Juneteenth celebrates the day when news of emancipation finally reached the last remaining enslaved people in the United States. Two years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, to enforce the new statute. Theories abound as to why it took so long for emancipation to be enforced, ranging from the literal killing of the messenger to the assertion that Union troops actually waited for slave owners to bring in one last harvest of cotton before heading in to enforce the president's executive order. Whatever the reason for the delay, the news was received with a mixture of shock and pure jubilation. Eventually the June 19 celebration marking this joyous moment in American history was coined "Juneteenth," and has become an important and beloved tradition for families across the country. Juneteenth was made an official Illinois state holiday in 2003, and activists continue to campaign to recognize it as a federal holiday alongside Independence Day.
In years past, families and friends would gather together for picnics and prayer services, but many of the beloved traditions will have to be altered this year in the wake of the pandemic. Alderman Shawn Gregory said that due to COVID-19 concerns the regular picnic and celebration at Comer Cox Park has been canceled, but that the celebrations will continue, with social distancing, of course.
"We really can't have the overall event at the park but we are still having our annual parade," Gregory explained. "We've tailored it a little and this year it will end at the Capitol. We'll have a short program there before kicking off the first 217 Black restaurant weekend and supporting those businesses downtown, getting out and enjoying some delicious food before going back to COVID-life."
Alderman Doris Turner was kind enough to share her family's Juneteenth tradition. She writes:
"My mother and father are both Texas natives and my summers were always spent there so 'the 19th of June,' as Juneteenth is affectionately known in the South, has been a part of my family history ever since I can remember. There was always a large picnic and a mainstay was homemade ice cream.
"This recipe has been in my family at least seven generations. It must be good or it wouldn't have lasted this long."
6 well beaten eggs 2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/4 cups sugar 1 can Carnation evaporated milk
1/4 cup flour
3 quarts of milk
Mix flour and sugar together in a 4-quart pan. Add 6 well beaten eggs. Mix well. Gradually stir in 3 quarts of milk, stirring until all ingredients have dissolved. Cook over low heat until mixture thickens.
Remove from heat and stir in 2 teaspoons vanilla and evaporated milk. Let cool and freeze in ice cream freezer. Makes about one gallon of ice cream.