NC Yam Festival
Tabor City, NC
From 1947 until 1961, the little border town of Tabor City played host to one of North Carolina’s
largest festivals. Beginning in 1947 as the CarolinaYam Festival attracting as many as 15,000 visitors
to this little community of about 2,300 people.
In 1946, Tabor City sold more sweet potatoes than any place anywhere on the face of the globe,
thus earning the title, “Yam Capital of the World.”
That year, Tabor City marketed more than a million bushels of sweet potatoes.
While 1947 is remembered as the first “Tater Day,” 1954 was the most memorable Yam Festival.
That’s when a lady named Hazel paid a visit the second day of the SeventhAnnual Carolinas Yam
Festival. This lady quite literally blew the roof off the festival.
Hazel was no Yam Queen. She was the most destructive hurricane to ever hit the coast of the
Carolinas. She played havoc with the festival and blew the roof off of the exhibit hall.
As Friday morning dawned on October 15, 1954, it was evident that noYam Festival parade would
be held that day. Rain was falling in sheets and the wind was gaining momentum. Officials quickly
postponed the parade until Saturday. The full fury of Hazel was to hit “The Yam Capital of the
World” at 10:00 a.m. Friday, taking the tin roof off the exhibit hall. Prize yams, various sweet potato
dishes, and a myriad of carefully prepared booths all lay exposed to the lady’s fury.
Many floats that were ready to take part in the parade fell victim to Hazel’s vengeance. The Tabor
City Rotary Club float was demolished. The parade went on as scheduled on Saturday, and in it
was a cart pulled by a pickup truck. The cart’s wheels were Rotary Club emblems and the cart bore
a sign proclaiming, “Hazel Got Our Float, But Not Our Goat.”
The Festival dinner held Friday night, was a candlelight affair as the whole town was without electricity.
The Yam Queen was chosen and crowned by the light of gasoline lanterns. The Queen’s
Ball took place under the same conditions.
What originally was scheduled to be a mile-long parade was reduced to only a few hundred yards,
still about 8,000 folks showed up on Saturday to witness the event and see what Hazel had wroth
to this tiny town.
Other Yam Festivals were much more successful. Women-folks in these parts spent many hours
preparing their favorite yam dishes with hopes of winning cash prizes. Beauty queens fussed over
their hair and makeup hoping to win the coveted title of Yam Queen. Girls from communities as
far away as Maxton, NC and Florence, SC entered the pageant.
Well-known orchestras of the day entertained at the Yam Queen’s Ball. In 1960, it was Ray
McKiney and the Glenn Miller Orchestra; 1959, brought the Larry Elgart Orchestra and in 1961
the Tommy Dorsey Band was scheduled to appear, but cancelled at the last minute and was
replaced by the Ed Turbeville Orchestra.
Country music bands brought out the square dancers for several Yam Festivals. Gospel music by
the Blue Ridge Quartet was the hit of the 1961 festival.
Most of the fourteen Yam Festivals were sponsored by the Tabor City Merchants Associations,
forerunner of the present Tabor City Chamber of Commerce; however, the Tabor City Jaycees
sponsored the event for a couple of years.