Article by Ennis Davis, AICP
The Story of Juneteenth and Soul Food
William “Willie” and Lula Bennett, the maternal great grandparents of the Jaxson’s Ennis Davis. Willie’s parents, William and Moriah, escaped a North Carolina plantation and lived with Native American kin until learning in 1865 the Emancipation Proclamation had established their freedom.
Also known as Freedom Day, Juneteenth is an American holiday that commemorates the official end of slavery. Despite the Emancipation Proclamation two years prior, Texas was the most remote of the slave states with a low presence of Union representation and increasing slave population. On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers arrived in Texas to announce that the Civil War was over and that the enslaved were to be freed. With 47 states observing Juneteenth, the day is a symbol of total freedom from slave trade across all states.
A Soul Food Bistro plate of oxtails, rice, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, cornbread and sweet tea.
Many celebrate Juneteenth by serving or enjoying traditional soul food dishes like fried chicken, red velvet cake, macaroni and cheese, collard greens. The origins of soul food, including foods such as okra and rice, are common elements of Gullah Geechee cuisine. Historically associated with the coastal region stretching from Wilmington, North Carolina to St. Augustine, the Gullah Geechee are descendants of Central and West African ancestors who arrived in America through the transatlantic slave trade.
A Mandarin family preparing a one pot meal, a long running tradition of the region’s Gullah Geechee story. Courtesy of Florida Memory.
For centuries, the enslaved were given only the “leftover” and “undesirable” cuts of meat while plantation owners took the meatiest cuts of ham, roasts, etc. Making do with the food choices they had to work with, the enslaved combined these meats with vegetables grown from farming and fish and wild game caught from hunting. The result was a variety of southern dishes that were called “soul food” during the midst of the Black Power movement of the 1960s.
Today, Jacksonville is home to more Gullah Geechee descendants than any other place in the country. This means the city is home to some of the best authentic soul food restaurants in the country. In celebration of Juneteenth, here are ten black-owned, authentic, and locally operated soul food restaurants in town. If you see a soul food establishment you’d recommend that is not listed, let us know!
Austin’s Soul Food Restaurant
4807 North Main Street Northside
Fried chicken and other traditional soul food options are offered at this popular modest counter serve destination between Brentwood and Panama Park. Menu items at Austin’s Soul Food tend to be mid-priced and Austin’s serves up some of the most unique and flavorful options in town. If you have room for more, their desserts are hard to pass up.
For more information: https://www.facebook.com/austins.soulfood
5868 Norwood Avenue Northside
Blu Diner can be described as a jazzy soul food celebration: homemade cooking, unique recipes, and music all rolled up into a single experience. Located near the Gateway Town Center, Blu Diner is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m.. $6.99 lunch specials are served Tuesday through Saturday.
For more information: https://www.facebook.com/bludiner