Everyone knows that George Crum, a black man, created the potato chip, right? Then why bother writing about him? I’m writing about him, because future generations of students probably won’t know that Crum was black. Why wouldn’t they? Because while the interesting story of the invention of the potato chip is still being told, it’s starting to be told without any mention of the fact that he was black. Yes, as I homeschool my children, I’m coming across teaching materials that give Crum credit for creating potato chips that also exclude the fact that he was black.
Some might ask why does his race matter? Whether they know it or not, it matters to black boys and girls like our Elijah, 8, and our Miranda, 7. They don’t know it matters, but I do – especially given the fact that they are hard-pressed to see positive images of black people on TV and in movies and animated features. Yep, even in many animated movies that feature animals ONLY, the ones that are depicted as criminals are typically big, black apes or some sort of other black “scary” animal – almost certainly subliminally sending the message to ALL children that black equals bad.
I find myself stating quite regularly, “Know your history, and be the keepers of it.” One of the results of not doing so is that entire groups of people are sometimes left out of it. Take the Moors for example – I didn’t learn about their crucial contributions to leading Europe out of the Dark Ages and into the Renaissance until I reached my 40s. I didn’t know that they built libraries and universities that flourised or that Europe’s education system was based on theirs.
No, the Moors weren’t mentioned in any of the classes in the schools I attended. I did, however, learn about Betsy Ross and the flag she sewed only to also discover in my 40s that her story isn’t true.
While George Crum’s invention might not be viewed by many as crucial, a multi-billion dollar industry exists as a result. This is my modest attempt at practicing what I preach – knowing our history and being a keeper of it, too.
George Crum was born George Speck in 1822 in Saratoga Lake, New York, the son of a Huron Native-American mother and an African-American father who was as a jockey. For a while, he worked as a mountain guide and trapper in the Adirondack Mountains in New York.
He became head chef in 1853 at the Cary Moon’s Lake House in Lake Saratoga, New York. On an evening that he planned to make French fries, a guest complained that they were too thick. Crum, annoyed, cooked another batch and sliced the potatoes very thin. He deep fried them and added salt. The guests loved the thin, crispy chips, which became known as potato chips.
In 1904 at 92, Crum died, leaving potato chips, a favorite snack for scores of people, as his legacy.