Civil Rights Tour: Civic and Social Life - Billy Simpson and the Ebony Table

3813 Georgia Avenue NW

“Hardly anything of significance to Washington – and most particularly to black Washington – came to fruition without Billy Simpson’s significant – albeit non-public – role in it.”

So chronicled newspaper columnist William Raspberry upon the death of Billy Simpson (1914-1975), owner of Billy Simpson’s House of Seafood and Steaks. Indeed, between 1958 and his death, Billy Simpson and his restaurant played a central role in the social and political culture of the city, providing Washington’s African American community with an upscale venue not just for dining and socializing, but for strategizing on the political and civil rights events of the day. Simpson never ran for public office himself, but his influence was widespread.

As soon as it opened in 1956, the restaurant—with its Tudor half-timbering exterior—filled a void for African Americans who had few options for dining out. The restaurant became a popular meeting place for intellectuals, professionals, politicians, entertainers, and African diplomats who came to enjoy the elegant “white table-cloth service” on the restaurant’s first floor and its intimate Ebony Table bar on the second. In keeping with the medieval motif of the restaurant, Simpson established an informal “Round Table” where black Congressmen, journalists, and federal officials gathered.

Congressmen Charles C. Diggs and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., were personal friends of Simpson’s, and regulars at the restaurant. Among other causes, Simpson—a life-long advocate for home rule for the District—actively supported the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign (Jesse Jackson used the restaurant as his headquarters during the Campaign), and the anti-war movement.

Billy Simpson’s House of Seafood and Steaks was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2009.