Remembering John Egerton, 1935–2013

John Egerton - SFA Founder and Board Member
John Egerton talks with SFA filmmaker Joe York in a still from Pride & Joy.

The SFA was shocked and saddened to hear the news this morning that John Egerton passed away in Nashville at the age of 78.

A web post hardly begins to do justice to the impact that John Egerton had on our organization and the debt of gratitude that we owe him. Over the coming days, we will try to share and celebrate his legacy as best we can. We do so knowing that the Southern Foodways Alliance is only a piece of what Egerton contributed to the worlds of Southern—and American—history, culture, and civil rights. Egerton was an evangelist of Southern food, but more importantly, he knew that our region’s food and foodways could open the door to profound and impactful dialogue about race, class, gender, and much more.

John Egerton
John Egerton accepts the 2003 SFA Lifetime Achievement Award from his friend and SFA founding member Lolis Eric Elie.

In 1999, Egerton wrote a letter to 50 men and women from around the region and beyond, inviting them to a two-day meeting in Birmingham that would result in the creation of the Southern Foodways Alliance.

Egerton wrote,

You will appreciate, I’m sure, the spirit of inclusiveness that is driving this effort. The time has come for all of us—traditional and nouvelle cooks and diners, up-scale and down-home devotees, meat-eaters and vegetarians, drinkers and abstainers, growers and processors, scholars and foodlorists, gourmands and the health-conscious, women and men, blacks and whites and other identity groups, one and all—to sit down and break bread together around one great Southern table.

(You can read the letter in its entirety here.) 

It is in that spirit of inclusiveness, guided by Egerton’s vision, that the SFA endeavors to operate today, as it has for the past fourteen years.

Today, our thoughts are with Ann Bleidt Egerton and the rest of the Egerton family. We offer below a sampling of his contributions to the SFA.

Asbed+Egerton.jpg
John Egerton (r) with Greg Asbed of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, winner of the 2012 John Egerton Prize at the SFA symposium.

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Remarks on John Egerton for the SFA’s 2003 Lifetime Achievement Award, delivered by Lolis Eric Elie

The John Egerton Prize, given by the SFA each year to a champion of social justice in foodways

The SFA’s oral history with John Egerton, conducted in 2005