The SFA Take: Why Charlotte?

Why Charlotte?

Talking people, tacos, and LGBTQ rights

SFA has enjoyed a long love affair with North Carolina. We staged our first Summer Symposium in Greensboro in 2001. In 2003, when SFA focused its attentions on Appalachia, we convened in Asheville. For the past five years, SFA member Ashley Christensen and her crew have hosted Stir the Pot dinners in Raleigh. (Asha Gomez will co-host the next edition April 23-24.)

But we have never planted our flag in Charlotte. Two people and one taco changed that:

Joseph “Piko” Ewoodzie first bounded up the stairs here in Barnard Observatory back in 2013. He was researching his dissertation in nearby Jackson. Open, curious, and kind, he quickly became a strong SFA collaborator, speaking about the foodways of housing insecure Jacksonians at our fall Symposium in 2014. In 2015, he began serving on our academic committee. About that same time, he took a job teaching sociology at Davidson College near Charlotte. If Piko was working thereabouts, and longtime collaborators like Kathleen Purvis and Tom Sasser were already there, we aimed to head that way.

Tom Hanchett first addressed an SFA event in 2004, when we marked the 40th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and he spoke of activist and writer Harry Golden and his satirical “Vertical Negro Plan.” As historian at the Levine Museum of the New South, Tom has directed research and programming that reframed Charlotte as a multiethnic hub for the New South, a place rich with what he calls “Salad Bowl Suburbs.” Today, under the “History South” banner, he continues to frame narratives that inspire us.

And now, that taco: A few years back, while writing a magazine piece, Tom introduced me to Las Lupitas Carniceria and Tortilleria. Walking through the door, I spotted a length of chicharone that was as broad as a hog flank. Soon I was eating fried-to-order carnitas on fresh tortillas that smelled, intoxicatingly, of nixtamalized corn. That dish was so elemental. So evocative. So barbecue-in-a-new-dress beautiful. As our staff discussed where to stage our summer symposium, and I reacquainted myself with Las Lupitas on a research trip with Joe and Katy Kindred, I knew we had to claim Charlotte as our 2017 summer home.

Joe Kindred taco tailgate in the Las Lupitas parking lot.

El Sur Latino, our 2017 programming theme, afforded us the ideal prompt. More than any other major city in our region, Charlotte has been recently transformed by immigration. The foreign-born population of Charlotte nearly doubled between 2000 and 2010, according to the Brookings Institution. That is all to say: Charlotte is the place, and this is the time, to experience El Sur Latino.

One more thing: Our decision to bring the 2017 Summer Symposium to Charlotte was neither inspired by nor threatened by HB2, the so-called bathroom bill, or the recent move to delay future such bills to 2020. SFA does not engage in partisan politics. We do, however, support and celebrate our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. With vigor. Full stop.

Here in Mississippi, our state government leaders are fighting to enact complementary legislation, couched as a religious freedom bill. In this political season, we recognize that North Carolina and Mississippi are not exceptional. They are, too often, the rule. At SFA, our rule is to set a welcome table where all may consider our history and our future in a spirit of respect and reconciliation.

Please join us, when we set that table in Charlotte, June 22-24.

-John T Edge