The Wonderful World Tomorrow—What It WON’T Be Like!”: Part 8
Civil Rights, Civil Wrongs
This post is the eighth in a series. Each entry in the series
will be building on information and commentary in the earlier entries.
So it would be best to start reading with the Introduction to the series.
Please note: Any bolding in quotations in this entry
has been added to call particular attention to some wording.
ALL CAPS or italics within quotations were present in the original quotations.
African-American celebrities were doing quite well for themselves in the year 1963. Take Sidney Poitier for instance…
Poitier, born in Miami in February 20, 1927 to Bahamian parents who were just visiting Florida, became a US citizen by birth. He spent his childhood and youth in the Bahamas, moved to Miami to live with an older brother at 15.
At the age of 17, he moved to New York City and held a string of jobs as a dishwasher. A Jewish waiter sat with him every night for several weeks helping him learn to read the newspaper. He then decided to join the United States Army after which he worked as a dishwasher until a successful audition landed him a spot with the American Negro Theatre. Poitier joined the American Negro Theater, but was rejected by audiences. Contrary to what was expected of African American actors at the time, Poitier’s tone deafness made him unable to sing.
Determined to refine his acting skills and rid himself of his noticeable Bahamian accent, he spent the next six months dedicating himself to achieving theatrical success. On his second attempt at the theater, he was noticed and given a leading role in the Broadway production Lysistrata, for which he received good reviews. By the end of 1949, he had to choose between leading roles on stage and an offer to work for Darryl F. Zanuck in the film No Way Out (1950). His performance in No Way Out, as a doctor treating a Caucasian bigot (played by Richard Widmark), was noticed and led to more roles, each considerably more interesting and more prominent than those most African American actors of the time were offered. Poitier’s breakout role was as a member of an incorrigible high school class in Blackboard Jungle (1955) [Wiki: Poitier]
Here he is in a Jungle publicity shot from Jet magazine in March, 1955.
Below you can see more scenes with Poitier from the iconic movie.
The film featured Bill Haley and the Comets’ hit song “Rock Around the Clock.” (The song was a “B” side recording that had been released the previous year and only had limited sales. But its prominent role in the movie—behind the opening credits, used twice during the film, and again backing up the closing of the film—brought it back to public attention and shot it up to number one on the Billboard charts.)
It seemed to be almost all smooth sailing for Poitier’s career from then on. For an extended period he was the only actor of African descent offered major roles in US movies. He was a big box office draw, in such classic movies as The Defiant Ones and Raisin in the Sun.
And by 1963 he hit the pinnacle…he starred in the film, Lilies of the Field, that would make him the first black actor to receive the Academy Award for Best Male Actor. In it his character helps a poor convent of nuns build a new chapel out in the desert.
Homer Smith (Sidney Poitier) is an itinerant handyman/jack-of-all-trades who stops at a farm in the Arizona desert to obtain some water for his car. There he sees several women working on a fence, very ineptly. The women, who speak very little English, introduce themselves as German, Austrian and Hungarian nuns. The mother superior, the leader of the nuns, persuades him to do a small roofing repair. He stays overnight, assuming that he will be paid in the morning. Next day, Smith tries to persuade the mother superior to pay him by quoting Luke 10:7, “The laborer is worthy of his hire.” Mother Maria Marthe (Lilia Skala, called “Mother Maria”), responds by asking him to read another Bible verse from the Sermon on the Mount: “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin. And yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”
Mother Maria likes things done her way. The nuns have essentially no money and subsist by living off the land, on what vegetables the arid climate provides, and some milk and eggs. Even after being stonewalled when asking for payment, and after being persuaded to stay for a meal, and against his better judgment, Smith agrees to stay another day to help them with other small jobs, always with the faint hope that Mother Maria will pay him for his work.
As Smith’s skills and strengths become apparent to the nuns, they come to believe that he has been sent by God to fulfill their dream of building a chapel for the townsfolk—who are Mexican and impoverished—as the nearest church is miles away. [Wiki]
In the end, of course, they get their chapel and he gets their love and appreciation.
Below is perhaps the most famous scene from that movie. It may remind you of the theme of Sister Act, with Whoopie Goldberg livening up the convent! This shows the nuns at the end of the movie, when his character is leaving the convent for good, singing with Sidney a rockin’ chorus of the classic Gospel song “Amen.” Yes, Sidney is lip-synching to another black male singer’s voice–as I said earlier, he was actually tone deaf. The song’s part in the film led to it immediately being re-recorded by R&B star Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions, and released as a hit single, hitting the #7 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1964–a real surprise for a song about the life of Jesus!
