Port Richmond native Carol Mickey — 76-year-old owner of Sam’s Morning Glory Diner in South Philly — has talked the talk and walked the walk of cool insurrection and peaceful protest, ever since the 1960s of civil rights movements, anti-war sentiments and pleas for female empowerment. Only now, her dissent, and that of the artists around her, comes through on anti-Trump administration banners along the walls of the Morning Glory as well as drawings, paintings and menu blackboards inside her diner that buck up against the incumbent system.
Such protest is expressed through cartoony, wall-sized banners painted by street artists Yomi and Denied. In April, a banner in opposition of United States Attorney General United States’ Jeff Sessions’ anti-immigrant stance was hung. Now, it’s against Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ support for public school privatization. Blackboards have advertised Donald-dissing menu items (a “Trump the Oligarch Frittata”) or angry calls for action (“No more thoughts and prayers. We need assault ban.”). Local politicos aren’t spared, with some art urging Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey to buck up against the NRA.
“The artists decide what they want to talk about. I tell them ‘no obscenities,’ and we go from there,” said Mickey, who took control of the beloved neighborhood diner in 2012 after her daughter Sam died of brain cancer. By crediting others, Mickey is not seeking distance from any political statement or anti-right wing sentiment. Far from it; check out her car parked in front of the Morning Glory with the pro-life, pro-left bumper stickers. “I don’t see this as anti-right wing. I see it as anti-evil,” she said staunchly. “These are policies being perpetrated against the earth, against our institutions, against the good of the people. This goes beyond the political. This is about good vs. evil. We are fighting the idea of hurting people. That’s why I started opening my mouth and allowing the art work to go up.”
Mickey saw red around the time of the anti-Trump Woman’s March of January 2017. After returning home from the Washington D.C. protest, she put the banners in the Morning Glory’s window. She also began chalking up her menu blackboard with incendiary thoughts. Still, it was one of her chefs that first pushed the envelope.
“The day that gay marriage went through the Supreme Court, save for Chief Justice Scalia’s scurrilous dissent, he put a ‘Scalia Is a Douche’ crepe on the menu,” she recalled with a laugh of the momentous 2015 occasion. “I knew we had caused trouble. Everybody was taking photos of the menu with their phones, and by 4 p.m., we got calls, pro and con, from as far out as California.”
For the record, Mickey is not against everything: Morning Glory’s pre-election signage for DA Larry Krasner was overwhelmingly supportive. “I still tell Larry we’re proud of him whenever he comes in with his wife,” said Mickey regarding their regular customers.
Reaction on the whole to the Morning Glory’s politicized signage is, what Mickey called, mostly positive, both in terms of cultural sentiment and the right to such outward opining – a no-no for most businesses looking to stay neutral so to save their skins. “The most negative comments happen when I put abortion rights stuff,” she said. “That always brings out the religious right folk.”
Michael McCue lives near the Morning Glory (located at 735 S. 10th St.), works in the pharmaceutical biz, and is a registered Libertarian, sick of the status quo. “That’s Democrats and Republicans,” he said. “A restaurant privately owned has a right to display political opinions. And I as a diner can stay as far away as possible from them.”
Rose Drew and Tom Leonard — married illustrators, educators and Democrats from the same neighborhood — also believe than an independently owned restaurant has protest privileges. “When human rights are under direct threat from our own government, I fully understand why the Morning Glory has gotten involved, and wish that more restaurants in Philadelphia would,” stated Drew.
“I appreciate seeing the rebel spirit of the ’60’s brought back in corporate, homogenized, America,” said Leonard. “It’s appropriate in these times.” Both are inclined to eat there. Leonard said, “Given the sentiments expressed, it feels more homey.” As for Drew, “I would not choose a restaurant that supports this current administration and its absurdity.”
Mickey, 76, wished more people felt that way about protest, as it was her generation and the one immediately following that shouted down the Vietnam War. “I always say that the people who are my age and sitting at home on their couches and retired should know better. They’ve been there. They know how to do this. Their voices are important and they should get up get out and protest.”