On a recent road trip, I went to one of my favorite breakfast spots, Cracker Barrel. I like Cracker Barrel. Their breakfast is consistently good from one end of the country to the other. If you’ve been to one Cracker Barrel, you’ve been to them all. It is unapologetically Americana with all its homogeneity and charm – but honestly, I don’t mind that at all in that space.
I was seated near the jumbo fireplace, my favorite element other than the fried catfish. Much to my delight, the fireplace mantle held a surprise for me - a photo of African American literary icon and activist, James Baldwin. I was tickled and thrilled simultaneously. Baldwin’s presence anywhere near something that had Cracker in its title was just the beginning of the irony and humor of his presence on the mantle. He was also positioned under what appeared to be somebody’s Plymouth Rock to Dixie ancestor and his head just below the scope of a rifle. The history and irony were comical and tragic all at the same time. Baldwin in this space reminded me that Americana romanticizes the African American presence completely but here was this stalwart desegregating even the mantle of Cracker Barrel. Balwin said, “I love this country more than any other country in the world, and exactly for this reason, I have the right to criticize her perpetually” and he expertly did just that. African American love for this country is complicated and etched in blood. James Baldwin’s presence on that mantle reminds us that we are everywhere, and we have a right to be…enjoy your breakfast.
For more on James Baldwin -https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/james-baldwin-about-the-author/59/