John T. Edge has served as an Oxford American columnist since 1998. The city of Nashville has chosen his latest book, The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South, as the citywide read for 2018.
An installment in John T. Edge's Points South column, Local Fare.
“I do this to investigate complicity and interrogate white supremacy,” Tunde Wey said on a Monday night in October, standing on a chair before a dinner crowd of fifty-plus at Second Line, a midtown Memphis po-boy shop decorated with pictures of New Orleans brass bands. He emigrated from Nigeria to the U.S. on a visitor visa, which he later adjusted to student status. Now thirty-four, Tunde talks openly of his current undocumented status and broadcasts a keen command of structural racism theory.
Immigrants are active Southerners. They choose to live here, to raise families, to grow businesses. Despite unfavorable odds that may, in this new age of American isolation, temporarily thwart innovation, active Southerners are reinventing the region. In the process, as an already complicated region embraces new people, and cultural nuances accrete, much is gained. Especially for eaters.
A classic John T. Edge column from the OA archive.
One of the only places the Allman Brothers really felt at home was at Mama Louise Hudson’s soul food restaurant in Macon, Georgia.
My friend Dan Philips, a wine importer, likes to drag me into discussions of the Civil War. Though he lives in California, Dan has roots in the South, eats and drinks his way through the region often, and reads voraciously. Dan is smart. And he asks great questions. But I rarely take the bait. The reasons are complicated.
“I will fix this, if they let me,” says Will Harris of White Oak Pastures as he machetes through a briar-tangled bamboo thicket and scampers over a mossy boulder, plunging toward a ruined concrete-bordered public pool glossed with emerald slime and swarmed by dragonflies. For much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, this bottom-of-the-bluff park at the heart of Bluffton, a farming town on Georgia’s southwestern fringe, was a symbol of civic commonwealth for white settlers who staked claims after Andrew Jackson killed off and kicked out the Creek Indians in 1814.
“At first, I couldn’t come in a place like this,” Helen Summerville told me one recent afternoon as she forked into a mound of cornbread dressing and giblet gravy at Kairos Kafe on the south side of Birmingham, Alabama. “And then, for a while, I wouldn’t come in,” she said. “None of that matters now.” Prior to passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Summerville, who is black, would not have been served in most white-owned dining rooms in Birmingham. Back then, Ollie’s Bar-B-Q—which was open from 1926 through 2001 and claimed three locations in this neighborhood, including the one now occupied by Kairos—was among the staunchest defenders of the Jim Crow laws and practices that dictated separate eating facilities for whites and blacks.
From the archive, an appreciation of cookbook-memoirist Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor.
Vertamae is the sort of person who, while struggling to find work in the broad creative world, came to know James Baldwin as “Jimmy,” played the part of Big Pearl in the infamous Broadway play Mandingo, catered a record-release party for David Bowie, danced and chanted with Sun Ra & his Solar-Myth Arkestra, and inspired her daughter, who was nine at the time, to publish a volume of poems with Doubleday.
An installment in Local Fare, a food column by John T. Edge.
Ten years after Julia Child swanned into American living rooms, espousing the Life Bourguignonne, Nathalie, born in 1939, emerged as a second-wave women’s libber, determined to sidestep “the problem that has no name.”