The role locally black-owned restaurants play in North Mississippi

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NORTH, Miss. (WCBI) – The “soul food” that black-owned restaurants served during the Civil Rights Movement didn’t just consist of recipes that African Americans cooked and passed along for generations.

The restaurants also served as a haven and a source of strength to go forward in the 1960s struggle for civil rights.

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Today, these restaurants like Helen’s Kitchen and Mama Jo’s, continue to do the same.

“I cook with love,” said Helen Karriem. 

Karriem has been cooking since she could just barely tall enough to reach the stove.

“I started cooking at eight-years-old. There were 11 of us, and I did the cooking,” said Karriem. 

That early start was what inspired her to open her own restaurant. She opened the doors to Helen’s Kitchen more than 30 years ago.

She said there’s meaning in every meal.

“I think it shows the kind of person I am. It shows what my mama did the same thing. She enjoyed cooking and her food tasting good and that’s the pleasure you get out of it, people enjoying the food that you cook. You put love in it,” said Karriem. 

Up the road in Oxford, there is another soul food sanctuary.

The head chef and owner is affectionately known as Mama Jo.

“It was a dream for me, and my goal was to set out to do just what my dream was,” said Mama Jo.

She’s served meals and memories for more than 20 years.

“My food tells a lot of stories. I think it reaches souls,” said Mama Jo. 

She hoped owning her own business helped pave the way for future generations.

“My rights was to say hey this can be done by black people. You can be a black owner if you put your effort into it,” said Mama Jo. 

That effort, with lots of love mixed in, keeps Helen’s Kitchen and Mama Jo’s fixing food that nourishes the body and the soul. 

Mrs. Helen even shared one of her famous recipes with us.

Check it out below: 

Southern Fried Chicken 
Ingredients: 
  • (1) 2 ½ or 3-pounds chicken 
  • 1 tablespoon seasoning salt 
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 ½ cups flour
  • 3 cups vegetable oil
  • 1 large bag 
Directions: Rinse chicken thoroughly with cold water and pat dry with a paper towel. Cut chicken into 8 pieces or desired sizes. Season chicken with seasoning salt on both sides. Pour buttermilk, eggs, and 2 tablespoons of flour into a large mixing bowl, then mix the batter well. Place seasoned chicken pieces into the remaining flour bag and allow excess flour to fall. Allow the oil to heat over medium-high heat in a large skillet. Place chicken pieces in the skillet so that you allow adequate space for cooking. Cook chicken until brown on both sides, about 30 minutes. 
Variation: 1 cup of water and 2 tablespoons of flour can replace the buttermilk mixture batter.

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