New Orleans restaurant icon Leah Chase remembers MLK

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - It's been 50 years since Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination, and it's a date that had a profound impact in New Orleans. Dr. King and his father before him were frequent visitors to the city and very active  in the civil rights movement.

At a restaurant synonymous with New Orleans cuisine, civil rights history is a side dish.

"He would come at night, he wasn't a man to sit at a table and enjoy his life," said Leah Chase, the proprietor of Dooky Chase's Restaurant.

On the 50th anniversary of King's assassination, Chase looks back.

"They all made their plans here, and I fed them before they left," she said.

Dr. King, and the Freedom Riders were frequent diners, helping orchestrate the push for civil rights in New Orleans and across the South. They knew it was dangerous, but when King was assassinated, Chase was stunned.

"It was painful, for me. How do you die for something you believe in, how do you do that?" said Chase.

It's a piece of New Orleans restaurant history, many customers know little about.

"It's amazing, and I'm even more proud to be here today. Dr. King meant so much to me and my family," said Chris Firle, a visitor from California.

King's "I Have a Dream" speech was a pivotal moment in American history, and it, too, has a New Orleans connection. As reported by the New York Times, King was encouraged to do the speech by New Orleans-born gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, who frequently appeared by his side and sang before he spoke in Washington that day.

"Mahalia said, 'Say that speech, deliver that speech', and that's the best thing he could have done," said Chase, who knew both King and Jackson. "Mahalia was in here all the time. She was something else...she was always made up beautifully."

Chase said the death of Dr King should serve as a reminder to all.

"That's what keeps me going, when I think about someone giving their life for me, I'd better work," said Chase.

And at 95 years young, that's exactly what she continues to do.

Leah Chase also knew Martin Luther King Sr., who was also a frequent visitor to the restaurant. She said they and several other civil rights notables, including Israel Augustine and Thurgood Marshall, often planned marches, voting drives and political activities out of her restaurant.

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