The Crusader Newspaper Group

For Blacks June Nineteenth isn’t just another day

By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J.

I wrote this column last year. This year it is a tribute to the scholarship of Dr. Conrad Worrill and Hecky Powell—both men who recently passed away.

As Juneteenth is recognized across the country, last year I reached out to local and national scholars to share thoughts on this day and also an Evanston businessman to learn more about his longevity and efforts to keep the importance of this date alive in his business and his foundation.

The name Juneteenth is a combination of the words June and 19. During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, with an effective date of January 1, 1863. It declared that all enslaved persons in the Confederate States of America were to be freed.

However, it was two years later, on June 19, 1865, that slaves in Galveston, Texas, received word that they were free.

Dr. Conrad Worrill

The late Crusader columnist, past chairman of the National Black United Front (NBUF) and Professor Emeritus, Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies, Conrad Worrill, Ph.D., had actually visited the spot by the river in Galveston, where the news of freedom reached the slaves. “Juneteenth began as a local celebration, but now it’s an evolving celebration as Blacks begin to uncover more of our history,” he told me last year.

Dr. Worrill connected me to the national chairperson of the (NBUF) Kofi Taharka, who said that the day shouldn’t be celebrated as much commemorated.

“Union General Gordon Granger came to the shores of Galveston, Texas, and made the announcement, which I understand was cause for the enslaved Africans to break out into celebration,” Taharka said. “I believe enslaved Africans knew about the Emancipation Proclamation, but what Granger did was bring federal troops to enforce the Proclamation. Law is one thing but the power to enforce it is another.”

According to Wikipedia, Granger’s General Order No. 3 on that day began as follows: “The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection therefore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.”

Kofi, who lives in Houston, says that there are many, many Juneteenth celebrations at parks, churches, etc. “It is much more widely recognized and celebrated in Texas than [is] Kwanzaa.” He notes, and online searches note, that red soda water, BBQ and watermelon are favored treats for Juneteenth. Also other “red” colored foods, such as red velvet cake, and red beans and rice are also favorite Juneteenth staples.

In keeping with the red-colored theme, the late Hecky Powell, an Evanston businessman and philanthropist, formulated a strawberry soda to forever recognize the importance of June 19. Hecky’s Barbeque, which was begun by Powell and his wife, Cheryl, is a long-standing barbecue place that has won a number of regional awards, and has been around for nearly 40 years as a labor of love for the community.

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Hecky’s opened on October 13, 1983, on the northwest corner of Emerson Street and Green Bay Road where it is still located today. Powell opened the restaurant with only $100 in the cash register, and his place quickly became famous for its barbecued foods, including ribs, rib tips, and chicken, as well as for the barbecue sauce. The restaurant’s motto is “It’s the Sauce.”

Many stories have been written about Hecky’s, and many more were written after his death last month. The New York Times published a profile on June 4. More so than his food, Powell had truly been an asset to his community. And one thing that stands out is his commitment to Juneteenth.

Juneteenth Strawberry Soda IMG 5290In 2015, Powell debuted the restaurant’s newest product, Juneteenth Strawberry soda, the label on which appears a photo of Powell’s paternal great-grandfather Forest L. White, who was born into slavery in Missouri. The “Juneteenth Strawberry Soda” appropriately and humbly bears as its tagline “A Sweet Sip of Freedom.” Powell said during this interview last year, “You can only get this soda at Hecky’s. We created and registered this brand.”

He further shared with the Crusader his desire to market this soda. “I made this soda and sell it in my restaurant to make people aware of the significance of Juneteenth and to commemorate the ending of slavery.” As the owner of Hecky’s, Powell had in the past sponsored numerous community groups and organizations throughout its history. He has also hired local young people and provides them with the necessary skills and training to pursue higher-level customer service positions.

He accomplished some of these goals as founder of The Forrest E. Powell Foundation WE (Work Ethic) program, which particularly uplifts students at Evanston Township High School. The WE program was founded in 2016 to support young people who are interested in the trades and exemplifies the Foundation’s mission in action by providing ambitious ETHS students with comprehensive, pre-professional career/tech preparation through mentors, workshops, counseling, and financial assistance.‪

PASTOR OLIVIA JOHNSON, Hecky Powell and Elaine Hegwood Bowen pose for a photo at Hecky’s Barbeque restaurant in Evanston last spring.

The Foundation began on April 1993, after Evanston suffered a severe and damaging thunderstorm. Afterward, Powell joined his father Forrest E. Powell, Sr., to clear his yard of debris. They worked to remove a fallen tree that had a three-branched trunk, and later that evening Powell Sr. passed away. Later the three remaining branches would represent Community, Family, and Spirituality and serve as cornerstones of the Foundation’s work.

Dr. Conrad Worrill, who passed away on June 3, and Hecky Powell are no longer with us physically, but their contributions—in some cases—globally will always be remembered.

Furthermore, because of social distancing large celebrations of Juneteenth are probably not possible this year, but the day’s significance still matters.

“Why should we celebrate our ancestors being enslaved an extra two-plus years, asks Taharka. I would tend to compare it to how Dr. King’s birthday is celebrated without depth of who he was and the movement he was involved in. He has been reduced to a two-second sound bite ‘I have a dream’. Juneteenth sometimes is reduced to ‘The slaves in Texas were freed’.”

He concluded, “I understand the celebration aspect, but it should be a little more solemn—given the tragedy of it all.”

For more information about Hecky’s and The Powell Foundation, visit

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