‘We still come together’: Juneteenth gathering highlights traditions of Black Seminoles

Like the holiday, the ethnic group has become more visible in recent years despite centuries’ worth of history.

By Zahra CrimJune 19, 2024 9:38 am, , ,

Leaning against a winding and narrow stairwell stood Joi. She and her mother both have compostable plates loaded with spicy chili con carne swirled with pale yellow grits and piled on top of homemade cornbread with a preserved piece of cinnamony hoecake dusted with powdered sugar. 

“I’m saving the best for last!,” laughed Hope, Joi’s mom, when I pointed out she hadn’t touched her dessert. 

It’s early June, and the mother-daughter duo are a part of a 60-person crowd at Casa de Las Ofrendas in East Austin. They’re there for an event titled “Black Mexicans – A Juneteenth Celebration,” celebrating Black and Native history and spotlighting the Black Seminoles of Texas and Mexico as Juneteenth approaches. 

When I asked them what drew them to the night’s event, Joi told me that she wanted to stray from her usual Juneteenth celebrations.

“This would be something to learn more about Black and Native and Mexican culture and how those things all intermix,” she smiled.

A group of people gather and converse in the entryway of a home, a stairway beside them. Zahra Crim, a KUT reporter, is scene holding a microphone and wearing headphones while interviewing two people holding plates of food.

Manoo Sirivelu / KUT News

Attendees eat and talk as KUT's Zahra Crim conducts interviews during the event.

Joi is Black, but she told me her great-great-grandmother was Seminole.

“I’m interested in learning more about their culture because it’s a part of our culture, too,” she said. 

Some who were attending the event had no previous knowledge of Black Seminoles or their history.

“This is my first time hearing about the Black Seminoles,” says one father of four. “I figured it would be a really good cultural lesson for our kids to learn.”

Windy Goodloe. Manoo Sirivelu/KUT News

So who are the Black Seminoles?

“Black Seminoles were Africans who held onto their Africanness, but also were culturally Native American in a lot of ways,” says Windy Goodloe. 

Goodloe is the secretary of the Seminole Indian Scouts Cemetery Association (SISCA) in Brackettville, TX. She’s in Austin with Corina Torralba Harrington, SISCA treasurer, to celebrate Juneteenth with Tacos of Texas host Mando Rayo. The three of them first met in 2023 when Rayo traveled to Brackettville and Nacimiento, Coahuila, Mexico when he traced the foodways of Black Seminoles in Texas.

Goodloe and Torralba – both Black Seminole – aren’t strangers to sharing information about their heritage. The two met fifteen years ago, when Torralba Harrington traveled to Brackettville to the Seminole Indian Scouts Cemetery to find her grandfather’s grave. Only then was Torralba formerly introduced to a name for her heritage.

Corina Torralba Harrington. Manoo Sirivelu/KUT News

“My grandfathers on both my mom and dad’s side were both Black Seminole,” she explains. “But we didn’t know ‘Seminole’, we just knew we were part Black.” 

In northern Mexico, one of the locations Black Seminoles fled to escape slavery, Torralba’s family would be referred to as mascogos. “Mascogo” is the Spanish word for a descendant of Black Seminoles.

Mascogos celebrate Juneteenth, better known as Día de los Negros or Diecenueve, just like Black Seminoles in the United States. Black Seminoles are predominantly located in Oklahoma, Florida, the Bahamas, and, of course, Texas.

Though their population stretches across the country and transcends borders, the ethnic group is held together by their distinct subculture, celebrations, and even their own language: Afro-Seminole Creole.

Three youths stand in line looking at an array of food in silver heated trays in the table in front of them. A man wearing gloves and holding a plate reaches for one of the ladles sticking out of a tray as he prepares to serve some of the food. The man is Hoover Alexander of Hoover's Cooking.

Manoo Sirivelu / KUT News

Hoover Alexander of Hoover's Cooking provides catering during the event. Hoover's identity as a fifth-generation Texan inspires his cooking and his love for community. His menu for the panel explored the intersectionality of Black Seminole and Mexican food.

Juneteenth had long been celebrated before it became a federally-recognized holiday. Black Seminoles, much like Juneteenth, are only recently getting more attention despite having centuries’ worth of history.

That type of recognition can stir up a cocktail of emotions: What does that visibility feel like for people like Goodloe and Torralba Harrington?

“I don’t think it’s important for people to see us,” Goodloe admits. “I think it’s more about us seeing ourselves than how people see us.” 

Torralba Harrington agrees.

“When you know who you are and you know your history, it doesn’t matter what the government says you are,” Torralba Harrington adds. “If you know your history and your stories, that’s all that matters.”

Several people sit and stand as they eat and converse. Two people at the forefront of the image seem to be having an engaging conversation, as the woman to the right laughs raucously as her conversation partner speaks.

Manoo Sirivelu / KUT News

Guests laugh and converse prior to the "Black Mexicans - A Juneteenth Celebration" panel at Casa de Las Ofrendas in East Austin on June 11, 2024.

And there, in that gathering of people to learn about and celebrate their culture, Goodloe sees the fruit of their work in passing on those stories and traditions.

“By us continuing to celebrate Juneteenth and Seminole days, we’re showing you that all of that happened to us,” Goodloe beams. “Look at us. We still come together.”

If you found the reporting above valuable, please consider making a donation to support it here. Your gift helps pay for everything you find on texasstandard.org and KUT.org. Thanks for donating today.