INDIANAPOLIS — This year the Benjamin Harrison presidential site is hosting a special food festival to honor the Juneteenth holiday.
Juneteenth celebrates when former slaves in Texas found out they were free. It took the news of the Emancipation Proclamation several months to travel that far south, and now, the day it did is celebrated as a national holiday.
“Because it is now a national holiday. Many organizations are trying to determine how they can acknowledge and celebrate Juneteenth,” said local historian Ophelia Wellington.
The food at the festival will come from Black food vendors across the city. Some of them recreating dishes from Dolly Johnson, who President Harrison hired as the first Black White House chef.
Octavius Pearson is the owner of Big Taste LLC, a catering and seasoning-making company.
“We primarily cook southern-style dishes, but we can cook up to a four-star level,” said Pearson.
He joins more than 20 vendors in the inaugural Juneteenth Foodways Festival.
“Oh historic! It’s a very historic event. We wanted to show our appreciation.”
One of the dishes in honor of Johnson is a potato dish that Pearson says he put his own spin on.
“You’re going to be able to taste a piece of Dolly Johnson while learning about her, going through the home and seeing what was going on during the late 1800s in Indianapolis and itself,” said Whitney Ball, the special events and marketing manager for Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site.
Ball says it’s important not just to feed people her food, but also her history. So, there will be a character re-enactor there from the living history museum, Freetown Village, to share her story.
“What we do is we research and we create characters, profiles of people and events that have happened in Indiana,” said Wellington, who is also the Freetown Village executive director.
“Interesting woman, tells a great story about her entrepreneurship, her boldness, her integrity, some of the things she was able to do.”
Wellington won’t be playing the role of Dolly, but she says it’s important to share stories like hers and the significance of Juneteenth.
“Now, why are we celebrating it in Indiana and all the other states? It’s because it is an acknowledgment of the emancipation, it’s an acknowledgment of freedom.”
While Juneteenth isn’t until this Sunday the 19th, the Juneteenth Foodways Festival is Friday from 4 until 8 at the Benjamin Harrison presidential site and is free to the public. More information here.