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Detroit Restaurant Is Serving Lessons In Black History With Their ‘Shoebox Lunches’

By Parker Diakite

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A dish from Beans & Cornbread, a soul food restaurant outside of Detroit, is served with a piece of Black History.

Patrick Coleman, the restaurant’s owner, offers “shoebox lunches” similar to the boxes African Americans used to store food when traveling in the south during the Jim-Crow era when they were banned from white-owned establishments.

“You get on the highway these days and you can stop at any restaurant along the interstate, but back during Jim Crow, [black] folks couldn’t do that,” Coleman told Black Enterprise. “You could not go into the dining cars if you were on the train or pull over to a Denny’s or a Cracker Barrel and walk-in […] you could potentially end up getting killed.”

The “shoebox lunch” idea was inspired by Coleman’s mother and grandmother, who told him the stories of taking trips in the segregated south, inspired the “shoebox lunch”. 

Instagram | @beans.n.cornbread

“They would get into this nice train up north in Detroit and once they hit the Mason Dixon [line], they had to get on the old, coal-powered train where soot was coming in the windows,” he stated.  “ ‘That’s when ‘someone would open up a bag and the shoeboxes would come out because they could not go into the dining cars.’” He added,  “I’m just one generation removed from that.”

The shoebox lunch is in a decorative cardboard box that pays tribute to prominent African American figures, including information about Freedom Riders, the Green Book guide, and Katherine Johnson, the human calculator whose story was one of many told in the movie Hidden Figures about the black women working as mathematicians for Nasa.

“It’s a history lesson [that] we call ‘lunch and learn,” Coleman told Black Enterprise. “It’s important that a younger generation understand the strength and determination that their forebears had to persevere through what we now consider normal day-to-day living. Despite the indignities of the era, black Americans found a way through resourcefulness as well as resolve to ensure that they could travel and sustain themselves.”

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