“A Haven for All of Us”: Loyola University Documents Dooky Chase Restaurant

Carmen Morial Edit from Loyola DOHS on Vimeo.

If the community is going down, it’s my job to pick it up. I have the only thing here that’s going to pick up this neighborhood. So I better fix up my place and do this. So that’s what we did. – LEAH CHASE from her 2004 oral history interview with the SFA.

Leah Chase of Dooky Chase Restaurant in New Orleans is one of our 50 founding members. She shared her story with us in 2004, just prior to Hurricane Katrina. This year, we visited with her again and will feature that interview here soon. In the meantime, given that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, we’d like to introduce you to a  multi-year effort by our colleagues at Loyola University, who have also spent quite a lot of time with Ms. Chase, her family, and people connected to the restaurant.

In 2012, Loyola University’s Documentary and Oral History Studio embarked on a student-led project to collect stories related to the iconic New Orleans restaurant Dooky Chase in the days before desegregation. From the project’s website:

Last May, 98 year-old Carmen Morial described Dooky Chase Restaurant to as a “Haven for all of us. A place where you felt welcomed as family. A place to see and be seen.  The “us” to whom Ms. Morial referred were the people of fifth, sixth, and seventh wards. People who, for most of their lives, were not welcome in the famous restaurants of downtown. They included famous entertainers like Ray Charles and Sarah Vaughan or Civil Rights heroes like A. Philip Randolph. But most were everyday folk who circled that important anniversary, or perhaps Mother’s Day on the calendar, put on their finest, and went to a place where they knew that they were appreciated. For many, it was where they had their first experience eating at a restaurant, let alone one with first rate service and tablecloths…In the decades before desegregation, the restaurant served as a locus for activism and social life in the black community of New Orleans’s Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Wards.

The video interview with Carmen Morial that is featured above is part of their efforts. Go here to learn more about the project.