My niece, Tamara Turner, founder and CEO of Silver Spoon Desserts asked me about the history of baking in our family. I recalled when I was young, my paternal grandmother, Hattie Turner, used to bake the most exquisite cakes and desserts. We took it for granted and just kept on enjoying sweet coconut cake, moist pound cake with strawberry syrup, and a delectable carrot cake. Where did these delicious treats come from?
I did some digging around through my boxes of photos and newspaper articles and finally found some information about “Aunt Hattie”. She was my grandmother alright, but she was really my father’s aunt Hattie. My father Milton was young boy and a middle child of five boys and one girl. His parents were struggling with life in Madison, Georgia during the latter part of WWI. They decided to send him to Chicago to live with his aunt, who had relocated here a few years earlier. Yes. Both my parents were part of the Great Migration (more on Mom’s story later). It’s a story of thousands of African Americans who were fed up with the detestable Jim Crow life in the South. So many decided to go north to places like Chicago, Detroit, Philly, New York, and so many other places where they could find a better life, education for their children, paid work, and some peace of mind. Over the course of the Great Migration that lasted from 1916 to 1970, 600,000 came just to Chicago where they found jobs in the steel mills, the Union Stockyards, and other factories.
They came to Bronzeville to live because that was the only place where Blacks could live because of Restrictive Covenants put in force by realtors who wanted to maintain the lines of segregation. The neighborhood became very crowded very quickly but as time progressed so many businesses developed out of necessity, Bronzeville (or Douglas/Grand Boulevard as it is officially called) became known as the Black Metropolis, where people lived and worked and spent their money. The story continued and Bronzeville is now a neighborhood with many historic landmarks and stories and cultural treasures. The neighborhood has had Chicago landmark status for its buildings and monuments, but now is working on getting designated as a National Heritage Area.
So back to Aunt Hattie. According to her bio for her induction into the Chicago Hall of Fame, she worked for many years as a housekeeper at the Conrad Hilton hotel. Hmm…is that where she got the recipes? Perhaps. She and her preacher husband, Charlie, were active in Antioch Church in Bronzeville. I recall the ladies bringing delicious baked items to serve after Sunday service. We really don’t know where she got these recipes, but they were passed along, and now Tami’s Silver Spoon Desserts is serving them up in style.
This is truly a great Great Migration story! Keep up the good work!
Bernard C. Turner