Seventy-seven years ago today, Robinson Memorial Auditorium officially opened. Today’s Black History Month feature is on an event that did NOT take place at Robinson.
In August 1961, it was announced that Duke Ellington would perform in concert at Robinson Center. He had previously played there in the 1940s and early 1950s. His concert was set to be at 8:30 pm on Tuesday, September 5.
Due to the changes of times, the NAACP had a relatively new rule that they would boycott performers who played at segregated venues. When it became apparent that Robinson would remain segregated (African Americans restricted to the balcony), the NAACP announced they would boycott any future Ellington performances if he went ahead and played Robinson.
The music promoters in Little Rock (who were white) petitioned the Robinson Auditorium Commission asking them to desegregate Robinson – even if for only that concert. The Commission refused to do so. Though the auditorium was finding it harder to book acts into a segregated house, they felt that if it were integrated, fewer tickets would be sold.
Ellington cancelled the concert.
Robinson remained segregated until a 1963 judge’s decision which integrated all public City of Little Rock facilities (except for swimming pools).