Ollie’s Barbecue and Civil Rights

December 14, 2014:

Today — December 14, 2014, is a great day in the history of human rights. Fifty years ago today, the Supreme Court decided Katzenbach v. McClung, upholding the constitutionality of the Civil Rights Act and, most notably, opened up seating in Ollie’s barbecue to black as well as white customers. (Black customers could only get carry-out.) The legal issue was whether Ollie’s operated in interstate commerce. That was not a close question. We always took out-of-town guests to Ollie’s.

Ollie’s served what was undoubtedly the best barbecue in the history of the world. They also served wonderful pies — wonderful in the sense that they generated wonder that pie could be so good — including a coconut pie which was the Platonic ideal of pie. Much of my life has been a search for barbecue and coconut pie as good as Ollie’s.

Ollie’s, alas, is no more. When Ollie McClung died, the children took over and established once again that genius is not inherited. They eventually moved it to Shelby County where it died in 2001. Whether the children were uninterested or incompetent, they were not evil. They sold the recipe for Ollie’s barbecue sauce, which remains the best barbecue sauce in the world. You can buy it at grocery stores in Birmingham and, if you forget, in the Birmingham airport.

The case was argued on my 15th birthday. Kismet.


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