If love is a universal language, then few things speak louder than a sweet potato pie.
Led by Rose McGee, a fervent believer in the power of pie, Golden Valley community members last week sent comfort and support to Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. The church, known as "Mother Emanuel" for its pivotal role in African-American history, was the scene of tragedy in June, when white supremacist Dylann Roof allegedly killed nine church members at a Wednesday night Bible study.
Last Wednesday, McGee and Eden Bart, another Golden Valley resident, personally presented more than 50 sweet potato pies to the same Bible study group that witnessed the shootings. The pies, baked by volunteers at Calvary Lutheran Church with support from the Golden Valley Community Foundation, did just what they were intended to: They warmed hearts and tickled taste buds.
"They gave us a little food for the soul," said Carlotta Dennis, a steward at Mother Emanuel. "It was the best sweet potato pie since I had my mom's."
McGee, a retired educator, has long been interested in the human chemistry generated by this particular baked good, which has a special relevance in both Southern and African-American cultures. McGee is working on a history of the sweet potato pie and has given a TEDx talk on the power of pie.
A year ago, when protests erupted in Ferguson, Mo., after the shooting of a young black man by police, McGee decided to test that power.
"I was sitting around with this whole Ferguson ordeal and I was getting very frustrated and I didn't know what to do," she said. "And so I got up and went to my kitchen and made some pies.
"And then I went down there [to Ferguson]. I don't do things in a halfhearted way. And I would ask people if they would accept a pie. And the response was just incredible. People were so receptive. And I came back and said, 'I think we need to do something with this.' "
McGee's pies figured in a community event earlier this year in Golden Valley for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Community members baked 86 pies, a number chosen because King would have been 86 this year. The group discussed race and culture, then each member took a pie and delivered it to someone in need of comfort.
The idea of bringing pies to Charleston came from Kate Towle, a friend of McGee's. Before launching the project, McGee checked with the church to be sure the pies would be welcomed.
"I talked to a church secretary. And she said, 'Comfort pies coming to Charleston! All right!' " McGee recalled with a laugh. "And that's what did it for me."
The church has experienced an outpouring of support ever since the shootings, said Dennis, the steward.
"It's everyone: rich, young, old, black, white," she said. "It is just so overwhelming, and we are so appreciative."
The arrival of pies from Golden Valley was covered extensively by the local media, and a Charleston City Council member was among those who received a slice, cut and served personally by McGee. She called the experience "overwhelmingly positive.
"They recognized the power and love that was demonstrated by the people from the Twin Cities who made the pies," McGee said. "For people to have embraced that so beautifully really warmed my heart."