20 years have now passed since 50 women and men signed on to found the SFA. On July 22, 1999, 34 of those founders gathered in a conference room at the headquarters of Southern Progress in Birmingham to begin the planning. That night, we celebrated a day of good work with dinner at Highlands Bar and Grill.

Those founders lent their names and their energy to the SFA at a time when that was all our fledgling organization could claim. Our founders charted a path that we still follow.

To mark that moment and honor those people, SFA has commissioned an ongoing series of short founder films and completed an oral history project, focused on the staff that has long made Highlands a citadel Southern restaurant.

On July 22, 2019, we publish those oral histories. And we release the first film, on pitmaster Van Sykes of Bob Sykes Bar-B-Q in Bessemer, Alabama. This summer, we release new films each week to tell the stories of these visionary women and men:

Ann Abadie | Kaye Adams | Jim Auchmutey | Marilou Awiakta | Ben Barker | Ella Brennan | Ann Brewer | Karen Cathey | Leah Chase | Al Clayton | Mary Ann Clayton | Shirley Corriher | Norma Jean Darden |Crescent Dragonwagon | Nathalie Dupree | John T. Edge | John Egerton | Lolis Eric Elie | John Folse | Terry Ford | Psyche Williams-Forson | Damon Lee Fowler | Vertamae Grosvenor | Jessica B. Harris | Cynthia Hizer | Portia James | Martha Johnston | Sally Belk King | Sarah Labensky | Edna Lewis | Rudy Lombard | Ronni Lundy | Louis Osteen | Marlene Osteen | Timothy W. Patridge | Paul Prudhomme | Joe Randall | Marie Rudisill | Dori Sanders | Richard Schweid | Ned Shank | Kathy Starr | Frank Stitt Pardis Stitt | Marion Sullivan | Van Sykes | John Martin Taylor | Toni Tipton-Martin | Jeanne Voltz | Charles Reagan Wilson

Anniversaries are ideal moments to reconcile beginnings and intents with current work. Looking back through old files, we recently found an early talking points memo, which made clear what was possible then and reminds us today of what SFA still aims to accomplish:

“The principal aims of this body would include: informal 
programs of education and service; interdisciplinary programs of research
 and study; publications; cooperative ties with existing food-related 
libraries and archives; public food-related events in various parts of the 
region; and, perhaps most importantly, a pervasive spirit of inclusiveness 
that is deeply rooted in the belief that Southern food is the region’s most
 positive and appealing symbol–the best we have to offer to our fellow
 Southerners, to the nation and the world.

“Southern food has tremendous 
powers, as yet untapped, for social healing. The time is ripe for us to 
rise to the vision of a better South, and the place to start is in the 
kitchen and at the table.”