Black Chefs Celebrate Black Liberation and Food Traditions at Juneteenth on the Waterfront
Selina Knowles, Communications Coordinator
June 9, 2023
From smoked catfish and strawberry lemonade to jerk empanadas and Cajun gumbo, a delicious range of flavors await at the third annual Juneteenth on the Waterfront tomorrow, June 10, at the Embarcadero Ferry Terminal Plaza and Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.
Recognized as a national holiday in 2021, Juneteenth has been celebrated by African Americans since the late 1800s to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States. And no celebration is complete without the feast that brings everyone together.
We talked with some of the Black food entrepreneurs who will be on the plaza tomorrow about how their food traditions will show up on their menus. And in a video from the inaugural Juneteenth on the Waterfront in 2021, you can hear from past participants about what Juneteenth means to them and how food plays a part in its remembrance and celebration.
Tracing the History of Juneteenth into the Present
“I have celebrated Juneteenth for as long as I can remember,” says Fernay McPherson, the chef and owner of Minnie Bell’s Soul Movement. McPherson, who has vended at previous Juneteenth on the Waterfront events, will be a panelist on the Black Chefs and Wine Makers Talk this year. “It’s a day commemorating when the troops went into Galveston to let those slaves know that slavery had been abolished two years prior.”
Although the Emancipation Proclamation was signed into effect on the first day of 1863, reluctant slave owners continued to withhold freedom from Black Americans in some states, including in Texas.
Two years after the proclamation was signed, on June 19, 1865, Union troops made it to Galveston, Texas, where 250,000 Black Americans remained enslaved. Enslaved people were finally informed of their freedom, and since then, annual “Juneteenth” celebrations have occurred across the country.
McPherson adds, “It is a day of celebration, it is a day of reflection, and then recognizing how much more work needs to be done.”
“It means the freedom of my enslaved African American people, my ancestors. It’s important because no human being should be enslaved,” says Imani Glover of The Lemonade Bar, who will be selling her organic lemonades at Juneteenth on the Waterfront.
Chef Dontaye Ball of Gumbo Social, who has participated in the event for all three years, says, “Juneteenth is everything. I look at it as a Black Independence day. I think it’s a day that’s really important to go back and reflect on our history.” Food is a big part of that history, and the African Diaspora has carried rich food traditions into the present.
Red Food and Drink and Other Juneteenth Food Traditions
Shakirah Simley of MegaBlack SF, one of the founding organizers of Juneteenth on the Waterfront, describes Juneteenth as “the joy of celebrating Black liberation, as unapologetically as possible. It’s also one of my favorite food holidays, and we took advantage of that to bring over a dozen Black food businesses here to the Ferry Terminal Plaza.”
For the third year in a row, Black food businesses will be popping up on the Ferry Terminal Plaza sharing delicious dishes to commemorate the holiday. Among a Juneteenth spread, it’s common to see red foods, such as red velvet cake, red rice and beans, and barbeque.
This tradition is traceable to the Yoruba and Kongo, who were forcibly brought to Texas and enslaved in the 1800s. In both cultures, the color red embodies spiritual power. West African influence also shows up in the red drink, which is made with the native hibiscus plant. Also known as bissap, sorrel, or roselle juice, red drink is commonly found at Juneteenth celebrations.
“Food has always been and will always be an important factor in the African and African American community,” says Glover. “It’s how our ancestors survived off of very little resources and created family recipes out of very little ingredients.”
At The Lemonade Bar, Glover will be serving organic frozen lemonade, including her popular Black Gurl Rock flavor, made with pineapple, strawberry, peach, and mango. In terms of food, she shares that one of her Juneteenth traditions is “making sure we get our hands on some really good soul food and eat it with our family.”
Also popping up at the event, Sir Hands Street Food, a member of the Fillmore Merchants and Neighborhood Collaborative, boasts the best Hibachi Soul Food in the Bay Area and serves up crab, lobster, shrimp, steak, and more.
“Food plays a role on Juneteenth due to our southern roots,” says owner Stevie Johnson. “Back before we were free, we were forced to make do with cheaper meats like turkey wings and oxtails. In today’s culture we take those same meats and make them high-end cuisine for affordable prices.”
See the full list of food makers who will be popping up tomorrow, along with some of their menu items here.
Celebrate Juneteenth on the Waterfront and Beyond
In addition to delicious foods from local Black chefs, the third annual Juneteenth on the Waterfront includes some new elements.
This year, you can support Black artisans at the In the Black craft pop-up market, a Fillmore-based creative marketplace for Black community empowerment, wealth building, and prosperity. On the south patio in front of the Ferry Building, find attire and accessories, therapeutic crystals and candles, and vegan skin care products. When it’s time to take a break, hang out in the adjacent SF Black Wallstreet lounge to enjoy snacks from Black Ferry Plaza Farmers Market makers and music by DJ Letha Jones.
At the Foodwise Education Station on the plaza, learn more about the Juneteenth’s history and symbolism, and personalize your own Juneteenth tote bag with linocut stamps.
Meanwhile at the Foodwise Classroom at 10:30 am, Chef Sarah Germany will be demonstrating how to make Smoked Catfish Chowder, with free recipes and samples. Following the demo, the Black Chefs and Wine Makers Talk, featuring Chefs Tanya Holland, Tiffany Carter, Fernay McPherson, and others, will begin at 12:00 pm.
Keep the celebration going by joining the first San Francisco Juneteenth Parade this Saturday. The parade will start at 11 am at Market and Spear and travel up Market to Civic Center. Mark your calendars for other events throughout the week, and save the date for Foodwise’s Building Equity for Black Entrepreneurs talk on June 21 to learn how you can continue to support Black-led community efforts beyond Juneteenth.
Juneteenth on the Waterfront is part of a series of events featuring Black-owned businesses in Foodwise’s Building Equity Program. Pop-Ups on the Plaza is a Port sponsored event brought to you by Foodwise, The San Francisco Human Rights Commission’s Dream Keeper Initiative, and the Ferry Building, in partnership with En2action’s Ujamaa Kitchen, La Cocina, Mandela Partners, and SF Black Wallstreet.