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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Film screening: Durham's role in civil rights struggle documented in Counter Histories

Posted by on Thu, Feb 19, 2015 at 8:40 AM

  • courtesy of Southern Foodways Alliance
  • Royal Ice Cream parlor in Durham
Counter Histories: Durham's Royal Ice Cream Sit-Ins
Flyleaf Books
Tuesday, April 7, 7 p.m.

Update: This event was rescheduled from February because of weather.

Because of the 1960 Greensboro sit-in that forced Woolworth's to set aside its policy of racial discrimination in the South, most people know that North Carolina figures prominently in the civil-rights timeline.

Fewer are aware, however, that Durham also played a pivotal role. Three years earlier, a group of eight African-Americans decided to challenge the segregation policy that limited them to buying treats at Royal Ice Cream's back door while white customers were welcomed to sit inside.

"We weren't sure what would happen, but we knew it needed to happen," recalls Virginia Williams, who shares her recollections in one of five documentary shorts that compose Counter Histories, a project of the Southern Foodways Alliance. "We knew it was time to test the establishment."

Williams will join Kate Medley, Durham photojournalist and producer of Counter Histories, at the Feb. 24 meeting of Culinary Historians of Piedmont North Carolina (CHOPNC). Jesse Paddock of Carrboro, who directed the Durham feature, also will participate in the event at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill.

Medley says the focus on youth-led protests at segregated lunch counters was envisioned as a fitting way to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Civil Rights Act, which President Johnson signed just before Independence Day in 1964. The act made segregation in public places illegal.

The other films document events in Jackson, Mississippi; Rock Hill, South Carolina; Nashville, Tennessee and Cambridge, Maryland.

A May 1963 protest at the Jackson, Mississippi Woolworth's is the subject of Kate Medley's short film. - PHOTO BY FRED BLACKWELL
  • photo by Fred Blackwell
  • A May 1963 protest at the Jackson, Mississippi Woolworth's is the subject of Kate Medley's short film.
Medley produced the piece on Jackson, her hometown, where many still feel the scars of the especially brutal incident. "A lot of the racial tensions still are pretty raw," she says. "It's not something people want to talk about."

Two weeks after the May 1963 sit-in at the local Woolworth's lunch counter, which commanded national media attention, NAACP field agent Medgar Evers was shot in the head after parking in his own driveway. His assassination galvanized national interest in racial discrimination in the South, leading to adoption of the Civil Rights Act.

"One of the underlying goals of the project was not to just tell a story of yesterday and stop the conversation there," says Medley, who discussed the film on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, in the context of youth leadership, with students at the North Carolina School of Science and Math in Durham. The school has a permanent display featuring part of the lunch counter at the old Durham Woolworth's, where a sit-in occurred one week after the more famous one in Greensboro.

"I asked, 'Can you imagine being among these people?' We're still facing a multitude of civil rights issues, but these young people are empowered to make change," Medley adds. "We were insistent in our mission that these films are very forward-thinking and relevant to 2014, 2015, tomorrow. We wanted the ideas to be relevant to what's happening in our world today."
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    The collection of five documentaries about Civil Rights Movement lunch-counter sit-ins screens at Flyleaf Books Feb. 24.

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Thursday, February 5, 2015

Catching up with John Woodard of Chapel Hill landmark Sutton's Drug Store

Posted by on Thu, Feb 5, 2015 at 11:30 AM

Sutton's Drug Store first opened its doors on Franklin Street in 1923. - PHOTO BY FRED WASSER
  • photo by Fred Wasser
  • Sutton's Drug Store first opened its doors on Franklin Street in 1923.
Hollie knows that I need cream for my coffee and that I don’t need syrup for my pancakes.

“We haven’t seen you in a while,” she says. It’s been about a month. It seems I’m now a regular at Sutton’s food counter, and that I was missed.

After the morning rush, owner John Woodard is also drinking coffee at the food counter. He looks great. Well rested. “That’s what people have been telling me,” he says.

The sign above the front door still reads Sutton’s Drug Store, but it’s now a drug store in name only. Woodard was the pharmacist at Sutton’s. But, last June, Woodard sold the pharmacy part of the business to CVS, which opened a few doors up the street on East Franklin in Chapel Hill.

John Woodard at the former pharmacy counter. The shelves seem to contain newly stocked pill bottles. “They’re empty,” says Woodard. “A display.” - PHOTO BY FRED WASSER
  • photo by Fred Wasser
  • John Woodard at the former pharmacy counter. The shelves seem to contain newly stocked pill bottles. “They’re empty,” says Woodard. “A display.”
Even without the pharmacy, Sutton’s is still Sutton’s. The food counter seems busy. Various odds and ends are sold on the store’s open shelves: Candy, snacks, newspapers, cigarettes and an impressive array of bottled sodas. Stacked next to the front register are free copies of a 2015 wall calendar with illustrations by Norman Rockwell.

INDY: How has your life changed since you closed the pharmacy?

