In September, I will lead a walking tour of Green Book sites in Philadelphia. The stops include the Douglass Hotel which offered transportation to Atlantic City, or more accurately, to Chicken Bone Beach.
After complaints from white bathers, African Americans were restricted to a stretch of the Atlantic City beach near Convention Hall. The segregated area became known as Chicken Bone Beach.
This two-part audio doc provides an overview of Chicken Bone Beach and the entertainment district that became a magnet for black vacationers, day-trippers and luminaries such as Martin Luther King Jr., Louis Armstrong, Nina Simone, Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Sammy Davis Jr.
For more info, visit Chicken Bone Beach.
On July 5, 1852, before the Ladies Anti-Slavery Society in Rochester, New York, Frederick Douglass asked, “What to the slave is the Fourth of July?”
Today we often communicate via memes, but the message is the same.
Given the givens, some folks have called for a “do-over” of Black History Month 2019. I want to close out February on a high note by remembering Marian Anderson.
The name Marian Anderson has been part of my life from Day One. An older-now-deceased sister was named Marian. As a schoolgirl, I was puzzled when I would hear my teachers say her name. Of course I would later learn they were referring to the world-renowned contralto who inspired a generation of civil rights activists, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
In a high school essay, 15-year-old Martin wrote:
Black America still wears chains. The finest Negro is at the mercy of the meanest white man. Even winners of our highest honors face the class color bar. Look at a few of the paradoxes that mark daily life in America. Marian Anderson was barred from singing in the Constitution Hall, ironically enough, by the professional daughters of the very men who founded this nation for liberty and equality. But this tale had a different ending. The nation rose in protest, and gave a stunning rebuke to the Daughters of the American Revolution and a tremendous ovation to the artist, Marian Anderson, who sang in Washington on Easter Sunday and fittingly, before the Lincoln Memorial. Ranking cabinet members and a justice of the Supreme Court were seated about her. Seventy-five thousand people stood patiently for hours to hear a great artist at a historic moment. She sang as never before with tears in her eyes. When the words of “America” and “Nobody Knows De Trouble I Seen” rang out over that great gathering, there was a hush on the sea of uplifted faces, black and white, and a new baptism of liberty, equality and fraternity. That was a touching tribute, but Miss Anderson may not as yet spend the night in any good hotel in America. Recently she was again signally honored by being given the Bok reward as the most distinguished resident of Philadelphia. Yet she cannot be served in many of the public restaurants of her home city, even after it has declared her to be its best citizen.
That was then. Ms. Anderson is now an American icon who will be celebrated in her home city with a new exhibition, “Marian: A Soul In Song,” presented by the National Marian Anderson Historical Society.
The exhibition features a collection of the opera singer’s performance gowns, costumes and accessories, photographs, video and recordings. The exhibition runs from February 27, 2019 to January 1, 2020. For more information and tickets, visit the Marian Anderson Museum & Historical Society.
Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta. An HBO documentary includes scenes from his last birthday celebration in 1968.
Xernona Clayton said she organized the office party to “cheer up” the civil rights leader. For information about King in the Wilderness, go here.
Happy birthday, Dr. King. We miss you but your legacy lives on in our determination to “keep moving.”
The Franklin Motor Inn was located off Benjamin Franklin Parkway at 22nd Street and Spring Garden.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stayed here on his final visit to Philadelphia. It is also where most of the acts performing at the legendary Uptown Theater stayed. From Philadelphia magazine:
Built in 1959, the hotel used to be called the Franklin Motor Inn. New York boxing promoters used to put up their guys here. Hookers idled, businessmen prowled, and the bar used to stay open till 4 a.m.
There was an A-list presence too. The last time Martin Luther King ever visited Philly, according to a 1994 piece in the Philadelphia Tribune, he spent the day sick in bed at the Franklin Motor Inn, his favorite hotel in the city. Joe Frazier, a regular, always sat in the same seat, on the far right end of the bar. (Marvis Frazier tells me his father ate breakfast at the hotel at least once a week for more than 30 years, but really came to “play the numbers.”)