Coffee Pot Diner

Coffee Pot Diner, SC Route 301 at Route 601, Bamberg, Bamberg County, SC. From the collection of the Library of Congress.

Most Americans can conjure a mental picture of restaurant segregation and the civil rights warriors who fought to end it: Images of young African-American men and women seated stoically at lunch counters surrounded by hateful and abusive mobs are seared in the nation’s collective memory.

But what does restaurant integration look like? In the years following the end of legal racial discrimination in public dining rooms, how did the restaurant scene change? Did it change at all?

In advance of the 55th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that compelled white owners to serve black customers, The Post and Courier is taking a closer look at how restaurant integration unfolded in the Charleston area. With many of the city’s supposedly shared eating spaces still far from racially mixed, we’re zeroing in on the individual stories that add up to our community’s dining history and present.

Specifically, we’re hoping longtime local residents will share with us their earliest memories of patronizing a white-owned restaurant. Up until now, these important stories have gone undocumented, creating a major gap in how scholars and diners understand Southern restaurant culture.

The Post and Courier is partnering on this project with the Charleston County Public Library, which has generously offered to host four recording sessions at its branches. The dates and locations are listed below. While pre-registration is not required, potential participants with questions can contact Hanna Raskin at 843-937-5560 or hraskin@postandcourier.com.

At each of the sessions, participants will be interviewed individually about their experiences with Charleston food service establishments before and after integration. Nothing will be published without the interviewee’s permission, and we can always pause or stop the session if the interviewee needs a break. We appreciate that these stories are highly personal, and understand many people might not be inclined to share them.

But if you’re willing to contribute to this effort to restore facts, feelings and reflections to their rightful place in Charleston dining history, we’d love to see you at one of our scheduled recording sessions. Or if you don’t have firsthand experience with Jim Crow and its aftermath, perhaps you have a friend or relative with a story to tell. Here’s where to find us:

April 1

Main Library, 66 Calhoun St., downtown Charleston

5-7:30 p.m.

April 2

John's Island Regional Library, 3531 Maybank Hwy., Johns Island

Noon-3 p.m.

April 3

Hurd/St. Andrew’s Regional Library, 1735 N. Woodmere Dr., West Ashley

Noon-3 p.m.

April 4

Main Library, 66 Calhoun St., downtown Charleston

9 a.m.-2 p.m.

Apr. 12

Lowcountry Senior Center, 865 Riverland Dr.

10 a.m.-1 p.m.

Apr. 16

Waring Senior Center, 2001 Henry Tecklenburg Dr.

11 a.m.-2 p.m.

Reach Hanna Raskin at 843-937-5560 and follow her on Twitter @hannaraskin.

Food editor and chief critic

Eating all of the chicken livers just as fast as I can.

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