In Jim Crow America, the threat of racism was around every corner, especially as African Americans traveled throughout Texas and other parts of America, running the risk of becoming victims of racial violence when entering segregated establishments.
It wasn't until 1936, when Harlem postal worker Victor Hugo Green recognized the severity of the situation at hand for traveling African Americans and created The Negro Motorist Green Book – more commonly known as "the Green Book" – which provided a list of restaurants, hotels, service stations, guest houses, and other establishments that were known to be safe places for African American travelers in segregationist strongholds. Now, the story of the Green Book is coming to Austin – through food.
In its third year, Taste of Black Austin, hosted by the Greater Austin Black Chamber of Commerce, will take guests through a series of bites based off the Green Book and the kinds of foods African Americans brought with them while traveling through the Jim Crow South. The food will be cooked by some of Austin's favorite Black chefs, who will prepare cuisine reminiscent of meals served to African American travelers, and the menu also features bite-sized versions of dishes found in archived recipe books and menus from that era.
"We keep trying to tell African American stories and African American food," said Joi Chevalier, founder of the Cook's Nook and one of the featured chefs at this year's Taste of Black Austin.
Shortly after last year's ToBA, Chevalier said the Greater Austin Black Chamber of Commerce wanted to take a look at how food has moved throughout not only Central Texas, but also the diaspora, particularly during the Great Migration of the 20th century. At that time, nearly 6 million African Americans relocated from the Southern states to urban areas in the North and West. There were multiple factors that caused this movement, like poor economic conditions in the South and Jim Crow laws, which threatened the lives of many African Americans on a daily basis.
Chevalier said guests can also expect to hear and taste the story of food development among Black Austinites over the years – a topic that isn't commonly explored even in a city that's known as one of the best food cities in America. But Chevalier also said people might be surprised at the history of the Green Book and the types of restaurants that are in it – not all places were Black-owned.
"Many [restaurants in the Green Book] were Chinese restaurants," Chevalier said. "Chinese Americans, of course, were also redlined around the same time frame as owners and as residents. Often, when you saw a business owned by a Black person, you might see a business owned by a Chinese person not too far away."
Although Taste of Black Austin is still establishing its roots, there's no doubt that they're opening the Austin community up to a part of its history that's often overlooked, showing the city that Black food matters – and that it always will. The response to last year's event was so powerful, it reduced one of the participating chefs to tears – and that alone shows how much of an impact Taste of Black Austin will have on communities from all walks of life in the years to come.
This year's event includes hors d'oeuvres and specialty cocktails by chefs like Adrian Lipscombe (Uptowne Cafe) and Amanda Turner (Juniper), plus a photography exhibit. "It's an event that's becoming elevated and visible nationally," said Chevalier. "We're excited to be telling a Black Austin story."
Taste of Black Austin: Green Book will be held at the Peached Social House on Thursday, June 20, 6:30pm. Learn more at www.tasteofblackaustin.com.
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