Home - Breaking News, Events, Things-To-Do, Dining, Nightlife


Mississippi Legends: Jill Conner Browne – the Sweet Potato Queen and her cultural phenomenon

  • The boom of the Sweet Potato Queen culture never ceases to amaze.

While Hal and Mal’s St. Paddy’s Day Parade brings on the celebration, The Sweet Potato Queens serve up the flair. The Sweet Potato Queens are known for bringing the sass, flair, fun, and quirkiness unmatched worldwide to Jackson, with this tradition spanning over four decades. 

How the Sweet Potato Queens were born

“I am Jill Conner Browne, and I am THE Sweet Potato Queen.” 

She needs no introduction.

Simply put, Jill Connor Browne, The Sweet Potato Queen, crowned herself because she needed to have some fun. 

“It was 1983. I had gone through a divorce, and my daddy had died,” said Browne. “And Malcolm White had decided for no apparent reason that Jackson needed a St. Patrick’s Day Parade… I declared myself the Sweet Potato Queen because I thought it was funny, and I still do.”

Browne said her father’s outlook on life inspired her humor and her passion to have a good time. 

“He said, put spectating on a sin level,” Browne said. “Daddy has always said that if anything was going on, and you were capable of participating, you had a moral obligation to do so… for the benefit of those participating in whatever it was.” 

That motto gave way to living a life without regrets. 

“You’ll do what you wish you had done at 50,” said Browne. “Of course, I was a kid when he said that, so I thought, ‘Who would want to live to be as old as 50?’” 

But 50 is in the rearview for Browne, who now says that she focuses on living a life that won’t leave her wishing for more in her future. 

“I’ve spent a lot of time in nursing homes lately,” said Browne. “And no one there has said they wish they spent more time on committees or dusting the stairs.” 

The first Sweet Potato Queens event got its humble start in 1983. 

“It was on St. Patrick’s Day. It was probably a Wednesday or Thursday in five o’clock traffic. We went from C.S. ‘s bar on Northwest Street to George Street grocery downtown down Capitol Street,” said Browne. “ All in five o’clock traffic and just smiling, waving, and throwing sweet potatoes.” 

It was only the beginning. 

“Nobody knew who we were,” said Browne. “We were on the back of a pickup truck with a hand-lettered cardboard sign that said, “Sweet Potato Queens” and I think it even had an “E” on the end of “potato.” 

The Sweet Potato Queens grew slightly more with every St. Patrick’s Day Parade. But the organization exploded after Browne’s first book.

“In 1999, my first book, ‘Sweet Potato Queens Book of Love,’ came out,” said Browne. “And at the very last minute, since websites were new, we decided to have a website and include it in the book.” 

The book also included an invitation to join the Sweet Potato Queens in the parade. 

“Malcolm has always said it’s a people’s parade, and anyone can be in it, so I put it in the book,” said Browne. 

The next year, the 2000 Hal and Mal’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade had Sweet Potato Queens from over 22 states join in on the fun. And it continues to grow each year. 

An Empire of Wacky

Browne gave a brief description of Sweet Potato Queens. 

“They come from all over the world, and they take their vacation time and spend their money to get here. It tells us they are highly motivated, easily led, and possibly too much time on their hands,” said Browne. “But they are my people, and I love them.” 

The boom of the Sweet Potato Queen culture never ceases to amaze Browne.

“We saw someone holding a sign that said, “North Dakota Loves the Sweet Potato Queens,” said Browne. I was just in awe—that all this came from this book by this unknown humor writer from Mississippi, based on nothing else.” 

The Sweet Potato Queens has become an international sensation. People come from all over the world to participate in the parade–not just women, but people of all ages. 

“We cross every line,” said Browne. “Male, female, gay, straight, young, old… and we’ve had people come from all over the world. We’ve had a group from Indonesia come twice—people take off work, get plane tickets, and fly from all over the country and the world to Jackson, Mississippi, for no other reason than to dress up funny.” 

But there’s so much more to it than being wacky. There’s a science behind being a Sweet Potato Queen. 

“Studies have proven that play is as important to our health and well-being as food, clothing, and shelter,” said Browne. “The dressing up funny and acting stupid… look, we know it’s stupid… makes it possible to step outside yourself for a little while. It’s the spontaneous thing your brain needs.” 

She’s not joking. PsychCentral.com confirms the science. Whether you’re playing with your kids, enjoying video games, or going for a bike ride–if it’s a fun break for you, it’s playing, and it works wonders. Stress is reduced, you’re more active, so your overall well-being is boosted, and you are happier.

 “Life is hard on a good day; I don’t care who you are. Everybody’s got something that they’re dealing with,” said Browne. “And it makes you just a little bit stronger spiritually to go back and take that load off when you can. So that’s what Sweet Potato Queens are for.”

The Sweet Potato Queens are a phenomenon. Browne has written nine books. There are over 6,000 chapters of Sweet Potato Queens all over the world. There’s a musical based on The Sweet Potato Queens by New Line Theater running this month in St. Louis, Missouri.

The Sweet Potato Queens have a cult following. 

But with all that international attention, Browne and the Sweet Potato Queens have turned their attention locally, using every dime they raise for Mississippi Children’s Hospital. 

“If you have a sick child, that trumps all,” said Browne. “We’re so thankful for the hospital, the state’s only children’s hospital, because it provides all this help for kids, no matter whether the family can pay or not. The protocol for treating leukemia in children started at Batson. They deserve every penny.” 

The Sweet Potato Queens raffle off a car every year, and every dime from the sales goes into the hospital. 

For more information about Jill Conner Browne and the Sweet Potato Queens, visit The Sweet Potato Queen website. 

Read original article by clicking here.

Local Dining Stream

Things To Do

Related articles