And here his is, in April 1964, just after receiving his Oscar for this performance.
Yes, 1963 was a great year for Sidney Poitier. And for one of his good friends, Harry Belafonte.
Harry was born just eight days after Sidney, March 1, 1927, but in Harlem, to a Jamaican mother and a father from Martinique.
From 1932 to 1940, he lived with his grandmother in her native country of Jamaica. When he returned to New York City, he attended George Washington High School after which he joined the Navy and served during World War II. In the 1940s, he was working as a janitor’s assistant in NYC when a tenant gave him, as a gratuity, two tickets to see the American Negro Theater. He fell in love with the art form and also met Sidney Poitier. The financially struggling pair regularly purchased a single seat to local plays, trading places in between acts, after informing the other about the progression of the play. At the end of the 1940s, he took classes in acting at the Dramatic Workshop of The New School in New York with the influential German director Erwin Piscator alongside Marlon Brando, Tony Curtis, Walter Matthau, Bea Arthur [“Maude”] and Sidney Poitier, while performing with the American Negro Theatre. [Wiki: Belafonte]
Unlike Sidney, who couldn’t sing, Harry had a great singing voice, and decided to go in that direction for a career instead of acting. Well, not totally. Harry Belafonte did appear in a number of films, including starring with Sidney Poitier in the 1972 hit Buck and the Preacher.
Buck and the Preacher is a 1972 American Western film starring Sidney Poitier as Buck and Harry Belafonte as the Preacher. Buck is a trail guide leading groups of former slaves trying to homestead in the West, immediately after the American Civil War. The Preacher is a swindling minister of the “High and Low Order of the Holiness Persuasion Church”. Together, they protect a wagon train from bounty hunters.
This is the first film Sidney Poitier directed. Vincent Canby of The New York Times said Poitier “showed a talent for easy, unguarded, rambunctious humor missing from his more stately movies”. [Wiki]
But Belafonte became primarily known for his prolific music career.
At first he was a pop singer, launching his recording career on the Roost label in 1949, but later he developed a keen interest in folk music, learning material through the Library of Congress’ American folk songs archives. … In 1952 he received a contract with RCA Victor.
His first widely-released single, which went on to become his “signature” song with audience participation in virtually all his live performances, was “Matilda”, recorded April 27, 1953. His breakthrough album Calypso (1956) became the first LP in the U.S. to sell over 1 million copies within a year… The album introduced American audiences to calypso music (which had originated in Trinidad and Tobago in the early 20th century), and Belafonte was dubbed the “King of Calypso”, a title he wore with reservations, since he had no claims to any Calypso Monarch titles.
… While primarily known for calypso, Belafonte has recorded in many different genres, including blues, folk, gospel, show tunes, and American standards. …
In 1959, he starred in Tonight With Belafonte, a nationally televised special … Belafonte was the first African American to win an Emmy, for Revlon Revue: Tonight with Belafonte (1959). Belafonte continued to record for RCA Victor through the 1950s to the 1970s. Two live albums, both recorded at Carnegie Hall in 1959 and 1960, enjoyed critical and commercial success. [Wiki: Belafonte]
You can hear the whole collection of songs from the two albums on youtube at this link:
As a sample, here’s the song almost everyone over the age of 40 will remember by Belafonte, “Day O—the Banana Boat Song.”
[Belafonte] was one of many entertainers recruited by Frank Sinatra to perform at the inaugural gala of President John F. Kennedy in 1961. That same year he released his second calypso album, Jump Up Calypso, which went on to become another million seller. During the 1960s he introduced several artists to American audiences… His album Midnight Special (1962) featured the first-ever record appearance by a young harmonica player named Bob Dylan. [ibid]
With the British Invasion in 1964, Harry’s style became less of a commercial success, although he continued to record for many years after that, and stayed a permanent American music icon. As of September 2015, he’s still alive and active at age 88. Here’s a pic of him at 84 in 2011!
But in 1963 Harry Belafonte was at the top of his game. His “Streets I Have Walked” album reached #30 on the Billboard Albums 200 chart for the year.
