Little Rock Look Back: Satchmo Criticizes Ike over Little Rock

As the Civil Rights movement started taking hold in the mid-1950s, many African American entertainers were vocal in their support.  Louis Armstrong generally stayed silent.  Until, that is, September 17, 1957.

That night, in Grand Forks, North Dakota, Armstrong blasted President Dwight Eisenhower for his lack of action to make Governor Orval Faubus obey the law.  This was in an interview conducted by a 21 year old University of North Dakota journalism student named Larry Lubenow.

Journalist David Margolick wrote about the incident in The New York Times in September 2007 in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the integration of Little Rock Central High School.  He recounted how the story, written for the Grand Forks Herald, was picked up all over the country.  The entire Margolick piece can be read here.  Margolick tells that when Armstrong was given the chance to back off the comments, he asserted that he meant all of it.

On September 24, 1957, the night that the 101st Airborne was being mobilized to come into Little Rock, Armstrong sent Eisenhower a telegram again criticizing him for lack of action. (It appears this was sent by Armstrong without knowledge of the President’s plans for intervention.) Armstrong used colorful language which sarcastically spoofed the “Uncle Tom” moniker which some of his critics had bestowed when they felt he was not doing enough for Civil Rights.  The Eisenhower Presidential Library has a copy of that telegram.

The incident between Satchmo and Ike was the basis for two different plays: Terry Teachout’s Satchmo at the Waldorf and Ishmael Reed’s The C Above C Above High C.

Little Rock Look Back: Louis Armstrong speaks out

As the Civil Rights movement started taking hold in the mid-1950s, many African American entertainers were vocal in their support.  Louis Armstrong stayed silent.  Until, that is, September 17, 1957.

That night, in Grand Forks, North Dakota, Armstrong blasted President Dwight Eisenhower for his lack of action to make Governor Orval Faubus obey the law.  This was in an interview conducted by a 21 year old University of North Dakota journalism student named Larry Lubenow.

Journalist David Margolick wrote about the incident in The New York Times in September 2007 in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the integration of Little Rock Central High School.  He recounted how the story, written for the Grand Forks Herald, was picked up all over the country.  The entire Margolick piece can be read here.  Margolick tells that when Armstrong was given the chance to back off the comments, he asserted that he meant all of it.

On September 24, 1957, the night that the 101st Airborne was being mobilized to come into Little Rock, Armstrong sent Eisenhower a telegram again criticizing him for lack of action.  He used colorful language which sarcastically spoofed the “Uncle Tom” moniker which some of his critics had bestowed when they felt he was not doing enough for Civil Rights.  The Eisenhower Presidential Library has a copy of that telegram.  The incident between Satchmo and Ike was the basis for two different plays: Terry Teachout’s Satchmo at the Waldorf and Ishmael Reed’s The C Above C Above High C.

Black History Month – Lionel Hampton and Robinson Auditorium

lionelhampton2Bandleader Lionel Hampton made several stops at Robinson Center throughout his career.

Born in 1908 in Louisville, he and his mother bounced around to Alabama and Wisconsin before settling in Chicago in 1916.  Originally a drummer, he started playing around with the vibraphone. In 1930, Louis Armstrong asked him to play the vibes on a couple of tracks for an album – and a new career was born.

In 1936, he started playing with Benny Goodman in an integrated trio and quartet.  In 1940, he left Goodman to form his own big band.  It was with this group that he would appear at Robinson Auditorium.  He continued to tour from the 1950s up until the 1980s.  Though he had to curtail his performance schedule after suffering a stroke onstage in 1991, he would perform from time to time in the 1990s.  His last performance was in 2001 not long before his death.

In his career, he received the 1992 Kennedy Center Honors, 1996 National Medal of the Arts, and numerous honorary degrees.

Black History Month – Louis Armstrong and Robinson Center

louis-armstrong3Louis Armstrong played Robinson Auditorium several times during his career.  He also played other venues in Little Rock.

As the Civil Rights movement started taking hold in the mid-1950s, many African American entertainers were vocal in their support.  Armstrong stayed silent.  Until, that is, September 17, 1957.  That night, in Grand Forks, North Dakota, he blasted President Dwight Eisenhower for his lack of action to make Governor Orval Faubus obey the law.  This was in an interview conducted by a 21 year old University of North Dakota journalism student named Larry Lubenow.

Journalist David Margolick wrote about the incident in The New York Times in September 2007 in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the integration of Little Rock Central High School.  He recounted how the story, written for the Grand Forks Herald, was picked up all over the country.  The entire Margolick piece can be read here.  Margolick tells that when Armstrong was given the chance to back off the comments, he asserted that he meant all of it.

On September 24, 1957, the night that the 101st Airborne was being mobilized to come into Little Rock, Armstrong sent Eisenhower a telegram again criticizing him for lack of action.  He used colorful language which sarcastically spoofed the “Uncle Tom” moniker which some of his critics had bestowed when they felt he was not doing enough for Civil Rights.  The Eisenhower Presidential Library has a copy of that telegram.  The incident between Satchmo and Ike was the basis for two different plays: Terry Teachout’s Satchmo at the Waldorf and Ishmael Reed’s The C Above C Above High C.

Armstrong would again play a part in Little Rock’s Civil Rights history.  In September 1966, he played the first major concert in Robinson Auditorium that was before a fully integrated audience.  Since the early 1960s, there had been a few sporadic concerts which had been before integrated audiences. But the policy of the Auditorium Commission remained that the building was to be segregated.  Following the approval of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, public facilities had to be integrated. Louis Armstrong played before a full house at Robinson Auditorium that night.  With Orval Faubus still Arkansas’ governor, Armstrong was not too interested in staying in Little Rock very long. He left town quickly after the concert was concluded.

Black History Month Spotlight – Joseph Taylor Robinson Auditorium

IMG_7690The new Arkansas Civil Rights History Audio Tour was launched in November 2015. Produced by the City of Little Rock and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock allows the many places and stories of the City’s Civil Rights history to come to life an interactive tour.  This month, during Black History Month, the Culture Vulture looks at some of the stops on this tour which focus on African American history.

In March 1974, Little Rock hosted the second National Black Political Convention at the Joseph T. Robinson Auditorium and Camelot Hotel (now a Doubletree Hotel). The first convention was held in Gary, Indiana, in 1972, and garnered much publicity, producing a National Black Political Agenda that included demands for the election of a proportionate number of black representatives to Congress, community control of schools, and national health insurance. The Little Rock convention was co-convened by Congressman Charles Diggs of Detroit, Michigan; Mayor Richard Hatcher of Gary, Indiana; and poet Amiri Baraka. Plenary speakers included Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson and comedian and activist Dick Gregory. Jesse Jackson was also in town for the convention. The convention featured a moving testimonial and tribute to local civil rights leader Daisy Bates at Central High School.

For many years, the lower Exhibition Hall of Robinson Auditorium hosted many concerts, dances and sporting events, popular with black audiences. However, because the large concert hall upstairs had segregated seating, Duke Ellington declined to play there in 1961. Louis Armstrong played to the first integrated audience in 1966 after the 1964 Civil Rights Act ended segregation in public facilities and accommodations.

The app, funded by a generous grant from the Arkansas Humanities Council, was a collaboration among UALR’s Institute on Race and Ethnicity, the City of Little Rock, the Mayor’s Tourism Commission, and KUAR, UALR’s public radio station, with assistance from the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau.