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HBCU Tailgate Culture and Food: Eating at “Home”

Fisk-Tailgate-1 HBCU Tailgate Culture and Food: Eating at "Home"
Fisk Tailgate

HBCU tailgate parties are legendary for alums attending Saturday football games at their alma maters. What makes them legendary? The people. Tailgate parties at regular season football games, classic events, and homecoming are mini-reunions hosted by former dormmates, eternal fraternity brothers and sorority sisters, and even families who have had generations of members attend the same historically black college or university. 

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The camaraderie between HBCU alums and the loyalty to their schools is an ongoing thing, but nothing is more festive than the tailgate traditions that are as varied as the classes represented. The tailgate is as important as what happens in those football stadiums.

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A really good HBCU tailgate event is like the front porch hang out or the backyard BBQ or a cocktail party in one big concentrated area, and with a few thousand people you have something in common with. There’s music, dancing, Divine 9 strolling, choir singing, entertainment and there is plenty of food. 

The main course is the food. 

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Magic City Classic

Morehouse alumnus Dorian Purse recalls the distinct aroma of fried fish in the air on Georgia Avenue in D.C. He was there attending Howard’s homecoming with his mother. In an essay published by The Undefeated, Purse recalls a voice on the radio, which was parked on WHUR say, “It’s homecoming, y’all!” His next memories included seeing vendors selling “delicious” food. 

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The Food Vendors

HBCU tailgate events attract local black-owned restaurants, food trucks, bakeries, and beverage companies. Tailgates provide an opportunity for these businesses to showcase and sell their product directly to their customers. These vendors pay a fee to the college or university and to hosting municipalities. National food and beverage companies pay to pass out samples and meet consumers. 

Alumni Party Food

Great planning goes into the care and feeding of alums. Parties are hosted by fraternity and sorority chapters, where members from near and far gather to eat and feed tailgate visitors. Fish is fried, BBQ ribs and other meats are grilled food by grill chefs hired for the day. There are beverage tents serving alcohol and drinks for the parched and thirsty. 

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The same holds true for grads sharing the same academic disciplines, sports teams, and campus activities or dorms. A close group of friends will make certain their crew has food and drink. These parties are a safe way to catch up with friends and chill, and are the equivalent to pop-up restaurants replete with portable cooking tools and refrigeration. 

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Decorating these spaces is simple enough. The requirements are the school colors, mascots, and paraphernalia. The execution of these events can be as complicated as a tent open to everyone or as simple as a tent with lawn chairs and a couple of tables for an intimate group of friends. 

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DC event planner and HBCU alumna Karen Parker says, “At Howard University, the alumni tailgate party is one big fabulous multi-faceted cookout. Individual groups pay a fee to rent a space, erect a tent, and set up their own culinary experiences. A variety of grilled, smoked, and fried foods contributes to the unmistakable party smell, and thumping bass shakes the ground as DJs do their thing. It lasts all day and I have never seen money exchange hands for a plate or a sip. It’s a reunion of your 10,000 closest cousins!”

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HBCU Homecoming Season begins in October. For a full list of football games visit HBCU Lifestyle online. 

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Robin Caldwell

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