Why Red Food and Drink Became Powerful Symbols on Juneteenth

By Nia Mclean, CNN

(CNN) — Celebrity chef Carla Hall’s Hibiscus Ginger Sweet Tea Soda is not only a creative drink for Juneteenth celebrations, it’s also an important tribute to the African diaspora.

The unique Juneteenth drink, along with many other red-hued foods and drinks, symbolizes the bloodshed and profound sacrifices made by former black American slaves, according to food historian Adrian E Miller.

Miller also noted that red is a royal color in African society, adding depth to the folklore surrounding Juneteenth.

On Juneteenth, communities across the country will come together with food, parades, games, music and vibrant displays of Black culture to celebrate the rich tapestry of resilience and triumph that Juneteenth embodies.

A combination of the words June and Nineteenth, June 19, 1865 is the day Union Army Major General Gordon Granger entered Galveston, Texas and issued General Order No. 3 , proclaiming that enslaved African Americans were free.

The announcement comes two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which could not be enforced in areas under Confederate control. Although they had been freed years earlier, this was the first time enslaved Texans were informed of their freedom, thus ending the practice of slavery in the United States.

After years of celebration primarily by Black Americans, June 19, 2021, became a federal holiday in the United States – the first to be approved since Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983.

Many Black Americans commemorate the freedom from slavery granted on this day with an array of red foods, such as barbecue, watermelon, red velvet cake, and strawberry pie. The streets will come alive with the aromas of grilled meats and spices mingling with the sweet scents of freshly baked pies and cakes.

“I think food is the glue,” Hall told CNN. The celebrity chef, who became known for her culinary prowess on hit TV series Top Chef and The Chew, said food is “how we tell the stories of our ancestors”.

Although recipes may differ from generation to generation, Hall said food can be a source of unity and often helps people maintain their roots.

“So I think in the spirit of this holiday… for me it’s about learning about myself, learning to understand myself and what my contributions are – the contributions of my ancestors – through food “Hall said.

With roots in Texas and dyed a bright red hue, Big Red Soda has become a common drink served at many Juneteenth celebrations. But Miller noted that the Juneteenth menu is evolving, taking inventive twists on tradition.

Besides making classics, like barbecue, Hall said every year she tries to challenge herself to get more creative with her Juneteenth recipes. She incorporates hibiscus – which gives foods a deep red color – into her meats, salads and rice dishes. She also makes a hibiscus and ginger sweet tea soda.

Hall urged those who embrace the symbolism on Juneteenth to let every sip and bite serve as a reminder of the resilience and sacrifices of those who fought for freedom, urging us to confront the injustices of the past. She also encouraged people to find ways to commemorate and honor the freedom and sacrifices of slaves throughout the year.

“A red drink is symbolic… but what do you do the rest of the time?” Hall said..

June 16, she said, is a day not only to rejoice, but also to reaffirm our commitment to the continued work of justice, throughout the year.

Carla Hall’s Ginger Hibiscus Sweet Tea Soda

(for 8 servings)

Hibiscus simple syrup

  • 2 parts water
  • 1 part sugar
  • 2 tablespoons ginger, grated
  • 4 bags of hibiscus tea

In a medium saucepan, heat the water and sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Add the grated ginger and tea bags. Leave to infuse for at least 30 minutes. Remove the tea bags and strain the syrup into a pitcher. Refrigerate.


  • 1 part hibiscus simple syrup
  • 3 parts sparkling water
  • Fresh lemon juice to taste
  • Fresh mint, garnish

Once the syrup has cooled, in a tall glass (or pitcher), mix 1 part hibiscus syrup and 3 parts sparkling water. Add desired amount of lemon juice to taste. Pour into a tall glass filled with ice cubes and garnish with mint and lemon

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