How Marcus Garvey Bean Salad Became a Traditional Juneteenth Dish


Juneteenth arrives on June 19, and with it comes many of the traditions that tend to accumulate around celebrations. In addition to family reunions, prayer services, and guest speakers, celebrants often look forward to menu items that tend to materialize for the occasion.

A dish in particular has a special meaning, but sometimes unknown. This is the Marcus Garvey bean salad, made with green, red and black beans. The name and color scheme are no coincidence.

Marcus Garvey was a black nationalist from Jamaica who was active at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1914 he founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association and the League of African Communities, or UNIA, and drew attention for his uncompromising views on civil rights. Garvey advocated for self-sufficiency, with wealth and resources independent of other cultures. Its ambition was not to lobby for existing institutions to defend civil rights, but for these institutions to be formed organically. He created the Black Cross Nurses which provided health care to black communities and provided the Black Star Line steamboats which provided transportation and resources to Africa.

After Garvey immigrated to the United States, his audience grew to include hundreds of thousands of people, who together helped ignite the civil rights movement that followed.

Not everyone agreed with Garvey’s views, especially those who preferred the status quo. The FBI had a file on Garvey, and a mail fraud conviction on a sale of Black Star Line shares saw him jailed and then deported. But Garvey’s dedication to the black community and his advocacy for prosperity struck a chord that had a lasting impact.

According to Martin Luther King Jr., Garvey was the “first colored man in US history to lead and develop a mass movement.”

The story isn’t entirely clear on the origins of a bean salad that bears its name or who developed the recipe, but the choice of ingredients has special significance. Green, red and black beans are also the colors of the African nationalist flag, a symbol of Garvey’s activism which was first adopted by UNIA in 1920. (It is also known as the Pan-African Flag, Marcus Garvey Flag, UNIA Flag, African-American Flag, or Black Liberation Flag .)

Garvey had long pushed for a flag to represent the movement because he believed it would represent a political presence for the black community.

Red was chosen to represent the blood shared and shed by Africans; black was associated with identity; green was a reminder of growth and fertility in Africa.

there is at least one variation salad that uses red beans, black olives and green lettuce to represent the colors of the flag. Like almost everything about Juneteenth, serving it is more than just fun, it’s about remembering the many challenges and the people who made the difference.

[h/t The Daily Meal]


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