Leila Williams, Famed Civil Rights-Era Restaurateur, Dies At 108

Leila Williams, whose Atlanta restaurant became a hub of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s died Wednesday (February 3). 

Williams’ restaurant, Leila’s Dinette, located on Fair Street was a frequent meeting place for Civil Rights leaders. Williams’ godson, Julius Hollis, confirmed the news of her passing to 11Alive News. Leila Williams was born on November 14, 1912, as reported by the outlet. 

Hollis wrote a post on Facebook honoring Williams and her incredible life’s journey. 

“Aunt Leila was 108 years old. She was born the year that the Titanic sunk; she survived the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918; she survived racism and the Great Depression in South Georgia…” he wrote. “Aunt Leila [migrated] to Atlanta where she worked at Busy Bee Restaurant and later would start her own restaurant in the mid-1950s near the Atlanta University Center, which would go on to become a pivotal gathering spot for Atlanta’s Black Educators, Business, Political and Labor Leaders during the Civil Rights struggles.”  

Between 1949 and into the early 1990s, Leila Williams’ cooking skills garnered her fame across the city. 

“What really stands out in my mind in my memory is her cooking, and actually and how she reached out to so many people,” her goddaughter Charlotte Webb said. 

Nearby college students frequented her restaurant, as well as movement leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Congressman John Lewis, Ralph Abernathy, Rev. Joseph Lowery, and Julian Bond

“All of them came here,” Rev. Earle Ifill, Williams’ pastor recalled. “All of them have eaten here at some point or another.” 

Photo: Getty Images

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