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  • Writer's pictureLori Pearson

Black-Eye Peas, Greens, and CornBread A New Year's Day Tradition

I frankly was amazed to see many from both races in America post on Facebook a traditional meal eaten on New Year’s Day as black-eye peas, cornbread and collard greens. It seems that the Civil War started this tradition among Southern Whites with Sherman’s “March to the Sea” from Atlanta to Savannah, Georgia from November 15 to December 21, 1864. This is just one story about how southerners of both races celebrate by eating this meal on New Year’s day.

Black-eye peas were brought to North America from Africa by African slaves captured into the Atlantic slave trade and once considered food to be eaten only by slaves and animals; this is why they are also known as cow peas. Sherman’s March to the Sea had the goal of what is considered “total war”. The concept of total war consists of destroying the supplies and infrastructure needed by the enemy to cripple their effectiveness to supply their troops with needed resources. It is similar to what we are seeing today in the war in Ukraine and Gaza. It also has the purpose of destroying the psychological morale of the enemy to continue to fight back. Sherman employed this strategy successfully against the seceding southern states from the Union in Virginia and Georgia. 

The Union army took food, supplies and burned bridges and homes leaving a wake of destruction as they marched from Atlanta to the coast of Savannah. The Union troops ignored the black-eyed pea gardens when raiding the Southern farms. White Southerners and the Confederate army had to survive on food the Union Army left behind, black-eye peas and pork, the food fed to slaves and animals. The White Southerners and Confederate soldiers were "lucky" to have the remaining food to get them through the cold winter.

Black-eye peas are also part of the diet of people living in places such as India and Myanmar. They are mostly consumed in West African countries, particularly Benin, Guinea Nigeria and Senegal, as well as in the Caribbean, Brazil and the southern United States. There is also evidence that Jewish families from Egypt, Syria, ate black-eyed peas as a part of the holiday Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, for hundreds of years; and these Sephardic Jews moved to Southern states in America during the 18th century continuing this tradition.

The black-eye peas were taken to the Caribbean and the Americas on slave ships by captured Africans. Enslaved people cultivated small plots of the crop on the rice plantations where they were forced to work and harvested it for themselves to eat. The most common way to eat black-eyed peas on New Year's Day is in a dish called Hoppin Johns, a traditional Southern recipe that mixes the beans with rice and pork like bacon. The black-eye pea ties the African diaspora together on every continent. This nutritious pea is able to grow in harsh conditions and is a symbol of sustainability for the African people in the diaspora and for White Southerners during the Civil War.

Now White and Black Southerners in America share this same meal on New Year’s day. The black-eye peas are said to represent good luck, abundance and health. The collard greens are green for money and for a prosperous new year. Corn bread has a golden color and represents gold.

Another story how this New Years tradition began is that slaves ate black-eyed peas on January 1, 1863, the day the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect because that was all they had to celebrate their freedom from slavery. A food brought from Africa that sustained them through slavery. This, according to the story, is why black-eyed peas have been eaten on New Year's Day.

Here is hoping that it will not take another Civil War to realize that God created all human beings living in America and around the world. We are united in wanting the same thing in life. Let the symbolism of black-eye peas bring a year of good health, safety, abundance, and freedom to be all that God has created us to be in this world.

Wishing you and your family a year of good health, prosperity and a successful mission of kingdom building as representatives of God’s kingdom on earth. Let’s focus this year on praising God for his plan of salvation for all mankind and sharing the gospel for all to hear.

 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life”. John 3:16

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