Lewiston’s most effective cafe refused to provide Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘spiritual mentor’

Martin Luther King Jr. with Benjamin Mays, the Bates University graduate and Morehouse Faculty president whom King considered his religious mentor and mental guideline. Courtesy Bates Faculty

With the technique of Martin Luther King Jr. Working day, and as the country proceeds to reexamine its troubled record on race, an incident in Lewiston a lot more than 75 yrs in the past affirms that the roots of racial issues stretch deep and were being never just a Southern concern.

The incident occurred in 1945 when Bates Faculty graduate Benjamin Elijah Mays desired to have a meal in the city’s foremost restaurant.

Mays, a civil rights activist and the president of Morehouse University who later gave the eulogy at the funeral of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, was presently a properly-acknowledged determine as Globe War II neared its conclusion.

About 750 individuals collected on March 18, 1945, to listen to him communicate at the now-demolished United Baptist Church on Most important Avenue for a gathering referred to as the University of Lifestyle.

Mays informed those in attendance they could decide on 3 paths in the world: the reduced road taken by sinners, the center one picked by widespread people today and the superior street that captivated saints. He urged young people to opt for the latter “because the earth moves forward on the feet of saints.”

Mays’ eloquence and authority earned the respect of many, such as King, who later on referred to him as “my religious mentor and my intellectual father.”

However even with his renown, and his close ties to Bates, the only point about Mays that mattered to some in Lewiston in 1945 was the darkness of his pores and skin.

While segregation had no lawful standing in Maine, Jim Crow was alive and effectively when the downtown DeWitt Lodge, a beloved eating spot a stone’s throw from Metropolis Hall, informed Mays he could not consume in the dining space with other patrons due to the fact of his race.

A postcard shows the DeWitt Hotel, which once stood on the corner of Park and Pine streets in Lewiston. Robert R Bedard Postcard Assortment

For very well over a century, the five-story brick DeWitt Resort, which stood among the Lewiston Evening Journal’s business office and what came to be known as Kennedy Park, was the city’s best.

Its dining place, on the 2nd flooring, “was famous not only for its fantastic foods, but also for its exceptional service and hospitality,” the Journal mentioned soon after the hotel fell to the wrecking ball in the mid-1960s.

“Family dinners gave the home a most nice air” on major occasions, the paper included.

As described in newspapers in 1945, organizers of the College of Lifestyle sought to maintain a evening meal celebration in the primary dining home at the DeWitt that would include things like Mays among the the guests.

Dr. Percy L. Vernon, the church’s minister and host for the University of Existence, requested the resort supervisor throughout a Rotary Club assembly a number of times beforehand no matter if there would be a difficulty with Mays’ inclusion at the Sunday supper.

The supervisor, Allen Browne, responded that it would be a miscalculation to allow for Mays to try to eat in the general public eating space. Browne advised the Bates student newspaper he worried about what could possibly transpire if he claimed yes.

Browne claimed that a couple of yrs before, some Bates professors and African American friends experienced eaten in the main dining hall at the lodge, producing quite a few Lewiston and Auburn women of all ages to leave the room in a huff, refusing to spend for the foods they experienced requested.

The dining home at the DeWitt Lodge in Lewiston, depicted in a mid-20th century postcard. Non-public selection

The manager mentioned the visitors at the time have been “extremely embarrassed” and he needed to reduce a recurrence.

Browne offered to seat the church occasion in a non-public room at no additional cost, but Vernon turned him down. They went to yet another institution rather.

Browne stated he thought that everyone concerned still left the issue on pleasant conditions.

But the up coming day, the Journal criticized the resort for turning Mays absent.

“We have religion in Lewiston persons and know they usually disapprove of acts which smack of race prejudice,” the paper reported. It urged those included “to very clear the city’s name of any attainable charge of inhospitality to these a distinguished gentleman as Dr. Mays.”

The episode spurred a minor kerfuffle in city, with some criticizing the resort and some defending it, just before the entire episode pale absent.

The Christian Affiliation at Bates, just one of the major pupil groups then, as effectively as some faculty directors and school, claimed they would not patronize the DeWitt if it continued to discriminate.

Browne informed the university student paper that he had also listened to from “several ladies” who phoned to convey to him they were glad Mays experienced not been served or they would in no way have eaten at the hotel once again.

Questioned immediately about the DeWitt’s coverage, Browne answered, “As soon as the persons in town will take and entertain Negroes in their own homes, the resort will choose them in.”

Benjamin Mays Courtesy the Thea Bowman AHANA and Intercultural Centre, Boston College or university

Occasions have transformed and so has Lewiston. Today, the DeWitt is extended gone. Even the now-empty setting up that took its area, which begun as a lender and then for decades housed some Sun Journal functions, is likely to deal with demolition soon if revitalization designs to make new housing move forward.

If Mays ever described the incident, his terms are overlooked.

In his autobiography, nevertheless, he said that expanding up in South Carolina he seasoned a “depressing, terrifying” style of segregation, but in the North he also located prejudice, occasionally “just as moi-wounding, just as embarrassing.”

Mays also said that accommodations and places to eat in northern cities would on event refuse to provide him.

Mays, born in rural South Carolina, graduated from Bates in 1920 and under no circumstances forgot the formative job it played in his existence, which integrated getting a pastor, a professor, the founding dean of the University of Religion at Howard University, head of the Atlanta Board of Education and learning and regarded a person of the most influential people today in American historical past. He frequently frequented Bates School and afterwards served as one of its trustees.

Benjamin E. Mays, middle, back again row, poses with a 1919 Bates School debate crew. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library

As a college student at Bates, Mays recounted, he skilled freezing winters but little prejudice.

“There have been only a few Negroes in the total point out of Maine,” Mays wrote many years later on, “and in the compact cities and rural areas a Negro was a serious curiosity.”

Even in Lewiston, Mays recounted, there were being less than 50 African Us citizens.

Among the the jobs he held in the course of his pupil times was a person washing dishes at “a restaurant in downtown Lewiston.”

It might have been the DeWitt, a single of the couple in individuals times chaotic enough to need to have to seek the services of dishwashers from between the learners at Bates.

Mays’ time at Bates transformed his lifetime.

He did so effectively at the college, he claimed, that he “finally dismissed from my mind for all time the myth of the inherent inferiority of all Negroes and the inherent superiority of all whites,” notions taken as a issue of study course in his native South Carolina.

“Bates College did not ‘emancipate’ me,” Mays wrote in his autobiography. “It did the much increased provider of producing it attainable for me to emancipate myself, to acknowledge with dignity my have well worth as a free of charge gentleman. Small surprise that I like Bates College or university!”


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