An army travels on its stomach, said Napoleon, and movements have to eat, too. So restaurants were bound to play a part in the civil rights struggle. But for poorer communities like the African-American community in Chicago in the 1960s, restaurants are up there with churches as one of the sources of social cohesion, a place where people can meet in numbers and organize effectively together. When Martin Luther King Jr. came to Chicago in 1966, the restaurant that was most important to his efforts was a then brand-new spot called Edna’s near west Madison, run by Edna Stewart and famous for her fluffy biscuits and fried chicken. Edna Stewart passed away in 2010, but the restaurant (in its second location on West Madison) still exists as Ruby’s, owned by former employees and using her recipes. The Southern Foodways Alliance interviewed Stewart at length in 2008; hear a segment of the interview, and read the entire transcript, here.
Edna Stewart. Photo: courtesy SFA