Historic papers, photos and documents from the District’s iconic eatery Ben’s Chili Bowl are now on display at the University’s Gelman Library.
Virginia Ali, co-founder of the restaurant and wife of the late Ben Ali, and her children joined historians, professors and a surprise celebrity guest at a ceremony honoring the establishment Wednesday.
In a symposium focusing on the D.C. renaissance, participants highlighted the importance of Ben’s Chili Bowl in the movement that opened doors for African-Americans in D.C.
“[Ben’s Chili Bowl] is one place that African-Americans can go for peace,” Maurice Jackson, a professor of history and African-American studies at Georgetown University, said.
Blair Ruble, author of “Washington’s U Street: A Biography,” said Ben’s Chili Bowl deserves to be celebrated for being a place where everyone felt comfortable and at home.
Ruble added that many icons in the African-American community got their start in D.C. and later contributed to the Harlem renaissance.
As the Ali children stepped up to say a few words, the audience received an unexpected phone call from comedian and actor Bill Cosby, a regular diner at Ben’s Chili Bowl.
Cosby expressed his devotion to the family and the establishment, adding that he was happy the documents were going to be displayed.
After the symposium, Virginia and the rest of the Ali family presented University President Steven Knapp with a gift – an original recipe book from the restaurant.
Nizam Ali, son of Ben and Virginia, said it was humbling to know his family’s history has been going places and is known to many people.
“We love to share and there is no way to really do that, [so this] makes us feel really great,” Ali said.
The collection will be housed in the University Library’s Africana Research Center.