Marker honors role of Dooky Chase’s restaurant in civil rights history

A landmark that has steered New Orleans through many changing times is taking on another role as Louisiana looks to bring tourists back.

Dooky Chase’s Restaurant has hosted hungry patrons of all races when few other places in New Orleans did. It hosted civil rights pioneers and American presidents alike. And starting this week, it hosts a life-sized steel silhouette honoring the staple’s place in Louisiana history.

Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser’s office unveiled the marker Monday, the first in what will be a 15-stop trail honoring the state’s civil rights landmarks.

“I got goosebumps when I walked in the door this morning,” Nungesser told WDSU inside the restaurant. “It’s a trail that’s going to bring tourists from around the world, one that tells a painful but big part of history.”

“I am standing on hallowed ground, because history happened here,” Sybil Morial, widow of former New Orleans Mayor Ernest “Dutch” Morial, said after the marker’s unveiling. “This was the place where Whites and Blacks could meet, not according to law, but according to Leah and Dooky Chase.”

The trail has been in the works for years, but the family behind the restaurant says the project comes at a fitting time. They cite a year of COVID-19 crippling restaurants and a year of race relations gaining new light.

“If I have to look at this year, we have improved,” said restaurant manager Stella Chase Reese, daughter of Leah and Edgar “Dooky” Chase Jr. “We’re in the process of getting better, of appreciating everyone, of doing what we can to make life better for all.”

“‘It’s a long time coming, but a change is gonna come,'” said Edgar “Dooky” Chase III, quoting late singer-songwriter Sam Cooke.

Nungesser’s office will unveil civil rights trail markers at two other sites this week: Baton Rouge’s Old State Capitol, where more than 14,000 Black people refused to ride in the back rows of buses in 1953; and Shreveport’s Little Union Baptist Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King gave one of his final sermons before his assassination in 1968.

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