“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.” ~Union General Gordon Granger General Order No. 3
By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, MSJ
As Juneteenth is recognized across the country, 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 19th. 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.
Crusader columnist, past chairman of the National Black United Front (NBUF) and Professor Emeritus Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies, Conrad Worrill, Ph.D, has actually been at 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 began to uncover more of our history,” he said.
The national chairperson of the (NBUF), Kofi Taharka, says that the day should be not only be celebrated but 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 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 red velvet cake, and red beans and rice are also favorite Juneteenth staples.
In keeping with the red colored theme, Hecky Powell, an Evanston businessman and philanthropist, formulated a strawberry soda to forever recognize the importance of June 19. Hecky’s Barbeque, which is owned 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 more than 35 years as a labor of love for the community.
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 $100.00 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 slogan is “It’s the Sauce.”
Many stories have been written about Hecky’s, and the food is worth the trip. There is a bit of counter space so guests can dine in, and in warm weather, patrons can enjoy their meals in outdoor seating. More so than his food, Powell has truly been an asset to his community. And one thing that stands out is his commitment to Juneteenth.
In 2015, Powell debuted the restaurant’s newest product, Juneteenth Strawberry soda, the label upon 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, “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.” He added that on June 19, the soda, whose bottles are prominently displayed in a glass case where customers can inquire about their significance, will be sold for 50 cents.
As the owner of Hecky’s, Powell and his wife have sponsored numerous community groups and organizations throughout its history. He also hires local young people and provides them with the necessary skills and training to pursue higher-level customer service positions.
He accomplishes 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.
On June 15, Powell will participate in a program to be held at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center in Evanston. He will discuss his family’s personal triumph on Juneteenth. Remember that it’s important to not relegate Juneteenth to just a day to pig out but to recall the significance of June 19.
Taharka said, “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 Powell’s Foundation, visit https://www.heckys.com/