Gaston: "The walls of segregation began to fall because of what happened at Buddy's."
Second to fall: this former fuel station with the former Buddy's building at left.
The building that housed infamously non-segregating Buddy's restaurant is no more. Crews were on the scene Tuesday, November 29, tearing down the brick structure near the corner of Emmet Street and Ivy Road.
It was at this site, which later served as a natural history museum and finally as home to the Institute for Environmental Negotiation, that one of the landmark events in Charlottesville's civil rights history occurred. On May 30, 1963, a group of integration-minded protestors– inspired by the visit of Martin Luther King Jr. two months earlier– clashed with patrons of the segregated restaurant.
As detailed in a Hook cover story about King's visit to Charlottesville, it was now-retired UVA prof Paul Gaston who ended up being assaulted and– ironically– arrested for inciting the trouble.
Following through with site-clearing efforts by demolishing the former fuel station that closed last summer, UVA plans a pocket park at the site, according to Charlottesville Tomorrow.
"I'm sad," says Gaston, who learned of the demolition from a reporter and points out that the demolition comes less than two years before the 50th anniversary of that momentous act of civil disobedience.
"I'm always sad when the university doesn't take the leadership on something," says Gaston. "My first choice would for it to have been a civil rights museum."
He contends that Buddy's should have been preserved because the incident there served as a catalyst for desegregation in Charlottesville, a town whose businesses initially resisted the door-opening efforts of local NAACP head Floyd Johnson.
"Charlottesville was a closed society in May of 1963," explains Gaston. "As a consequence of the Buddy's sit-in, a lot of establishments– theaters, hotels, motels, and restaurants– telephoned Floyd Johnson and said, 'Don't sit in here; we are ceasing segregation.'"
Gaston, who recounts this turning point in his 2009 memoir, Coming of Age in Utopia: The Odyssey of an Idea, indicates that what happened in Charlottesville was repeated throughout the South that spring– to great effect.
"It was a consequence of the sit-ins all of the South," says Gaston, "that Kennedy submitted in June of 1963 what became the Civil Rights Act of 1964."
Hearing about the demolition of Buddy's reminds Gaston of something else he learned during the tumultuous period.
"Change was only going to come from direct action," says Gaston, "and not from rational discussion."
–story updated 5:52pm, November 29 to remove references to the brand of fuel sold at the site
–story updated 1:25pm, December 2 to add the entire second half consisting of the interview with Gaston