History behind the Sweet Potato Queen - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

History behind the Sweet Potato Queen

Jill Conner Browne Jill Conner Browne

By Walt Grayson - bio | email

JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - They come from everywhere around the world, the Sweet Potato Queens, their Wannabes and other Queens from other chapters and THEIR wannabes. Jill Conner Browne was the first Sweet Potato Queen, all by herself, in that first Mal's St. Paddy's Parade in 1982. And it's just ballooned from there.

Jill Connor Browne: Well Walt, this was my five year plan. (laughter) No. No. I had no plan. From 1982 it has been and remains purely to entertain myself. That it has turned out to entertain a whole bunch of other people like 6000 chapters in 22 countries is just gravy. And of course you know how we feel about gravy.

Walt Grayson: There's way more than the parade the revelers attend over the weekend. There are margarita and cheese tastings, the Sweet Potato Queen Ball on Friday Night before the parade at Hal and Mal's, where these, mostly women, but not altogether, get together to do what they do.

Jill: We have men and women, gay and straight, young and old, black and white, rich and poor, drunk and sober, married, single, I have people in wheel chairs. Blind people. I have the ashes of a dead woman. There are 11 women coming this year from Indonesia.

Walt: All of us think the origin of the Sweet Potato Queens was Jill. But had it not been for some advice her father gave her when she was very young, it's possible that none of this would have ever happened.

Jill: He always taught us that there are very few situations in life that you really and truly cannot change. But that when you do encounter one that you really and truly cannot change, that the task at hand is to figure out how to either make fun out of it or make fun of it. The first year of the parade I had gotten divorced for the first time and my daddy had died. And so I was looking for something to cheer myself up and when I, daddy also put spectating on a sin level. If there was anything going on that you were in any way capable of participating in you had a moral obligation to do so and you should do what you had wished you had done when you're 50. And now, having left 50 in the dirt some time ago, I've moved that up to the nursing home. What would I wish I had done when I go to the nursing home. When I heard that Malcolm White was putting on the first-ever St. Patrick's Day parade, I said well by-golly I'm in it. Here we are. As far as I know I am the world's only full time professional Sweet Potato Queen

Walt: So now they come to Jackson every year and are celebrities while here. Wannabe Martha Jean Alford says the attention she gets in Jackson makes her jealous of herself. Long live the queens. And long live the memory of the Queen father whose outlook on life has evolved into all of this for Jackson. A bit of fun. And what's life without a wee bit O' fun?

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