December 28, 2002

IT DOESN’T GET MUCH MORE RED-AMERICA THAN THIS: Yesterday, my grandmother and I stopped for barbecue on the way (yes, it was a two-barbecue-stand week! Woohoo!). Here’s a view of the lobby at what is, in my opinion, the best barbecue place in the greater Birmingham area — though that is, naturally enough, a controversial opinion.

Interestingly, though, I’ve never heard anyone claim that Ollie’s Barbecue — integrated by order of the Supreme Court in the case of Katzenbach v. McClung — is the best in town, though. In fact, it wouldn’t make most people’s top ten. I’ve eaten there, and while it doesn’t suck (it’s hard to get bad barbecue in Alabama) it’s no great shakes. Obviously, whatever criteria were involved in choosing Ollie’s for that case had nothing to do with barbecue excellence.

UPDATE: Law-professor (and commerce clause expert) Brannon Denning emails:

FYI, Ollie’s closed down in 2000 or 2001. It had moved out to the ‘burbs from its downtown location, and couldn’t make a go of it. Ollie Sr. died some time ago, and Ollie Jr. had been running it since then. Folks from B’ham told me that while Ollie’s never was as good as when Sr. was running it, it was still the place to get one’s pies for Alabama tailgate parties. You just got the BBQ from elsewhere.

I don’t know if you saw this, but here is a review of a book on the Katzenbach v. McClung and Heart of Atlanta Motel cases that I did for the Law Library Journal.

The book, by Richard Cortner, a political scientist, is quite good, particularly in its description of the personalities involved. I came away with a different picture of Ollie McClung than when I’d started. He was not, as I think many assumed, a sort of Alabama version of Lester Maddox. Though he’d have preferred not to serve blacks in his dining room, he didn’t chase them out with a revolver as Maddox did at the Pickrick.

Maddox, happily, was not typical. The review provides some interesting background on how Ollie’s wound up in the Supreme Court, and why things went as they did. I have always felt, though, that Gerry Gunther (and, with him, Justice Harlan) was right about the preferability of grounding the Civil Rights Act in the 14th Amendment rather than the commerce clause.