As he sits in the latest iteration of Paschal’s, a modern loft-style restaurant a few blocks from the historic property but a million miles away from it in spirit, Slack can remember the day the eatery took up its role in the civil rights movement.
“One day, a young man walked up to [James] Paschal and told him that his name was Martin Luther King Jr., and he was trying to find a place to meet,” Slack says. “He didn’t have any money to really pay for a room or pay for anything, but he wanted to start a coalition.”
The story, as apocryphal as it sounds, jibes with the one James Paschal told in his self-published 2006 memoir, “Paschal: Living the Dream.” King, Paschal recalled, “came directly to us and asked if he could bring his team members and guests to Paschal’s to eat, meet, rest, plan and strategize. How could we refuse? We had the resources and the place. We believed we had been called to be part of the Movement.”
“In early 1962, we set aside a meeting room for Martin and his teams to lay fundamental groundwork and plan. Some of the work for the 1963 March on Washington took place at Paschal’s. After that march, hundreds of people converged on Atlanta. So many of them gathered at Paschal’s. The same was true when the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed.”
The story of how two brothers became patron saints of the civil rights movement has its roots in slavery’s aftershocks. The siblings were children of sharecroppers in Thomson, Ga., about an hour east of Atlanta. “We worked in the fields from dawn to dusk, wrapping both of our hands around those stinging cotton balls, but it seemed the work was hardly ever done,” James Paschal said in his memoir.
Robert Paschal, 10 years older than his brother, developed a technique that made him a “magnificent cotton picker,” James Paschal said in his book, but the younger sibling never saw any reason to nurture such talents. “I hated every cotton ball I ever touched,” he said. “I was never any good at it, and I never wanted to be good at it.”