Frances “Toni” Draper, AFRO CEO and Publisher

Is it Wednesday yet? Will there be Smithfield ham, fried chicken, roast beef, sweet potatoes, string beans, homemade rolls, Hendler’s ice cream, little cakes with lots of sweet icing on top? These are the questions my brother, sister and I asked each other every week before we traveled to our grandmother’s house on Linden Avenue near downtown Baltimore.  

Our hard working single Mom attended night classes at Johns Hopkins on Wednesdays. So, Wednesdays were our “good eatin’” days – the days Nellie Virgie Wood Waters cooked dinner for us. Grandma Wood, as we called her, and her husband (we just knew him as Mr. Waters) owned Waters Catering.  Their house on Linden Avenue housed a commercial kitchen with two humongous walk-in freezers, the biggest stoves and longest counters I had ever seen. It was a far cry from our kitchen a couple of miles away, where there was hardly room to turn around without bumping into someone.  

Next to my Grandma Wood’s kitchen was a very formal dining room, where the three of us ate from china and drank pale dry ginger ale from glasses I was afraid to touch. It was the biggest (and scariest) house I’d ever seen.  Nonetheless, we loved going there on Wednesdays because the food was always fresh and delicious. It was a sharp contrast to our broiled chicken on Sunday (and Monday), hamburger helper on Tuesday (and Wednesday), liver and onions on Thursday, baked fish on Friday, hot dogs on Saturday and back to broiled (not fried or baked) chicken on Sunday. And then there was Kool-Aid in every flavor. Did I say we were never hungry? 

African Americans have been accused of loving to eat and this we cannot deny. Our many celebrations, our rites of passage, our potential memories – those moments are all marked and sealed with the breaking of bread. It is the way we seal our bonds of love and faithfulness, and to be invited to the table of a household is an honor and a sacred responsibility. We come in peace, we bring peace, and we participate in the multiplication of that peace; while in the presence of heaven and the ancestors who seal our fellowship with a holy kiss.

Food is the thing. That’s why we love to parade our best offerings at family gatherings and church potlucks. And, when someone comments, “You really put your foot in this potato salad,” our hearts swell with pride. 

From the plant based meals that crowded native tables to the vegetarian offerings we now embrace, food is important. It has always been important as the backdrop to the many important discussions that have taken place over a piece of fried chicken and a slice of homemade pound cake.  

Back in the day, young ladies wouldn’t even consider getting married without knowing how to cook. So the AFRO hosted Cooking Schools to take care of that problem. They were fabulous, as the AFRO Archives will confirm; and the winner of the cooking competition was rewarded with a new stove or refrigerator, along with other goodies. I did hone my love for cooking at my grandmother’s knee and yes, potato salad is one of my specialties.

This edition of We’re Still Here celebrates all kinds of food and foodies (as our Executive Director Lenora Howze writes): from holiday and seasonal meals to those served by professional Black chefs. It’s bold enough to begin an examination of food deserts, with the plan of showcasing the solutions that make a difference. It looks back on Black-owned eateries like Sampson’s and Sess’ and makes a forthright statement on the spirituality of food.

Kudos to Team AFRO and all our contributing writers for producing another fantastic keepsake edition for our We’re Still Here series.  I look forward to the day we can once again break bread together In person. Potato salad, anyone?

— Frances “Toni” Murphy Draper
CEO and publisher