November 17, 1945 p. 26
THE CLOSING OF FOUR 52 ST night clubs--Downbeat, Spotlight, Onyx and Three Deuces--by the FBI, is on the tongues of most musicians and those who follow the 52 st brand of jazz-swing music. And you can bet your bottom dollar they all have the theory, in varying degrees, that these clubs have been closed because of inter-racial mingling.
In face of the concentrated effort throughout the country to refit the Negro into the good old American pattern of segregation, this theory has merit and no doubt was one of the factors which determined the actual suspension of licenses for the clubs even though the only reason given, was that they provided easy traffic between peddlers and users of marijuana.
. . .
IN LINE WITH this charge by the Deputy Commissioner, I should like to refer to a column I wrote on the subject in the October 16, 1943, issue of this paper. "Several visits to the downtown B'way and 52 st areas where Negro boys and girls have literally taken over the amusement spots, brought to light a delicate and dangerous situation which, when it explodes, and it must sooner or later, will lose for these musicians and entertainers" (the column pointed out that many of these musicians smoked marijuana openly and brazenly), "all the hard-won gains made in the past year."
The column continues: "With the free and easy atmosphere of the small cafe, intermingling of white and Negro is normal and natural. Here should be an opportunity to cement a healthy and lasting relationship between the two races but instead, the Negro 'weed-smoker' draws the white 'weed-smoker' and consequently there is a familiarity existing between white girls and Negro men which is unhealthy."
The column hinted that miscegenation, always a delicate subject, was more so during that particular period because of the large number of southern white servicemen roaming from one night spot to another ready to declare and fight for "white supremacy."
To further quote: "It is high time that those who are guilty of unbecoming behavior, view with seriousness the harm being done not only to themselves but to Negroes everywhere and particularly to Negro musicians and entertainers. Our progress has not been easily won. For every downtown spot open to Negroes talent, someoone [sic] went to bat and fought every step of the way to convince management that Negro talent pays dividends. We, in far too many instances, have been barred from working the better places and are not given hotel accommodations many times because our reputation for bad conduct preceeds [sic] us. This is no secret to those of us in the profession. Heaven knows we squawk about it often enough. We should ask ourselves if we are going to disprove ourselves to be rowdy and fight to maintain the gains made, or are we going to play into the hands of our fascist-minded white friends believe the Negro should be kept in in [sic] his place? If don't wake up, we will find most of the entertainment spots closing their doors to Negro talent--which of course means, the innocent will suffer with the guilty. So, all you weed-smoking reputation and above all, prostituting the economic and civic standards of your own people."
. . .
THIS IS CERTAINLY an instance in which I take no pride in saying, "I told you so." When we realize that an aggregate weekly income of approximately $5,000 to such top-flight musicians and entertainers as Sid Catlett, Ban Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldrige and Billy Holiday has been lost because of an unsavory situation which we stupidly failed to recognize and do something about, we must be willing to admit that we missed the boat and in so doing, gave ammunition to the reactionary forces who lie in wait for any and all wrong plays on our part. I think we have got to admit that the situation which was created by a few of those working in 52 st, would have had the same sort of repercussions had there been no racial intermingling. The use or sale of any narcotic is illegal and marijuana is a narcotic.
Seems to me, we are putting the cart before the horse when we get sore and say the entertainment licenses were withdrawn from these clubs solely because of race mixing. Try as we may, we cannot wipe out the fact that some of us were indulging in an illegal pastime which leads to complicated troubles.