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Leonce Picot Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

fka Michele Picot

If you know someone very long and very well, you know when they have become someone much different than the original.

When Leonce first talked about having his own restaurant, he was still loaded with his old values. Employees are company family, they get profit sharing, they get bonuses, they get health insurance, parties at Christmas at least, sometimes two a year. He was going to make a more employee-favored company than the Mai-Kai and show up Uncle Bob.

Prior to the restaurants, when Kay and Mama Nell could still tell anecdotes, Leonce would forbid a certain subject to be brought up in his presence, because he used to be humble, against gambling, and against social injustice and un-patriotic tricks.

So Kay and Mama Nell told the story when he wasn't around, which was frequently, of Leonce's efforts to get War Memorial Auditorium de-segregated so that the Black people of Broward could listen to the great Black jazz artists he brought to town for concerts. He could hardly believe as a concert promoter he was picking up Duke Ellington at Miami airport. How many people got to do that? Pretty big excitement for a not yet developed beach town.

War Memorial Auditorium did not allow Black or mixed audiences. I will have to dig this out of the archives now because the history of the Auditorium is conspicuosly absent online.

I was told this story by my mother and grandmother because they wanted to bring attention to Leonce's values and character.

In plain words, he didn't think it was fair that Black people could not attend a concert of Black jazz artists at War Memorial Auditorium. So he got the rules changed.

Jump ahead to the nouvelle Leonce whose wife hid his Mahalia Jackson records, or destroyed them Yes they did make it back onto the play list at the Down Under, the music of La Casa Vecchia and La Vieille Maison was different. In fact, the staffing was different.

The excuse for all-white staffing is as lame as it can be read in the newspaper and sounds like nothing coming out of the mouth of the Leonce Picot who raised me.

When this article was released I knew, of all things my father had become a confirmed snob. He pretty much is saying there are no Black people in Italy or France so they don't belong serving in his haute cuisine dining rooms. There may not have been a large population of Black persons in Boca Raton, but just a few miles up the interstate West Palm Beach has a large source of diverse employees. By this point, it was Haitians washing dishes, but no elegant service by any of Carolyn's "Negroes."

In the original Picot household we were taught many words not to use in general. This was during segregation, though there were many words or other phrases which were forbidden as ignorant or rude.

"Negro" was an emergency word only. The teaching was that all men are equal and any other viewpoint was old-fashioned and fundamentally erroneous and un-American.

I never heard my father talk about Negroes or people according to skin color. Harry Belafonte was not a Negro. Our ironing lady, Ola Mae was not a Negro, but Leonce always drove her home because her neighborhood was not safe after dark. We really had no cause to make distinctions and suddenly there was the struggle of de-segregation, Afros, Earth Wind and Fire, and Black is Beautiful. I am still confused.

And I cannot understand this sudden unfounded snobbery. Leonce had dined, me at his side, in many fancy places, where a perfectly manicured dark-skinned hand cuffed in white linen, topped with a formal jacket served or even fileted whole fish tableside. To many, serving in a fine restaurant is an art and a talent, and very respectable.

Example: One French boy who was in my class at school started as a busboy when the Down Under opened. He was so profoundly serious about his work. Later in time he was a waiter and he came to my cashier window one evening to tell me how lucky he was to have the job his mother in France had always wanted for him.

I said, "What? Your mother wanted you to be a waiter? (garcon)."

His eyes glittered. "Michele, in France being a waiter in a fine establishment is a noble profession. My mother dreamed that one day I would become one."

Decide for yourselves what changed Leonce's mind and understanding of The Declaration of Independence .


Leonce Picot Employer

"American blacks simply would not fit..."

He should have advertised for some French blacks, from France, where elegant service is a noble profession.



Michele Picot-Strawberry 2022


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