Several places throughout the country will forever be embedded in the fabric of the history of the civil rights movement, including the Southwest Atlanta-based Leila’s Dinette. According to NBC News, the founder of the historic eatery Leila Williams celebrated her 107th birthday on Thursday.
Williams opened Leila’s Dinette with her husband in 1949. The restaurant—which was frequented by civil rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—evolved into a staple in Atlanta and became a gathering space for the Black community. Patrons like Congressman John Lewis, Julian Bond, Ralph Abernathy and local HBCU students would discuss social and political issues over classic Southern meals during a time where there weren’t many places where Black people could dine. “It was a place where they could strategize and spend quality time. That’s part of the legacy,” her goddaughter Charlotte Webb told the news outlet. “She fed people even if they didn’t have money. She just had this kind spirit about her, and people remember her. To her, everybody was equal.” She became a pillar of her community and would often cook for her neighbors in need.
Although the restaurant shuttered in the 1990s, Williams and her eatery’s impact and influence in the community prevails. She was honored at her 107th birthday celebration at the Glenwood Health and Rehabilitation Center. At the party, DeKalb County announced that November 14 would be recognized as Leila Williams Day. She says that she has received an outpour of love got thousands of birthday wishes.
The space where Leila’s Dinette once lived is now a commercial kitchen called Marddy’s. “We were stepping into some very big shoes. That we were stepping into a place that just is hallowed ground for black independence in Atlanta,” said Keitra Bates who founded the kitchen.