BPL Archives: Archbishop Desmond Tutu's Tabasco Letter


South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu died on Dec. 26, 2021, after a lengthy illness. 

The world lost a great humanitarian recently with the death of South African Archbishop and freedom fighter Desmond Tutu. 

A recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, Tutu battled racial apartheid in his home country for decades. Tutu died on December 26, 2021, at age 90 after a long illness. 

Two letters written by Tutu to his Alabama friend and fellow clergyman John Speaks are preserved in the Birmingham Public Library Archives. These letters provide a window into the two men’s friendship, and reveal the Archbishop’s great love for American hot sauce. 

Speaks was an Episcopal priest who served at Birmingham’s Church of the Advent. He so loved Tabasco sauce that he kept a small bottle in his jacket pocket. 

According to Speaks’ daughter Henrietta (who donated her father’s papers to the BPL Archives in 2014), her father met Tutu at a church function, let him try Tabasco, and a friendship was born. For years afterward the two clergymen corresponded and gave one another Tabasco-themed gifts.

When Archbishop Tutu visited Church of the Advent in 2002, he wore Tabasco-themed socks underneath his clerical robes. During his visit to the church in Birmingham, Tutu said Alabama civil rights leaders inspired him to lead the fight against racism in South Africa. 

Tutu wrote the letter below to Speaks in 1997 while undergoing treatment for cancer:

My Dear Tabasco Friend, 

Thank you for your nice note. We are doing quite well & I think the treatments are going okay. 
We are being wonderfully well looked after. 
 We value your love, prayers & concern (as well as your Tabasco!).
 Please give our fondest love to Henrietta.

 God bless 

By Jim Baggett| Birmingham Public Library Archives Department