Fried Chicken, Race and Entrepreneurship in Gravy Episode 16

Melba Wilson remembers well the fried chicken her grandmother makes. It was dunked in buttermilk, and then she would shake it up in a brown paper bag with flour and seasonings before frying it. Melba now makes her living from fried chicken and other dishes with Southern roots, but she still recalls her grandma’s version. “My grandmother totally kicks my butt in chicken,” she says.

Melba Wilson. Photo courtesy of Melba's.
Melba Wilson. Photo courtesy of Melba’s.

Melba comes from a family of African American women who built businesses on food, and fried chicken in particular. But, side by side with these fond family memories are the harsher realities of how fried chicken has been used to portray black people as savages. In the new episode of Gravy, Lauren Ober asks how one dish can serve both purposes. It takes her from antebellum entrepreneurs serving train passengers to a Fried Chicken Festival in Virginia.

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

Listen here to what Lauren found—and be sure not to miss Melba’s list of favorite dishes featuring gravy.