I never realized that my parents (both deceased) had a problem with chicken and watermelon until the summer of 1968. My mother had just completed nursing school and in celebration of her graduation, my parents decided to take us out to eat at Ontra Cafeteria, a restaurant that was located on Crenshaw Blvd., where the Baldwin Hills Wal-Mart stands today. My brothers and I were instructed to grab a tray and follow our parents down the food serving counters and if we wanted a serving of something just let the server know. A simple task. We were familiar with food lines; between the three of us we had years of experience dining in the cafeteria at 49th Street Elementary School.
Following behind my parents we proceeded to select our entrees. My youngest brother—the last in line and not within my parents range of vision—saw a slice of watermelon about the size of his head and he pointed to it. The server placed it on his tray and we continued down the line. He then pointed to a selection of fried chicken and a server placed a couple of pieces on his plate and also gave him a flag to place on his table for unlimited servings. He was instructed to wave the flag for additional servings of chicken—another big mistake. My nine-year-old brother went crazy requesting additional servings of chicken as he enjoyed his chilled watermelon. My dad—a fair complexioned African American—turned red in the face as a result of the food selection and repetitive flag waving. I thought the anger was the result of my dad getting upset at my younger brother’s unbelieveable appetite. I recall now that the restaurant was filled with mostly White patrons, and that evening my brother was at the center of their attention. In retrospect, I do remember countless meals of fried chicken being served in our home; it’s the watermelon I do not remember consuming a lot of.
“Look at this, Jimmie! Chasing that bucket of chicken that the wind was blowing the other day.”
Terry Bradshaw, Four-time Super Bowl champion and Fox analyst, referring to Reggie Bush November 4, 2012
“Really, most of Crenshaw south of Vernon is pretty desolate. There’s even a KFC that closed down. I mean, how do you close down a KFC at Slauson and Crenshaw?”
Christopher Hawthorne, Los Angeles Times Architecture Critic, September 15, 2012
Chicken and watermelon have been associated with the African American race in a derogatory form since its introduction to the New World. This biased affiliation resurfaces on university campuses during the beginning of each year. It never fails. White college students will dance around in urban gear and take photos of themselves consuming fried chicken and watermelon to post later on Facebook. These so-called Black themed parties are on a upswing according to sociologist Joe R. Feagin from the University of Florida.
The first widely publicized incident describing such behavior took place in 1987, four years after President Reagan signed a bill making Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday a national holiday. That year White fraternities hosted three different parties on three different campuses during Kings’ holiday, all with watermelon and fried chicken. The food choice which has been portrayed as a staple in Black America, has also been served as a Black celebratory dish in corporate cafeterias, schools and other bastions of the so called civilized world.