FOOD AND SPIRITS
Coon Chicken Inn
One of the most well known restaurants to reside in the Hollywood neighborhood during the 1930s through the 1950s, was one of the most controversial. Started in 1930 by Maxim Lester Graham, the Coon Chicken Inn quickly became one of Portland's most popular restaurants. Because of it's good food at a low cost, the Coon Chicken Inn remained popular until the late 1950s, when M.L. Graham decided to close it's doors. All was not forgotten, however, people still collect Coon Chicken Inn memorabilia today.
Driving up to the Coon Chicken Inn, one would be greeted by a huge face serving as the restaurant's entrance. First you would see huge lips, the porter's hat, and the over exaggerated features portraying African Americans as mere cartoon characters not as humans. Customers would enter the restaurant through the mouth. This image was the Coon Chicken Inns well known and generally well liked logo. Inside one could order the Coon Chicken special, or the Baby Coon Chicken special from a menu shaped like the Coon Chicken Inn logo. Waiting for your food, you could sip water from a glass with the same logo. The food arrived on a plate, with yet again, the same distorted image staring back at you.
During my research I interviewed the former headwaiter of the Coon Chicken Inn, Mr. Ford Winters. He is a very nice older gentleman that does not seem to have a mean bone in his body. I asked him how he felt about the racist images of the Coon Chicken Inn. He responded by saying that he was not at all racist, he just did not think about it at the time, nobody did. "Racism like that was accepted, people just put it in the back of their minds and did not think about it".
According to Darrell Millner, head of the black studies department at Portland State University, it was common for people not to even realize that images such as those at the Coon Chicken Inn were racist. He went on to explain that during the 1930s and early 1940s there was a very small black population in Portland. It wasn't until World War II that African Americans started coming into Portland to build ships. When the Coon Chicken Inn started there were not enough African Americans in Portland to put a stop to it. Things have changed. People are more sensitive to the issues of racism and to images such as those of the Coon Chicken Inn.