Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas to announce the freedom of Black slaves. It was two months after the Confederacy had surrendered and about 2 1/2 years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. It was established as an official federal holiday last year.
The museum was selling a watermelon salad in its cafeteria to honor Juneteenth. Critics called the museum's effort to honor the holiday a clear example of racial stereotyping.
In its statement, the museum apologized for the negative impact the salad had and said the salad has been removed from the cafeteria's menu.
The statement also said the museum is looking at how they can best convey stories and traditions during the celebration and make changes to how future food selections are made.
The full statement, which can be read below, concluded with the museum resolving to do better.
"As a museum, we apologize and acknowledge the negative impact that stereotypes have on communities of color. The salad has been removed from the menu. We are currently reviewing how we may best convey these stories and traditions during this year’s Juneteenth celebration as well as making changes around how future food selections are made by our food service provider.
Our food service provider uses the food and beverage menu to commemorate and raise awareness of holidays like Juneteenth. The team that made this selection included their staff members who based this choice of food on their own family traditions.
As we work to create a culture of empowerment and inclusivity, we know there will be stumbles along the way. As a museum, we have put a significant effort behind sharing the critical and diverse stories of a wide range of individuals. We also have placed a strong emphasis on expanding DEAI initiatives throughout the museum. We resolve to do better, and continue bringing all voices forward in our work."
13News anchor Felicia Lawrence spoke with Vernon Williams, the president of the Indianapolis Association of Black Journalists. He explains the stereotype of Black people liking watermelon is rooted in racist caricatures from the Jim Crow era. Williams also called this a teachable moment.
"The way it's been used as a tool to convey the most negative possible images from the 1800s through today is what just makes it totally offensive," Williams said.
This incident comes just weeks after Walmart faced similar backlash for selling a Great Value brand ice cream flavor commemorating Juneteenth.
After photos of the ice cream, along with Juneteenth koozies, were posted online many social media users voiced their frustration about the corporation appearing to capitalize on the holiday and its history for profit.