State Politics

Can 2 fried chicken festivals coexist in North Carolina?

Rep. Elmer Floyd has sponsored a bill in the North Carolina legislature that would make a fried chicken festival in Fayetteville the official state celebration of crispy poultry.
Rep. Elmer Floyd has sponsored a bill in the North Carolina legislature that would make a fried chicken festival in Fayetteville the official state celebration of crispy poultry. KRT

Legislation to recognize a Fayetteville celebration as the state’s official fried chicken festival has caused some involved with Rose Hill’s longstanding North Carolina Poultry Jubilee to cry foul.

Both eastern North Carolina towns have deep ties to the state’s large poultry industry, and Bill McMillan said he suggested the Fayetteville festival as a fun event and fundraiser. He said he did not know that Rose Hill had a poultry-themed festival dating to the 1960s and wasn’t trying to cause trouble. The Rose Hill festival is not an official state event.

The bill would make the Fayettevillle Fried Chicken Festival the state’s official fried chicken festival even though the city hasn’t held one yet.

“The idea was to come up with a festival that really was not being done anywhere else,” said McMillan, who is vice president of the annual Dogwood Festival and executive director of the Re-Store Warehouse. The Re-Store is a furniture store that helps raise money for local philanthropic organizations.

Fayetteville’s Dogwood Festival and International Folk Festival are annual events that attract big crowds, but neither is officially recognized by the state, McMillan said.

He said he brought the idea of the fried chicken event to Fayetteville Rep. Elmer Floyd, who filed the bill last week in the legislature.

North Carolina’s poultry industry “has an economic impact of over $36 billion and produces more than 126,000 jobs,” the bill said. The bill originally said the festival would be first held in 2017, but it will be changed to start in 2018, Floyd said.

The official designation is ceremonial. Official North Carolina events don’t get benefits from the state, but the recognition would be a helpful tool for attracting sponsors and participants, McMillan said.

Fayetteville is near several large poultry processing plants that employ many area residents, and the festival would celebrate one of the state’s most important industries, McMillan said.

“This is my home, so for me it’s about pride,” he said.

Floyd is joined in supporting the bill by fellow Democrat Rep. Charles Graham of Lumberton, as well as Republicans Rep. James L. Boles Jr. of Southern Pines and Rep. Josh Dobson of Nebo, who represents mountain counties.

Long history

When Rose Hill residents learned that a bill had been filed to name an official fried chicken festival, it came as a surprise and some took the move as a slight, said Mandy James, the Rose Hill festival’s secretary.

Fried chicken has some deep roots here, and we’d like to keep it that way. We feel some ownership in it.

Mandy James, secretary of Rose Hill’s North Carolina Poultry Jubilee

“Fried chicken has some deep roots here, and we’d like to keep it that way,” James said. “We feel some ownership in it.”

The identity of the Duplin County town of about 1,700 people, 50 miles west of Wilmington on Interstate 40, is intertwined with the poultry industry.

Rose Hill is headquarters to large poultry firm, House of Raeford Farms, and home to the world’s largest functional frying pan, famous for being able to cook 365 whole birds at once.

The two-day jubilee celebrates all types of poultry and will be held in November.

The event, which includes a pageant, parade and carnival, is a big deal for the town and attracts between 8,000 and 9,000. But its centerpiece is the fried chicken, said Lynn James, a member of the Poultry Jubilee committee. She is not related to Mandy James.

During the jubilee, volunteer firefighters from Rose Hill and surrounding communities get up early on Saturday morning, fire up the massive frying pan and start cooking.

“By mid-morning the whole town smells like fried chicken, and by 11:00 am, that first batch of golden, crunchy, tender, moist, and oh so delicious Jubilee Fried Chicken is just right and ready to sink your teeth into,” James said in an email.

Growing up in Rose Hill, Lynn James said the jubilee rivaled the thrill of Christmas.

“My family lived outside of town but we could still see the spotlights going back and forth in the night sky indicating that the Poultry Jubilee had officially begun,” she said. “That was so exciting.”

After leaving in 1984, James returned to Rose Hill in 2006 and helped to bring back the jubilee, which had not been held since the late 1980s or early 1990s, she said.

“We wanted to provide today’s families, especially the children, the same excitement, fun, and happy memories that the (jubilee) provided for so many in years past,” she said.

Working together

Organizers of the two festivals haven’t communicated much yet, but Floyd said he would be willing to change his proposal to make sure the two could coexist.

Everything is on the table.

Rep. Elmer Floyd of Fayetteville

“Everything is on the table,” Floyd said.

McMillan said he hopes that an agreement can be reached to not disturb the other event.

In the past, the legislature has named two events as official state events. According to state statutes, there is a fall and spring livermush festival, and northeastern and southeastern watermelon festivals.

McMillan has said that the Fayetteville celebration of crispy poultry would be in May so as not to interfere with the November Jubilee and that he hopes to discuss the issue with organizers to make sure everyone is happy.

“By no means are we trying to offend anybody, we just came up with an idea and we ran with it,” McMillan said. “And we’d be happy to talk with those folks over some chicken.”

Melissa Clark makes crispy fried chicken that is best eaten cold.