April 24, 2020
Catfish & Friday's Fish Fries
Many times in the African American community, there are staple ideas, themes, and symbols that represent a rich cultural history. Catfish and fish fries is an example of a staple, starting as a way for enslaved people to feed their families and growing into a tradition many even consider a delicacy. From the actual production of the food to the dinner table, catfish has become ubiquitous.
A man and boy fishing on the
Ohio River, c.1915
Woman fishing on the Bayou in
Monroe, Louisiana, c.1930s
Catfish is native to some portions of America, particularly southern states like Arkansas and Mississippi. Chef Todd Richards , owner of Richards’ Southern Fried in Atlanta, explained how catfish and fish fries stuck over the span of centuries: “ The work schedule on the plantation would slow down by noon on Saturday, so enslaved people had the rest of that day to do what they wanted…. Those who finished work early could go fishing and bring back their catch to be fried that night…. In the decades after Emancipation, the tradition became a business for many African-Americans, who brought fish fries with them as they migrated from the South to other parts of the country…. As black families moved to cities, the tradition moved to Friday nights There were three types of cheap restaurants during the Great Migration: barbecue, fried chicken and fried fish [ 1 ]
A father with his string of catfish while his children wait in the car, 1963
Lawyer A. Scott Bolden (1962 - ) , whose family was part of the Great Migration, grew up near Joliet, Illinois and recalled his father and uncles who would “ go fishing for large-mouth catfish; they would catch them on Friday evenings and there’d be a huge family gathering and they would clean fish and I learned how to clean fish, and my job was to quote ‘pop the guts’ in the catfish .” [ 2 ] Chicago Tribune's Fred Hunter (1936 - ) had similar memories, but from his home town in North Carolina: “ Well Asheville [North Carolina], man it was a Friday night fish fry… and you could just smell those fried fish… just dripping with grease, unhealthy grease and everything with salt, all the stuff you're not supposed to have but it smells great and tasted wonderfully. A big thing was a Friday night fish fry ….” [ 3 ]
Woman fishing on Lake Miccosukee in Florida, 1965
For former Urban League president Clinton E. Dye, Jr. (1942 - ), fond memories were also conjured up: “... you'd always get together every Friday night, and we'd have Friday night fish fries every night, and not always just to pay the rent, you know (laughter). But sometimes it was the entertainment. And I always remember the music, the dancing, the sound of beer bottles and everything else that was all a part of that, and of course, that same smell with the food and the, everything that was going on .” [ 4 ]
Visual artist Amalia Amaki (1949 - ) remembered fish fries as a community event: “… it was very common on the weekends for someone in that community to have a fish fry. Fridays were not a day that she [her mother] did a lot of cooking of dinner because somebody in that neighborhood when we were growing up would have that fish fry… They would cook fish and share with the whole community… someone would come up and say, ‘Send two of the girls down to get your, to get your food.’ And you know, you'd go down and come back with these paper plates with fish sandwiches .” She elaborated on how they often ate the fried fish as sandwiches: “… they've taken the fish out of the grease and put it between two pieces of bread. And the, the grease really acts like the--you know, there was no fancy tartar sauce… you slap that mustard and ketchup up there .” [ 5 ]
Community gathering
But even while catfish was such a staple in the African American community, it was not until later in the 20 th century that African Americans engaged in large scale catfish farming.  U.S farm-raised production of catfish began in the 1960s with its first processing plants located in Arkansas, Kansas, and Oklahoma: “ Arkansas is known as the birthplace of the commercial catfish industry By 1966 Arkansas had 4,500 acres in catfish production and three processing plants .” [ 6 ] White owners, farmers, and operators owned the processing plants and it would not be until the 1980s when entrepreneur Ed Scott, Jr. of the Mississippi Delta region would become the first nonwhite owner and operator of a catfish plant. To do so, he dug 160 acres of ponds between 1980 and 1981 and used his facilities to process the catfish in order to be competitive in the industry. [7 ] He later introduced the highly successful fish sandwich to McDonald’s restaurants.
Scott’s Fresh Catfish plant in Leflore County, Mississippi
Workers in Scott’s Fresh Catfish plant 
In their interviews, many HistoryMakers, including former iceman for Chicago mobster Al Capone Junius “Red” Gaten , investment banker Rufus Williams , car dealership owner Gregory Branco , and former NEA president Mary Hatwood Futrell , all listed catfish as their favorite food. In recent years, catfish has entered more into mainstream American cuisine, but its relationship with the African American community is so full of memories as rich, warm and beautiful as the George Gershwin’s orchestral work Catfish Row from the Broadway production of Porgy & Bess.

