Martin Luther King Jr. eats Sunday dinner with his wife, Coretta Scott King, and their young children at home in Atlanta. source: Academy of Achievement

Sunday, January 15 is the official birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The holiday takes place on Monday, January 16. The Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday has been designated as a day of service in communities across the country. Church ladies and church men are no strangers to that tradition. If any MLK, Jr. Holiday event involves food including food drives, one might want to consider some of Dr. King’s favorite foods. On record is barbeque ribs according to Rev. Willie Barrow a field organizer in Chicago for Dr. King. These up-close-and-personal moments were collected for an April 1984 Ebony magazine feature of interviews with friends, colleagues and fellow activists of Dr. King’s. Other blog posts have sited Rev. Barrow and/or the Ebony article “I Remember Martin” as the source for Dr. King’s favorite dessert, pecan pie. “Soul food” is mentioned in the feature, but not pecan pie from Rev. Barrow’s or others’ testimonials.

Recently Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told the Washington Post the abridged and reworded “drum major” quote will be corrected on the King Memorial dedicated last fall on the National Mall. Outside physical documents of speeches, correspondence, and other texts, it’s difficult to really pin down what Dr. King ate or which dishes were his “favorites.” “Foodies” in those days were probably readers of Gourmet magazine, kept recipe files or read cookbooks like novels. Julia Child was just getting started. Perhaps Edna Lewis and others were being taken for granted. Their Last Suppers: Legends of History and Their Final Meals by Andrew Caldwell documents, among other last meals of famous persons, Dr. King’s last meal in Memphis in 1968: fried chicken with Louisiana hot sauce, collard greens, black-eyed peas and cornbread. The last meal is pretty consistent with the “favorites” mentioned in the Ebony article and Sunday dinners in the South.

Ministers are usually the last to turn up their noses when a plate is placed in front of them whether the hands that prepared are divinely abled or not. The soldiers and drum majors of the movement certainly had to be fed to keep moving. There’s little doubt that because of law-enforeced segregation, much of this food fuel came from home kitchens, African American-owned restaurants and diners or “greasy spoons” as they called them back in the day. These were also the places for Dr. King’s strategy meetings.

This post isn’t about correcting because I want to make the case for pecan pie being at least one of Dr. King’s favorites.

In 1961, Dr. King did make a stop in Albany, GA and led a group of 264 marchers with Rev. Ralph Abernathy and others. All the marchers were arrested and taken to holding locations including the jail which was overflowing. Albany was already in the throngs of the civil rights movement with marches and demonstrators serving jail time before Dr. King arrived. The Albany civil rights movement is documented on the site of the Civil Rights Institute at the Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia. Albany is in the southwestern part of the state. Albany also happens to be the pecan capital of Georgia. While serving jail time in Albany, African American residents didn’t want the marchers to be further abused knowing that Police Chief Laurie Pritchett was withholding food.

Frederick Douglass Opie, author of Hog and Hominy: Soul Food From Africa to America wrote on his “Food As a Lens” blog:

Pritchett held Abernathy, MLK, and other leaders of the movement in Albany proper in horrid conditions including withholding food. Local black women heard about the conditions and began feeding those in jail with some good down home cooking. “Not only did the women bring hot dishes that evening, but they also baked pies, cakes, and cookies; and somebody even churned a couple of quarts of homemade ice cream for us,” says Ralph Abernathy. He adds, “Just when we had finished off one delivery, a woman would come in with a new basket and we would start eating all over again.”

Just because King’s food preferences aren’t specifically documented, doesn’t dissolve the possibility that pecan pie was a favorite of Dr. King’s. What Dr. King ate and enjoyed has only been a recent curiosity about his personal life. Besides, being from Georgia would make it hard to resist being a “pie guy.”

A historic source for a pecan pie recipe is The Historical Cookbook of the American Negro published by the National Council of Negro Women in 1958. A reprint was released by Beacon Press in 2000. The pecan pie recipe printed in the 1958 edition was from a Thanksgiving dinner menu served in 1892 in honor of Reverend S.H. Allen and his family by Mrs. Anna A. Crosby in Hartford, Connecticut and contributed by Marietta Canty, NCNW president in Hartford, CT. The source may not be Southern, but as I said, What minister would dare refuse?

Here’s the recipe:

Pecan Pie
1/2 cup of sugar
1 cup dark corn syrup
3 eggs
4 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 cup broken pecan nuts

Cook syrup and sugar until mixture thickens. Beat eggs; slowly add hot syrup to eggs, beating constantly. Add batter, vanilla and nuts. Pour into unbaked shells. Bake in preheated oven (450 degrees F) for 10 minutes, reduce heat to 300 degrees F. for 35 minutes. When cooled serve with whipped cream.

It’s been mentioned on this site before, church cookbooks are wonderful resources for recipes, stories and histories. Call it their culinary ministry.

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