Celebrate MLK Day with a Menu of His Favorite Foods

MLK Day at Your Restaurant

Posted: Jan. 08, 2018

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is one week away—celebrate his extraordinary achievements with his favorite dishes at your restaurant.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was declared a federal holiday by President Ronald Reagan in 1983; 15 years after the civil rights activist and leader was assassinated. This year, MLK Day happens to fall exactly on what would have been King’s 89th birthday.

His extraordinary achievements and unshakeable resolve have been the subject of countless articles, books, and essays. But most texts tend not to focus on his endless appetite.

Meal times were joyous celebrations for King. His large group of volunteers, friends, and activists would settle into dinners and put aside all talks of planning. At the center of activity were meaningful conversations, jokes, and easy banter—and at the center of the table, shared plates of delicious food—both serving to comfort the activists that were often far from home.

It’s no surprise that King was a favored guest across the country, and often invited for two meals in the same night. Dr. Bernard LaFayette, a scholar-in-residence at the University of Rhode Island, and former Freedom Fighter and national coordinator for MLK’s campaign, remembers King’s appetite: “Oh, he was a big eater. He never shied away from the table.”

"Everybody wanted him to come to their home," LaFayette recalls, "If you followed Dr. King, you ate well. It was those second dinners that could make you fat, but not him. He burned up all that energy."

During difficult times, food was eaten in a hurry. “We ate a lot of Vienna sausage and potted meats from can, with soda crackers,” he says. These moments of scarcity sparked the pivotal sit-ins civil rights movement at “whites-only” dining establishments.

As the nation honors Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. next Monday, January 15, celebrate at your restaurant with a special menu of Dr. King’s favorite foods. Below, we present a selection of main dishes and desserts favored by the revolutionary.

1. Fried Chicken

To figure out what MLK truly loved to eat, we searched the Web for insightful and well-researched articles. According to our first resource, since he was a child, fried chicken was a favorite of King.  

In a quest to learn more about MLK’s personal history, Linda Lange from the Knoxville News Sentinel from Knoxville, Tennessee went to King’s hometown in Atlanta, Georgia, and shared what she learned here. She writes that during a tour through his childhood home, it was described that King’s favorite meal was the “Sunday feast of fried chicken, collard greens, black-eyed peas, and corn bread.”

Fried chicken has long been a staple in Southern cooking, and there are many variations across the region. Like barbecue, everyone has their own version of “the best” recipe, but the key to perfection is a crispy, fried exterior, and a juicy, flavorful interior.

It’s a dish that can be presented in myriad ways, so don’t be afraid to put your restaurant’s spin on fried chicken for your MLK Day menu. 

2. Pecan Pie

In one activity book for children, the authors highlight the favorite foods of several important American leaders, including Martin Luther King, Jr. As a learning tool, kids are asked to cut out the pictures of these favorite foods and write their dreams on the back.

For Dr. King, the cut-out was a glistening pecan pie. This decadent and sugary pie is a crowd-pleaser, and its winter seasonality only boosts its popularity.

3. Peach Cobbler

Peach cobbler is another contender for being King’s favorite dessert. According to Dr. LaFayette, when it came to sweets, nothing compared to peach cobbler, saying that, “Mama King made the best peach cobbler, but he made a point of trying to find one like his mama made.”

It happens to be one of the oldest dessert recipes in the United States, brought over by early Dutch and English settlers. Sometime in the ‘50s, the Georgia Peach Association declared April 13 “National Peach Cobbler Day” hoping it would stimulate the peach farming economy.

Peach cobbler is typically made with preserved, canned, or dried peaches, making this dish an easy one to cobble together for next week. And don’t forget the essential final touch, a scoop of vanilla ice cream!

4. Pickled Pig’s Feet

In Pulitzer-prize winning Taylor Branch’s book Pillar of Fire, he recounts one of the more peculiar cravings of MLK, pickled pig’s feet. It’s a delicacy in the South, and rarely found outside the region.

He paints the picture of a delighted Dr. King at the moment of unexpectedly finding this rare snack while on the road: “(Dr. King) took extra time at one highway rest stop to snack on pickled pig's feet from a large display jar on the counter of a rural store. (Ralph) Abernathy and others joined him to gnaw through one foot after another, leaning forward to keep from dripping on their suits, while they enjoyed the queasy abstention of Andrew Young."

5. Steak

Several sources say how much Martin Luther King, Jr. enjoyed a well-cooked steak. According to Jawana Jackson, it was her mother’s smothered steak that MLK especially couldn’t get enough of. Jackson’s parents owned the “one-story bungalow that served as an informal headquarters for the civil rights movement” in Selma, Alabama.

Jawana Jackson, now the owner of the property, remembers King’s stays at her house fondly, and adds how much he loved her mother’s cooking. "Uncle Martin, as I knew him, deemed my mother the Movement Cook," Jackson said.

Tailor King’s favorite dishes to match your restaurant’s style of cooking and market your MLK Day Menu on every channel—homepage, social media (start a hashtag!), and word-of-mouth—for a great turn out. Try finding a local or national civil rights charity to donate a portion of the proceeds to in order to fully celebrate the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. 



Posted: Jan. 08, 2018 | Written By: Emma Alois



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