Thanksgiving Tradition and Food
From The HistoryMakers Archive
"When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed."
- Maya Angelou
Dorothy Cowser Yancy
Larry Brown
H.B. Barnum
Joseph Segars
Marie Johnson-Calloway
Robert Mack Bell
Marie Dixon
Ramona Edelin
Harriette Cole
Thanksgiving reminds us of community, fellowship and of course, food. Dorothy Cowser Yancy , the first female president of Johnson C. Smith University, talks about the importance of Thanksgiving food: “ Food sometimes holds black families together and food has held our family together. [Dorothy Cowser Yancy, THMDA, 1.4.10.] . Larry Brown, auto sales entrepreneur and former chairman of the National Association of Minority Automobile Dealerships, spoke of this mother’s preparation: “…S eemed like she cooked for days in preparation for this holiday… she would just start cooking seemed like a week in advance to have this big meal .” [Larry Brown, THMDA, 1.2.4.] . What started as a small goodwill gesture to help people in his community, turned into an annual event for H.B. Barnum , noted jazz and R&B producer: " One year we had 105 people up here and it rained, so I had to bring everybody inside, and we had people eating in the bathroom, in the bedroom, and everywhere, and we're all in the house, and we had Thanksgiving dinner, and that continued for three or four years. And then in '81, the choir was established, and so the choir took over the chores of doing all the cooking and everything...Now, we're fortunate, we have people help sponsor the dinner...We cooked 132 turkeys last year, and we served about 1400 people ." [H.B. Barnum, THMDA, 1.5.7.] .

Ambassador Joseph Segars remembered his uncle who would provide the Thanksgiving hog, “ In the South, Thanksgiving was fun because my uncle who was an excellent provider was always going out getting the hog slaughtered at Thanksgiving time…He would go out and buy a hog and bring it home…Some you'd put into the smoke house and you cured it, save it for a later day and then of course, the chitlins’ and the pig feet…But it was a lot of fun .” [Joseph Segars, THMDA, 1.1.8.] . Visual artist Marie Johnson-Calloway , recalled how sauerkraut and turkey are part of the Baltimore tradition, “ One of the peculiar things…Thanksgiving and Christmas we had turkey and sauerkraut. So I still have sauerkraut with every holiday. My kids are used to it. And I found out that was strictly a Baltimore tradition .” [Marie Johnson-Calloway, THMDA, 1.1.12.] . Appellate court judge Robert Mack Bell , adds evidence of this in his interview: “ Thanksgiving was a big time for the turkey and the ham…and we always had sauerkraut. See, in Baltimore, for some reason or another, we had sauerkraut with pigtails .” [The Honorable Robert Mack Bell, THMDA, 1.1.12.] .

The late Marie Dixon , wife of legendary blues musician Willie Dixon , shared her favorite Thanksgiving story of her husband eating an entire turkey: “ Willie went in and he said it was about an eight pound turkey…And he started to eat the turkey and the trimmings and all that, and the turkey got better and better as he ate it. And when he looked around, he had ate the entire turkey up. So, when his brother went back in the room...They said, "W.J., I think Billy and I," which was his wife, "will have a bite to eat." Willie said he looked at him and said, "Did you have two turkeys?" And he said, "No." He said, "Well, if that's the only one you had, I ate that one up.” So, we laughed. I mean Willie would always just, he would just crack up when he would tell this story. [Marie Dixon, THMDA, 1.5.5.] . Ramona Edelin , former CEO of the National Urban Coalition, joked about how her grandfather’s Thanksgiving prayer always had them eyeing the food while he spoke, “ That was the longest time my grandfather ever talked, was the prayer before dinner on Thanksgiving. When everybody was so hungry. And it wasn't just our imagination. He did invest a lot in that Thanksgiving prayer. I loved it. I loved it. But we'd be smelling those biscuits and rolls. It was so funny. And everybody would say, ‘Granddaddy you talk longer on Thanksgiving than any other time of the year. ’" [Ramona Edelin, THMDA, 1.2.5.] . Baltimore native and interviewer for The HistoryMakers, Harriette Cole , recalled: “ My father was always formal with the grace, my mother would add something…we were thanking God for all the great things that had happened over the course of the year. And of course the grace could go a little long and Harriette Cole was ready to eat. But it was a lot of fun, and just a beautiful setting.” [Harriette Cole, THMDA, 1.3.1.] .

At The HistoryMakers , we want to wish everyone a happy and safe Thanksgiving holiday.
"Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat."

- M. Brian Blake , computer scientist and academic administrator
In last week's newsletter we apologize for the misspelling of civil rights attorney and judge Margaret Burham's name.
We're here to help!

Please direct questions about The HistoryMakers Digital Archive to: