ORAL HISTORY ARCHIVE   A-CD-GH-LM-RS-Z

Leah Chase
National Visionary


Born January 6, 1923 in New Orleans, Louisiana

Executive Chef of Dooky Chase's Restaurant; Civil Rights Activist








BIOGRAPHY
Known as the “Queen of Creole Cuisine,” Leah Chase has fed Jesse Jackson, Duke Ellington, Thurgood Marshall, James Baldwin, Ray Charles, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and countless others as Executive Chef of Dooky Chase’s Restaurant — one of the best-known and most culturally significant restaurants in New Orleans. 
 

Chase as a young woman
Born on January 6, 1923 in New Orleans, Chase was one of 14 children. She was raised in the small town of Madisonville, LA. There were no high schools for black children, so after sixth grade, Chase moved to New Orleans to live with an aunt. After completing high school, Chase had a colorful work history including managing two amateur boxers and becoming the first woman to mark the racehorse board for a local bookie. Her favorite job, though, was waiting tables in the French Quarter. It was here that she developed her love for food and feeding others.
 
In 1946, she married local musician Edgar “Dooky” Chase Jr., whose father had opened a street corner stand selling lottery tickets and his wife’s homemade po’boy sandwiches. Eventually, Leah and Dooky Jr. took over the business, which by then had become a sit-down restaurant and a favorite local gathering place. 
 
In a town deeply divided by segregation, Dooky Chase’s Restaurant was one of the only public places in New Orleans where mixed race groups could meet to discuss strategy for the local Civil Rights Movement. Although such gatherings were illegal through most of the 1960s, Dooky Chase’s was so popular, it would have caused a public uproar if local law enforcement had interrupted the meetings. Black voter registration campaign organizers, the NAACP, backdoor political meetings, the Nation of Islam and countless others often found a home at Dooky Chase’s, and Leah cooked for them all. 
 

This interview has
been archived in the
NVLP Collection of
African American
Oral Histories at the
Library of Congress
American Folklife
Center
Chase is also a patron of black art and her collection — displayed on the walls of her restaurant — was at one time considered New Orleans’ best collection of African American art. To this day, she serves on the board of the New Orleans Museum of Fine Arts and has even testified before Congress to lobby for greater funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. She has participated in countless political campaigns and has used her culinary talents and celebrity to raise money for a myriad of charities and services. Her cookbooks, including The Dooky Chase Cookbook, And Still I Cook, and Leah Chase: Listen, I Say Like This, are popular and have received great praise among her most famous colleagues. 
 
Chase has received many awards, including multiple awards from the NAACP, the New Orleans Times-Picayune 1997 Loving Cup Award, the Weiss Award from the National Conference of Christians and Jews, and the Outstanding Woman Award from the National Council of Negro Women. She also serves on many boards, including the Arts Council of New Orleans, the New Orleans Museum of Art, and the Urban League. She has four children, sixteen grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

VIDEO CLIPS

EXTERNAL LINKS
Leah Chase's Wikipedia page

URL (Click to bookmark): http://www.visionaryproject.org/chaseleah

ORAL HISTORY ARCHIVE   A-CD-GH-LM-RS-Z