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More - Kibbe  
“Lebanese food, we make it every Sunday. I make kibbe, cabbage rolls. When I get depressed I make grape leaves. I’m Pat Davis, Abe’s Bar-B-Q, Clarksdale, Mississippi, at the famous corner of 49 and 61. My father was from Zahale, Lebanon. He came to America in the early 1900s. He was doing some pretty good peddling. Back then, the Lebanese mostly were peddlers. 1924 he opened up a barbeque restaurant.

This is the main highway where The Crossroads are, where we think Robert Johnson made a deal with the devil to play good blues music. Robert Johnson used to sit around where the sycamore trees were, playing his guitar, drinking a Bud and eating one of our barbeque sandwiches.”

— Pat Davis, Abe’s Bar-B-Q

Photo - Syrian peddler, Kalil Michwee, circa 1917 in The South. Courtesy of the Birmingham Library

Reading Kibbe Crumbs by John T. Edge


Historian James Cobb calls the Mississippi Delta the “most Southern place on earth.” His read of that region – an hour’s drive from my home in the Mississippi Hill Country town of Oxford – is faceted and accommodates contradictions. More simplistic reads of the Delta assume that a profoundly Southern place must be solely defined by tensions between Blacks and Whites, between descendants of Scotch-Irish and African American peoples.

And those tensions have been famously strong in the Delta. But there are other stories, other peoples. Chinese grocery stores, remnants of late 19th century immigration and assimilation, still dot towns like Greenville. Sicilian Creole restaurants such as Lusco’s and Giardina’s are still the stalwarts in Greenwood. And Lebanese restaurateurs of the kibbe-and-fried-chicken school still hold forth in Clarksdale. The Delta is Southern to its core. But the fabric of peoples that call this place home has always been more variegated than many would suspect.
— John T Edge / Southern Foodways Alliance / University of Mississippi

  Community & Conventions  

The Southern Federation of Syrian Lebanese American Clubs


Organized in 1931 by first-generation Americans of Syrian Lebanese descent, the entire national Federation Family gathers twice annually at their Summer and Mid-Winter Conventions to celebrate their heritage through food, dance and cultural activities. Couples meet, kids learn how to dance the Dabke, the national dance of Lebanon, scholarships are given out and community bonds are strengthened. “Years ago it was the Lebanese Convention, now it's the Syrian American Lebanese Convention. “Most of the young men come to find young wives. I found mine there.” Pat Davis told us.
Irv Schwary, from New Orleans and former president of the Federation, told us that The Southern Federation of 18 states is the only group that has continued to flourish over the years. “I think it’s because we gear our conventions towards the family and the young ones. They love the Lebanese music and dancing.”

Dancing at one of the local club functions, 1988. Courtesy of Irv Schwary

Over 3.2 million people of Arab descent make their home in the United States. Of that number, approximately 56 percent are of Lebanese descent, making them the largest single group of Arab immigrants in the United States. The largest concentrations are in the Midwest, especially in Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, and Toledo. The Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan searched their archives for us and sent us these photos of community cooking.

From the archives of The Arab American National Museum
Click on each photo to enlarge

  Tangential Notes  
Maude Schuyler Clay - Delta Land   
  On our way to Clarksdale we stopped in Greenwood, Mississippi, with Alice Waters to go visit the Viking Range plant, and the new school the company was building in town.  We were exploring the possibilities of an edible schoolyard becoming part of the school’s design and curriculum in a state with such a low rate of literacy and high rate of obesity.  At Turnrow Books in Greenwood we met Mississippi photographer, Maude Schuyler Clay, who grew up in the area and has captured its crumbling and beautiful soul in hundreds of haunting black and white photographs.  In her book, Delta Land  she documents collapsing churches and farmhouses, delta dogs,  river beds and woods. She graciously shares a few of her images. Maude is also the niece of famed Memphis color photographer, William Eggleston.  
  Kim’s Lunchbox  
  Head out New Africa Road in Clarksdale during cotton harvest during lunchtime.  Several miles down you come to Kim’s Lunchbox, a big shed with a kitchen in the middle of cotton country.  That’s where a lot of farmers and locals go for a break and a meal.  Fried chicken, salmon croquettes, yams, greens, pie.  Friday nights, Kim’s got steak.  Taxidermy, historical photographs, the walls talk.   Kim cooks, her mother helps in front.  It’s pure community. As one customer put it, “They’ve got a tin roof, and they have animals hanging up on the wall, saddles, and bobcats, rattlesnakes and a lot of deer horn. It’s just a comfortable place to come to. ”  
  Khalil Gibran  

Gibran Khalil Gibran was a Lebanese-born poet, philosopher and artist. Born in Bisharri, Lebanon (at the time a Syrian Province of the Ottoman Empire) in 1883, Gibran emigrated with his family at age 12 to the United States where he spent much of his adulthood. Gibran's best-known work is The Prophet, a book composed of 26 poetic essays.

"Pity the Nation" a poem from his book 'The Garden of The Prophet' seems to resonate and inspire even today. Legendary Beat Generation Bookseller and Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, of City Lights Books in San Francisco, on the 50th Anniversary of Jack Kerouac’s “On The Road”, Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl" read his newest poem by the same title "Pity the Nation" (After Kahlil Gibran). We've included both versions here below. To watch Ferlinghetti perform on youtube click here.

  PITY THE NATION - Khalil Gibran

Pity the nation that is full of beliefs and empty of religion.

Pity the nation that wears a cloth it does not weave, eats a bread it does not harvest, and drinks a wine that flows not from its own wine-press.

Pity the nation that acclaims the bully as hero, and that deems the glittering conqueror bountiful. Pity the nation that despises a passion in its dream, yet submits in its awakening.

Pity the nation that raises not its voice save when it walks in a funeral, boasts not except among its ruins, and will rebel not save when its neck is laid between the sword and the block.

Pity the nation whose statesman is a fox, whose philosopher is a juggler, and whose art is the art of patching and mimicking.

Pity the nation that welcomes its new ruler with trupetings, and farewells him with hootings, only to welcome another with trumpetings again.

Pity the nation whose sages are dumb with years and whose strong men are yet in the cradle.
Pity the nation divided into fragments, eachfragment deeming itself a nation.

PITY THE NATION - L. Ferlinghetti
(After Khalil Gibran)

Pity the nation whose people are sheep,
and whose shepherds mislead them.

Pity the nation whose leaders are liars, whose sages are silenced, and whose bigots haunt the airwaves.

Pity the nation that raises not its voice,
except to praise conquerors and acclaim the bully as hero

and aims to rule the world with force and by torture.

Pity the nation that knows no other language but its own and no other culture but its own.

Pity the nation whose breath is money and sleeps the sleep of the too well fed.

Pity the nation -- oh, pity the people who allow their rights to erode
and their freedoms to be washed away.

My country, tears of thee, sweet land of liberty.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti,2007


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