Urban Life
African Americans in Food Service
By the 1940s there were substantial African American communities in most large cities. While these new immigrants were developing new, urban patterns of living, most families kept in touch with relatives left behind in the rural South. Before the integration of public facilities, the traditional summer car trips south by those first- and second- generation families had to be planned around the lack of access to restrooms, restaurants, and motels. African American-owned establishments' locations were carefully noted and passed along from family to family. These restaurants, guest houses, and motels were essential to the safety and comfort of Black travelers.

Whites Only


Pullman porters and cooks-those emissaries of tradition and popular culture between diverse and far-flung black communities-not only organized themselves into one of the most effective transportation unions, but also prepared and served thousands of meals on a daily basis.

Food rationing during World War II and the campaign for Victory Gardens had an impact on African American consumption. Wartime agencies concerned with promoting economical and nutritious preparation of meals sent women agents across the country to families in an effort to reshape old patterns of food consumption. Production, preservation, and consumption of meals in different regions were documented by agency photographers.

In the fifties, suburban lifestyles and ideals championed new kinds of social gatherings. The casual backyard cook-out or barbeque and the cocktail party were all profiled in African American magazines such as Ebony and Jet. Modernization of kitchen appliances, electrification of cooking implements, and the evolution of processed foods caused significant changes in cooking and eating patterns. Ebony Magazine began featuring regular food columns, and food columnist Freda Deknight authored The Ebony Cookbook in 1969. The Historical Cookbook of the American Negro, by Sue Bailey Thurman, was published in 1958 by the National Council of Negro Women.

[Home] [Colonial Era] [After the Civil War] [Caterers & Hoteliers] [Cooks & Vendors] [Migration & Urbanization] [Urban Life] [Regional Influences] [Bibliography]