Southern African American Culture
Customs, Music and Food
Growing up in the south, as an African American, was an adventure. Historically, the south is known for its widespread, prevalent racism and prejudice. Yes, racism and prejudice is undeniable in the south, as it is in the entire United States. However, there is another side to being born and raised in the south. Despite the opposition and oppression that African Americans suffered, we were and still are a very close knit culture of people. Southern African American culture is very distinct, dedicated, tenacious and loyal. Being family oriented is an integral part of our culture. In addition; food, music and church are very important in the southern African American culture. Now, let’s take a closer look into the culture and history of southern African Americans.
It was customary for African American females to marry at what we now consider a very young age. My grandmother married at the age of 16 and her sister at the age of 14. Also, when marriage didn’t work out, people did not get a legal divorce; they just got remarried.
Having large families was also a custom for African Americans. Birth control was nonexistent and unwanted during those days. Not many females had babies out of wedlock; due to them getting married at a young age. It was not important for women to get an education because they were responsible for taking care of their children, husbands and their homes.
It was a custom to honor and respect the elderly family members. Sending them to nursing homes was considered “shameful and disgraceful” among the African American community. The oldest family members passed down traditions and family history through their experiences and wisdom. On holidays, families usually had family gatherings at the oldest family member house. It was tradition for families to sit down and eat their meals together. This was considered a time for thanksgiving, talking and reminiscing.
Music: Music is an integral part of mainstream African American culture. There were two types of music that my grandmother vividly remembers listening to; gospel and blues. Gospel music was birthed in the church. Two of my grandmother's favorite gospel artists were Mahalia Jackson and Rev. James Cleveland. The “blues” was the popular music for dancing, socializing and for just “having a good time”. BB King and Howlin’ Wolf were the most popular blues artists. Rhythm and blues, hip hop and rap are now common in the south, also.
There is no possible way to examine the Southern African American culture without considering the food that we eat. “Food” is a very important part of our culture. We serve it faithfully at family gatherings, wedding receptions, after funerals, baby showers, etc… Having food at functions displays the value of sharing within our culture. Food is associated with comfort and celebration. The food that is most significant and popular within the African American culture is better known as “soul food.” Due to a large number of African Americans in the south being relative poor, they ate food that they planted in their gardens, raised on their farms or purchased inexpensively at the market. Also, because of poverty and relatively large households, African Americans were forced into cooking food that would serve a large number of people; such as, beans, greens, neckbones, rice and cornbread. My grandmother stated several times, “We had to make the food stretch.” My grandmother and those before her experimented with spices and herbs to make the food as tasteful as possible. Through trials and error, many wonderful and delicious recipes were created and have been passed down from generation to generation.
As you can see, Southern African American culture is very diverse and interesting. It has shaped many great men and women who has been influential in our society; such as Martin Luther King, Jr.