It all came from the KKK film: Birth of a Nation.
D.W. Griffith’s seminal and supremely racist 1915 silent movie about the supposedly heroic founding of the Ku Klux Klan was a huge sensation when it debuted. One scene in the three-hor features a group of actors portraying shiftless black elected officials acting rowdy and crudely in a legislative hall. (The message to the audience: These are the dangers of letting blacks vote.) Some of the legislators are shown drinking. Others had their feet kicked up on their desks. And one of them was very ostentatiously eating fried chicken.
"That image really solidified the way white people thought of black people and fried chicken," Schmidt said.
Schmidt said that like watermelon, that other food that’s been a mainstay in racist depictions of blacks, chicken was also a good vehicle for racism because of the way people eat it. (According to government stats, blacks are underrepresented among watermelon consumers.) “It’s a food you eat with your hands, and therefore it’s dirty,” Schmidt said. “Table manners are a way of determining who is worthy of respect or not.”