1961 July 11

Maryland Apologizes to African Envoys Denied Service at Segregated Restaurants


Maryland officials on this day apologized for the denial of service to African diplomats at restaurants on Route 40 in the state. The controversy erupted in 1961 when ambassadors from newly independent African nations were denied service at racially segregated restaurants. The ambassadors generally flew to New York City and then drove to Washington over Route 40 in Maryland, where segregation prevailed. At this time, there was no federal law or Maryland law prohibiting racial discrimination in public accommodations. (The Civil Rights Act barring segregation in public accommodations was not signed into law until July 2, 1964.) When they were denied service because of their race, it was an insult to them and an embarrassment to President John F. Kennedy, who had just been inaugurated in January of 1961.

The State Department was particularly concerned that these events would damage the image of the U.S. in Africa. This was a time when the U.S. and the Soviet Union were competing for good relations with the newly independent African nations. Kennedy administration officials engaged in intense negotiations with individual restaurant owners to get them to serve African-Americans, and succeeded in many cases.

Learn more about the Route 40 crisis: http://nvdatabase.swarthmore.edu/content/cores-route-40-project-maryland-campaign-desegregation-and-us-civil-rights-1961

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