In this WSB newsfilm clip from 1964, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund attorney Constance Baker Motley answers questions pertaining to the Willis vs. Pickrick Restaurant lawsuit and other cases related to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 posed at a press conference. Motley is accompanied by Atlanta attorney William H. Alexander, the local counsel and original attorney in the Willis vs. Pickrick case, who does not speak. The clip's audio track is inconsistent; some comments may not be completely recorded.
The clip begins with Constance Baker Motley, seated at a microphone, reading from a prepared statement that outlines the Pickrick Cafeteria's violation of Section II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, outlawing discrimination in public facilities engaged in interstate commerce. In this statement, she briefly describes the Pickrick Cafeteria's denial of service to her African American clients, the plaintiffs George Willis, Jr., Woodrow Lewis, and Albert Dunn. The clip jumps, and a reporter asks Motley to convey her opinion regarding Lester Maddox's statements of refusal to integrate his restaurant. She explains to the reporter that this is the reason that they are in court, and that Maddox has not only stated that he would not serve African Americans, but he has actively refused them. She hopes that the court will grant an order that will end Maddox's discriminatory practices. A reporter asks how long it ordinarily takes to receive a court order; Motley notes that a hearing has been set for July 17, 1964, and that it will take place on the same date as a hearing for a related case brought by the Heart of Atlanta Motel.
Motley is then asked if she expects any further "tests" of the Pickrick, by which the reporter means do any more African Americans plan on trying to integrate the restaurant; she replies that she is not planning any tests, but she does not know if people will try to get served at the restaurant. Another reporter follows up by asking if others attempt to integrate the restaurant and are turned away in the same fashion as the current case's plaintiffs, would their complaints be handled in the same way; Motley replies that any others who would wish to intervene would only need to wait for the outcome of the current lawsuit.
The clip jumps several times, truncating several inquiries from reporters, based on Motley's responses, the questions reflect an anticipation on the part of reporters that Maddox will act in contempt of court; that potential Civil Rights Act lawsuits are under way in Alabama; and that reporters expect additional lawsuits to be brought against Civil Rights Act violators. After another break in the clip, Motley explains to a reporter that the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund does not find cases to file themselves, but rather they respond to requests to assist local attorneys by joining a lawsuit on a plaintiff's behalf. Local attorneys seek the assistance of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and then the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund determines whether they will agree to help with the case. In some cases, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund assists individuals seeking local legal representation.
The clip breaks again, and Motley notes that she is pleasantly surprised by Civil Rights Act compliance in Jackson, Mississippi; after another break in the clip, she explains that she seeks an injunction that will force Maddox to end discriminatory actions against African Americans. A reporter asks what will happen if Maddox acts against the injunction; Motley explains that it will be up to Maddox to comply, but if he does not, then it will be up the court to take further action against him. The clip breaks again, and Motley comments that there are African Americans that have been refused by other establishments, and that she expects that there are other areas in the South where there will be resistance to the implementation of the Civil Rights Act. The clip breaks again, and Motley explains that she can account for three actual cases that involve refusal of service, which include the Willis vs. Pickrick Restaurant case, and two cases the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund anticipates filing in Alabama. She cannot be sure, however, of how many African Americans have been refused service since the passage of the Civil Rights Act.
Willis vs. Pickrick Restaurant was the first case brought under Section II of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, enacted on July 2, 1964. In defiance of the Civil Rights Act, Lester Maddox, proprietor of the Pickrick Cafeteria, denied service to three black ministers, George Willis, Jr., Woodrow Lewis, and Albert Dunn on July 4. Maddox chased them out of his restaurant with a gun, accompanied by several of his white customers who threatened the ministers with axe handles. A federal district court ordered Maddox to serve black customers.
Maddox and Atlanta businessman Moreton Rolleston, owner of the Heart of Atlanta Motel, both sued to challenge the constitutionality of Section II of the Civil Rights Act. The cases were paired and tried before a three-judge circuit court in Atlanta. On July 22, 1964, a federal court upheld the Civil Rights Act and issued an injunction beginning August 11 against both businesses prohibiting them from denying service to customers based on color or race. Both men were ordered to admit black patrons within twenty days. Rolleston appealed his decision to the Supreme Court (Heart of Atlanta Motel Inc. v. United States), which unanimously upheld the lower court's injunction on December 14, 1964. Maddox closed the Pickrick on August 13, and reopened the business on September 26 as the Lester Maddox Cafeteria, where he pledged to serve only "acceptable" Georgians. During a trial for contempt of court on September 29, Maddox argued against the charges because he was no longer offering service to out-of-state travelers or integrationists. On February 5, 1965 a federal court ruled that Maddox was in contempt of court for failing to obey the injunction and assigned fines of two hundred dollars a day for failing to serve African Americans. Maddox ultimately closed his restaurant on February 7, 1965 rather than integrate it; he claimed that President Lyndon Johnson and communists put him out of business.
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The Civil Rights Digital Library received support from a National Leadership Grant for Libraries awarded to the University of Georgia by the Institute of Museum and Library Services for digital conversion and description of the WSB-TV Newsfilm Collection.
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Cite as: WSB-TV newsfilm clip of attorney Constance Baker Motley commenting on the lawsuit against Lester Maddox and the Pickrick restaurant for discrimination against African Americans, Atlanta, Georgia, 1964, WSB-TV newsfilm collection, reel 0939, 19:30/25:14, Walter J. Brown Media Archives and Peabody Awards Collection, The University of Georgia Libraries, Athens, Ga, as presented in the Digital Library of Georgia.