: The wonderful thing about it is that I don’t have the stress and the irritation of fighting with the insurance companies. It’s so nice not having to worry about that. Being able to stay afloat as a small independent—it’s just hard to do. It all comes down to profit. When you can’t make enough profit off the prescription volume, you need to cut and make some changes. I still come in every day just as if we were still open as a full-fledged drug store. This is my home away from home. This is where all my friends come.

Sutton’s first opened its doors in 1923. What was the place like in 1977 when you took over?

At that time, the store was full of all kinds of merchandise just like all the other stores up and down the block. We had lots of over-the-counter medications as well as toiletries. Even cleaning supplies. Most drug stores didn’t have food counters at the time. There were several stores that had a soda fountain where they served drinks and ice cream, but not much in the way of food.

Food counter at Sutton’s, 1984 - COURTESY OF JOHN WOODARD
  • courtesy of John Woodard
  • Food counter at Sutton’s, 1984
I understand there used to be a cosmetics counter, and toys, too.

There was a toy store down in the basement. Mrs. Sutton had an incredible cosmetics counter, which I inherited when I bought the store. 

You worked the pharmacy counter. Did you ever work behind the food counter or the soda fountain?

Oh gosh, yes. The first four or five years the prescription part of the store was struggling with all the competition up and down the block. There was plenty of time for me to learn what it was like to be an employee at the soda fountain. I loved to make the milk shakes. It got to be where I could make them pretty fast. I got to meet so many people by simply pouring coffee. I was taking food orders when it got busy as well as ringing up sales at the cash register.

The photos of Sutton’s customers on the walls, the Carolina basketball jerseys hanging from the walls and the ceiling—they’re a dominant feature of Sutton’s. How did the photo taking get started?

The wall of photos at Sutton's. - PHOTO BY FRED WASSER
  • photo by Fred Wasser
  • The wall of photos at Sutton's.
It was at that time in the early 1980s when the buying habits of the public started changing whenever the big box stores started coming. Don Pinney [now the store manager] and I went over to Durham and bought four booths that someone was trying to get rid of. We had them set up to see what we could do to increase the sales at the food counter. But the pegboard walls looked so bare. [Longtime Sutton’s cook] Willie Mae Houk and I were thinking: what in the world can we put on these walls to make them not look so bad? And she said: don’t you have pictures you took of some of the ball players when they’d come in to eat? I went upstairs and found 11 8x10s I had taken. And the next thing you know, we were getting people requesting: can we get our picture up there on that wall, too? The number of photos just mushroomed. I still have to have a camera here because you never know who is going to want to have their picture taken.

*   *   *

  • photo by Fred Wasser
Sutton’s Drug Store has expanded beyond Franklin Street. Since August, in partnership with the sports bar Pantana Bob’s, Sutton’s has been operating a food truck.

The truck is parked at the 300 block of West Rosemary Street, Chapel Hill, next to Pantana Bob’s. Hours of operation: Tuesday through Saturday, 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. Breakfast hours resume in the spring.

“The tater tots are the biggest thing,” says Lynn Brammer, who works the food truck. “Between midnight and three I get really busy. A lot of students are regulars. If you can believe it, I have a following!”

In general, the menu dovetails with Sutton’s on Franklin. It includes burgers, hotdogs, French fries, chicken tenders and barbecue.

“Cheap price, good food,” says Corey Davis, Lynn’s colleague at the truck, about what they offer.

Fred Wasser is a radio and print journalist based in Chapel Hill. Contact him via Breathing Room Radio.
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    Though Sutton's is now a drug store in name only, its food counter and truck are alive and well.

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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Empathy and ritual in art cakes at UNC

Posted by on Thu, Dec 5, 2013 at 9:44 AM

"Domestic Violence" glazed lavender lemon Bundt cake and "War" crumble cake - PHOTO BY CHRIS VITIELLO
  • Photo by Chris Vitiello
  • "Domestic Violence" glazed lavender lemon Bundt cake and "War" crumble cake
This is the time of year to trot out our rituals. We have to eat a turkey on this certain November Thursday and go shopping before sunrise the day after. Maybe we automatically put a spangled tree or a menorah in our houses. Too many of us try to get to the bottom of a bottle in order to flip the calendar over to next year.

But what if we could make a thought or feeling ritual instead of just a series of actions? A seminar class of undergraduate art majors at UNC-Chapel Hill did just that on Monday with “A Taste of Empathy,” a one-evening culinary installation in the Graham Memorial Lounge. The class, taught by elin o’Hara slavick and teaching assistant (and INDY contributor) Amy White, applied some creative groupthink to some big art questions: What is it exactly that we have to express? And what's the best way to express it?

Students made 10 different cakes, each representing a social issue that they were concerned about such as poverty, racism and domestic violence. Then they held a semi-formal tasting in the elegant campus sitting room complete with a pianist and twin glowing hearths. Held aside, the poverty cake would be delivered to a local shelter after the event.

