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Cape Girardeau Event Highlights Food From African Diaspora

Various African recipe cookbooks on display.

A beautiful voice sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” also known as the African-American National Anthem surrounded the audience, as the smell of sweet potato pie filled the room at the “Coming to America: Foods from the African Diaspora” event presented at the Cape River Heritage Museum. Saturday’s event was part of the ongoing Black History Month celebration. The event highlighted flavors and sounds that crossed the Atlantic with Africans who were brought to North America.

Event coordinator Phyllis Sides said many flavors and foods made their journey from Africa. Many of the recipes and flavors were handed down from family to family and that is how a lot of them made their way to America.

One of Sides’ favorite things is coffee and a bean called white cream peas. She uses white cream peas and other ingredients like ham, peppers and onions, to make a delicious soup.

Sides said many foods stayed alive in African-American culture because they were handed down from generation to generation. “This is what your family ate and so you sort of grew up eating these things,” Sides said.

Favorite African foods that are commonly eaten here are okra, sorghum and sweet potatoes.

Ron Kirby, committee member at Old St. Vincents Church, spoke about the history of Holy Family Mission Church at the celebration. Holy Family opened on October 6, 1940 upon the request from young African-Americans from South Cape Girardeau. Priests gathered from both St. Vincent dePaul and St. Vincent College to initiate the forming of Holy Family Mission Church.

Shortly after the church was built and dedicated, a school was added in the basement of the church, with 43 students enrolled. In 1958, Holy Family School was closed, causing disappointment among the people and caused many of them to leave Holy Family.

“It was primarily because of desegregation. The bishop did not feel it would be right to have a separate, predominantly black parish” Kirby said.

In January of 1961, Holy Family church closed. Most of the members of the church stayed in Cape Girardeau and attended St. Vincent dePaul and St. Marys Catholic churches. Some members who were converts went back to their former churches that they belonged to before becoming members of Holy Family.