This Oklahoma Life: Homies, Backyard Chickens and Mama E’s Soul Food

“…When you sing before him don’t you worry, you’ll be good enough.”
–Kevin Costner on Whitney Houston singing before God

I watched Whitney Houston’s funeral off and on yesterday, and like all of the TV journalists commentating, I was very taken with how homegrown it was. It was very inspiring, especially Costner’s eulogy along with the stories BeBe Winans told.

I don’t know who said it first, probably CNN anchor Don Lemon, but Houston’s funeral illuminated the African American church experience for many white Americans who may have never before stepped foot in a Black church. Lemon also predicted a spike in church attendance today.

Chickens, Cadillac

This uptown urban chicken couple was taking a stroll near Lincoln and NE 36th Street. The rooster is the one with the bigger feathers.

This morning, I decided to go poke around the northeast side of Oklahoma City, which is predominantly Black. There are probably two-dozen African American churches between Kelley Avenue and Martin Luther King Boulevard (running north and south) and NE 16th and NE 50th Streets (running east and west). All of the church parking lots were packed. Over the years, I’ve visited many of them. The services are long and many of the women still dress up in pretty suits and dresses and some wear hats. I love the way African Americans do church.

Old Black Gentleman,

This is the owner of the chickens. I stopped and talked to him about Whitney Houston. We agreed, her death was very sad. I ask people all the time if I can take their picture. They almost always look at me like I’ve fallen off a turnip truck and then they bark, “No.” When I asked this man, he humbly, but definitively said, “Yes.” Then he posed, and we shared an understanding: my subject was very interesting. He told me he’s lived in this house for more than 40 years and I’m the first person to take his picture.

I love to explore the cultural enclaves of Oklahoma City which include ethnic, political, professional and religious enclaves. Not all of these enclaves qualify as communities, but some do, and the African American enclave is one. Oklahoma City is rarely discussed in these terms and you probably have to live here awhile before you really understand where certain boundaries begin and end and how influential they are and in what ways.
Mama E's Oklahoma City
Not only is the food great, it’s a bargain. $5.95 for one meat choice and two sides. Dessert is free. Drinks, too.
Today, we had lunch at a very popular restaurant called Mama E’s, which has been featured on the Food Network. They have the best food in town, and if they had a food truck they’d make a killing.
Soul Food Mama E's Oklahoma City
Take your sharpie and write your name on the wall. We saw some familiar names.

I ordered baked chicken and macaroni and cheese and the most divine greens on the planet. I also had a piece of cornbread. Mmm, the kind made with cornmeal, flour and sugar. Yum-o.

Soul Food Mama E's Oklahoma City

Robert had Mama E’s fried chicken, mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes (or yams). Oh, my gosh, it was all slow cooked to perfection. I have lived in Oklahoma City for 25 years and I’ve eaten every kind of food available from the most expensive restaurants to the most heralded dives. Mama E’s has the best food of all. It’s located off NE 36th Street on Springlake Drive. If you go, write “ sent me here.” Ha! (There’s also a second location, 900 West Reno, Mama E’s Wings and Waffles.)

OklahomaHOMIES on a Train

Oklahoma’s population is so small (3.5 million or so) we’re almost all OKLAHOMIES and certainly forward thinkers!

I hadn’t planned to go on a graffiti adventure, it just kind of happened as this railroad track separates the east and west sides of Oklahoma City. I love the message: Forward Thinking OKLAHOMIES. In case you’ve been living under a rock, homie is a slang term in urban culture whose origins etymologists generally trace to African American language from the late 19th century.

Finally, Mark Twain who said many great things said this and it inspires me to keep digging for Oklahoma City’s social artifacts: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it solely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”


  1. says

    Great post Jen. I love that you ask people if they can take their photo. I’ve had people ask me to take their photo before. 
    Black Churches are certainly different. I’ve never been to a regular Sunday service but I’ve been to the funerals of a few friends and coworkers.It’s just a lot more “intense” maybe than what I’m used to plus everybody dresses up.
    Tulsa is a very divided city. I know lifelong Tulsan’s who say they have never been to north Tulsa. I am fascinated by the Tulsa Race Riot and its aftermath, even all these years later. There are people still alive who had their house burned down during the riot. I’m sure that there are people still alive whose parents helped do the burning.

  2. jenx67 says

    There is so much beauty in the world and those orange yams are near the top. Ha! I bet that was an amazing childhood. Now, I want to read about it. =)

  3. says

    Bless a Kazillion times over, dear Jen, for this fabulous post bringing back some of the best best of my rural Mississippi childhood, with very dear and religious African-American “freeholding” neighbors.  (They owned and operated their own farms: were not tenants.)  There is only one downside to this post for me:  overpowering salivation looking at these yummy foods!

  4. jenx67 says

    I agree! I remember my father always telling us that we need to put on our best for God’s house. I understand the casual approach to worship, but I miss the reverence and regard. I wonder how the African American community has managed to hang on to this and if they experience younger generations stepping away from it. If I wore a hat to church everyone would look at me strange!

  5. Brett T says

    When I was in Dallas, my aunt and uncle from Petaluma attended a craft show fair held downtown, and I joined them for dinner. Their hotel was also hosting a church convention of a largely African-American denomination and the convention goers were leaving for service when we were in the lobby. There were snappy Homburgs, razor-sharp creases, three-piece suits, mirror-shined spectators and more as far as you could see. Almost every woman had a wonderful “crown” or fancy hat, and neither they nor any older man approached a door without a younger man springing into action to hold it open. And that included my aunt and uncle even though we weren’t going to their convention. My uncle, who isn’t racist but whose attitudes about ethnicity probably don’t match the most sensitive models of today, said, “Boy, I sure wish people who went to our church looked like this.”

    God welcomes everyone, no matter how they look, but there’s something to be said for putting on your best to go visit his house…

  6. jenx67 says

    Thanks, Andi. The whole time I was taking pictures of the food I was thinking, “How would Andi do this?” LOL! And, I naturally thought when you make it to OKC, we have to go here!

  7. says

    Okay, first of all when I come to OKC we HAVE to go to Mama E.  I have a fried chicken bucket list (really I do) and that just got put on it.  Secondly, I love this post. The feeling, the essence, the care for community. I love it.

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