It included songs from all over the world, everything from Waltzing Matilda from Australia to Erev Shel Shoshanim from Israel, Mangwene Mpulele from Africa, and This Land Is Your Land from the US.
1963 was also a great year for a different kind of black entertainer…baseball great Jackie Robinson!
In 1963 Robinson was still basking in the glow of his first year of having his own plaque in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, Maryland.
Born into a family of sharecroppers in Georgia in 1919, Robinson had started his baseball career in the “Negro League” back in 1945. But by 1947 he had become the very first Negro to “break the color barrier” of formerly all-white Major League baseball, playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers. And he went on to prove his value to the team.
Robinson had an exceptional 10-year baseball career. He was the recipient of the inaugural MLB Rookie of the Year Award in 1947, was an All-Star for six consecutive seasons from 1949 through 1954, and won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1949—the first black player so honored. Robinson played in six World Series and contributed to the Dodgers’ 1955 World Series championship. In 1997, MLB “universally” retired his uniform number, 42, across all major league teams; he was the first pro athlete in any sport to be so honored. MLB also initiated and adopted for the first time on April 15, 2004, a new annual tradition, “Jackie Robinson Day”, on which every player on every team wears No. 42 on April 15. [Wiki: Robinson]
Robinson had a very successful career with the Dodgers, retiring in 1957 at the age of 37 as a result of deteriorating health caused by undiagnosed diabetes. He kept busy after that with a variety of broadcasting, business, and political projects. But of course his major claim to fame was his baseball career. It was no surprise to his many fans, both black and white, when he was honored on July 23, 1962 with induction into the Hall of Fame.
And there were other black entertainers also in their prime during this era. Sammy Davis Jr. had been an integral part of (and the only African-American in) Frank Sinatra’s famous “Rat Pack” crowd (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop) for several years by 1963. They hung out together in Las Vegas, throwing parties and showing up at each other’s performances, and appearing in movies together, such as the 1960 Ocean’s 11 film.
Nat King Cole, one of the most popular African-American performers of all time, had been churning out hit records in pop and jazz throughout the 1940s and 50s.
Although the popularity of his style, just like Harry Belafonte’s, waned with the coming of the Beatles era starting in 1964, Cole was still in his prime in 1963, hitting #6 on the Top Ten charts with his song that has become a classic feel-good summertime song for oldies stations, Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer.
Here is Nat King Cole right in 1963, singing his hit song on a BBC special.
And of course there were some very popular female African-American entertainers at the time too. Lena Horne was one of the biggest.
After spending much of the 1940s and early 50s in Hollywood movies, Horne had decided to focus instead on her nightclub singing career.
After leaving Hollywood, Horne established herself as one of the premier nightclub performers of the post-war era. She headlined at clubs and hotels throughout the U.S., Canada, and Europe, including the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, the Cocoanut Grove in Los Angeles, and the Waldorf-Astoria in New York. In 1957, a live album entitled, Lena Horne at the Waldorf-Astoria, became the biggest selling record by a female artist in the history of the RCA Victor label. In 1958, Horne became the first African-American woman to be nominated for a Tony Award for “Best Actress in a Musical” (for her part in the “Calypso” musical Jamaica) which, at Lena’s request featured her longtime friend Adelaide Hall.
From the late 1950s through the 1960s, Horne was a staple of TV variety shows, appearing multiple times on Perry Como’s Kraft Music Hall, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Dean Martin Show, and The Bell Telephone Hour. Other programs she appeared on included The Judy Garland Show, The Hollywood Palace, and The Andy Williams Show. [Wiki: Horne]
Yes, if you judged by the public appearances and publicity photos of these and other famous African-American entertainers, you’d assume their daily lives in 1963 were no different from those of White American entertainers, and that they were “Living the American Dream.”
Of course, 1963 was also a peak year for the racial unrest in America related to the Civil Rights movement. The news of the year as seen on TV and in the papers and news magazines had depicted peaceful marchers in Birmingham accosted with police dogs and powerful fire hoses…
…Alabama Governor George Wallace “standing at the schoolhouse door” attempting to stop integration of the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and the elementary schools of Huntsville…
..and lots more unpleasantness.
