The Hattiesburg Cultural Center hosted a soul food buffet as a part of the 13th annual African American history celebration in order to celebrate local culture and culinary traditions at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 18.
Councilwoman Deborah Delgado, one of the organizers of the event, said that by celebrating soul food, the African American History Celebration this year was celebrating something that is at the center of the African American community.
“It’s a part of the culture of the black community,” Delgado said. “It’s a part of everything that we do, whether it’s in family rituals or church or celebration or whatever the case may be, and this is how we throw a party for our community to celebrate who we are.”
The event was catered in a potluck style with each dish being brought from a member of the community. Councilwoman Delgado said that people were asked to bring whatever they could, from their favorite soul food dishes to two-liter bottles of lemonade and soda. The food that people brought ranged from fried chicken to mashed potatoes and gravy alongside key lime and sweet potato pie for dessert.
To further the celebration of Southern soul food, the Mississippi Humanities Council and the Hattiesburg Public Library collaborated to bring in Kathy Starr, author of the cookbook entitled “The Soul of Southern Cooking” to talk about her experience with the tradition of soul food within her family.
She described how her mother taught her the recipes that have been in her family for generations and how learning those recipes became such an important experience for her because of the history involved with them.
She told the story of how her great grandmother was brought to North Carolina in 1865 as a slave and how she developed her recipe for sweet potato pie because sweet potatoes were one of the very few foods that she recognized from her home and therefore knew how to cook with.
“[My great grandmother] had heard that the plantation owner loved to throw parties and that she liked to have big meals cooked up for her and her friends,” Starr said. “So, she got the courage to go up to her and tell her that she knew at least 50 ways to cook up those sweet potatoes, and so the plantation owner allowed her to show what she could do… and this is what saved my great grandmother and my great grandfather from being separated.”
Starr then revealed that she had used her great grandmother’s recipe to fill the white boxes on each table with a sweet potato pie for the attendees of the event to enjoy and to take home as a symbol of the continuation of soul food culinary traditions.
The music of the event was also a celebration of local African American culture, with the Hattiesburg based gospel choir Sovereign Chorale providing musical entertainment for the evening.
Delgado said that the music for the African American History Celebration is always chosen as a way to further the appreciation for African American culture with the music in past years being genres including blues, jazz, R & B and gospel for this year.
Member of the Sovereign Chorale Board of Membership Dana Chapman said the gospel music they were performing added to the cultural celebration taking place.
“We are a gospel choir, so we are bringing in a lot of songs that are relevant during this time that a lot of people can relate to,” Chapman said. “In black history, spiritual hymns are what have helped us through difficult times. It inspires us, and we are honored to be here.”