Martin Luther King diner shuts down

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The Independent US

For close to 50 years, Paschal's diner has served up ordinary food to extraordinary people.

At a time when there were restrictions on where black people could eat, it was a place where the events that would change those racist rules were planned over plates of collard greens and fried chicken. To some it was the "kitchen of the civil rights movement".

But last week Paschal's - whereMartin Luther King was a regular and where events such as the Selma-Montgomery march were planned - served up its final meals and shut its doors for the last time. "That's it - we're closed," said the 73-year-old assistant manager, Moses Gammage, as he locked the door after one last lunchtime session attended by more than 500 regulars and devotees.

The diner in Atlanta, Georgia, was opened in 1947 by brothers James and Robert Paschal, and rapidly became a fixture for the city's black community. Among those who have eaten at Paschal's over the years are Muhammad Ali, Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin. But it is best known as being the place where Dr King and his aides planned some of the most momentous events of the civil rights campaign. His widow, Coretta Scott King, said it was as important to the civil rights movement as Boston's Faneuil Hall - centre of the protests against British taxation policies in the 1760s - is to the American Revolution.

"This is a sad day," said the Rev Joseph Lowery, a civil rights leader who became president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference after the assassination of Dr Kingin 1968. "This was a meeting place, a chamber of commerce, a city hall. It was the only place you could eat, meet and sleep at the same time. Now this landmark will fade into history."

James Paschal sold the restaurant and adjoining motel seven years ago to the city's Clark Atlanta University. He says he remembers Dr King very clearly.

"He always used to eat fried chicken," said Mr Paschal, who has since opened a chain of restaurants in the city.

"He had a special room where he would always hold his meetings."

But times change, and Paschal's is no longer what it was. The university claims it has been losing $500,000 (£310,000) a year and that it was no longer economically viable. Despite protests from community activists and campaigners, the university plans to knock down the diner to make room for new student accommodation.

"It is a complex thing," said university spokeswoman Sheila Jack. "It has never made any money. It has always been a losing proposition."

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