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Cooking from slavery times Saturday at Willow Hill
Free to watch, but 50 fundraising plates go for $50 each
Willow Hill cooking
Food historian Clarissa Clifton, seen here cooking on the Willow Hill Heritage & Renaissance Center campus during the 2014 festival, is one of two experts who will prepare meals during "The Taste of Struggle" event Saturday. (Photo courtesy of Willow Hill Center)

"The Taste of Struggle," a demonstration of open pit cooking from slavery times, will continue the Commemoration of 400 Years of African American History at the Willow Hill Heritage & Renaissance Center, throughout the day Saturday.

Watching and learning are free, and cooking should be well underway by noon on and literally in the grounds of the historic Willow Hill School, 

4235 Willow Hill Road near Portal. A $50 donation is required to partake of the dinner at 5 p.m., limited to 50 tickets, with this serving as a fundraiser for the center's programs and activities.

The center's recent museum exhibits, including a new exhibit on quilt making, will also be open Saturday, and tours are free.

Expert chefs

Clarissa Clifton, originally from Statesboro and a Georgia Southern University graduate, is now a Southern-poverty food historian and does open-hearth cooking demonstrations at Smith Plantation, a museum and historic home in Roswell. She has done open-hearth cooking at Willow Hill in the past, when her demonstration was part of the Heritage & Renaissance Center's annual Labor Day weekend festival.

But this year, "The Taste of Struggle" is a separate main event.

Chef Cheryl Henry, a native of the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago, will work with Clifton to demonstrate the historic cooking methods and prepare the meal. Trained in culinary arts, Henry obtained her degree from Central Piedmont Community College. She works as a private chef in Charlotte, North Carolina, and specializes in hearth cookery.

They will be assisted by student volunteers from Georgia Southern University, which the Willow Hill Center is seeking to recruit from various departments such as history and culinary arts, said Dr. Gayle Jackson, the Willow Hill Center's development director.

With their time and effort as their donation, the volunteers will receive a free meal. Some of the work, such as digging the cooking pits, may begin as early as Friday, Jackson said.

The menu

Actual preparation and cooking of the meal on Saturday is expected to take about eight hours. The entrée will consist of Hoppin' John, in other words black-eyed peas seasoned with meat, in this case smoked bones; roasted chicken cooked over saplings; greens with ham hocks; salt fish with peas and rice and roasted beets.

Donations for the meal will help the Willow Hill Center to keep its other events and programs free of charge, Jackson said.

The nonprofit center planned its Commemoration of 400 Years of African American History schedule of events after the national commemoration was authorized by Congress and President Donald Trump for 2019. However, grants called for in the commemoration act have never been funded, Willow Hill organizers noted Aug. 31 during the opening festival.

Ticket information can be found at or on Facebook at "The Willow Hill Heritage and Renaissance Center," or call (912) 800-1467.

Quilts & exhibits

Four exhibits in the Willow Hill Center's museum rooms will be open for tours Saturday and also 1–6 p.m. Sunday.

Opening for the first time, "Keeping Warm: A History of African American Quilt Making," showcases a collection of more than 15 quilts by Georgianna Byrd Davis, 1867–1953, Jackson's great-grandmother.

The other three exhibits debuted Labor Day weekend, and are still on display. These are "Tragedy at Ebenezer Creek," with charcoal illustrations by Isaac McCaslin; "Many Thousands Gone," prepared by Eric Saul and Amy Fisk in cooperation with the Center for Jubilee, Reconciliation and Healing; and "Beyond Property: Slavery in Coastal Georgia 1650–1865," by the Georgia Southern Museum and GS history department and including "Slavery in Bulloch County, Georgia."

Upcoming symposium

Another commemoration event, "Let Freedom Ring," a social justice symposium, is scheduled for the following weekend. Attorney Francys Johnson, also a minister and past NAACP state conference president, will be the moderator for a panel discussion on voting rights, segregation and integration issues, 1–5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28. 

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