Rep. John Lewis Responds to the Death of Legendary Restauranteur James Paschal

Dec 3, 2008
Last Friday, James Paschal, one of the founders of Paschal’s Restaurant, died in Atlanta due to the complications of heart surgery.  He was 88 years old.  Paschal’s Restaurant was an unofficial headquarters for the Civil Rights Movement in Atlanta.  Many of the organizing meetings to plan now historic civil rights actions, like the March on Washington and the Selma-to-Montgomery March, were held at Paschal’s.  At a time when public accommodations were racially segregated by law throughout the South, Paschal’s was considered an oasis where civil rights activists could congregate, relax, nourish themselves, and in the comfort of that environment fuel their minds to plan major movement actions.  Rep. John Lewis, the last remaining member of the Big Six civil rights leaders and former chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), made this comment about the passing of James Paschal:

            “James Paschal was an extraordinary man.  He was more than a business leader, more than an involved citizen, he was a gifted American who gave so much to Atlanta and the nation.  People from around the world came to eat at Paschal’s because they understood the contribution James and his brother made to the Civil Rights Movement.

             “The first meal I had in Atlanta, when I moved to the city in June of 1963, was at Paschal’s Restaurant.  Then it was located on old West Hunter Street, now Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue.  At one time the headquarters of SNCC was right across the street from Paschal’s.  We used to refer to the restaurant as Paschal’s Precinct.  If you wanted to get a reading on what was happening in the community, you had to check in at Paschal’s to get the pulse of the Atlanta and a line on what was happening throughout the South.

               During the Civil Rights Movement, everyone—Hosea Williams, Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Abernathy, A. Phillip Randolph, and many of the famous black entertainers—ate and visited at Paschal’s.  At one time you could buy two pieces of chicken, potato salad, “early peas,” as we called them, two rolls and some peach cobbler for 99 cents plus tax at Paschal’s.  The food, the comfortable surroundings, and the welcoming environment helped to fortify us to go out and do battle. The last time I saw Martin Luther King Jr. alive, I was in Paschal’s Restaurant.  He had called a coalition of activists together to plan the Poor People’s campaign, and he held that meeting at Paschal’s.  The restaurant James and his brother founded played a major role in the Civil Rights Movement.

             “James Paschal was a wonderful man, a very quiet man. He was very business-like.  He was always concerned that we were comfortable and checked often to make sure the food and service were to our liking. He would ask, “Is everything all right, sir?  How are you doing, sir?”  He was very polite and spoke to us with dignity and respect.  He was a true gentleman.

               There was something so stable, so dependable, so real about James Paschal.  His very personality, his very being was as solid as a rock.  He was very supportive to the Movement in his own quiet, deliberate way.  Sometimes when we were having a major crisis, James Paschal might decide to host the meeting—give us our meals on the house—to help facilitate our planning and action.  After Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral, many of us went to eat at Paschal’s.  It was like a home away from home.

               “We were more than lucky, but very blessed that a man named James Paschal came our way. He made a lasting contribution to the free exercise of civil rights in America, not just for African Americans, but all Americans.  He will be deeply missed.”

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Brenda Jones
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