The 641 Project: The Historical Cookbook of the American Negro

The Historical Cookbook of the American Negro is unique among community cookbooks.  No doubt that any community cookbook is unique in and of itself – it is often a reflection of the community or organization that authors it – but HCAN was created to be more than a celebration of the African-American community.

Authored by the National Council of Negro Women, the HCAN was conceived and assembled to address the lack of African-American history in schools and colleges.  In the 1950s, while several well known African-Americans were taught in white dictated grade school curriculums, African-American history as a whole was not taught in much detail, if at all.  Even among predominantly black colleges, few offered black history courses.  NCNW member Sue Bailey Thurman proposed a way to address the problem:  Create a cookbook “as a means of stimulating awareness and appreciation of our history.” 

The NCNW published its “unique and ‘palatable’ approach to history” in 1958.  The HCAN contains recipes contributed by NCNW councils and members from around the country as well as African-American women’s social and service organizations.  The recipes often reflect the regional influence of a particular council, and some are international cuisine.  The HCAN is not a historical record of African-American cooking, as Ohio State University professor Anne Bower points out.  There are some traditional southern dishes that are associated with African-American cuisine, but the majority is European inspired fare, reflecting the bourgeoisie and upwardly mobile state of African-Americans in the 1950s:  Recipes for Lobster in Curry Sauce, Brussels Sprouts with Paprika Sour Cream and Coeur a la Crème Fraisette are side by side with Mugwump in a Hole, Boiled Turnip Greens and Southern Hoppin’ John.

The Emancipation Proclamation Breakfast Cake: Good for January 1 celebrations

The Emancipation Proclamation Breakfast Cake: Good for January 1 celebrations

What makes the HCAN different from other community cookbooks – or any cookbook, possibly – is its other content.  Organized by calendar year, recipes are grouped around persons and events in African-American history that occurred in a given month, rather than by food group or seasonal fare.  Anecdotes, biographies, facsimiles and illustrations are side-by-side with foods associated with or that are in tribute to an event or person.  True to Thurman’s purpose, not only are the prominent events and individuals highlighted, but little known persons and facts, too:  Along with some recipes developed by George Washington Carver are two South Carolina recipes in tribute to “Pilot” Robert Smalls, for example.

The reprint edition that is available currently retains the contents of the original edition, adding an index and a helpful user’s guide to understanding some of the dated cooking terms.  An introduction by Bower gives excellent insight into the time and historical context in which the cookbook was created.  In today’s context, the cookbook serves as a look into the culinary and social habits of the 1950s, particularly African-Americans.

The HCAN was created to fill a void in black history and heritage, and more that 50 years later, continues to educate through the power of food.  The HCAN is a cookbook and history book all in one package.


The Historical Cookbook of the American Negro is available through PINES.  Ask a librarian for assistance.

Published in: on March 27, 2009 at 7:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

Book vs. Movie: Witch Mountain

WARNING!! Beyond this place, there be SPOILERS!!!

It’s been over 30 years between the publication of Alexander Key‘s novel Escape to Witch Mountain and the release of the new Disney film Race to Witch Mountain.  Along the way, there have been two film versions of Escape and a film of Return to Witch Mountain, its sequel.  Rather than stack up all of the film versions against the book, this comparison will focus on the book and Race to Witch Mountain.


In the book, Tony and Tia are orphans who don’t know where they come from or who their family is, or how they’ve gained their telepathic powers.  While on an outing, someone provides them with a clue to their origins; at the same time, a man claiming to be their uncle shows up at the orphanage to take them overseas. They sense something is wrong, and run away from the orphanage before he returns.  They enlist the aid of a priest to help them find their true family, who are somewhere in the mountains, before they are re-captured.

Tony and Tia are in search of their identities and people of their own kind.  Though they have some  vague memories of their past, they must endure the pain of recovering other repressed memories to complete the puzzle, all while trying to stay a step ahead of their would-be captors.

Their counterparts in Race, however, not only know who they are, they are on a mission to save their home from destruction and the Earth from invasion.  Sara and Seth’s spacecraft crash lands in the desert near Las Vegas.  They hire cabbie Jack Bruno to drive them to an old shack to recover their parents’ research data.  Suddenly, a Terminator-like assassin appears and tries to kill them.  Meantime, a director of a covert government operation steals their spacecraft and attempts to capture the kids.  It’s up to Jack to help them elude their pursuers, recover their spacecraft and return home.

Race is called a “re-imagining” of Escape, but the concepts of Seth and Sara as aliens and why they come to Earth are taken from details and devices found in the latter chapters of the book.  Those points are changed around to create an action driven film with car chases, explosions and cool visual effects.  The action in Escape is not as over-the-top but still thrilling, and still has the reader rooting for Tony and Tia.

Like Tony and Tia, Seth and Sara use their extraordinary abilities rather conservatively:  Their powers get them out of jams, but not every jam.  Seth doesn’t have Tony’s ability to move objects:  That’s Sara’s department, which she does telepathically.  Seth can change his molecular structure to move through objects and to form protective shielding.  All things considered, Seth and Sara play things pretty low key; it’s Tony and Tia who call attention to themselves after breaking out of jail with the help of a dancing broom and two brown bears.

The biggest diversion between the book and movie is the protagonist’s point of view.  Escape is told through Tony and Tia’s eyes, moreso Tony’s, as they struggle to reconnect with their past and find their people.  Jack Bruno’s point of view drives Race, a formula used in many action movies where a jaded man champions a simple yet noble cause – to help and protect Seth and Sara – against incredible foes and great odds – an alien assassin and a determined government official.

Race to Witch Mountain is a re-imagined version of Escape to Witch Mountain, and there are significant differences between the two.  The characters’ needs are different, but the heart of the stories is the same:  Two kids who enlist the help of a man to help them reach a place called Witch Mountain.


The book Escape to Witch Mountain and its sequel Return from Witch Mountain are available at CCLS libraries and through PINES.  Ask your librarian from assistance.

The film versions of both books have been re-released on DVD, available at a video retailer or rental store.

Race to Witch Mountain is currently in theaters.

Published in: on March 16, 2009 at 11:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Lena Baker Story: A Piece of Georgia History

Layout 1

Playing in Atlanta this weekend is a film based on a dark episode of Georgia history.

The Lena Baker Story is based on events in the life of Lena Baker, who, in 1944, shot and killed her employer whom she claimed held her captive against her will.  The racial climate of the day led to a too swift conviction of capital murder and a death sentence.  Baker was executed on March 5, 1945, becoming the first and, to date, only woman to be executed by the state of Georgia. 

The Lena Baker Story was filmed in Colquit, Georgia by an independent production company and stars Tichina Arnold.  Most may remember her as Martin Lawrence’s nemesis on the TV comedy Martin, and as Chris Rock’s mom on Everybody Hates Chris; but reviews of the film say that she is delivers a riveting dramatic performance in this film.  Arnold and the film’s key actors, including local actor Chris Burns, will attend tonight’s red carpet opening at Movies ATL.  Check the theatre’s website for showtimes and location.

More information on the film and Lena Baker can be found on the film’s website.

The book on which the film is based, The Lena Baker Story, is available through PINES.  Ask your librarian for assistance.

Published in: on March 13, 2009 at 3:57 pm  Leave a Comment