This African-American History Month, we can all take a minute to remember the righteous strides taken by the Civil Rights Movement in the 50s and 60s. Like all great movements in history, it was one powered by ordinary people – at segregated lunch counters, buses, and department stores, with strategies carefully mapped out in churches, meeting halls, and…in neighborhood restaurants. While bodies and minds were being prepared to take on the full force of segregation, there were eateries all across America that made sure bellies were full as well. Some of these establishments acted as meeting places and safe havens for activists, while others printed leaflets, provided food, and helped in any way possible.

Take a walk with us as we look at just a few of the many legendary eateries around the country. If you’ve built up an appetite, just walk in, and you’ll find plenty of friendly faces willing to share stories about that very forgettable time in America’s history…over some unforgettable finger lickin’ good food!

Paschal’s Restaurant

Atlanta, Georgia

There’s no doubt that Paschal’s is often rated as one of the best places for fried chicken in Atlanta, but what most remember the restaurant for is being one of the favorite places of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. himself. The young reverend would meet other community leaders and activists to plan their next course of action, over plates of fried chicken, candied yams, collard greens, and fried okra.

Dooky Chase’s Restaurant

New Orleans, Louisiana

Famous for its shrimp gumbo and sweet potato pie, the restaurant‘s upstairs meeting room was also a place of strategy and debate for prominent Civil Rights lawyers such as Thurgood Marshall, A.P. Tureaud, and Lionel Collins, as well as freedom fighters such as Rev. A.L. Davis, Rev. Avery Alexander, Oretha Castle Haley, and Rudy Lombard. They were also joined in meeting by MLK. Together they fought racism in courts and on the streets to rid New Orleans of Jim Crow segregation. Owner and chef Leah Chase, the 94-year-old “Queen of Creole Cuisine,” has also cooked for presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

Ben’s Chili Bowl

Washington, D.C.


As riots broke out in the nation’s capital in 1968 in the wake of MLK’s assassination, SNCC leader Stokely Carmichael asked Ben Ali, the owner of Ben’s Chili Bowl, to stay open. Ben and his wife Virginia did just that, courageously serving both protestors and those injured in the riots as well as policemen and firemen. If you’re ever in D.C., don’t forget to try one of their “original chili half smoke” dogs and rich, thick milkshakes, and check out all the great history that’s so proudly exhibited on the walls – including where President Obama also sat down to enjoy his hotdog.

Lassis Inn

Little Rock, Arkansas

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Little Rock was thrust into the limelight in the battle to desegregate schools in 1957, when nine brave African American students attempted to attend Little Rock Central High. Lassis has been a Little Rock establishment for over 100 years (give or take a couple of years when it was closed) and takes pride in serving up simple but delicious fried buffalo fish and catfish steak, with bread, french fries, coleslaw and hush puppies, as well as cold beers. The small shack was a safe place for the African American community to talk about their problems dealing with racism, while prominent activist Daisy Bates and other Civil Rights leaders used to meet here frequently.

A Hero from “Nowhere”: Montgomery native Georgia Gilmore was no ordinary woman. Known for her fiery temper and great skill in the kitchen, she participated in the Montgomery bus boycott through her fund-raising group that made and sold food at the boycott’s mass meetings. She named her group the “Club from Nowhere” in order to ensure its anonymity. Her grass-roots activism helped to sustain the long boycott and inspired similar groups to begin raising money (Wikipedia). 

Lannie’s Bar-B-Q Spot

Selma, Alabama

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At the time of the Selma march, Lannie’s was a tiny place with dirt floors, but was still a vital community center and meeting hub for the city’s African-American population. It further solidified its place as an accomplished eatery by being inducted into the Alabama Barbecue Hall of Fame in 2015. Back in the turbulent times of the Civil Rights Movement, Freedom Riders stayed around the corner in what was known as the Freedom House, and the owners of Lannie’s would make sure that they were fed.

Brenda’s Bar-B-Que Pit

Montgomery, Alabama

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Once a nightclub that sold food, the little barbecue shack quickly became a focal point for Civil Rights activity. Montgomery was in the thick of the bus boycott at the time, a move that was sparked by Rosa Parks’ act of defiance and which effectively ended segregation in the city’s bus system. Braving reprisal from the Ku Klux Klan, the staff at the time used to use the restaurant’s printing machine to put out fliers for the NAACP.

The Four Way Restaurant

Memphis, Tennessee

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MLK loved the fried catfish and lemon icebox pie at The Four Way Restaurant in Memphis, and it was a place to eat and strategize with other activists in the city. If you’re ever in town and are craving some excellent Southern home cooking, just drop by and try their famous daily turkey and best-dressing-ever meal, as well as their delicious fried chicken. The restaurant has also fed famous African Americans like Rosa Parks and Aretha Franklin.

Do you know of any other places where spirits…and stomachs…were replenished during the Civil Rights era? Do they have some great food? Let us know in the comments below.

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About The Author

Dhinesh Manuel

Socialite, philanthropist, costumed crime fighter by night...no wait...that's Batman...my bad ... Musician, writer, travel junkie, dog lover, and database of useless information. I love to learn about new cultures, experience new cuisines, meet new people, and have a few laughs along the way!