Mississippi family featured in new Hulu documentary

Published 12:13 am Saturday, June 3, 2023

A bit of Natchez and its history is featured in a food documentary released Friday on Hulu by renowned Los Angeles Chef Alisa Reynolds.

Episode 1 of the new eight-episode series “Searching for Soul Food,” features Natchez and one Natchez family with a taste for history.

Jarita Frazier-King, the owner of Natchez Heritage School of Cooking, walks Chef Reynolds through a recipe for summer succotash comprised of corn, okra and andouille sausage, ingredients derived from both indigenous and African cultures.

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“And of course, we fried catfish,” King said.

Reynolds is joined at the table by King and her family for food and a conversation about the food’s connection to history.

“Soul food is derived out of a food for the struggle,” King said, noting that traditions like having black eye peas and cabbage to ring in a New Year or mixing up creative ways to use cheap ingredients like corn, beans and okra are all a part of that history.

Also included in the show are King’s late grandmother, Beulah Fitzgerald; King’s mother, Shirley Frazier, and King’s daughter Skylar King-Frazier — four generations of Fitzgerald women whose matriarch lived through a historic moment in Natchez history that has become known as the Parchman Ordeal.

More than 450 Natchez residents were wrongfully arrested in October 1965 while joining a Civil Rights march. They were charged with violating an unconstitutional parade ordinance and hundreds were loaded up in buses to be jailed at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman.

While brutally and unjustly treated, King said Fitzgerald has never shown anger for what was done to her.

“She was never mad and was always forgiving about it,” King said. “She would say, ‘Those were the times and it is what it is. You live to fight another day.’ … We have something special here and need to do more to promote the actual stories of people left here that experienced those things.”

Next week marks one-year since Fitzgerald died after filming the episode, so the family is holding a private watch party in her honor, King said.

“This is the way family always comes together, over the dinner table,” she said.

Conversations with her grandmother at the dinner table are one chance younger generations have to connect with their roots.

“We’re encouraging people to learn more about their history,” King states in the episode. “If you’re fortunate like I am to have your mother and grandmother still around, talk to them to get that information because once they’re gone, there is no record.”

While they filmed the episode two years ago, King said she had been challenged to keep a tight lip before its release had been announced.

“I had to sit on this for a long time,” she said. “We couldn’t put it out there. Members of my own family didn’t know about it. It still doesn’t feel real. … I feel blessed that they selected Natchez to be the first stop that they made. I always say Natchez is the original Gumbo.”

In July King said she will be opening the Patio Grill, a chance for people to get a taste of her soul food in an outside dining experience at 408 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St.

“I knew that when this comes out, people are going to be ‘searching for soul food,’ and they won’t have to look far,” she said.