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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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Bob and Cile Barber

Bowens Island Restaurant

Bob Barber was born in Charleston in 1925. His parents divorced before he was two years old. His mother, May, married her second husband, Jimmy Bowen, in Savannah in 1938. Eventually, the family moved back to Charleston. When Bob finished school, he traveled the country with the Navy, eventually heading overseas. In 1947 he married his wife Cile, and they both went to work at his parents’ restaurant on Folly Beach, Bob’s Restaurant, which his parents had named in Bob’s honor. In 1949, Bob and Cile’s first child, Robert Barber, was born. When Bob’s Restaurant closed, Bob and Cile moved to Columbia, South Carolina; May and Jimmy Bowen moved to a fourteen-acre island they purchased and began operating Bowens Island Restaurant. The Barbers visited the island regularly. And now, even though May and Jimmy are gone, Bowens Island thrives. Robert lives on the island, as do some of his siblings, and operates the restaurant. Bob and Cile say they’ll move to the island to join their family one of these days. For now, though, they’re content to gather there for family oyster roasts as often as they can.

Bob Barber passed away on February 1, 2015.

Date of interview:
2007-01-19 00:00

Amy Evans

Amy 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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