Atlanta History Center barbecue exhibit celebrates ‘the most truly American food’

Rodney Scott, a celebrated barbecue restaurateur in Charleston, South Carolina, is an example of the new traditionalists who are reinvigorating barbecue by doing it the old-fashioned way. (Photo courtesy Atlanta History Center)

Barbecue. It was born and named in the Caribbean and is older than the United States, but it still is considered a significant part of America’s native cuisine.

A taste for smoked meat both unites and divides us: Barbecue brings together fans from coast to coast while the never-resolved questions about barbecue — What kind of meat to use? How best to cook it? Chopped or sliced? Sauce or no sauce? — splinter us by region, state, even county and community.

The Atlanta History Center plans a new exhibition starting May 5 to examine the enduring allure of what the center describes as “the most truly American food.” The exhibition, called Barbecue Nation and scheduled to last through June 3, 2019, will survey barbecue’s role in American history.

“Barbecue touches on almost every part of our national history,” Barbecue Nation consulting curator and Atlanta author Jim Auchmutey, who is working on a book telling the story of barbecue, said in a press release from the history center.

“It involves the age of discovery, the colonial era, the Civil War, the settling of the West, the coming of immigrants, the Great Migration of blacks and whites from the South, the spread of automobiles, the expansion of suburbia and the rejiggering of gender roles. It is entwined with our politics and tangled up with our race relations.”

The history center’s exhibition will touch on styles of barbecue spread from North Carolina to Texas and from Kansas City to Memphis to Chicago; present an array of artifacts ranging from cookbooks to cooking gadgets; display vintage grills; and offer oral histories from restaurants, festivals and community gatherings, the history center said.

Barbecue Nation also will survey barbecue’s contributions to politics, including a presentation on a 1909 banquet in Atlanta for then President-elect William Howard Taft that featured barbecued possum, and another on a barbecue in 1889 that drew thousands of Union and Confederate vets to dine together in Chickamauga.

The Atlanta History Center is located at 130 West Paces Ferry Road in Atlanta. It is open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and noon to 5:30 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets cost $18 for seniors (aged 65+), $21.50 for adults, $18 for students (aged 13+), $9 for youths aged 4 to 12 and free for children 3 and younger. For more information: 404-814-4000 or AtlantaHistoryCenter.com.

1 Comment
  1. Arthur Bryant was a sharecropper who migrated to Kansas City and eventually won fame for his barbecue: a store front on Brooklyn Avenue near what was then the Kansas City A’s baseball park.
    When Jimmy Carter was President, during a trip to Kansas City, and while staying at the famous Muehlebach Hotel, phoned Bryant’s for barbecue – one of his favorite foods.
    Owner Arthur Bryant answered the phone (as was his custom), and was quoted as telling President Carter, “Arthur Bryant don’t make no house calls.”
    If you go to Bryant’s today, there’s a picture of Jimmy Carter at one of the same greasy tables people stood in line for, having his barbecue. Secret Service men standing guard.
    When Arthur Bryant died, the editorial cartoon on the front page of the Kansas City Star showed a black man standing before St. Peter at the pearly gates, The caption read, “Arthur, did you remember to bring the sauce?”

    Thanks you Joe Earle and InTown for a great feature.

    Bud Carter
    Atlanta

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