When you hear the name Mahalia Jackson, it’s likely that fried chicken is not the first thing that comes to mind. Born on October 26, 1911 in New Orleans, Jackson is well-known for her powerful voice that amplified the gospel scene and her involvement in the civil rights movement. Mahalia’s love for music began at the young age of 4 years old in the Mount Moriah Baptist Church where she began singing professionally. Although she was raised in a more conservative congregation she was heavily influenced by the secular sounds of artists like Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey.
Mahalia’s love of food was always prevalent and anyone close to her knew that she put faith and love into her food. Inspired by the success of the Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises, Dr. Benjamin Hooks and his brother Henry and State representative A.W. Willis Jr. in Memphis tried to implement the same formula to their own chain of restaurants. As a huge supporter of Black businesses and an avid chef with her own recipe for fried chicken, Jackson agreed to being affiliated.
Opening for the first time in 1968, these restaurants were owned and worked solely by blacks. Reconstructing kitchen work from personal pleasure to a way to entertain and better the communities they served, this endeavor was an important landmark in entrepreneurship in the black communities. The menu included traditional fried chicken and catfish along with snacks and sides. In addition, they sold a soul bowl consisting of rice, chicken giblets, and gravy. By the early ’70s, there were around 5 locations in her adopted hometown of Chicago.
In an attempt to create more economically independent black businesses and build better opportunities, workers were offered healthcare, life insurance, and paid vacations. This was not merely a business opportunity as it established economic independence. Although the idea behind the franchises was viable, it was short-lived, as the last restaurant closed in 2008 in Nashville, Tennessee.