But wasn’t the success of so many African-American entertainers proof that American Negroes were overreacting to racial conditions in America? That’s no doubt what radio evangelist Herbert W Armstrong thought at the time. As mentioned in a previous installment of this blog, Armstrong had insisted in an editorial in the October 1963 issue of his Plain Truth magazine that addressed the current “Racial Crisis” of the time…
Of course there is another side of the picture. The Negroes in the United States are the recipients also of fabulous BLESSINGS which their brothers in Africa could, and should, but do not enjoy. But the crusaders put emphasis ONLY on the dark side. They never remind American Negroes that, as a whole, they have more and larger refrigerators, electric washing machines, radio and television sets, automobiles and even homes, than the average WHITE person is able to afford in England, France, Spain or ltaly.
Yes, all those Negroes ought to be counting their blessings, instead of listening to agitators and “crusaders” who, as covered in other Plain Truth articles of that era, were all likely inspired by Communists anyway! Wasn’t the American Dream all about having bigger and better home appliances?
No doubt Herbert Armstrong had in mind something like this aqua 1963 Frigidaire kitchen that would have been featured in many ads in magazines that year.
Funny thing, though…as a student of pop culture history as well as regular history, I’ve looked through a lot of ads for home furnishings from the 1950s and 1960s, especially appliance ads. I can’t really recall ever seeing a single Negro family portrayed owning any nice kitchens like this one! Not that I doubt many Negro families in 1963 had decent living conditions, with all the luxuries of middle class living. I’m sure some did. But I also don’t doubt that a large percentage didn’t.
As also mentioned in earlier entries in this series, Armstrong and his associates writing for the Plain Truth magazine never really addressed just what conditions the Negroes of America were protesting. “Jim Crow laws” were never the topic of an article. Voting rights weren’t either.
In article after article, they distilled the whole question of Civil Rights down to the matter of school integration. Why? Because the chief concern of Armstrong’s teachings on the matter were that “social” integration, particularly in schools, would inevitably lead to racial intermarriage. And according to Armstrong’s theology, God Himself had instituted racial segregation, and condemned interracial marriage as one of the cardinal sins. This becomes abundantly clear in the ranting excerpt below from an article in that same October 1963 Plain Truth magazine by Armstrong protégé Roderick Meredith. (The CAPS are in the original. Armstrong and his protégés typically used ALL CAPS for emphasis throughout their writings.)
In the United States, also, where we are living in a multi-racial society, there is increasing tension and VIOLENCE because of hostility between the races. The idealists and “do-gooders” have been telling the Negroes that they can and should COMPETE with the whites in every type of industry, business, social and political activity.
Yes, Meredith here is calling anyone who would favor “equal rights” for all Americans as a “do-gooder.”
These so-called “modern, progressive thinkers” have not only stripped the modern husband of his GOD-GIVEN authority as HEAD of the family and are preaching a perverted type of “togetherness”; they have not only WRECKED the minds and characters of millions of American teenagers by their teachings on child psychology and “progressive education”; but now they have proposed to CHANGE THE VERY CREATION OF GOD! Being heavily influenced by the leaders of underground COMMUNISM, these would-be “do-gooders” are not only wrecking the stability of our nation’s families, undermining the spiritual and mental strength of our youth, but now they are promoting a race program which God says will soon lead to RACE WAR in this nation.
Very few are willing to openly admit it, and even fewer are willing to set the EXAMPLE, but the obvious goal of the white “do-gooders” and Negro leaders is INTERMARRlAGE between the two races. The idea is to first get white and Negro youngsters together in the public school systems and “integrate” them not only in their educational lives, but in sports, in jobs, in social life and in DATING. This, of course, would lead to intermarriage. There’s no question about that. Then, the reasoning goes, “there WOULDN’T BE any race problem left!”
As with almost every article on this…and many other…topics in the Plain Truth magazine, Meredith never gets around to quoting any such leaders, never cites where you might go to find them writing about this plan and goal. He just presents it to the reader as an established fact.
Naturally, integrationist leaders don’t like to look this particular issue square in the face and admit it. But they KNOW that is the ultimate outcome if these HUMAN philosophies and ideas are put into effect. Actually, most intelligent leaders of both races do not want their OWN children or grandchildren to intermarry—they just realize deep down inside that it will somehow “happen” somewhere along the line if their theories of integration work out. Meanwhile, they pretend that the goal of intermarriage doesn’t exist and heap RIDICULE on those who make them face squarely the END RESULT of their human theories and philosophies.
