History at Applebee’s

The soup and salad were just fine, but I chose to have lunch at Applebee’s on Tuesday for two other reasons.

I wanted to find a place with televisions and to be among some African Americans. From a recent lunch meeting there, I recalled that young black women made up most of the wait staff.

Arriving just past 11:30 AM, I found a corner stool at the bar with a good viewing angle of the inauguration. Customers were scattered about other parts of the restaurant, but only a half dozen young African-American women and I watched the historic event in our corner.

I paid attention to their reactions — especially the emotions expressed on their faces. The smallest among them gave hearty “Amens” throughout Rick Warren’s invocation.

We laughed together when the eloquent-speaking new president and the Chief Justice stumbled through the oath of office. First-time jitters for both, we agreed.

We talked about change and hope and possibilities. And I kept wondering how this historic event was being viewed through our very different lenses.

I was a white child of the ’60s. School integration gave me my first daily contact with African Americans who lived close by but much very separated.

Influential adults in my life interpreted the civil rights movement in terms of “trouble-making.” The most I suffered personally for the noble cause of human equality was having to go home ahead of curfews when the possibility of rioting was heightened.

For these younger African-American women, the civil rights struggle was something they heard or read about from others. Yet, surely, they too have experienced firsthand discrimination or racism to varying degrees.

Having a man of color in the nation’s highest office said something to them that I don’t believe I am capable of fully hearing.

Looking back on various historic events in my lifetime from the moon landing to 9/11, it is easy to recall where I was at those exact moments. Now I add to that list the good memories of having lunch and conversations at Applebee’s when the first African-American president was sworn into office — something no one in my little world would have believed in 1968.

Building meaningful, trusting relationships across racial lines is not easy. The struggle for racial equality is not over. And, honestly, the church has done more harm than good over the past many decades.

But the starting place always seems to a willingness to simply talk with one another. Yes, more talking with one another and less talking about one another.


  1. Very interesting. I, too, was with a group of African Americans watching the inauguration. I also allowed my students to come to class late so they could watch the speech. Two observations – First, you are so right about the church having done more harm than good. Unfortunately, in recent years I have witnessed whites leaving a church because a black family joined. We have a family now that has visited our church – black husband, white wife – but they have not visited together yet. The man visited and told his wife that he really felt welcomed. I just hope and pray that we can and will accept them. It is a shame to have to worry about that, isn’t it?

    Second, the truth is that many African Americans voted for Obama because he is black, with all the cultural nuances that contains. I understand that. I wish, however, that people would cast an educated vote. For example, several of my black students voice beliefs that are contrary to the platform of the Democrat Party….yet they overwhelmingly voted for Obama. One black student came back and told me that she had voted for Obama, but was surprised that there was so many other names and offices on the ballot. I would feel so much better if a student (white or black) told me that they voted for Obama because he is a Democrat and they believe the Democrats have the best answers for the problems facing our nation….or if they voted for McCain for the same reason.

    We still have a long way to go….and it is more than just race.

  2. After the inauguration I went downtown Collinsville, Alabama where my Mother’s family goes back to the 1840’s, 145 years and more and in the County where my Grandfather Jordan ran for School Supe in 19 teens as a Lincoln Republican.
    He was soundly defeated.
    He was called a “nigger lover” and at times when he walked past the Unreconstructed yellow dog Dems of the Day they would brush their lapels and just over a whisper so he could hear, say “you can smell it on em, can’t you.”
    In front of what once was the “Jordan block” of businesses downtown, I hit the middle of the street and paraded as much as possible about three football fields toward the Rail Road tracks, walking past the “new” library.
    Had a few conversations in between and went over to shake some hands at City Hall, all in good humor.
    I could go on way too long–will say this; JPierce, Todd Heifner has a transcendent and hilarious story to tell you next time you see him about DC events–but do want to challenge both Pierce and commenter Stephen to make an effort to find and own a good used copy if necessary of the collection of Essays, Jumpn Jim Crow; the new collection of magnificent essays, Our Lincoln editted by Eric Foner; Marshall Frady’s short but majestic bio of King; and Tony Cartledge’s highly recommended Tim Tyson’s Blood Done Sign My Name.

    Glory, Hallelujah


  3. Fox,

    I have read the Tyson book – it is a must read. Have put the others on my list of books to read when I finish my dissertation – except the Lincoln book. At some point the Lincolnite hype becomes ahistorical and positively subjective. Foner’s revisionist Reconstruction book is valuable.

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