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In Honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. : Legacy of Hospitality

January 19, 2015 4 comments
MLK

1970 bronze sculpture of Martin Luther King by Charles Alston

Legacy of Hospitality

As the world celebrates the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., professionals in the restaurant and lodging industries should stop and reflect on the role our industry played in denying Blacks and other minorities access to public accommodations. It wasn’t until 1960 when four Black students from North Carolina A&T University decided to sit at the lunch counter of the local Woolworths that restaurants in the south started to become desegregated. Hotels also routinely denied Blacks full access even as Black entertainers and athletes performed to sold out crowds. Hispanics and Asians faced similar indignities

If you were Black you could not stop and eat whenever you wanted like we can today. You had to pack a lunch or use the Green Book, a directory of Black friendly or Black owned restaurants, gas stations, and hotels. Black churches and businesses filled the gap by providing food and lodging for family and friends when they traveled in the south. Even in parts of the north and mid-west discrimination in restaurants and hotels was common place

I learned about this fact of Black life in the South from my mother in-law, Edith Roberts, who was born and raised in segregated Savannah, Georgia. Once a month, my wife and I would travel from Providence, Rhode Island to Springfield, Massachusetts, to visit her with our three sons. Every time she would make us food for the trip home. I asked her why cook all this food for a two-hour trip home. She said that preparing food for family and friends that were traveling in the South was a necessity. She continued the routine with us until her death. I think for her, giving us food for the road was a ritual of love.

Today, as we remember the leadership of Dr. King and others who helped America work its way through discrimination, let’s serve up an extra measure of hospitality to one another. Whether you work in a restaurant, a hotel or in a corporate office, smile and show kindness to everyone you meet today. We can help improve the lives of people of difference everywhere by using food and hospitality as a bridge to greater cultural understanding one. Break bread with someone new today and celebrate the birthday of a great American.

In honor of Dr. King.

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