Program: Orange County Home-coming Celebration
This program for the Orange County home-coming celebration from July 16, 1919 is part of Documenting the American South: The North Carolina Experience collection at the UNC library. This program is valuable to a historian investigating food ways in Chapel Hill because of the sentimentality associated with soldiers coming home from the war and the celebration that it ensues. Celebrations more often than not include food, because food brings people together and in the case of this celebration, dinner plays a role in structuring the whole event.
In Annie Cameron’s detailed manuscript titled “A record of the War Activities in Orange County North Carolina 1917-1919” she describes the local efforts and events during WWI in Orange County . Within these documents, with reference to the upcoming home-coming celebration, she writes that “July 16th, 1919 will long be remembered as the biggest day Orange County has ever seen” . Both this and the first mentioning of the planning of the event in June 20th , 1919, show the importance of the home-coming celebration for the people of Orange County.
The celebration was not just limited to the soldiers and their families as Cameron writes that invitations were sent to Orange County tax payers as well as Orange County soldiers that were living elsewhere. Around 1500 people in Orange County including the towns of Chapel Hill, Durham, and Raleigh were expected to come . Such a large scale, much anticipated event had to be planned and organized by some sort of committee and would require funds to make it happen. The funding for this event was given in part by the Red Cross executive committee and the rest was raised by donations of the people of Orange County. Cameron recorded two separate lists of the members of the black and white helping committees who were in charge of preparation and decoration. The list of members for the committee for black soldiers was a small fraction compared to the committee for the white soldiers .
In anticipation for the celebration, both the committees and the citizens of Orange County decorated storefronts and homes with flags and welcome home signs and lined the streets with barrels of ice water and lemonade stands . People all over Orange County gathered together to celebrate the home-coming of their brothers, fathers, uncles, and friends, bringing the community closer together . The committees also arranged, as seen in the program, for speakers of high stature like the North Carolina governor to come speak at the event as well as other high status colonels and generals .
In discussing the home-coming of soldiers during this time, it is important to acknowledge the disparities in how soldiers of different races may have been treated in regard to the celebration of their contribution to the war efforts. As seen in the program, the black soldiers and white soldiers were both celebrated at the event but had separate meal locations . Even with this separation in dining areas, it can be concluded that they ate similar foods because Cameron writes that the acquisition of the chickens and hams for both dinners were thanks to the efforts of people throughout the county and were cooked by the women of the town . In addition to the aforementioned hams and chickens that were prepared for meal time, the celebratory meal included: rolls, pickles, sliced bread, barbecue, ice cream, cake, lemonade and Coca-Cola .
In conclusion, the long weeks of planning and preparation for the home-coming celebration brought people together from all over to honor the soldiers of Orange County. Although separated by race, these soldiers were fed generous meals prepared by the people of their community that they enjoyed while being entertained by speeches from influential speakers from around the state. Therefore, the Chapel Hill food story would be incomplete without this home-coming celebration as it brought the community and larger state together with a hearty meal.
– Gwyneth Gassaway
”Program for the Orange County Homecoming Celebration.” Documenting the American South. Accessed October 28, 2018.
 Weig, Ellen C. “ANNIE SUTTON CAMERON.” ECW in NC. Accessed November 01, 2018. http://www.ecw-nc.org/by-word-and-example/annie-sutton-cameron.html.
Cameron, Annie. “Record of the War Activities in Orange County, North Carolina. 1917-1919.” Documenting the American South Homepage. Accessed November 1, 2018. https://docsouth.unc.edu/wwi/cameron/cameron.html.