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John T. Edge, A White Gatekeeper of Southern Food, Faces Calls to Resign

Nicole Taylor, 42, a Georgia-born New York food writer who has participated in several alliance events and produced media for the alliance (and whose work has appeared in The Times), admires the mission of the organization, but joined the growing call for his resignation.

“I can’t tell you how many times over the last 10-plus years I have been in the room with white women and men and there have been hourslong conversations about John T. needing to resign,” she said. “When you look at the history of the organization, it’s built on black stories, and there is not one black person in a position of power.”

In a state whose population is nearly 40 percent African-American, the S.F.A. staff of nine includes only one person of color, Cynthia Greenlee, an African-American writer and historian who has a doctorate in history from Duke University. She works 20 hours a week on contract as the deputy editor of Gravy. The latest issue is filled largely with work from writers of color she solicited, except for several pandemic-related stories by white authors that Mr. Edge added. She told Mr. Edge Monday night she was resigning.

In an interview last week, Mr. Edge pointed out that almost all of the alliance’s staff members were women, and that most decisions were made collaboratively. Plans to elevate the roles of two of its longstanding staff members, Melissa Booth Hall and Mary Beth Lasseter, to positions of co-director, on par with Mr. Edge, are in development.

The University of Mississippi handles personnel and approves pay changes for the organization. Mr. Edge requested pay increases for Ms. Hall and Ms. Lasseter. In addition, the alliance announced that it would require at least half the jury selecting its fellowships be people who are not white or heterosexual, and that other parts of alliance programming would have new, more rigorous diversity requirements, too.

Mr. Edge emphasized that a succession plan has been discussed for five years, and for the last two, he has been raising money to make sure the position and others in the organization can be sustained with an endowment. He said he had pledges of $2.1 million toward a goal of $3 million, which will fund the directorship at an annual salary of $90,000 once he steps down.

“I don’t want to hand over the S.F.A. as a busted wagon,” Mr. Edge said.

He and several others say the alliance could fall apart if the proper steps aren’t taken to make the change. The university, which is facing a hiring freeze and financial strain from the pandemic, would hire his replacement. The process is encumbered by laws and regulations that govern how a new director would be chosen, regardless of who it might be.

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