|Photo by Alfred T. Palmer, 1943. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.|
The study of Southern foodways often involves learning hard truths about our history and culture. This week, in my food and civil rights class, we are studying racial segregation by reading municipal ordinances that required the segregation of Southern restaurants.
In December 1914, for example, Birmingham passed an ordinance prohibiting “a restaurant or lunch counter at which white and colored persons are served in the same room.” The city later revised this law to require a seven-foot wall separate white and black dining rooms. In reality, few cafe owners invested in such accommodations, so African Americans were often excluded from the modern consumer experience of dining out.
|Photo of a segregated cafe in Durham, NC, in the tobacco warehouse district. Photo by Jack Delano, 1940, courtesy of the Library of Congress.|
Also, many Southern cafes experienced some form of segregation in practice before the implementation of formal segregation laws. Announcing the proposed ordinance, the Birmingham Age Herald noted that in many city lunch rooms black customers sat on one side of the room and white customers on the other. Among other things, our class will consider why white municipal authorities in the South deemed such laws to be necessary.