Five cookbooks influenced by Juneteenth & The Great Migration

Five cookbooks influenced by Juneteenth & The Great Migration

Juneteenth and The Great Migration has been a recurrent theme in so many releases this past year. Not only are these excellent cookbooks, but they also offer so much to learn about culinary and cultural identity in their narratives as well. Since Juneteenth is now upon us, I thought I would highlight a few of the excellent cookbooks (and books!) from our collection that celebrate these journeys.

What is Juneteenth?

What is now a federal holiday, Juneteenth has also often been referred to as "Freedom Day", "Emancipation Day", "Jubilee" or "Black Independence Day."  It is recognized as a ceremonial day to celebrate the freedom of enslaved African Americans after the Civil War.

June 19, 1865 is significant because it is regarded as the date that the Union Army began to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation in Galveston, Texas - it took a while for word to diffuse into the Deep South and even longer for plantation owners to accept and communicate the new reality to the enslaved populations they oversaw.  In some instances, Union soldiers marched onto farms and plantations reciting the new proclamation for all to hear.  Since those early days, Juneteenth celebrations have evolved from feast days, to days of service, to days for focused activism.  During The Great Migration and especially after World War II, Juneteenth celebrations proliferated throughout the United States as Black soldiers returned to the United States and relocated to pursue new opportunities for advancement.

Modern Juneteenth celebrations are opportunities to commemorate, celebrate, and remember how far Black Americans have some since the days of enslavement and to reflect on the future.  It's a time for family and friends to gather, share a meal, and pass down history and culture.  Many observances of Juneteenth involve symbolic culinary traditions such as

  • Red drink - symbolizes the richness of freedom and sacrifices of their enslaved ancestors
  • Barbecue - a popular celebration food that enslaved peoples would not have traditionally had access to and
  • Watermelon - a delicious native African fruit that first comes into season around the end of June, signifying growth and sustenance

Two cookbooks for Juneteenth and Celebration Foods:

1. Watermelon and Red Birds by Nicole A. Taylor

The very first cookbook to celebrate Juneteenth, from food writer and cookbook author Nicole A. Taylor who draws on her decade of experiences observing the holiday.

Watermelon and Red Birds: A Cookbook for Juneteenth and Black Celebrations

2. Jubilee by Toni Tipton-Martin

A wonderful collection of recipes that proudly claims modern African-American cuisine's place within the broader arch of American cuisine.  This book is both utilitarian in the kitchen and transcendent in narrative.  

What is The Great Migration?

The Great Migration marks a time period in the United States when approximately six million Black people moved from the American South to Northern, Midwestern, and Western states in the century after the Civil War. The driving force behind the mass movement was to escape racial violence, pursue economic and educational opportunities, abandon low paid agricultural work, and obtain freedom from the oppression of Jim Crow laws in the South.

Although the migrants were generally able to find better jobs in these new areas, many African Americans faced injustices and difficulties after migrating. Black people were often met with housing discrimination, as many local cities and banks had started to implement restrictive covenants and redlining, creating segregated neighborhoods and serving as the foundation for the existing racial disparities in wealth in the United States.

Many of the impacts of redlining and housing discrimination are still felt in Black communities today, so it makes sense that we are seeing these influences in the cooking and culinary philosophies of Black chefs who grew up as children and grandchildren of northern and western migration.

Four cookbooks that feature stories of The Great Migration:

1. Tanya Holland's California Soul by Tanya Holland

The recipes—influenced by the historical migration of African American families, including Tanya’s own—reveal the key ingredients, techniques, and traditions that African Americans brought with them as they left the South for California, creating a beloved version of soul food. Beyond recipes, Tanya spotlights fifteen contemporary Black Californian foodmakers—farmers, coffee roasters, and other talented artisans—whose work help defines California soul food, with stunning portraiture and stories.

2. Cheryl Day's Treasury of Southern Baking by Cheryl Day

Ms. Day celebrates the talents and influence of the generations of smart southern black women that preceded her both in the South and in California where she grew up after her family migrated there in the mid-Twentieth Century.  Day celebrates the gifts inherent in handwritten family recipe cards and the ability of flavors and textures to anchor a person to their cultural past while simultaneously providing sustenance for the future.

Cheryl Day's Treasury of Southern Baking

3. Homage: Recipes and Stories from an Amish Soul Food Kitchen by Chris Scott

Chris Scott tells the remarkable story of his family over seven generations via comforting dishes and vivid narratives: From his enslaved ancestors to his great-grandfather, who migrated to Pennsylvania after the Emancipation Proclamation, to his own childhood in Amish country, and, ultimately, his successful restaurant career in Philadelphia and New York City.


For an excellent overview about the politics of food and the events that lead to the Great Migration in the South, check out:

4.  The Cooking Gene by Michael W. Twitty

A renowned culinary historian offers a fresh perspective on our most divisive cultural issue, race, in this illuminating memoir of Southern cuisine and food culture that traces his ancestry both black and white through food, from Africa to America and slavery to freedom.

The Cooking Gene

5.  The Edible South by Marcie Cohen Ferris 

Marcie Cohen Ferris presents food as a new way to chronicle the American South's larger history.  She argues that southern food is intimately connected to the politics of power and strongly impacted the ability for the people of the region to control the nourishment of their bodies and minds, livelihoods, lands, and citizenship.

The Edible South: The Power of Food and the Making of an American Region

If you want to learn about Black History, soul food, or Black foodways, check out our Amplify Black Voices collection - and check back for updates as we add new and vintage books to this collection regularly