Fried Chicken: A Complicated Comfort Food

The city of Charleston and Emanuel AME Church are hosting twelve days of events commemorating the Emanuel Nine, victims of the shooting at Emanuel on June 17, 2015. We join them in spirit. Follow along this week as we share stories from the intersection of racism and Southern food. 

friedchicken

Ask anyone to name one Southern food, and you’ll likely hear two words: Fried Chicken. But there is more going on with this staple of the Southern table than you might think.

Fried chicken has both been the vehicle for the economic empowerment of a whole group of people—and the accessory to an ugly racial stereotype. In this episode of Gravy, Lauren Ober goes from a Virginia Fried Chicken Festival to a soul food restaurant in Harlem as she explores the complexities of racism and fried chicken. Listen here.

Fried Chicken underway at the Gordonsville Fried Chicken Festival. Photo by Lauren Ober.
Fried Chicken underway at the Gordonsville Fried Chicken Festival. Photo by Lauren Ober.

You can find Psyche Williams-Forson’s book “Building Houses Out of Chicken Legs: Black Women, Food, and Power” here.

Image of Waiter Carriers courtesy of the town of Gordonsville, VA.
Image of Waiter Carriers courtesy of the town of Gordonsville, VA.
Photo of Waiter Carriers courtesy of the town of Gordonsville, VA.
Photo of Waiter Carriers courtesy of the town of Gordonsville, VA.

Karen Cox’s book “Dreaming of Dixie: How the South Was Created in American Popular Culture” is here. And here’s Karen’s blog post about that ad campaign for Glory Foods.

The town of Gordonsville, VA, home to the Waiter Carriers that Lauren describes in the story is here.

Gordonsville, VA fried chicken pride. Photo by Lauren Ober.
Gordonsville, VA fried chicken pride. Photo by Lauren Ober.

Melba Wilson’s restaurant in Harlem, Melba’s, is here.

Melba Wilson. Photo courtesy of Melba's.
Melba Wilson. Photo courtesy of Melba’s.
Melba's Fried Chicken and Eggnog Waffles. Photo courtesy of Melba's.
Melba’s Fried Chicken and Eggnog Waffles. Photo courtesy of Melba’s.