Advisory Committee Chair
Robert G Corley
Advisory Committee Members
Harriet Amos Doss
Date of Award
Degree Name by School
Master of Arts (MA) College of Arts and Sciences
This thesis aims to capture the social and political conditions that contributed to the rise of class and racial disparities in Birmingham's food system. The way in which all Birmingham residents located, grew, raised, purchased, cooked, and consumed food reinforced and furthered a caste system of social dispossession and black oppression. An overview of the poor health conditions of the pre-modern, industrial city provides a basis for understanding the reasoning of later efforts in systematic modernization. These efforts took place amid broader, national contexts of political and social Progressivism and the emerging paradigm of the New South. These trends contributed to a continuance of exploitive practices of absentee owners in an effort to increase efficiency and maximize industrial output. As industrial modernization occurred throughout the Jim Crow era, whites in Birmingham grasped at new methods of controlling the black working class. These efforts extended into food access and selection. Through new practices in urban segregation and racial distinction, whites rendered Jim Crow onto Birmingham's food system. Commissaries and grocers created redundant food systems that separated blacks and whites and benefited from their further separation. Also within this modernization, a conflict arose between Birmingham's penchant for privatism and a growing national trend toward a welfare state. This conflict played out in how working-class citizens, especially blacks, received food relief. Further, the growth of the industrial city created diversified and dependent systems of service and consumption. The segregationist society in which they developed shaped these new systems. Intimate interactions and assertions of interracial consumptions shaped race relations. These declarations of equitable consumption came to define the basis of the civil rights movement in Birmingham. Black protest focused on the democratic importance of the equitable purchase as much as the franchise. In a way, Birmingham's food systems displayed similar features to issues regarding voting rights, access to education, and equitable employment. As Birmingham's populace developed a modernist, urban, industrial culture, it included the city's food systems. This resulted in the development of institutions of food consumption reflective of the people who contributed to their creation.
McLemore, Thomas Carl, "Cooking with Caste Iron: Food System Modernization in Birmingham, 1910-1964" (2013). All ETDs from UAB. 2445.