June Dinner: celebrating freedom and tradition


In the small town of Wilmar, there is a tradition that has continued for 150 years. Juneteenth, or June Dinner as its residents call it, is the longest-running celebration in the state. Each year people come from all over the country, even as far as Alaska to join in the festivities. Some of the activities include a pageant, parade, and of course food.

When it comes to the kinds of food that are served at June Dinner, there is one thing that everyone can count on; A&W Concessions. What’s that you ask? A&W Concessions is housed in a recognizable blue food trailer that is owned by Christine Arrington. Christine has been a food vendor at June Dinner for 55 years.

Christine is a pleasant woman who wants everyone to feel welcome when they come to June Dinner. Even as she sat down to talk with me, she was smiling warmly.

After a little bit of ice-breaking conversation, I asked her if each year felt like a family reunion.

“Yes,” Arrington said excitedly. “That’s really what it is. Families get together all over town and catch up.”

She also said that she loves getting to see the same people year after year and she loves serving the public. The town of Wilmar has been celebrating Juneteenth since the late 1800’s and as long as Christine can remember, she has been attending.

Christine had a small one room building built that she sold food out of, but eventually she moved to the trailer that she’s in now.

She sells normal concession fare like hot dogs, barbeque, chips, sodas, and snow cones. But one special thing about her barbeque is that she makes her own sauce. While we were talking, she asked a family member to get a bottle so that I could see it. I could tell by the smile on her face that she was very proud. But as I looked at it, something seemed very familiar about the shape of the bottle. I think Christine could tell what I was thinking by the look on my face.

“That’s a Jack Daniels bottle,” Arrington said. “A friend saved it and washed it out for me so I can put my sauce in glass bottles instead of big gallon jugs.”

As I looked at the sauce in the bottle, I could see the spices and herbs that she uses. I asked her what she likes to use the sauce on.

“We like to use it when we barbeque goat, pork, and beef,” Arrington said.

Christine filled me in on the things that happen during the two days that the town comes together to celebrate. She pointed to a stage and said that people will sing and some will get up and tell stories about their past, passing down legacies and history. But in front of the stage, there are rows of concrete that look as though they used to be something and I asked her what that was.

“That was the old school for blacks,” Arrington said. “I went there for part of school, before they tore it down.”

As I looked at the jagged edges of the broken concrete, I could see outlines of what used to be walls and immediately my mind thought back to the time of Jim Crow laws and the unethical and inexcusable “separate but equal” absurdity. I also thought about how I was taught about the Civil Rights movement and Martin Luther King Jr. However, not a single word was ever mentioned about Juneteenth and what it means. That needs to change if it already hasn’t.

I then asked Christine what Juneteenth and June Dinner mean to her.

“It means freedom and togetherness,” Arrington said. “You know, it was two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed that slaves in Texas finally heard that they were free.”

As Christine was telling me what she knew, she was looking off, but then she looked back at me when she was done and smiled.

“You know, I just don’t understand why anyone treats anyone else different because of the color of their skin,” Arrington said. “It just don’t make no sense! I wasn’t brought up that way.”

I smiled and told her that I absolutely agreed.

Christine Arrington was a true pleasure to talk to and I encourage anyone who can to make their way to Wilmar next year for June Dinner.