Ollie’s Barbecue Decision

As summer begins, I’m Amy E. Feldman with a barbecue-related lawsuit that made history. 

As you stand in front of your barbecue grill at the start of summer, it’s worth remembering a lawsuit filed by Ollie’s Barbecue nearly sixty years ago, back in 1964. Ollie’s Barbecue was a very small, mom-and-pop restaurant in Birmingham, Alabama. Ollie’s owner sued the federal government claiming the Civil Rights Act should not apply to his restaurant because the federal government didn’t have the authority to tell the restaurant to desegregate or force it to serve non-whites in its dining room.  

In the case that’s known as Katzenbach v. McClung, the Supreme Court unanimously decided that the power of Congress in this area is broad and sweeping—and found the government did have the right to tell Ollie’s to desegregate its dining room, a case that made history. So let’s raise a rib and hail the power of the barbecue, or at least a lawsuit decision that was barbecue-adjacent.

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