Atlanta’s restau­rants played vi­tal role in so­cial jus­tice struggles

GA Voice - - Blackgaypride -

Much of the fight to in­te­grate Atlanta dur­ing the civil rights move­ment oc­curred in restau­rants.

The most shock­ing and shame­ful ex­am­ple here was the Pick­rick Restau­rant, owned by Lester Mad­dox, who ac­tu­ally be­came gov­er­nor of Ge­or­gia for one term in 1971 af­ter clos­ing his restau­rant. Ole Lester re­fused to com­ply with the Civil Rights Act. When black trou­ble­mak­ers at­tempted to go in the restau­rant, the pa­trons grabbed axe han­dles stored by the door and chased them into the park­ing lot. In­cred­i­bly, the axe han­dles, nick­named “Pick­rick drum­sticks,” were sold by the thou­sands as sou­venirs.

The most fa­mous restau­rant of the pe­riod,

Paschal’s 2023) (180 North­side Dr., 404-525-

is still open, al­beit in a dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tion from its orig­i­nal. This is the restau­rant where, it’s of­ten said, the civil rights move­ment was hatched by Martin Luther King, Jr. and his circle of “com­mu­nist rab­ble rousers.”

No­tably, both of these restau­rants served soul food, brought here by peo­ple of African her­itage and shared with white South­ern­ers. How is it that peo­ple like Lester Mad­dox and Paula Deen never stop to con­sider that cook­ing, as shared her­itage, is an in­vi­ta­tion to a shared ta­ble?

It was ob­vi­ous to me, even as a teenager, that racism and clas­sism don’t just wound the hated mi­nor­ity. They also de­prive the racist him­self of the won­der and new as­so­ci­a­tions that arise in step­ping out of one’s com­fort zone, as hap­pens with travel. By the time I was 15, I was tak­ing the bus from the lily-white sub­urbs to down­town Atlanta, ex­plor­ing AfricanAmer­i­can cul­ture, eat­ing in cheap restau­rants and fre­quently caus­ing a stir be­ing a kid with the only white face in sight. The peo­ple I met down­town, es­pe­cially in a school where I did vol­un­teer work, taught me a lot about liv­ing with marginal­iza­tion. I was mind­ful of that when I fi­nally emerged from the closet.

When I did come out, il­le­gal seg­re­ga­tion was still com­mon in Atlanta’s gay bar scene, well into the ’80s. It wasn’t un­usual for bars to re­quire three pieces of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion from black pa­trons and usu­ally none from white ones. It still seems odd to me that many gay white men are racist, as if they can’t re­late their own sta­tus as a long-op­pressed mi­nor­ity to that of African-Amer­i­cans.

The ad­ven­ture doesn’t end with racism. Now we’re rife with xeno­pho­bia. Dur­ing the last 25 years, Atlanta has ex­ploded with restau­rants opened by first- and sec­ond­gen­er­a­tion im­mi­grants – enough to inspire the Don­ald to build a wall around Atlanta. I love these restau­rants be­cause they are an op­por­tu­nity to con­tinue the in­ter­change of cul­tures through usu­ally su­perla­tive cui­sine. If you’re still shy about that, just take one step into a Mex­i­can taque­ria or Viet­namese pho shop on Bu­ford High­way.

So, un­der­stand, white peo­ple, that black peo­ple and other mi­nori­ties are be­ing fully as­sim­i­lated in Amer­ica, but they still honor their unique her­itage. Spare us all the claim that if there’s a Black Pride there should be a white one. White Pride oc­curs ev­ery day and be­cause it does, it ne­ces­si­tates cel­e­bra­tion by di­verse cul­tures to pre­serve their her­itage. Get your­self to a sub­ter­ranean Korean restau­rant on Bu­ford High­way and you’ll get a de­li­cious taste of feel­ing like an out­sider.

Cliff Bo­s­tock is a for­mer psy­chother­a­pist now spe­cial­iz­ing in life coach­ing. Con­tact him at 404-518-4415 or cliff­bo­stock@gmail.com.

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