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James Meredith attends Elmore Gig

PostPosted: Fri Jun 06, 2014 9:28 am
by Alan Balfour
I been asked to scan this and thought may be of interest to one or two folk here.

James Meredith: Three Years In Mississippi (Aug 1960 –Aug 1963)
Indiana University Press, 1966 pages 34-38


Mr. P's. In my search for truth and knowledge, I felt it my duty to regularly visit every segment of my society. Except for the study and observation of the enemy "White Supremacy" and its perpetuators 1 spent more time and energy studying my people than anything else. Without question, the great majority of Mississippi Negroes belong to the lowest economic class. A joint called "Mr. P's" provided me with one of the best laboratories for studying this particular group of my people. I consider this place typical of the most dominant type of entertainment available to the majority of Mississippi Negroes. It would perhaps be untypical only in that it is a little bigger than most places of its kind and consequently offers a little more than most.

I can remember one night: it could have been any of four nights Friday, Saturday, Sunday or Wednesday (the last is half price night). However, Saturday night is usually best. This Saturday I got there around 1: 30 A.M., the best time to arrive because the band (two guitars and one drummer with a two piece drum contraption) was just hitting its pace after the first intermission. The cooks and nursemaids who have to work in the white woman's kitchen and take care of the white man's baby are out on the town by this time. The white folks know that "Cookie" will leave the food on the table and the baby crying in the crib if the boss "ain't home" by 1:00 A.M. on Saturday night. By 1:30 everybody has got high and fallen in the groove.

When I drove up, I was lucky and found a parking place, because someone was just backing out from a spot near the door. I pulled in and parked between two cars. A girl was sitting on the front end of one of the cars with her legs crossed high and her dress halfway up her thigh. She was holding onto the shirt of her boyfriend standing in front of the car and raising a heap of hell about some other woman. When I reached the door, it was blocked by too many people trying to get in. The heat and odor both hit me as I slid inside the door.

The band was playing one of its favorite songs, "Shake Your Money Maker." This was a sure satisfier for this crowd. It had a fast sensuous beat and was loud and moving. Sometimes the band would play it for thirty minutes or longer without stopping, and the crowd would continue to beg for more when it was over. "Shake your money maker, shake your money maker" was repeated over and over throughout the song, basically an instrumental number. The band leader, Elmo, loved to hear the crowd beg, and the audience knew that he had to be treated with tender care, because the least thing might upset him and he would refuse to play a note. But he was good at his trade. The kind of music that he played has not yet been documented by writing or recording. It is known by many names - gut bucket, down in the alley, back in the woods but to me it is folk music of the highest order. It tells the story of the Negro the story of slavery, segregation, discrimination, prejudice, poverty, and hope. I have learned more about the Negro from listening to and digesting this music than from any other source. Finally they stopped playing "Shake Your Money Maker." I now had a chance edge my way up toward the front.

There was no dance floor as such; the dance floor was everywhere in the aisles, between the tables, on the tables, or anywhere you could find a little space. It was the usual crowd. The dress ranges all the way from expensive furs and hundred dollar dresses to loud, weary colors and maid uniforms. The men will wear anything from seventy dollar shoes and three hundred dollar suits to four colored shirts and purple trousers to musty, sweaty, sawmilling overalls that they have worked in all week. The talk was loud, bad, and nasty. The women are just as free and foul-mouthed as the men.

These are the Negro masses at play. I finally made it to the front and here I heard a piece of logic from a young boy that opened my eyes to a broader world. A couple in
front of the bar where I was standing began to dance the next number. Before the dance was over they had a tight circle around them, a rare occurrence for this place, because here everyone is usually his own star. On any night you would see a show that could be seen in very few places: shake dancing, belly rolling, stunt cutting, trick dancing, and the sexiest kind of sexy dances.

Evidently this couple had just returned from their first trip North, and they had to show that they were now "hip." The girl wore a fur dress, apparently made from some cheap imitation fur, and the boy had on a tight-fitting shirt that was a solid color in back and two loud colors in front. The design was identical on both sides, but one side was turned upside down, and the big buttons were covered with the same color as the back. He had on a loud-colored tight-fitting pair of pants and wore a pair of pointed-toe imitation alligator shoes. He was really "cutting a rug," jumping all over the place, and executing some very difficult and tricky steps.

But the "fur-dress" girl was stealing the show. She was a beautiful woman: young, lively, fair-skinned, and "built up from the ground," with nice feet, trim ankles, shapely legs, wide hips, a neat, small waist, bust just right (on the big side), a cute face, and beautiful hair. The dress was loosely fitted and cut low around the top. The first look gave the impression that she wore nothing under the dress. She could dance and she let her "hair down" because of all the attention she was getting. She went through a belly process that would have put "Little Egypt" to shame. Most exciting of all was the way that fur dress could work its way up over her hips and just as it looked as if all her pretty thighs would be revealed, she would push her dress down again and start the heart-taxing process all over. This was all done to the beat of the "Whistling Song." The drummer was called the whistling man because of this song that he had "dreamed up," as he once told me, and carried around in his head.

