When Lyndon Johnson was trying to pass the Civil Rights Act, he often tried to coerce opponents with stories of his beloved family cook, Zephyr Wright (a woman who had served as cook to Johnson’s family for more than three decades) but that did not protect her from suffering Jim Crow indignities. Lyndon, Lady Bird and Zephyr drove from Texas to Washington and as they passed through a small town, Lady Bird said, “Lyndon, would you mind stopping at the next gas station?” They stopped, used the bathroom, got back in the car, and drove on. About half a mile down the road, Zephyr asked, “Would you mind stopping by the side of the road?” She needed to relieve herself. “Goddamn it, we went to the gas station to relieve ourselves,” Johnson replied, frustrated, until Zephyr confessed, “Mr. President, they wouldn’t let me in.”
Edge’s book is a fascinating and elucidating narrative of the history of Southern food as seen through the experiences of black Americans from the early 20th C. to the present. It is an amazing food narrative that illumines history. Edge writes, “On the long march to equality, struggles over food reflected and affected change across the region and around the nation. Once thought retrograde, Southern food is now recognized as foundational to American cuisine. Southern cooks who labored in roadside shacks now claim white tablecloth temples where they cook alongside new immigrants. This ongoing ascent has been tumultuous. And it has powerfully driven national conversations about cultural identity.”
Edge’s book is a must-read, a kind of masterpiece of storytelling and history and food all rolled into one.