 15 slave states. 18th President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, as the nation approached its third year of the Civil War and in his proclamation, he declared “that all persons held as slaves within the rebellious states are, and henceforward free.” He unfortunately only freed slaves for 10 of those 15 states. Gordan Granger, a Union Army General, was best known for his delivery of General Order No. 3 in Galveston Texas, which stated that all slaves were free. He was ordered to share the news on June 10, 1865, and delivered it to soldiers and enslaved blacks on the land on June 19th records share. The unfortunate thing about this news is that all slaves had been stated free 18 months prior to his message’s delivery. 

I grew up in South Houston and spent summers between Port Arthur Texas, Opelousas, and all the small hot Louisiana towns in between. Since I could remember Juneteenth was one of the biggest gatherings in my family and the preparation felt like Christmas. As kids we understood Juneteenth to be a day we could play with our family, neighbors, and church friends all day and eat and drink treats that were vibrant red and limitless like watermelon, BBQ, and cakes. There were horse trail rides, balloons, live bands and even a large parade throughout the day that kept our eyes and ears entertained. Of course, as kids sugary sodas and sugar drinks were monitored but not on Juneteenth. The special drink to enjoy was red soda aka Big Red resting in an ice chest or sites of large punch bowls or plastic gallon jugs on every table filled with a crimson red liquid that was always refreshing and never seemed to run out. 

With the hibiscus flower being the primary reason “red drink” has that astonishing color, its history makes for a solid full circle of flavor. Hibiscus, also called roselle or bissap, is native to West Africa and was also seen in Asia in the 17th century. Hibiscus and other products came to the Americas with the slave trade and were recognized for coloring water when it was steeped making for a bitter, healthy, and beautiful beverage. Hibiscus is also seen in the Spanish, Caribbean, and African cultures and consumed at ceremonies, celebrations and for medicinal purposes like reducing inflammation and for treating bacterial infections. When consumed, adding flavors like ginger, citrus, and sweeteners such as cane syrup or sorghum were used to balance the bitterness that the flower brings. Before its national recognition, Juneteenth celebrations across the nation, especially the South, have been adding their only favorite ingredients and spirits to their “red drink” as there is no real recipe to what helps you celebrate, however, we do know that the color red is mandatory and a solid symbol of liberation, happiness, and recognition of our ancestors. 

About Tiffanie Barriere:

Tiffanie Barriere is the bartender’s bartender, an influencer and an educator who has been awarded some of the beverage industry’s highest honors. The Bar Smart graduate is a Tastemakers of the South award-winner who spent seven years as the beverage director of One Flew South the “Best Airport Bar in the World.”⁠ Be sure to follow Tiffanie on Instagram @thedrinkingcoach.

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