Sara Criss’ Civil Rights Memoir #61: Going Private

“After the Civil Rights bill was passed it was assumed that Negroes would attempt to integrate all of the restaurants which had previously only served whites. An article in the Commercial Appeal had stated that more than 100 Memphis restaurant owners had agreed to open their doors to all customers, regardless of race. The President of the Chamber of Commerce had indicated the agreement had been worked out by the restaurant owners at the request of city officials and civic leaders to keep Memphis a peaceful city.

“But Greenwood was not to give in so easily, and Hardy Lott and his law partner, Stanny Sanders, met with each of the owners and suggested that they draw up legal papers to become private clubs with members only being allowed in. Some of them closed until the necessary steps could be taken. I feel sure that Hardy and Stanny knew that most of them could not make it as private clubs, but they were willing to try anything to keep them from integrating and in the process probably made a lot of money from legal fees.

“Only the Crystal Grill (now the Crystal Club) [ed. note: this was written in 1990] survived as a private club, and in recent years they have served a few Negro patrons. At first we paid $1 for a membership card, and you had to push the card through a slot in the door to get in. Gradually, when no Negroes attempted to join, they became more lax and just left the door unlocked. Finally the club idea was dropped except for the name. Many of the restaurants went out of business.”

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About sec040121

Hello....I'm in possession of a priceless collection of memoirs and memorabilia left by my mother, Sara Evans Criss. She was a native and lifelong (88 years!) devotee of our small town, who covered this peculiar and volatile corner of the world for 30 years as the Memphis Commercial Appeal's Greenwood bureau chief, a job that started out with debutantes and high school football and wound up spang in the midst of one of the twentieth century's most enduring social upheavals. This blog is dedicated to her memory and the legacy she left behind, both for her family and her community.
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