When Dr. Georgiann Thomas, 80, an author and assistant professor of humanities at Clark Atlanta University, pushes aside the yellow bracelet adorning her wrist to reveal a burn mark, the table of people with whom she dines is amazed. The scar, decades old but still visible, was left by a Ku Klux Klan member putting out a cigarette on her arm during a protest in Atlanta when she was a 17-year-old freshman at Spelman College in 1960.
“It did something to me, but it didn’t stop me,” says Dr. Thomas as Stephen Satterfield, 38, a writer and founder of Whetstone Media, wipes tears from his eyes on the table across from her.
The conversation is part of the second season of Netflix’s “High on the Hog,” a documentary series exploring the influence of African Americans on cooking and cuisine in the United States. Over a meal at Paschal’s, a longtime soul food restaurant in Atlanta, Dr. Thomas, Charles Black and Marilyn Price Scott, all in their 80s, talk to a visibly excited Mr. Satterfield about joining a protest led by the Rev. Dr. r Martin Luther King, Jr. requires service at a separate Rich’s department store.
“These are stories that cannot be understood even by reading a textbook, and I feel that presence and historical significance with all of you here today,” Mr. Satterfield tells the group.
The scene is one of many intergenerational conversations that anchor the show’s second season, scenes of honest and vulnerable communion that speak to what can happen when African-Americans of different ages spend time together over meals .
Inspired by Dr. Jessica B. Harris’ 2011 book of the same name, the show’s first season focused on stories and dishes illustrating how enslaved Africans contributed to and shaped much of America’s cooking, catering not only to the soil that grew crops that fed a nation, but also as the “hand in the pot” bringing cooking techniques and West African dishes to a new continent. “A lot of the first season was about people who became ancestors, people who didn’t necessarily speak for themselves but spoke through their work or descendants,” said Dr Harris, who appears in three of the four episodes of this season.
The second season, which traces the vast legacy of black cuisine through Reconstruction and along the routes of the Great Migration, features more first-hand accounts of African Americans who shaped cooking and eating in this country. “This season the people who made the dish or made that change are on camera and that’s a very big difference,” Dr Harris said.
Profound moments are found at tables like the one Mr. Satterfield shared with activists in Atlanta, where he can connect dots for himself. In an episode focused on Chicago, he spoke with Benjamin Gaines Sr., a 99-year-old former Pullman luxury railcar porter who moved to the city from Kentucky. Mr. Satterfield’s own grandfather, who died before he was born, was also a Pullman porter and moved to Chicago in the 1940s.
Listening to Mr. Gaines, who died in April, tell stories of working in carriages, providing fancy food and hospitality to white customers, the “steaming anger” he felt when guests disrespected him or even physically harmed him, Mr. n Satterfield felt as if he had seen a part of his own family history that had once been inaccessible to him. “I was humbled to have a conversation with them that could easily have been missed,” he said in an interview. “We need to understand the context and through the living ancestors who embody these stories.”
The experiences have changed him and the way he engages with history and how black people specifically share our stories as what he calls “ancestors in training.”
“You don’t belong to yourself,” Mr. Satterfield said. “We are all ancestors now, whether we admit it or accept it.”
In an emotionally charged scene with Alvin Shields, a retired mechanical engineer who grew up on a plantation as the child of sharecroppers, the theme of shame emerges. Mr. Shields and Mr. Satterfield discuss how so many young people do not want to think about this past or are even uncomfortable with the word “plantation.”
“The plantation is ours, don’t call it a bad word. My ancestors lived and died here,” says Mr Shields, adding, “now all of a sudden we have to fear it, hate it or despise it? No, we own it. We did it. We own it.”
Roger Ross Williams directed the first season and produced the second. (The second season was directed by Eric Parker and Camilla Forbes.) He said the series’ themes and conversations have become more pressing since its 2021 debut.
“The massive erasure of black history, book bans and protests against critical race theory are going on right now,” he said.
For Mr. Williams, creating a series that lays out, clearly and earnestly, how African-Americans “continue to feed America” means making sure that future generations know that story. “It’s a gentler way to educate Americans about the contributions of blacks to American food and history. You can’t ban Netflix.
For Dr. Harris, the show’s promise is in these conversations, where ideas, experiences and history can flow openly between each participant. “You can talk across generations at the table,” she said. “It’s sad we don’t see this more often. It was Sunday dinner.
On how she hopes people will engage with the series, she added: “We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. And as we go along, we learn more about our history and the stories that have shaped who we are. This African hand in the court is almost deeper than I thought when I wrote the book.’