But WHO is kidding WHOM? Intermarriage between the races is the inevitable and ultimate RESULT now being pushed and FORCED on their followers by the integrationist leaders of both races. But will this theory really WORK? Is this the WAY that would truly bring happiness to the peoples of both the Negro and the white races? And what does the true GOD—the God who is NOW BEGINNING TO INTERVENE IN HUMAN AFFAIRs—what does HE have to say about it?
Not only was the nefarious plan for integration being plotted and implemented by the Communists, the theory behind a push for Civil Rights for all could be traced directly to…godless Evolutionists!
It is important to realize that the 1954 Supreme Court decision on desegregation was heavily influenced by the findings and recommendations of scientists and sociologists who believe in the theory of EVOLUTION. They have assumed that the white man has “evolved” further than the Negro, and that by intermarriage this gap may quickly be made up. These so-called scientists have propounded—to the INSULT of the Negro and the BLASPHEMY of God’s Word—that the Negro in Africa is similar to our “subhuman” ancestors. Their theory is that each race has “evolved” to become what it is, and that now the intermingling of the various racial groups would wipe out these differences and bring about human happiness and “oneworldism” by creating ONE RACE.
Once again, there are absolutely no quotations and no sources cited for this claim that the Evolutionists of the time held to this theory. Nor is there any proof offered that such a theory was what led the justices of the Supreme Court to the Brown V Board of Education ruling. The reader was just assured that it was “important to realize” these unsubstantiated “facts.”
And finally Meredith insists that the average Negro has totally ungodly motivations for being part of the Civil Rights movement.
…Thirdly, this current program is WRONG because it is based on rebellion, greed and LAWLESSNESS.
This in spite of the incredible restraint that was continually being shown at the time by most Negroes of all ages and sexes, from grade schoolers to grannies, at any public protests. The African American leadership had literally set up schools to teach non-violence! Protest participants were taught to accept beatings and being spat on and so on…without physical retaliation, and as much as possible without even any emotional reactions. It is true that at some protests they would resist being taken to paddy wagons…but not with force. They would merely “go limp” and allow themselves to be carried away. It might have been inconvenient for the police, who were defying the constitution’s promise of a right to free assembly and right to request for redress of grievances. But it surely wasn’t the kind of rebellion that the Revolutionary War or the Civil War had represented!
And to call the desire for jobs with a living wage, and better schools to give a better future for their children…and even just the plain old right to be able to find a bathroom to pee in when needed!…to call all that “greed” was the height of arrogance. (Having personally seen Armstrong and Meredith both preach many times back in the 1960s and 70s, and having been subject myself to their style of leadership for a decade when I was a member of their organization, I can affirm that they were both, indeed, very arrogant men.)
But let’s let Meredith finish his rant.
As consistently reported by all news media and experienced by thousands of you readers personal1y, the emphasis in the current Negro civil rights program is to “get” and “take” what they want whether or not they are violating federal, state, county or municipal ordinances! American Negro leaders—including supposed ministers of Jesus Christ—are now threatening a campaign of CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE across the nation if President Kennedy’s current civil rights program is not passed quickly by Congress.
Not once in their writings from the Civil Rights Era have I found Armstrong and Associates decrying the “civil disobedience” of the likes of George Wallace, Bull Connor, Orval Faubus, and other Southern segregationists as they utterly defied federal law. Nor was there ever any mention of how evil, disgusting, and ungodly so many of the “state, county, and municipal” laws of the era were. And of course, the words “Jim Crow” never showed up in Armstrong’s literature.
It is weird to note that Armstrong’s ministry did have a significant number of Negro followers and supporters at the time. Why on earth did they accept this type of “spiritual intimidation” and bow to the pressure to “be patient” and “let God take care of” the injustice in American life? Did they really expect that some sort of spiritual revival would come in which the White segregationists would suddenly have their minds and hearts opened, and choose voluntarily to abolish Jim Crow?
No…instead they had bought into the teaching of Armstrong that, as of 1963, they only had to “hold out” for twelve more years—and Jesus Christ Himself would be returning to earth in glory. By or before 1975, He would set up the earthly Millennial Kingdom, and right all wrongs, and everyone would live happily ever after.
Uh…but still no integration. Herbert wanted to make sure his Negro supporters understood that. Yep. The Millennium would just make it possible for them to Go Home. To Africa. (Even if their families had been in America for a century or two, even if they only had a tiny bit of “Negro heritage” in their DNA. A tiny bit was enough to make them Negro. And bound for the Homeland.) Armstrong explained all this in that same 1963 issue in his article “Real Cause of the Race Crisis.”