Catfish Row vinyl record, 1987
On this Friday, while you are sheltered away... have your own Friday catfish fish fry and enjoy!
We would like to thank our college student brand ambassadors, Shanita Sanders of Arkansas State University and Syerra Williams of Morgan State University, for their contributions to this article.
[ 1 ] Korsha Wilson. "Celebrating the Fish Fry, a Late-Summer Black Tradition," New York Times . September 11, 2018.
[ 2 ] A. Scott Bolden (The HistoryMakers A2008.093), interviewed by Larry Crowe, July 25, 2008, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 1, story 6, A. Scott Bolden talks about his family's southern traditions.
[ 3 ] Fred Hunter (The HistoryMakers A2007.157), interviewed by Larry Crowe, April 24, 2007, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 5, Fred Hunter describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood.
[4 ] Clinton E. Dye, Jr. (The HistoryMakers A2006.166), interviewed by Denise Gines, December 13, 2006, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 8, Clinton E. Dye, Jr. describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood, pt. 1.
[ 5 ] Amalia Amaki (The HistoryMakers A2006.017), interviewed by Evelyn Pounds, February 15, 2006, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 3, story 3, Amalia Amaki describes her childhood community in Atlanta, Georgia.
[ 6 ] “Catfish Industry,” Encyclopedia of Arkansas . February 1, 2018.
[ 7 ] “ The Life,” catfishdream.com .
Remembering Pellom McDaniels, III 
Defensive lineman, Kansas City Chiefs
Rose Library Curator, Emory University
On Monday, April 19, 2020, we lost a man of many talents. Pellom McDaniels III , born on February 21, 1968 and raised in San Jose, California, was a student of fine arts at Oregon State University where he also excelled as a defensive end on the football team. He was a representative for Proctor & Gamble before signing his first NFL contract in 1991 with the Philadelphia Eagles. During his nine year career with the Eagles, Kansas City Chiefs, and Atlanta Falcons, he was also active in the community, helping establish the Arts for Smarts foundation in Kansas City, Missouri. Following his retirement in 2000, McDaniels earned his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in American Studies from Emory University where he later became an assistant professor of African American studies and faculty curator of the African American collection in the Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library. He was also the author of three books: The Prince of Jockeys: The Life of Isaac Burns Murphy (2013);  So, You Want to be Pro  (2000); and  My Own Harlem  (1998).

Just a week prior to his passing, McDaniels checked in with The HistoryMakers founder and president, Julieanna Richardson :
Sunday, April 12, 2020 9:02 AM


I’m not sure if you have heard, but Joan Sandler passed away last week, and Louise Meriwether has been hospitalized. One of our good friends Eugene Foney also passed last week. He was responsible for our receiving the John Biggers collection and other African American artists materials.  I’ve been writing “In Memoriam” pieces over the last few months to make sure the Emory community recognizes the contributions our elders have made to African American life and history. They are posted on the Rose Library blog.  It’s a bit depressing, but necessary for me to put their lives in context, and connect the dots for those who don’t know the importance and value of those who have contributed so much to our freedom and liberation. I wrote one for Dr. Joseph Lowery last week:  https://scholarblogs.emory.edu/marbl/2020/04/07/in-memoriam-on-the-passing-of-reverend-doctor-joseph-echols-lowery/

As you know, so many of the people and their histories we are trying to preserve are vulnerable to be lost during this time. WE need a plan. While we don’t have the capacity and resources to acquire everything, WE need to have a response in place to gather and preserve when the time comes. I’m fearful, but see the importance of being proactive in this moment.
Again, all my best to you and stay safe.
McDaniels, through his career on the football field, in the classroom and library, and within the community, has influenced the lives of many, and the legacy of his hard work and selflessness will continue to live on.
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Environmental Activist & Opera Singer
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