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Thursday, June 7, 2012

It's wrestling, but is it art? Food trucks and smackdowns tonight in Raleigh

Posted by on Thu, Jun 7, 2012 at 1:24 PM

A superstar from the late ’90s Southern Championship Wrestling scene
  • Shonna Greenwell
  • A superstar from the late ’90s Southern Championship Wrestling scene
There’s art to be found in men beating the crap out of each other. There is also wholesome, family entertainment located there too.

Just ask Rebus Works owner Shonna Greenwell. Today, the men of local wrestling outfit GOUGE Wrestling will be smashing and bashing outside her arts and crafts gallery, entertaining spectators as they take part in another one of Rebus Works’s Food Truck Rodeo.

So, just how did an art gallery owner hook up with a bunch of tights-wearing bruisers? Well, for starters, she lived next to one for years.

“Count Grog was my neighbor,” says Greenwell, referring to the wrestling manager and GOUGE commissioner. She got invited to one of their shows back when they were performing over at the Berkeley Café. Greenwell, who was dabbling in photography at the time, found them to be the perfect photo subjects.

“These guys, or men and women, would completely go into this other ego or other personality, and it was always your classic, like, good vs. evil,” she says. “And they would get the crowd riled up, and you could get all your frustrations and everything out. You could yell whatever you want and basically cheer for whoever you wanted as well.”

Greenwell got the GOUGE crew to perform outside Rebus Works for one paid event, but it turned to be, in Greenwell’s words, a “borderline disaster.” She forgot that because Rebus Works is located below the Boylan Street Bridge, passersby could watch the action from the bridge and not pay a dime.

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    So, just how did an art gallery owner hook up with a bunch of tights-wearing bruisers?

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Friday, October 30, 2009

The hunt for fried October: the food horrors at the N.C. State Fair

Posted by on Fri, Oct 30, 2009 at 7:48 PM


It's the next-to-last night of the North Carolina State Fair, and my friends and I are stalking the fairgrounds in search of deep-fried butter. Everyone we've talked with claims that it's here, but no one's actually seen it.

Since Oprah Winfrey shared the flash-frozen sticks covered in batter with her audience at the Texas State Fair earlier this month, everyone has wondered if it will make its way to North Carolina. And rumors are flying around. "It's like the Loch Ness Monster," says James Rice of the booth Rice's Corn and Lemonade. "Everyone claims they've heard it's here, but no one's seen it."

It wouldn't be surprising if deep-fried butter showed up. I remember when I was a kid and saw news reports about this new novelty item at the fair called "fried dough." Even at a young age, it seemed weird that you could sell something that was the basic ingredient of most pastries by itself if you just deep-fried it.

Today, fried food forms the basis of most of the fair's cuisine-the official blog for the fair is even called "Deep Fried." As one wanders from one end of the fairgrounds to another, they might encounter the aforementioned fried dough, along with fried Oreos, fried candy bars (Snickers, Three Musketeers or Milky Way), fried pickles, fried strawberry cobbler bites, fried banana pudding bites, fried pecan pie, fried alligator tail, fried PB and J, fried Twinkies (also available frozen and dipped in chocolate) and the ever-popular fried cheeseburger on a stick.

The sticks are particularly important. The gourmands are like civil engineers of grease; if there's a way to get something on a stick, they'll find it. It's simply a matter of shoving a splint of bamboo through some flash-frozen consumable before coating it in the batter of choice (usually cornmeal), and sending it on to the cauldron of trans fats.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Rockin' Chef on The Rachael Ray Show

Posted by on Thu, Oct 22, 2009 at 5:20 PM


Personal chef and singer/bassist extraordinaire Shirle’ Hale Koslowski is no stranger to television – she did a cooking segment on News 14 for a while until she was replaced by some dorky guy. But this latest development is just surreal.

Koslowski, who plays in the Durham band Free Electric State with her husband David, will appear Monday, Oct. 26 on the “Rachael Ray” show, which airs in the Triangle at 10 a.m. on WTVD.

A wine rack that Shirle’ made out of coffee cans will be featured in Ray’s regular "Double Duty Tips" segment. It turns out that a production assistant on Ray’s show spotted it on Shirle’s “Rockin’ the Stove” blog.

“I got this email, like, two months ago, in the morning,” Koslowski says. “I thought it was spam. I’m sitting here in my office, laughing, and going, ‘Hey David, check out this piece of spam I just got from The Rachael Ray Show.’” David thought it was “junk,” too, but when Shirle’ examined the return address, she saw that it was from Oprah Winfrey’s company. So she wrote back, and the segment producer called her within minutes.

A script was emailed to Shirle’, and David shot the footage that outlined the steps for making the wine rack. The producers will edit it down to a one-minute segment that will likely include David as well, enjoying a glass of wine with his wife.

Shirle’ is still just surprised by the whole thing.

“I had no idea that anyone subscribed to my blog, other than friends and family.”

By the way: Free Electric State plays tonight at Tir Na Nog in Raleigh with The Poles and Gross Ghost. And Shirle’ is hosting a vegan brunch at Durham’s The Pinhook on Nov. 8 from 12-2 p.m.

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