The Edible South: Watermelon (Sarah Bagwell)

When I think of childhood, summertime, and the Fourth of July, I think of watermelon. Throughout American supermarkets, seeing boxes of watermelons is a sign that summer has arrived. Whether at the beach or a cookout, enjoying a cold, fresh piece of watermelon is an unequivocally American summer tradition. Its popularity seeps into many American products during the summer, being sold as seasonal milkshake and candy flavors, pool floats, and children’s clothing. In addition, over two hundred types of watermelon grow in the United States alone, showing the extent at which watermelon is appreciated (Burch).

It is also a symbol of the South, considering its origin. Watermelon seeds were introduced to the American South by enslaved African Americans. Unfortunately, watermelon has been used as a way to degrade African Americans, being related n a racist and derogatory sense. After the emancipation of enslaved people, free African Americans sold and ate watermelon, which was quickly used as a way to belittle their freedom. It was falsely and unjustly labeled as a food of laziness based on this racist association (Black).

In a more positive light, Southern traditions with watermelon extend beyond racial injustices and also include the oddity of adding salt to watermelon. Because watermelon has such a low amount of salt, sprinkling even a little bit of salt on top brings out the sweetness of the fruit. Apparently, this tradition does not just live in the South, as Southern newspaper articles dating back to the early twentieth century tell about salted watermelon in Japan.

Like many others, I have a nostalgic view of watermelon and immediately relate it to my childhood. Throughout American history, watermelon has been included in our country’s growth and can ultimately be viewed as a symbol of freedom for Americans of all backgrounds.



Black, William R. “How Watermelons Became a Racist Trope.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 15 May 2020,

Burch, Ron. Watermelon: The Southern Comfort Food, SouthernReader, 2006,

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