Monday, May 21, 2012

A Cuppa Tea on June 19th

Today is Victoria Day in Canada and we are in the middle of a wonderful stretch of sunny and warm days. We've been taking full advantage of the time off, enjoying the calm, quiet, life of leisurely gentlemen. How lovely. As this day harkens to our membership in the British Commonwealth I've decided to announce Rolling Around in My Head's first annual Juneteenth celebration. This day is growing as a worldwide celebration, often called Freedom Day as it acknowledges the announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas in 1865. Hold on, I'll connect the dots and get us from Texas to England in a second or two.

I would like readers to join me on June 19th by performing an act of remembrance. I've had this idea for months. Joe and I had been to the Royal Ontario Museum and were making our way through a series of exhibits. On one, Joe sat on a bench and we pushed a button to listen to a pre-recorded voice tell us about the link between sugar, tea, and the abolition of slavery in most of the British Empire. I found the story incredible, powerful and one that gave me great hope.

The story, as we heard it, told of the coming of tea to Great Britain. Tea is so linked in my mind with British culture that I was surprised to learn of it arriving on British shores. Shakespeare never had a cuppa tea, because tea had not yet been imported, how sad. When it did arrive, it arrived big. Tea was served, almost universally, highly sugared. It was a sweet treat, savoured as a luxury and a necessity both. As the resistance to slavery was growing, the idea of sugar as a 'dirty' product produced by slave labour took hold. People were encouraged to drink their tea black - or with sugar that was produced by free workers.

In a very short time people began ordering, loudly, tea without sugar. It was a political statement, a personal statement, and ultimately a highly powerful statement against slavery and for the abolition of the buying and selling of human beings. The protest was highly successful. Sugar sales plummeted which indicated a mass demand for the end to slavery.

The idea that a simple act could be a powerful act moved me.

The idea that one person could make a choice that made a statement inspired me.

The idea that acts with mammoth consequences could be so tiny, so seemingly insignificant, gave me hope.

It reminded me that I make choices every day. Choices about how I act, how I demonstrate respect, how I can make the world around me a place of safety and welcome. It gave me a sense of the power of an individual and of an idea.

So, I'd like you all to join me on June 19th in having a cup of unsweetened tea. Iced tea. Hot tea. Green tea. Black tea. Jasmine tea. Orange Pekoe tea. Whatever. And more than that, explain to those around you the significance of your choice of beverage. Read about Juneteenth, explain why it's important to join in the commemoration.

I've bought boxes and boxes of Yorkshire Tea and will be giving out bags of it to those around here who wish to join me in celebration of Freedom Day. I know that Yorkshire Tea wasn't even around back in the days of protest but it's British, it has a Royal Warrant, and today is Victoria Day.

So, consider joining Rolling Around in My Head's first, annual, Juneteenth Cuppa Tea Celebration.

Let me know if you will be having a cuppa tea, without sugar, on the 19th of June.


Belinda said...

I will lift an unsweetened cup of tea with the rest of the world on June 19th. What a wonderful idea.

Colleen said...

I will be drinking my white tea with no sugar on June 19th - actually I do every day - but on that day it will be in solidarity and making a statement - so will be that much sweeter.

Liz Miller said...

I will. And thank you.

Anonymous said...

I love this post! I am English, and my grandfathers favourite tea was Yorkshire tea (he was born in Yorkshire!!). So now when I too drink Yorkshire tea, I will think not only of my grandfather but also of you Dave. Lovely story- I will definately be drinking tea on the 19th like Colleen- as always with no sugar but I will share the story with those around me. Definately a story to share and think about.
Enjoy your cuppa! Happy brewing!

Karry said...

Simularly, in the United States, some abolitionists refused to wear cotton clothing in the 19th century because cotton was produced by slave labor. I was really pleased to read about that. I hadn't heard about the sugar boycott before, but what a great story!

Faery said...

Hi Dave,

I'm slightly embarassed to admit that, even though I am English, I had never heard of the sugar boycott before. I have just spent a very enjoyable lunch break researching it on the internet. I love that this is an early example of successful consumer protest.

I drink a lot of tea and will make sure that I take it unsweetened on 19th June!

Thank you very much for this really interesting post - and for your recent kindness. :)

Kathleen Wildman said...

Well well, you are never too old to learn a good bit of history! I am going to have a tea party with my mom and tell her about your blog and how much I enjoy it.