Orange Uncovered
Gordonsville: Fried Chicken Capital of the Universe

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Solve History’s Mysteries

How did fried chicken become a symbol of freedom for African American women in Gordonsville?

Food and community: what’s the connection?

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Secrets are revealed below!

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By today’s standards, social networks in 19th century America were low tech, but they were very effective. African American women entrepreneurs in Gordonsville couldn’t swipe, post and strategize online, but their social network was a platform for empowerment.

Gordonsville became a railroad stop in the 1840s, making the town a hot spot for commerce. During the Civil War, Gordonsville’s railroad stop became more important than ever, as it transported supplies to Confederate soldiers. Throughout the century, the railroad stop put Gordonsville on the map in a memorable way, and the entrepreneurship that followed made it unforgettable.

After the Civil War, African American women were promised freedom, with the same rights afforded to other Americans, but the reality was quite different. Having little money, limited or no access to education, African American women in Gordonsville had to create their own opportunities. Putting their culinary talents together, the entrepreneurs prepared fried chicken and other Southern favorites and sold the food to passengers through the train windows.

Their approach to capitalism was creative and tactical, requiring mutual support and lots of coordination. In time, their Southern comforts went viral, and Gordonsville was declared the “Fried Chicken Capital of the Universe.”

Innovation and collaboration gave African American women in Gordonsville a newfound sense of liberty, and provided the town with widespread acclaim. Fried chicken deepened Gordonsville’s sense of community, because it unified people in a common love–and a common goal. Today, the Exchange Hotel and Civil War Museum is an African American memorial site that pays tribute to the visionary chicken vendors.

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