was ignored completely. Or was asked to leave. Or no one took his order. Or was offered a seat in the kitchen. Or his food never arrived. Or it had been adulterated. Or his check was tripled.
Today in his inaugural address, President Barack Obama suggested his father might not have been served in a Washington restaurant 60 years ago. Beginning in 1949, here are examples of what happened to many dark skinned men and women who put hospitality to the test in various parts of the country.
1949 A citizens’ civil rights group in Washington D.C. visits 99 restaurants in the district and finds that 63 will not serve black customers. Upon subsequent visits, 8 establishments which had previously refused service reverse their policy, however 28 which had accepted black guests on the first visit also reverse theirs.
1949 After being snowbound on a train and then traveling for hours by bus to Spokane to keep a concert engagement, black pianist Hazel Scott, wife of congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr., stops in Pasco WA and is refused service in a restaurant.
1955 India’s ambassador to the U.S. is asked to leave the public dining area of the Horizon House restaurant in Houston’s airport. He and his party are served in a private room. Texas laws forbade serving blacks and whites in the same room, however the airport was under Federal jurisdiction and not allowed to discriminate.
1956 A white county health director is fired by county commissioners for having lunch with a black nurse in a restaurant in Madison, Florida. The two women met to discuss a class for midwives.
1959 A Nigerian labor official on a U.S. tour with other international labor leaders is allowed to pass through the line at the Forum Cafeteria in downtown Kansas City, but later, after hearing complaints from white patrons, the cafeteria manager orders him never to return.
1960 Members of the National Council of Jewish Women visit 200 Tucson restaurants urging them to end racial discrimination. Seventy restaurants flatly refuse to comply.
1961 Numbers of diplomats from newly independent African nations are refused service in restaurants on Route 40 in Maryland, including the Ambassador to Chad who is on his way to the White House to present his papers to President Kennedy. The State Department takes action to protect the diplomats from discrimination while leaving black American citizens to fend for themselves. To expose the double standard, three reporters from a black Baltimore newspaper dress in African robes and are well received in Maryland restaurants notorious for their racist policies.
1962 Conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein walks out of Miller Brothers restaurant in Baltimore after he is told that a recently hired NY Philharmonic violinist in his party, who is black, cannot be served.
1964 Following passage of the Civil Rights Act, Lester Maddox closes his Pickrick restaurant in Atlanta rather than serve blacks. He claims that communists are behind FBI enforcement of civil rights laws.
1964 The Emporia Diner in Virginia admits to having two menus (and that the higher priced one is used “at any time it is felt that business may be adversely affected”) after a black Baltimore woman brings suit saying her family was charged more than three times what whites paid for the same meal.
1965 Comedian Dick Gregory and a group of blacks testing accommodation at local restaurants are turned away by a steakhouse in Tuscaloosa AL after the owner shows them a list of about 1,000 names of people allegedly holding reservations.
1970 According to a complaint brought by the U.S. Attorney General’s office, Ayers Log Cabin Pit Cooked Bar-B-Que, a restaurant near Washington, North Carolina, displays a sign indicating that any money spent there by black patrons will be donated to the Ku Klux Klan.
1993 Although racial discrimination in restaurants diminishes in the 1970s and 1980s, a slew of complaints against the Denny’s chain demonstrates that problems persist. In May six black Secret Service agents file a federal suit charging that their table was not served breakfast in a Denny’s in Annapolis MD while all 15 white agents received their meals.
Read about how both black and white Americans fought discrimination in restaurants.
© Jan Whitaker, 2009