Many people from all walks of life are mourning the death, on May 20, of Mildred Council, eighty-nine years old and widely known as Mama Dip. Mama Dip was appreciated far and wide, in so many ways, by so many people. Below, we are honored to include the appreciation of Mama Dip given at her memorial service on May 27 by Professor William Ferris, who, with Professor Marcie Cohen Ferris, was a longtime friend of Mama Dip’s and her family. The family asked Bill to speak at the service.
On Mildred “Mama Dip” Council
May 27, 2019, Chapel Hill Bible Church
We know they are eating well in Heaven today. Saint Peter is saying, “Pass those biscuits, please, Mrs. Council.”
I love to tell my students the African proverb that says “When an old woman or man dies, a library burns to the ground.” We have lost a truly great library whose wisdom and kindness touched us all.
Mildred “Mama Dip” Council created a sacred space in Chapel Hill where black and white families gathered to enjoy a breakfast of grits, eggs, and fried green tomatoes with hot biscuits and coffee, and lunches and dinners of fried chicken, black eyed peas, squash casserole, cobbler, and sweet tea.
But Mrs. Council offered more than just delicious food. She also shared stories to accompany that food, and those stories came in abundance—always with a lesson. Sitting in her favorite booth near the entrance of the restaurant, Mrs. Council greeted her visitors with a warmth that made the meal complete. Her friendship with my wife Marcie and our family grew and deepened over the past 16 years in ways that profoundly enriched our lives.
She touched so many—from New York Times writers Craig Claiborne and Kim Severson, to each of us gathered here today to pay tribute to her life. Mildred “Mama Dip” Council was the epicenter of a galaxy of great chefs in the Triangle—in Chapel Hill, Durham, Raleigh, and beyond.
Marcie reminded me that Mrs. Council pioneered the fields of food justice, food access, and food activism. She cared deeply about education, equity, feeding all in need, and serving her community. She was part of the generations of African American cooks, caterers, street vendors, domestic workers, and café owners who are the heart of southern foodways.
Mildred Council was a model of achievement as a black woman who raised a beautiful family, created a successful business, and gave back to her community in powerful ways. She provided a safe haven in her restaurant where black and white families ate together, and racial barriers were wiped away in the presence of food and her powerful voice.
I love to remind friends that the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, which I co-edited, is the number 2 best seller for the University of North Carolina Press—after Mama Dip’s Kitchen, which has sold over 250,000 copies.
Mrs. Council dedicated her book “To the girls—Norma, Julia, Sandra, Annette, and Anita—for housekeeping while I worked; to the boys—Geary, Joe, and William—for caddying at the golf course to help put food on the table; to Roy for being the house dad; and to my 20 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren with love. May God bless you all.”
In her opening “Grace” in Mama Dip’s Kitchen, Mrs. Council spoke from her heart when she wrote: “We don’t eat flowers, but I plant them in my garden with the thought of life and beauty….When you see a bundle of flowers, your eyes light up….Flowers are like…people because there are so many kinds and colors and different names for them.”
For the past 16 years, each December I have treated students in my Southern Music class to breakfast at Mama Dip’s Restaurant, after which Mrs. Council spoke to the class. She told my students how she received her nickname “Dip” as a young girl because she was tall and could lean over and dip water from the barrel at her home when her siblings were thirsty.
For 89 years Mildred “Mama Dip” Council dipped water from the barrel of kindness and quenched the thirst in each of us. She helped us see a kinder, gentler world. Her voice will always live within those who were privileged to know her, to hear her familiar laugh, to eat at the table where she made this world a better place than she found it. For that, we are the richer.
We all say, “Thank you, Mama Dip, for the kindness you served that will nourish us in the days and years to come.”
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
More UNC Press blog posts about Mama Dip through the years can be found here.