And, if you want to know how CHRIST is GOING to solve this problem now flaming toward a violent crisis in America, I can tell you! Just as He DELIVERED the White Israelites from Egypt, and rook them to the land HE had appointed to be theirs, so He will DELIVER the Negroes from American Whites, and take them in an Exodus to THEIR OWN LAND where HE foreordained they should live. AND THERE THEY WILL BE PROSPEROUS AND HAPPY! ALWAYS!
GOD ALONE knows the WAY TO PEACE!
While they were waiting, they needed to be glad for those big ol’ home appliances that they supposedly all had.
And of course, the celebrity Negroes should be glad about the great American Dream that had already been available to them throughout their careers.
Well, some of the Dream, available some of the time anyway. You’d think since many Negro entertainers, such as Nat King Cole, had wildly popular acts in Las Vegas in the mid-50s to the mid-60s, it would at least be the American Dreamiest place for them to be.
The town’s black residents occupied a 3.5-square-mile area called the Westside, where dirt streets ran past tents, shanties and outhouses. Jim Crow laws enforced their second-class status. Negroes, as they were printably called, could work at Strip and Glitter Gulch hotels and casinos only as cooks, maids, janitors and porters—”back of the house” jobs that kept their profiles and wages low. Black entertainers were better paid but no more welcome in the front of the house.
When Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald headlined on the Strip, they slipped in through stage doors or kitchen doors and left the same way after taking their bows.
They weren’t allowed to eat in the Casino restaurants, gamble at the Casino slots or tables, or even use the restrooms. And of course, they couldn’t sleep in a Whites Only bed.
Unable to rent rooms at whites-only hotels, they retreated to boarding houses [most of them ramshackle dumps] on the Westside. Famous or not, they couldn’t try on clothes at white-owned stores. “If you tried something on, they made you buy it,” one Westsider recalls.
Cole learned his lesson the night a Strip doorman turned him away. “But that’s Nat King Cole,” his white companion said.
“I don’t care if he’s Jesus Christ,” said the doorman. “He’s a n—–, and he stays out.” [Smithsonian: History]
Not that this was particularly surprising to Cole, no doubt.
On November 5, 1956, The Nat King Cole Show debuted on NBC. The variety program was the first of its kind hosted by an African-American, which created controversy at the time. Beginning as a 15-minute pops show on Monday night, the program was expanded to a half hour in July 1957. Despite the efforts of NBC, as well as many of Cole’s industry colleagues—many of whom, such as Ella Fitzgerald, Harry Belafonte, Frankie Laine, Mel Tormé, Peggy Lee, Eartha Kitt, and backing vocal group The Cheerleaders worked for industry scale (or even for no pay) in order to help the show save money—The Nat King Cole Show was ultimately done in by lack of a national sponsorship. Companies such as Rheingold Beer assumed regional sponsorship of the show, but a national sponsor never appeared.
The last episode of The Nat King Cole Show aired December 17, 1957. Cole had survived for over a year, and it was he, not NBC, who ultimately decided to pull the plug on the show.
Commenting on the lack of sponsorship his show received, Cole quipped shortly after its demise, “Madison Avenue is afraid of the dark.” [Smithsonian: History]
It is instructive to look again at the album cover for Cole’s big hit of 1963, that oozed enthusiasm for the “Lazy-hazy-crazy Days of Summer.”
Notice anything a little odd for the cover of an album by a black entertainer?
Yep. All the folks on the front are white. They are depicting one of the lines of the song…
Just fill your basket full of sandwiches and weenies
Then lock the house up, now you’re set.
And on the beach you’ll see the girls in their bikinis
As cute as ever but they never get ‘em wet
There is a young lady in a bikini in the pic. And actually, she might very well get it wet…in spite of the cutesy lyrics, lots of girls went swimming in their bikinis.
But if they included any bikini-clad African-American girls among the young people on that cover, and it was depicting any of the beaches across much of America, especially in the South, their bikinis wouldn’t get wet. Because they wouldn’t be allowed to go into the water by law. Most beaches across the land at the time were segregated. Such as the ones at St. Augustine, Florida.
Here are pics from 1964 showing what happened when some black folks allowed themselves to be affected by the Communist propaganda that they ought to be able to…compete for spaces on beaches with whites. As soon as they touched their toes in the water at this “Wade-In” they were surrounded by hostile whites threatening them.
