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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

< Back to Oral History project: South Carolina BBQ


Russell Cooper

Up through the late-1930s, South Carolina’s Pee Dee region, in the northeast corner of the State, wasn’t nothing but dirt. But in 1937, D.C. built Highway 521, connecting Manning, in the west, to the lowcountry colonial town of Georgetown. That same year, along the new highway, tobacco and cotton farmer Theron Burrows opened an Esso Service Station, a country store, a place to purchase provisions to feed and fuel automobiles, livestock, and the belly.

When Mr. Burrows died in 1974, his son-in-law and daughter, George and Adalyn Cooper took over. After watching families serve car-trunk barbecue along the highway that fronted the service station, George Cooper decided to do his own cooking and built a pit—smoking chickens on one half, hogs on the other.

Present owner Russell Cooper, George’s nephew, describes the whole-hog barbecue as “downright vinegar and salt and pepper.” It’s damn spicy, with enough black pepper, crushed pepper, and ground red pepper to “pull the sweat out from under your eyes.”

Date of interview:
2012-06-15 00:00

Rien Fertel

Denny Culbert

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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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