When it was over, you could hear derogatory comments from the onlookers. They were accusing the team of showing off and of thinking they were somebody because they had been up North. It always gets under the skin of the Mississippi Negro when one comes back "putting on." A slender, mild-mannered boy of fifteen or sixteen, who in spite of his age was his own man, turned to me and remarked in his untrained English, "Oh they jest trying to have a little pleasure." I cannot now remember his features, but his words and the manner in which lie spoke them have lingered in my mind. From that day to this I have made it a practice to try to get the facts before I judge.

About this time Elmo started another one of his most popular numbers, "Dust My Broom." He had really gotten "his spirits on" and turned the picking over to his second guitarist, a quiet-looking young man. He was as good as the old pro himself. Elmo now dealt only with the mike, "I say raise your window, baby, I say raise your window, baby, and let me ease out real slow, I hear somebody knocking; it may be your husband, I don't know." At two o'clock in the morning on a Saturday night in Mississippi, after the people have worked hard all week long, listened to their white boss man raise hell all day, every day, and to their wives or husbands half the night, this is the kind of music and singing that the poor Negroes wanted to hear.

While everyone continued to "dust their broom," I made my way through the crowd to the hall that led into the back half of the building. This backroom was divided into three sections. Actually it was not meant to be divided, but the crowds were usually so big liar the spectators had to be blocked off from the participants by a dies of two by fours. Except for the slot machines in the main section, all the gambling took place at a huge dice table and two very large card tables. The dice game, I suppose, was run in the usual way, but I am sure the interest and "carrying on" at the table are unmatched anywhere. One would have to want to play very much in order to push through that crowd to get close enough to place a bet, and he probably would never see so much money on one table even in Las Vegas.

The big-shot gambling houses may have their poker and blackjack games, but for the masses in Mississippi the card game is strictly "skin." I had never seen a game of "skin" played until I returned to my home state. After nine years in the Air Force, including a tour in Nevada, I thought I had seen every gambling game in the book; and maybe I had at that, because I doubt very seriously that "skin" I rules are laid down in Hoyle. It is a very simple game, if you can I remember fifty-two cards and the way they fall twenty different times to seven different players. In "skin" you don't bet that you will win, but rather that everyone else is going to lose. Each player gets one card down, except the dealer who gets his card up. On the basis of the card he holds, the player is free to bet everybody else as much as he chooses that cards matching all the other players' cards will come off the stack before one matches his. This is when the money really changes hands. Some of the professional gamblers win and lose in the hundreds or even thousands in a matter of a few hours.

After nodding a greeting to several of my fellow Mississippians in the gambling room, I went back to the front. Just as I had taken up a new position at the bar, the "law" and his deputies walked in. You knew they were the law, because they were white and at this hour of the morning no other white men would come into a Negro joint. They carry big five-battery flashlights and, more important, guns. They walked toward the front and no one became excited. The band did not stop playing; the bartender acted as if he had not seen them. The waiters continued to carry the illegal whiskey and setups on their trays which they held high above their shoulders. One of the lawmen finally got the attention of the bartender and whispered something to him. One of the deputies sent word to the band to play a special tune.

After the special dedication was over, I saw one of the characteristic incidents of Mississippi life enacted. Indiscriminately the law pointed to four or five Negroes. These were the victims for that night. While the waiters served bottle after bottle of illegal whiskey and no one made an effort to remove the bottles from the tables, the law was arresting victims for drinking whiskey. They chose one man for having a bottle of illegal whiskey in his pocket; I guess they thought he had bought the bottle at some other place. They took their victims out to two waiting cars and went on their way. This arbitrary method of arrest is one of the main devices of the system of "White Supremacy." As a method of oppression it is far more effective than an arrest for specific crimes; it keeps all the Negroes in a state of fear, because one can become a victim for not committing a crime as readily as for committing one.

Note: James Meredith is still alive and in 2012appeared at this Tommy Johnson event
http://www.pomeroyblues.org/2012/11/01/big-road-blues/

Re: James Meredith attends Elmore Gig

PostPosted: Fri Jun 06, 2014 11:19 am
by Adam Blake
That was a wonderful read, thanks Alan. I will cut and paste and send it to Errol as I know he would enjoy it. Cheers!

Re: James Meredith attends Elmore Gig

PostPosted: Fri Jun 06, 2014 11:41 am
by Alan Balfour
It's well worth tracking down a second hand copy of the book. Should be compulsory reading, especially Meredith's trial which went on for almost two years and its depositions.