Black History Month, Part III: Psyche Williams-Forson

Source: The University of Maryland, College Park

It’s all in the food.

That’s what Psyche Williams-Forson knows.

Dr. Williams-Forson, Associate Professor and co-Director of Graduate Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park, is author of the book, Building Houses Out of Chicken Legs: Black Women, Food and Power. In the book, Williams-Forson studies how black women have used foods like chicken to define and to uplift themselves culturally, socially and along race and class lines.

The chicken has taken iconic status in the lives of African Americans. Think of the last time you had fried chicken. Now think of how fried chicken came about. Now think about its origins, how many African American women made it in the past, how the women who made it evolved through slavery, emancipation, Jim Crow South, the Great Migration (The Illinois Central Railroad was dubbed the “Fried Chicken Special” because of the packed lunches Black travelers brought with them for the trip.) the Civil Rights era, the Black Power movement and today. Think of the term “stealing chickens” and what that symbolizes. Think of the many African American families that use food as sustenance, a means to earn a living and as a path towards unification. Consider all of these, and you get a glimpse of the themes discussed in her work.

Dr. Williams-Forson started out in academia in a college housing and residence life position. While doing this, she also helped students with their English papers, and found she couldn’t do more because, in her words, “I did not know any more.” She decided to get her Masters degree. She worked as a graduate assistant for a professor who studied “foodways”  in the Italian, Irish, and Jewish communities. While doing research, she wondered if African Americans had a similar gastronomic histories, and she decided to study this area for her dissertation. She received her doctorate in 2002.

Today, “Chicken Legs” speaks volumes. It won an award from the American Folklore Society. Dr. Williams-Forson was also named part of the University of Maryland’s Consortium on Race, Gender, and Ethnicity. She received the Ford Foundation Diversity Postdoctoral Fellowship in 2005 and a Lord Baltimore Research Fellowship in 2006—two of several fellowships she has been awarded. She is also the curator of “Still Cookin’ by the Fireside,” an online exhibition on the history of African American cookery for the Smithsonian Institution’s Anacostia Museum. She is co-author of the soon to be released, Taking Food Public: Redefining Foodways In A Changing World.

Get the look: Dr. Williams-Forson’s curly look can be achieved many ways, by using perm rods around 2-3 locs all over or by braiding or twisting locs and then taking them down. The result is a head full of stunning curly texture. Also keep color-treated locs moisturized, especially in winter.

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