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Mississippi Tea Rooms

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Mississippi State Tea Room Gallery, in alphabetical order by name of city or town.

Vicksburg

Old Southern Tea Room, Vicksburg, Mississippi, interior, postcard front. This tea room opened in 1941 under the direction of Mary McKay, a White socialite and community volunteer. The chef was "Aunt" Elvira Coleman, an experienced African-American cook (who can be perhaps glimpsed in the kitchen at the rear, left of center). The staff consisted of six Black women: two prepping food, two cooking, and two waiting tables, and rotating through their duties daily. The tea room was a Whites-only dining space, and the Black staff had to wear "Mammy" costumes, including calico dresses and bandannas. In the original of this postcard, the skin-tones of the Black women was non-existent -- they were left in black-and-white, as originally photographed, without the overlay of colour that was given to the furnishings. Using photoshop, i have added colour to them. Elvira Coleman's recipes included stuffed ham, fried chicken, catfish, corn pudding, and filled cakes, and the restaurant became nationally famous due to her genius. In 1960 McKay published a cookbook of Coleman's recipes, "The Old Southern Tea Room Cookbook," featuring a front-cover photograph of a young Caucasian woman in an antebellum ball gown. That same year she retired (she died in 1974) and Warren Asher became the owner of the tea room. The genteel but oppressive "theme" of the Old Southern Tea Room eventually proved to be out of step with the civil rights movement and modern sensibilities, and it closed without ever becoming what it could have been all along -- a Black-owned and operated Tea Room serving people of all races.

catherine yronwode
curator, historian, and docent
The Mystic Tea Room

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