Atlanta’s restaurants played vital role in social justice struggles
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.