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Oral Histories

The SFA oral history program documents life stories from the American South. Collecting these stories, we honor the people whose labor defines the region. If you would like to contribute to SFA’s oral history collections, please send your ideas for oral history along with your CV or Resume and a portfolio of prior oral history work to

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Don McLemore

A native of Decatur, Alabama, Bob Gibson was a big, good-humored man, who never met a stranger. In 1925 he was making a living working for the L & N Railroad, but on weekends he would toss hickory coals into a dugout pit in his backyard and host barbecues. His smoked pork, chicken, and vinegar-based white sauce became so popular that he eventually decided to open a restaurant. Big Bob Gibson sold barbecue from a handful of different locations in Decatur throughout the years, but in 1952 he put down some barbecue roots, opening a new place on 6th Avenue. There, Big Bob and his family solidified their reputation for quality barbecue, “Heaven High” meringue pies, and the now-ubiquitous white sauce. In 1972 Bob’s grandson, Don McLemore, joined the family business. Big Bob died a year later. In 1988 the restaurant burned to the ground. The family got itself and the restaurant back on its feet, though, saving the original neon sign and opening a new place right next door. Today, Don and his son-in-law, Chris Lilly, have made it their mission to not only carry the torch of good barbecue in Decatur, but carry it all over the country. Together, they take Big Bob Gibson’s brand of ‘cue on the competition circuit and national TV. But the Decatur restaurant is still home to what Big Bob Gibson started in his backyard.

Date of interview:
2006-11-15 00:00

Amy C. Evans

Amy C. Evans

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The Southern Foodways Alliance drives a more progressive future by leading conversations that challenge existing constructs, shape perspectives, and foster meaningful discussions. We reconsider the past with research, scrutiny, and documentation.


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