10. Georgia Gilmore (1920-1990) was a civil rights leader in Montgomery, Alabama. She was a big woman (250lbs.), so naturally, Martin Luther King, Jr. nicknamed her “Tiny.” She, in turn, called everyone, including ministers, names like “Whore” or “Heifer,” and was known for her sassy, no-nonsense attitude.
At the time of the Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955-56), she was a well-known cook at a downtown lunch counter. She immediately organized a secret fundraising campaign, known as the “Club from Nowhere.” She and other women sold baked goods all over the city, raising on average the equivalent of $1400 a week in 2015 dollars.
In March 1956, the city sued King and 90 other members of the Montgomery Improvement Association. Georgia’s testimony about an incident on the bus was picked up by the national press, and she was fired from her job.
With encouragement and material help from Dr. King, Georgia turned her home into a restaurant and catering business, with a 10-seat table. Of course, under the restrictions of Jim Crow, she could have never gotten a license from the city, so it was something of an underground operation. It appeared that she was just having a lot of people over for dinner.
That home restaurant became a safe meeting place. King and Ralph Abernathy used it regularly. Later, King used it for meetings with President Johnson and Robert Kennedy. On one occasion, President Kennedy placed a take-out order of her chitlins and sweet potato pie to eat on Air Force One.
A state historical plaque marks the Gilmore home.
Dr. King was more than an organizer. He also made an impact on Georgia at a personal, pastoral level. Reflecting on her “fiery” temperament, she said, “I didn’t mind fighting you, I didn’t care who you was, white or black, but listening at him I began to realize some of the things that my mother had taught me in the past…. That you think twice before you do some things, because some things you do, you will regret it later. And so by me being able to control my temper, I made a lot of friends that I never thought that I would have, white and black.”
In March 1990, Georgia was making fried chicken and potato salad for those who would be marching on the 25th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery March when she became ill and died. At her funeral, the mourners ate that chicken and potato salad first, because, as her sister Betty said, “Nobody could fix it better.”
John T. Edge, of the Southern Foodways Alliance, has written an excellent biographical article on Georgia.