Georgia Tech To Raze Segregation-Era Cafeteria

Medium-sized image unavailable for this photo.
Georgia Tech, which has owned the former Pickrick Cafeteria since 1965, plans to demolish the building for green space.

Credit: Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation

In an effort to create green space in urban Atlanta, the Georgia Institute of Technology plans to demolish Pickrick Cafeteria, an on-campus building with ties to the Civil Rights movement. 

"The cafeteria was not built with the intent of long-term use, and it does not meet the university's needs," says Lisa Ray Grovenstein, spokeswoman for Georgia Tech. "The structure is functionally obsolete, environmentally unsound, and unsafe for human occupancy." 

Now known as the Ajax Building, the small, one-story structure, which Georgia Tech purchased in 1965, is currently used as an overflow space for the campus police department. 

On Monday, Nov. 3, representatives from the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation and the Historic Preservation Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources testified at a public hearing to urge the university to save the former cafeteria.

"We feel very strongly that the Civil Rights movement is one of the most important events of the 20th century, and we are going to be very sorry if we lose this building," says Mark McDonald, president and CEO of the Georgia Trust. 

Medium-sized image unavailable for this photo.
Atlanta's Pickrick Cafeteria in the 1950s

Credit: Georgia Tech Capital Planning & Space Management

In 1947, Lester Maddox, also known as "Mr. White Backlash," and his wife, Virginia, opened the Pickrick Cafeteria at 881 Hemphill Avenue. An outspoken enemy of civil rights, Maddox published weekly advertisements in The Atlanta Journal under the headline "Pickrick Says." In the late 1950s and early 1960s, he unsuccessfully ran for mayor of Atlanta.

On July 3, 1964, Maddox denied several African Americans admittance to his restaurant, fearing they would stage a protest. Photographers captured images of Maddox with a revolver and Maddox's son with a pick handle, chasing Reverend Albert Dunn. Reporters returned to the restaurant, hoping to capture more photographs.

Maddox was prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Jusice for violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and earned a reputation as an advocate of segregation. In 1966, Maddox ran for governor of Georgia and won. 

"It's a very difficult site because it has a history that many of us would rather forget. For many Georgians, it's a site of sorrow and frustration," says Ray Luce, director of the Historic Preservation Division for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. "We really need to be able to remember all parts of our history if we're going to learn from it."


For more photos, stories, and tips, subscribe to the print edition of Preservation magazine.

Subscribe to the Today's News RSS feed


Submitted by =3 at: March 17, 2010
sweet info!

Submitted by jp at: August 17, 2009
I for one would hate to see this building torn down, if it has not been already. Things like this have to stand to show future generations that life was not always the way they have known it. When bad parts of history disappear then they will be forgotten and what has been gained will not be fully appreciated . "Freedom4All" came at a price. That price should not be torn down or buried. A museum would be a wonderful way to preserve the legacy of past generations. They paid for the freedom of others. Inspiration from the accomplishments of others can also teach students to learn and be productive.

Submitted by Freedom4All at: January 17, 2009
Knock it down. Grow, expanded, develop, make new. The Civil Rights movement was just that a MOVEMENT. Meaning it MOVES. Use the land for students to learn and be productive. Make something positive of a place filled with negative events and memories.

Submitted by in Atlanta at: November 17, 2008
Do not tear this bldg down. Somebody with money; please make a donation to GaTech, and challenge the skills of the GaTech University students with a project to stabilize the structure of this bldg as a museum. Fill it with the The Atlanta Journal articles that Our state Governor wrote. Fill it with the iconic photographs of these events. And tie it in with the Human Rights museum that will soon be around the corner and the other landmarks that make this a historic city. This is GTech's keystone when it comes to the science of human rights. GaTech needs to use this bldg to continue the study of human nature and how it interacts with the other disciplines that they specialize in. In the larger layout of Atlanta, there is a corridor from the GaTech campus to the Atlanta University Center (where MLK attended Morehouse U) which is just a few miles to the south. These are two world-class institutions that represent opposite poles of the academic world. On the north side at GT; world-class progress has been made in the physical sciences and on the south side at the AUC; unrivaled progress has been made in the humanities. The study of science makes GaTech one of the top10 universities in the world, and the AUC is where the humanities have been championed with unrivaled success by the MLK (Jr and Sr), Benjamin Mays, and W.E.B. Du Bois. These two campuses are within walking distance of each other and are bridged by Centennial Park that will soon house the Human Rights museum and acts as a physical metaphor to where science and the humanities meet. If we preserve our history, we can develop a unique bridge between science and humanities in Atlanta. This Pickrick museum would represent a seed crystal of the humanities within the scientific setting of the GT campus and inspire many young minds that walk through it.