"Eating with Negroes": Food and Racial Taboo in the Twentieth-Century South

Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2015


Most white Southerners persistently practiced and regulated racial food taboos. But these prohibitions shaped the personal and professional experiences of African Americans in the American South. Black Southerners often had to dine inside the kitchens where they labored or outside on the sidewalks and curbs of Southern cities. Traveling away from home and out of town involved intricate planning. In a society increasingly built around white convenience and comfort, black professionals had to fend for themselves to find sustenance in unfamiliar surroundings. In some cases, this fact meant they ate lesser quality food than they could afford or ate in spaces intended to mark their subordination to whites. Within segregated dining culture, however, black Southerners found ways to carve out spaces of independence from white authoritarianism in the region. They found comfort in home-cooked meals and appreciated the affection and expertise demonstrated by their mothers’ and grandmothers’ culinary skills. African American proprietors operated segregated cafés—sometimes after learning their skills by working in whites-only establishments. These operations contributed to community building and the economic empowerment of black neighborhoods. In these many ways, African Americans often coped with the white cultural taboo against “eating with Negroes” in a manner that served to uplift their marginalized communities.

Publication Title

Southern Quarterly