Nearly two centuries ago, a Charleston curmudgeon wrote to the Post & Courier to complain about local peddlers’ sing-song patter:
“The public cry should be regulated,” the anonymous writer asserted in an 1823 edition of the paper. “The negro should be taught to announce what he has to sell and suppress his wit.”
According to food scholar Jessica Harris, who quoted the correspondence in a 2010 Southern Foodways Alliance address (posted above), street sellers “kept on keeping on” in the African tradition, using flirtation, rhythm and rhyme to hawk their porgy, she-crab, strawberries, oysters and watermelons. While Tony the Peanut Man is now one of the last living links to the era of shouted advertisements, Charleston was once a capital of Old World-style marketeering.
On Feb. 16, Harris will address the local history of cart-pushing vendors in a free lecture at the Stern Center: “I’m Talking’ ‘bout the Food I Sells: Charleston’s Street Vendors – Their Wares and Their Ways,” is jointly sponsored by Magnolia Plantation and the College of Charleston’s Program in the Carolina Lowcountry and Atlantic World.
“We took over the markets of the South,” Harris said in her Southern Foodways talk, for which she assumed the character of an African food seller. “Charleston was ours.”
The author of 12 cookbooks, including 2012’s High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America, Harris is curating the cafeteria of the forthcoming National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C.
Harris’ lecture begins at 3 p.m.