NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Inside the world-renowned Dooky Chase Restaurant a huge honor was being celebrated by hundreds.
The restaurant which served as a safe haven for civil rights stalwarts like Thurgood Marshall, who became America’s first African American U.S. Supreme Court Justice and local anti-segregation warriors including A.P. Tureaud, Israel Augustine, and Ernest “Dutch” Morial as they worked on lawsuits to challenge racial discrimination is now part of Louisiana’s new Civil Rights Trail and a large marker was placed outside of Dooky Chase to designate it as such.
Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser oversees the La. Office of Tourism and was critical to making the Civil Rights Trail a reality.
“Three years ago, I was at a conference and learned we were the only southern state that didn’t have a Civil Rights trail and I was a little embarrassed, and so we joined the other southern states, the National Civil Rights Trail right after that conference and began to work on our own plan and today we’re unveiling the first market, beautiful marker outside,” said Nungesser.
Presidents George W. Bush and Barack H. Obama both ate at the famed restaurant.
Nungesser recounted how the late Leah Chase, the decades-long owner of the restaurant, and chef, along with her husband Edgar “Dooky” Chase, Jr., made him feel welcome as he met with President Bush and Gov. Kathleen Blanco in the days after Hurricane Katrina to secure resources for Plaquemines Parish.
“She made sure I had coffee and was taken care of and I was nobody in a room with many giants, but she cared about everyone,” said Nungesser.
Leah and her husband Edgar “Dooky” Chase Junior operated the restaurant until their deaths. Now their children and grandchildren are doing the same.
“So, it was almost like a trail of tears to fight for freedom every step of the way. So, to have a black, a six-foot-tall, steel-framed marker unveiled in front of Dooky Chase’s is the biggest honor we could hope for at Dooky’s,” said Edgar “Dooky” Chase III.
Sybil Morial, a former first lady of New Orleans witnessed firsthand how Dooky Chase opened its doors to black and white civil rights lawyers and activists at a time when the law prohibited whites and blacks from eating together.
“So where to go? They came to Dooky Chase. Now, if Leah Chase had been faint-at-heart she would have followed the law, but she was brave, and she said come on, come on upstairs to this private room and continue your discussions and I will give you food for comfort,” said Morial.
Doratha “Dodie” Smith-Simmons is a former Freedom Rider who risked her life to end discriminatory practices in interstate public transit.
“The first time I had food from Dooky Chase was when I was in jail,” she said.
She was jailed more than once as part of her activism against racism in the South.
“When I joined CORE and through the training that we went through it was like we pledged to die for what we believed in. And in one incident, November 29th, 1961 I thought I would be dead when I was 18 1/2 years old in McComb, Mississippi,” said Smith-Simmons.
And Edgar Chase III believes there is more work to be done in terms of protecting civil rights.
He thinks the marker and its wording will be instructive to younger people.
“It will mean to young people to be resilient and to fight for freedom to never give up their fight for liberty and Voting Rights Act,” said Chase. “John Lewis came through here, our last big celebrity in our mind and there’s still a Voting Rights Act before Congress in his honor.”
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