Soul food on the menu in Charles Town

February 24, 1997


Staff Writer, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Ethelene Clinton was raised on soul food.

"It reminds me of my childhood," said the 63-year-old Kearneysville, W.Va., woman as she prepared to eat at the annual Black History Program and Soul Food Tasting Sunday at St. Philip Episcopal Church in Charles Town.

The program, sponsored by the Jefferson County branch of the NAACP, drew nearly 100 people.

Collard greens and navy beans, chitterlings, chicken and dumplings, and sweet potato pies covered tables, a tasteful reminder of the African-American heritage.

Janet Jeffries of Charles Town said that many items, such as fried chicken and sweet potatoes, once considered soul food are now mainstream American food items.


The dishes were prepared by members of the community. Jeffries made an applesauce cake.

"I think all food is the same. It's just what you put in it that makes it different," Clinton said. "The French people use the same food as we do. They just prepare it different."

Clinton said that her family lived on soul food when she was growing up because that's all there was to eat.

During the Depression, when many went hungry, her family had plenty to eat because they raised their own food, she said. Her father also worked for the railroad, she said.

"We had chickens in the yard and we killed them and we had pigs and we butchered them and we had a garden and we canned," Clinton said. "It's part of my heritage," she said.

"I think it's nice for everybody to know all types of food," said Ollie L. Tolbert, 97, of Charles Town.

She said she enjoys nearly all types of soul food, except liver, an item she's never liked.

The Rev. Ernest Lyles of Shepherdstown, W.Va., said many of the soul food items go back to a time when those enslaved made the most of the food provided for them by the owners.

Even today, soul food remains popular for everyday meals among African-Americans, Lyles said.

Before the food tasting, a Black History Month program featured Leontyne Peck as the keynote speaker.

Peck writes a weekly column for the Cumberland Times-News and works for an Allegany County college coordinating technical programs.

Peck said Africans came to America as early as the 1500s, brought to the South Carolina area by Spanish colonists as indentured servants.

Throughout the growth of the country, African-Americans have taken part of the nation's history.

She said Black History Month should be celebrated by all Americans, not just African-Americans.

"The beauty of our history is it's not a separate history. It's part of our American history," Peck said.

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