ATLANTA — In one transaction, Clark Atlanta University has acquired a legendary Black business, a new dormitory and a world-class chicken recipe.
Paschal’s Motor Hotel and Restaurant, an establishment elevated to folklore status in many circles because of its role as the birthplace or civil rights strategies that changed the nation, has been purchased by the university for $3 million.
Clark Atlanta is turning the 110-room hotel into much-needed dormitory space and the lounge will become a faculty club. Paschal’s legions of fans will continue to be welcomed as patrons in the modest dining room that has been a cornerstone of Black culture here since 1947.
In that year, brothers Robert and James Paschal opened a 30-seat lunch counter where the 52-cent house specialty was a chicken sandwich. As their special-recipe fried chicken grew in popularity, crowds descended and the business expanded.
Paschal’s gained national notoriety in the 1960s for serving as the meeting place for the titans of the civil rights movement who openly strategized on its tablecloths. Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Abernathy, for example, developed the concept of the Poor People’s Washington Campaign at several meetings there. Others who dropped in at Pascal’s during its glory years included Jesse Jackson, H. Rap Brown and Stokely Carmichael.
The popular restaurant-hotel also offered a haven to students from Atlanta University and Spelman, Clark, Morris Brown and Morehouse colleges as they mapped out protest marches and department store sit-ins. Parents often camped out at Paschal’s while their children were being booked and jailed. By prearrangement, the students returned to Paschal’s after their release to rejoin their parents and recount their experiences.
“We engaged in some of the decisionmaking that had an unbelievable impact not just on the civil rights movement, but on places in the South,” said Rep. John Lewis (D-GA). “It was a way station. You saw every one come in there.”
“Paschal’s has been a mecca,” said John Cox, a board member of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. “It’s been a sanctuary for those white and Black people who have wanted to come and say what they wanted to say and not be intimidated or afraid to say it for fear of being either fiscally or verbally assaulted.”
It’s been called everything from “Little City Hall” to Atlanta’s “Black Chamber of Commerce,” said Clark Atlanta President Thomas W. Cole Jr. “Regular caucuses have been held here affecting the growth of not only the city but the nation, too.”
Paschal’s also defined the best in Atlanta nightlife by regularly featuring such high-profile entertainers as Gladys Knight. Aretha Franklin, Cannonball Adderly and Ramsey Lewis in its La Carrousel Lounge.
Cole promises to preserve the historical integrity and good name of the Atlanta institution.
“Paschal’s has grown into an icon in African-American history and culture,” said Cole, “and it’s known for far more than its fried chicken.”
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