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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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Pearl Johnson, tamale maker

Pearl Johnson

Pearl Johnson has been making hot tamales by hand since the 1950s. Originally from Charleston, Mississippi, her first job was at the old Lucas Bar-B-Que in Greenwood, where she learned to make this unique Delta delicacy. After Lucas Bar-B-Que closed its doors, Mrs. Johnson worked at the Baldwin Piano factory in town until it closed. Now Mrs. Johnson’s daughter owns her own place, Reno’s Cafe, and Mrs. Johnson makes tamales there regularly. She also sells them to other restaurants in Greenwood, namely the new Giardina’s and The Flatland Grill. When asked if she has a secret to making her tamales, Mrs. Johnson replies, “Well, no. Not really. It’s just the idea of knowing, you know, how much stuff to use in it.” And she definitely uses all the right stuff. Mrs. Johnson’s tamales are some of the best tamales around.

Date of interview:
2003-06-09 17:30

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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