Friday, August 3, 2012

Shocked & Appalled to Learn About Seattle's Coon Chicken Inn

I first saw the image you see on the left about a month ago in a movie called Ghost World.

Ghost World is an amusing movie.

The Ghost World world premiere occurred on June 16, 2001 at the Seattle International Film Festival, where one of the actresses in the movie, Thora Birch, won the Golden Space Needle Best Actress Award.

The Coon Chicken Inn ad poster played a key plot point in the Ghost World movie. I thought the Coon Chicken Inn ad poster was a bit, well, offensive, as did some people in the movie, which is why it was a key plot point.

I assumed something as offensive as the Coon Chicken Inn ad poster was just a movie fabrication.

And then, last night, I watched another movie, that being C.S.A: The Confederate States of America. The idea behind this movie is that the South won the War of Northern Aggression, with the Confederates taking over the entire country and then most of the Western Hemisphere, except for Canada.

C.S.A is done like a mocu-mentary, complete with breaking for fake "ads". One of the ads was for the Coon Chicken Inn. I sat there watching this feeling totally bum puzzled, thinking is this a real thing?

And then, at the end of the movie a title comes on the screen saying something like, "The following actually happened in the United States of America following the Civil War into the 1950's." Or words to that effect.

Starting with the Civil War, the movie then shows the viewer things that one thought must have been fiction, but were actually real, like the Coon Chicken Inn.

And then, when the movie was a bit more specific about the Coon Chicken Inn, I became totally appalled. I figured this restaurant chain must have been located in the South. Like at a place like Fort Worth, Texas.

I was wrong.

The first Coon Chicken Inn opened in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1925, followed 4 years later by another Coon Chicken Inn.

In Seattle!

That's right, a Coon Chicken Inn opened in Seattle, on Lake City Way, to instant success, even with the Great Depression soon being depressing.

And then the next year, 1930, a Coon Chicken Inn opened on Sandy Boulevard in Portland, Oregon.

All three Coon Chicken Inns were a booming success, with Seattle soon adding a cabaret and orchestra and Salt Lake City expanding its dining room.

The restaurant's specialty was southern fried "Coon Chicken," plus sandwiches, chicken pot pies, burgers, chili and seafood.

Black people were employed as waiters, waitresses, cooks and cleanup crews, but were seldom seated as customers.

The racist genius behind the Coon Chicken Inn concept was a man named Maxon Lester Graham.

Maxon figured out he needed a gimmick to get kids to want to come to his new restaurants. So, he came up with the brilliant idea that kids would like to walk through an entrance with a huge, winking, grinning face of a black man in a porter's cap. Coon Chicken Inn was spelled out in his teeth, with the doorway being through the head's mouth.

This giant head became the logo for the Coon Chicken Inn, with variations of it showing up on all sorts of items, like dishes, silverware, napkins and menus. These have become collector's items worth so much money that there is a black market of faked Coon Chicken Inn memorabilia.

As one might expect, in the eventually very progressive, liberal states of Washington and Oregon, something called the Coon Chicken Inn would eventually become controversial.


Above civil rights protesters are protesting in front of the Seattle Lake City Way Coon Chicken Inn. I believe this was some time in the 1950's.

By the late 1950's Maxon and his wife decided to get out of the restaurant business.

The Seattle Coon Chicken Inn became Ying's Drive-In. The Salt Lake City location became something called the Chuck-A-Rama and the Portland restaurant became the Prime Rib.

Today I learned in Seattle there is something called the Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project.

The Project has a website.

On that Project's website there is a webpage devoted to the Coon Chicken Inn, titled "The Coon Chicken Inn: North Seattle's Beacon of Bigotry."

I can remember having pancakes at various Sambo's restaurants, back before it was realized that Sambo's was a bit inappropriate, with protests, over that inappropriateness, eventually leading to the demise of Sambo's.

I don't ever remember having fried chicken at the Seattle Coon Chicken Inn before it closed. Probably because it was before my time.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I thought it became the Jolly Roger Road House after the CCI period. At least that's what my dad told me.

Anonymous said...

It looks scary!

Old enough to remember. said...

Shocked and appalled? Really? I have to wonder if the writer of this piece ever cracked a history book about race relations in this country during the first half of the 20th century.