Archive for the ‘Black History and Candy’ Category

Happy Birthday Robert Johnson!

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Today is the birthday of Robert Johnson – the remarkable and legendary blues musician – born in 1911. The influence of just about any cultural effort affects so much in our culture, and Johnson’s influence on our cultural history and American music is profound.  We even see his influence in the candy universe in such items as the Hot Tamale candy, which runs from ancient Aztec women to Mexican immigrants working in agriculture to enslaved workers in the Delta to Robert Johnson to a Jewish immigrant in Pennsylvania to the Peeps candy and, at last, to the Hot Tamale candy…

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The Great Billie Holiday

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Billie Holiday Billie Holiday, born Eleanora Fagan Gough in 1915, lived a remarkable, ground-breaking, and tragic life. She was raised in an impoverished section of Baltimore by her mother, her jazz guitarist father rarely around. After spending two years in reform school, she moved to Harlem with her mother where she ran errands in a brothel and later worked as a prostitute. Eventually, she went to a speakeasy looking for work as a dancer, but wound up singing instead. This launched a remarkable, international career where she appeared with Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Artie Shaw and other greats….

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Abolitionists, Resistance, and the Nation’s First Candy – Part 3

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The Author’s Illuminating (for her) Experience I recently had an experience in my hometown of Shepherdstown, WV. It was about racism, not against African Americans but Muslims, and it did not directly involve me. Still, I felt strongly about it and got involved. The situation, which is still ongoing, gave me new insight into how Mrs. Spencer and, dare I say, the escaped slaves, felt. Here’s how it started: I found, among other things, an anti-Muslim meme on the Facebook page of the town’s police chief, who is also a star in the hit show Ghosts of Shepherdstown which reaches…

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Abolitionists, Resistance, and the Nation’s First Candy – Part 2

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Resisters Under the Seat It’s hard to know where the enslaved people in Mrs. Spencer’s buggy started. Slaves labored at the ports of Salem and many other nearby places in the 18th and 19th centuries. Likely, they didn’t come from the South, as freedom was too far for escape. Regardless, they traveled on inconspicuous roads and paths, with little food, drink, or chance to rest. The escaped slaves fled for many reasons, among them the harsh reprisals of slaveholders; starvation and brutality where they worked; and the need to seek out family members who were sold away from them. How…

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Philly

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I just gave a talk about the history of candy at the Historical Society in Philadelphia. The most amazing aspect of the “City of Brotherly Love,” more than the architecture, the ports, or the gardens, is the people. Sitting curbside at a Cuban restaurant afterwards, I watched the parade of humanity go by: Muslim women with hijabs, Latino families with dark-eyed children, a Vietnamese cook in chief’s whites, European American students chatting at a nearby café, and two African American workers with key-laden rings at their hips. As for candy – for most people, candy is a metaphor, a metaphor…

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The Charleston Chew

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The Charleston Chew, that dense chocolate covered marshmallow-taffy-toffee substance may be nostalgic, but beneath the chocolate exterior, is an edgy, activist DNA embedded in the candy which, as it happened, was named for the song and the dance known as the “Charleston” in 1925. Let’s start with the dance. No one knows where it originated exactly, but it likely was in the domain of enslaved African-Americans living on a small island near Charleston, South Carolina. Their dance likely had Ash-Ante African roots, modified to deceive the slaveholders and their rules prohibiting it. You have to remember that both song and…

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Black History Museum Talk & Tasting

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Last Saturday, I had the pleasure, and I do mean pleasure, of speaking at the Black History Museum in Alexandria. The museum was formally a one-room library for African Americans during segregation. Since then, the site has expanded and now features a presentation and exhibition area. I don’t know what I liked best. The museum itself is beautiful, clean, bright and airy. And while African American history is too large to fit into the New York City library, the small museum presents just the right information to make the trip warm and informative. The exhibition on the day I gave…

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