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Civil rights in Louisiana: how history can teach us to better our current world

Historic restaurant recognized as the first marker on the Louisiana Civil Rights Trail.
louisiana civil rights trail
Posted at 11:37 AM, Jan 27, 2022

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana — It wasn’t long ago that only a few select places were safe for Black Americans to gather, particularly with white friends.

More than 80 years later these places are being honored for their part in civil rights history.

The smell of the famous gumbo coming from Dooky Chase’s restaurant in New Orleans will make your mouth water.

It’s a recipe that’s been frozen in time.

This food has gone through generations of the Chase family and is now made by Chef Edgar Dook Chase IV.

“This is something you just can’t beat right here," said Edgar Dook Chase IV.

"The greatest feeling is when you go out there and they say it tastes just as I remember it. We always say Dooky Chase restaurant is a restaurant but it’s so much more.”

For years what went on here was kept quiet but now Dooky Chase's Restaurant is the first marker on the Louisiana Civil Rights Trail.

Stella Chase Reese is the current manager and a third-generation Chase.

“It was started by my grandparents Edgar and Emily Chase Senior in 1941," said Reese.

Their pillars were simple. Delicious food. Great music. Community and conversation.

“African Americans had very few places to go at that time to entertain, to celebrate, to just be together," said Reese.

“Upstairs we had our leaders meet and even though it was against the law for African Americans and Caucasians to meet at that time, it was kind of overlooked here.”

During the civil rights movement, leaders strategized on the next steps at this very restaurant.

Judge Edwin Lombard was often in the room where these conversations took place because of his brother.

“It was a safe haven kind of place and not only get some physical nourishment but some spiritual nourishment because you needed to take a breather," Lombard said.

“My brother Rudy, brilliant guy, was involved in the civil rights movement. He was one of the college students that sat in on canal street and was arrested and resulted in a famous landmark supreme court case called Lombard versus Louisiana.”

Now a judge for the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Louisiana, Judge Lombard followed his brother's path.

Moments in his career paved the way for other Black people like him, such as getting elected as the Clerk of Criminal District Court. 

“That office was in charge of the election process so I became probably one of the first African American election officials in the country," Lombard said.

Lombard is proud that places like Dooky Chase Restaurant are getting the historic recognition they deserve.

Meeting places along the trail in Louisiana stretch from Bogalusa, to Baton Rouge, to New Orleans, to Shreveport and other outlying areas.

“I feel as a third-generation Chase that I’m truly blessed. I’m standing on those shoulders of my grandparents and parents who went ahead of me and who went door to door for voter registration, who put their lives on their line, who put their business on the time to do what they thought was right," said Reese.

However, Judge Lombard says many of those leaders worked tirelessly just for us to still be facing some of the same issues decades later.

“What we ought to be focusing on is what’s in front of us today. Voter suppression. We’re right back where we started when they did the voter rights act in 1965," Lombard said.

The Louisiana Civil Rights Trail reminds us there is so much history that needs to be discussed and understood in order to continue the process these civil rights leaders started.

“Some of us in our comfort is allowing us to slip back to where we were before. And if you don’t learn from the past, you are destined to make the same mistakes in the future," Lombard said.