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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.


James Lemons

Lem's Bar-B-Q

James Lemons and his four brothers grew up in Indianola, Mississippi, where their mother taught them to cook, and where they worked each fall slaughtering hogs. When he was fourteen, James followed his brothers to Chicago and into the barbecue business. His oldest brother, Miles, known as Lem to friends, found a place on 59th street, where he opened his namesake barbecue joint in 1951. Lem’s quickly gained a reputation for not only being the first place to serve rib tips in town, but for its sauce. The sauce originated from his mother’s recipe and is still made from scratch every day. In 1967 the brothers opened a second location on 75th Street. Today, it’s the only Lem’s location, and James Lemons is the last brother to oversee the family business. And after more than fifty years in the Windy City, James Lemons is still connected to the Mississippi Delta. He’s cousin to Mary Shepard, former owner of Indianola’s legendary Club Ebony. But even though he’s from Mississippi, James Lemons says his barbecue is Chicago-style—because that’s where it’s been the longest.

Date of interview:
2008-03-26 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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