Special Collections Director Meredith Evans-Raiford says Ben's Chili Bowl has been more than a witness to D.C. history. It's part of it.
"Most businesses move. Most businesses franchise, extend themselves. And Ben's has stayed right there and always supported the community," she says.
During the 1968 riots, owner Ben Ali sat in the front booth with a shot gun, but he didn't need it, explains his son, Nizam Ali.
"I think the word went out on the street, don't mess with the Chili Bowl. The Chili Bowl's ours. And that felt incredible to be loved that much by the community," the younger Ali says.
So how do you make history? Ali says the secret's in the sauce.
"Ah! Never will I reveal to you what's in the chili," he says.
But you might find some clues in the collection, at George Washington University's Africana Research Center.