As soon as the police showed up, the civilians didn’t need to threaten any more—the police waded on in swinging their billy clubs and cleared the interlopers out of the water.
But not before some of the “ladies” got a few licks in. That isn’t a Negro woman on the ground that they are attacking in the pic below. It’s a white woman who dared to join a mixed group of Negroes and whites who waded into the water. Traitors to the Race were not allowed.
The Lazy-hazy-crazy days didn’t go any better if you just skipped the beach and went for a vacation with the family to a motel with a swimming pool if you were the wrong color in St Augustine…and much of the rest of the nation.
That same summer of 1964 those who tried got…muriatic acid sloshed toward them by the motel owner, as he sped around the perimeter of the pool shouting, “I’m cleaning the pool!”
In other words, as a Negro you may have been allowed to own big appliances, but you were not allowed to retain your human dignity. Even if you were a member of the famous Rat Pack, like Sammy Davis, Jr.
One day when Sammy was performing in Las Vegas, he and the Pack decided to play poker in the Sands swimming pool.
Davis slipped his thongs [sandals] under a beach chair and dove in. A tense silence reigned over the usually boisterous swim area. An irate guest stormed off to speak to the management. Within minutes after th singer emerged from the water, a crew rushed in to drain, clean, and refill the entire pool. Black Las Vegans relate this story with humor, but it reflects the depthe of white “Negrophobia” in this Southwestern desert town. [Source]
By the early 1960s, Lena Horne was such an iconic black Las Vegas performer, with friends in high places, that she could get away with demanding a room for the night at the hotels where she performed. (Although she still didn’t have the run of the place…). But at least one such hotel was reported to have dealt with her demands and yet still be able to reassure bigoted white tourists who rented the same room after her that they wouldn’t be contaminated by her Negro-ness. After Lena would check out, the chamber maid would be ordered to burn the sheets and bath towels.
Or how about if you were Harry Belafonte? During the year 1955, Harry made $350,000, had appeared in a Broadway hit and sang at numerous elegant clubs across the country, and had appeared on TV. But still…
There were many times when he was denied entrance to a club where he was playing by an uninformed waiter or other employee, because they waiter saw he was black.
…he’d been refused admittance to clubs, restaurants and hotels. …Now, because he was a success, he was asked to perform in some of those same places that had ostracized him before. …Harry would be applauded while he was on stage, but he would be just a black man once he stepped off the stage, unable to use the hotel’s facilities or stay in one of its suites. [Source]
And this was greatly exacerbated when he went on a 1955 tour with a group through some of the “ultra-segregated” areas of the South, a grueling schedule of 94 one-night stands. He had hoped that his standing as a national celebrity might bring more acceptance of other black performers.
The tour started in 1955, while the South was steaming over the Supreme Court decision to desegregate the schools. …There were threats and events that were humiliating and unpleasant…Harry had to use Negro bathrooms and Negro water fountains and sleep in hotels for blacks only. He even had to sit in segregated sections of the airport.
…There is another happening recalled about Harry waiting in a Houston airport all night. It seems that Belafonte was usually housed with black leaders while traveling in the South. This time, because the group changed plans at the last minute and was scheduled to fly out of Houston in the morning, Belafonte was unable to find accommodations. He ended up spending the night in the airport. [Remember…this is a man with an income of $350,000 that year…but it couldn’t rent him a place to lay his head.]
The next day, after asking the ticket agent what time his plane was expected to arrive, it’s reported that the agent, seeing a young, handsome black standing before him, replied that the plane would arrive when it was good and ready. A staring match ensued between the two. Luckily, a group of white high school students came through the terminal and recognized Belafonte. As they were asking for autographs, the agent realized his mistake and found Belafonte’s ticket.
This was typical of the confusion generated by Harry’s acceptance as a performer and rejection as a human being. The more wealthy a performer became, the more confusing the situation became. There was constant admiration while on stage, followed by rejection of Belafonte the human being. …There are stories about black performers who actually had to perform when they were hungry because they couldn’t locate a restaurant that would serve them. [ibid]
But of course, back home they had big refrigerators. So what were they whining about?
In the next entry in this series, we’ll look more at the ’50s/60s Vegas experiences of those top-billing black stars, and check back with Jackie Robinson to see what he thought about the Black Experience in America.