Sankofa Gardening Homes
Across America on Dec. 3l, millions of African Americans gathered together in churches for Watch Night Services to pray 2018 out and 2019 in. As they gathered before midnight, songs of praise and sermons thanking God for allowing them to see a New Year were preached.
Each year, as midnight draws near, there is a feeling of collective joy that fills sanctuaries as people fall to their knees in prayer, thanking God for allowing them to see another year. They embrace and greet each with shouts of hallelujah while music fills the air.
As they travel back to their homes and await the dawn of a new day and a New Year, the aroma of black-eyed peas and collard greens fill homes like incense, blessing and greeting all who enter.
Like the night before, African Americans welcome Jan. 1 with collective culinary traditions of eating black-eyed peas and collard greens. They welcome family and friends as they make sure that they eat their share.
But is the New Year the only thing African Americans have to be thankful for? Why do members of African American churches gather each year at this time and engage in this spiritual outpouring and culinary celebration of food, as if a ritual of nature draws us together?
To understand these events we must go back to Dec. 31, 1862. America was in the midst of the Civil War. The war had split America in two and given birth to two nations: the Union in the North and the Confederacy in the South. The reason for the Civil War has been debated for years.
According to Ducksters Education Site, “There are many causes that led to the American Civil War. While slavery is generally cited as the main cause for the war, other political and cultural differences between the North and the South certainly contributed.”
Ducksters Education Site notes the following reasons for the war:
Industry vs. Farming
In the mid-1800s, the economies of many Northern states had moved away from farming to industry. A lot of people in the North worked and lived in large cities like New York, Philadelphia and Boston. The Southern states, however, had maintained a large farming economy, and this economy was based on slave labor. While the North no longer needed slaves, the South relied heavily upon slaves for their way of life.
The idea of states’ rights was not new to the Civil War. Since the Constitution was first written, there had been arguments about how much power the states should have verses how much power the federal government should have. The Southern states felt that the federal government was taking away their rights and powers.
As the United States continued to expand westward, each new state added to the country shifted the power between the North and the South. Southern states began to fear they would lose so much power that they would lose all their rights. Each new state became a battleground between the two sides for power.
At the heart of much of the South’s issues was slavery. The South relied on slavery for labor to work the fields. Many people in the North believed that slavery was wrong and evil. These people were called abolitionists. They wanted slavery made illegal throughout the United States. Abolitionists such as John Brown, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and Harriet Beecher Stowe began to convince more and more people of the evil of slavery. This made the South fearful that their way of life would come to an end.
The first fighting over the slavery issue took place in Kansas. In 1854, the government passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act allowing the residents of Kansas to vote on whether they would be a slave state or a free state. The region was flooded with supporters from both sides. They fought over the issue for years. Several people were killed in small skirmishes giving the confrontation the name Bleeding Kansas. Eventually Kansas entered the Union as a free state in 1861.
The final straw for the South was election of Abraham Lincoln to president of the United States. Lincoln was a member of the new anti-slavery Republican Party. He managed to get elected without even being on the ballot in ten of the Southern states. The Southern states felt that Lincoln was against slavery and also against the South.
When Lincoln was elected, many of the Southern states decided they no longer wanted to be a part of the United States. They felt that they had every right to leave. Starting with South Carolina, 11 states would eventually leave the United States and form a new country called the Confederate States of America. Lincoln said they did not have the right to leave the United States and sent in troops to stop the South from leaving. The Civil War had begun.
While the debate would continue, enslaved and freed African people would gather on Dec. 31 and give birth to Watch Freedom Night and later celebrate President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, Jubilee Day.
Although freedom was not immediate for all enslaved African people, the Emancipation Proclamation opened the door of freedom, which would never be closed again in America. In 1865, enslaved Africans in Texas received the news of freedom, giving birth to the international celebration of Juneteenth.
With the dawn of freedom came a celebration that would be commemorated with Hoppin’ John and collard greens.
Hoppin’ John is a black-eyed peas and rice dish of African origins dating back to 1847 in the Carolina Sea Islands. Eating black-eyed peas on Jubilee Day would be a sign of good luck in the new year of freedom, while eating greens represented money and prosperity – two things freed African men, women and children would surely need as they began their new journey into freedom in America.
Do an internet search for “Hoppin’ John recipe.” You can replace pork with smoked turkey.
So let us renew the celebrations of Watch Freedom Eve and Jubilee Day as we eat our freedom food in years to come and pass on to future generations the meaning of these sacred African American holidays!
In the words of an enslaved African on the eve of freedom, “No more that!”
Good Sankofa Gardening!
Sankofa Gardening Homes is provided by Clarence Glover, known as Professor Freedom of Sankofa Education Services, for the purpose of “taking the chains off our brains, so our minds can work.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.