Local Histories: Ada Anderson, Beloved Cook At Bruce Street School

Ada Anderson’s name may not appear in history books but she fed a generation of Lithonia school children and inspired many more with her recipes and generosity. 

Many history books and articles focus on grand figures and big battles, but local people and their actions can have a big impact as well. Ada Anderson Beck, called Miss Ada by those who knew her, served as the cook in the Historic Bruce Street School in Lithonia. Throughout the schoolhouse’s life, she made nearly everything from scratch while also giving away many meals to children who couldn’t afford school lunches. The following local history was contributed by Frances Anderson, daughter-in-law of Ada Anderson.

“Ada Anderson Beck was the cook at Bruce Street School for many years until her health began to fail. She was best known and admired for her delicious vegetable soup served with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The lunchroom was crowded whenever it was discovered that vegetable soup was on the menu. On any day, it was considered a privilege to be drafted to help her prepare lunch. The kitchen helpers were afforded the opportunity to learn food preparation from an expert and to share in leftovers.

Patrilla Arrington, Miss Ada’s granddaughter, holding a photo of her grandmother.

“Miss Ada, as she was lovingly called, was famous in the community for her Brunswick stew, served every Fourth of July. After her children grew up, married and moved away from home, she welcomed them and her many grandchildren back for their annual Fourth of July Reunion Picnic. Prior to her death in 1973, she had 35 grand and great grandchildren. (The count has been lost since then.) Of course, Brunswick stew was the main item on the menu. The Andersons are known for their love, engendered by Miss Ada, of spicy food and there were other deliciously prepared picnic offerings that had her special touch. Many people in the community became ‘Anderson’ on that day and showed up for the festivities. 

“After I married her son, Thornton, Miss Ada taught me how to make that special Brunswick stew. I felt a little intimidated at first, but after a few attempts, my husband complimented me on my effort. My one modification was that I did not include the multiple bottles of hot sauce that were in Miss Ada’s original recipe.

“Carrying on the tradition, it is now my task to make the Brunswick stew for the annual picnic. I used to make one multi-gallon sized- pot of mild stew and bring bottles of hot sauce for the family to season their individual serving to their taste. And did they ever! Now I make two separate pots, one containing a mild version of the stew for me and a few others, and one pot for the rest of them, hot as fire. True to the legacy of their beloved ancestor, they still add even more hot sauce to their bowls of stew. Miss Ada would be so proud!

“Now nearly 50 years after her passing, Ada Anderson is still remembered as Bruce Street School’s extraordinary cook and culinary mentor as well as one of the premier cooks in the Lithonia community at large.”

What’s left of the Historic Bruce Street School these days.

The Bruce Street School is currently being transformed by the Arabia Alliance into a community outdoor museum with an amphitheater, food forest and historical interoperation about Black education in the Jim Crow South. If Miss Ada’s story interested you, then please click here to donate to the revitalization.