GRAND OPERA AND DESEGREGATION OF THE FOX

A RARE COLOR PHOTOGRAPH OF ATLANTA'S WHITE ELITE IN ITS ANNUAL FLING WITH THE MET, AND OF COURSE, THE FOX! THIS FINAL PERFORMANCE "NABUCCO" ENDED THE 1961 MET SEASON, AND AS IT TURNED OUT, WAS TO BECOME THE LAST SEGREGATED OPERA PERFORMANCE AT THE FOX.
TWO DAYS BEFORE FROM THE ATLANTA JOURNAL (as are all other articles in this chapter, unless otherwise specified)-- "NEGROES" HAD ATTEMPTED BOTH TUESDAY AND WEDNESDAY NIGHTS TO ATTEND PERFORMANCES OF, RESPECTIVELY, "MANON LESCAUT" AND "RIGOLETTO." THE TWIST WAS THEY HELD TICKETS IN THE WHITE SECTION OF THE THEATRE.BY SATURDAY, THE DAY OF "NABUCCO," THE SITUATION WAS ESCALATED INTO A PUBLIC DISPUTE BETWEEN MET GM BING AND SCLC'S KING. WITHIN TWO AND ONE/HALF WEEKS, THE SMALL TOWN DRAMA WAS BEING PLAYED OUT ON THE NATIONAL STAGE, IN THE NEW YORK TIMES--FRONT PAGE-- WHERE BING STATED, "WE HAVE ADVISED OUR FRIENDS IN ATLANTA...THAT THE TIME HAS COME WHERE THE METROPOLITAN CAN NO LONGER PLAY TO SEGREGATED AUDIENCES," IN SHORT AN ULTIMATUM DIRECTED TOWARD THE LOCAL PRESENTING ORGANIZATION (ATLANTA MUSIC FESTIVAL ASSOCIATION) AND INDIRECTLY TOWARDS THE FOX THEATRE.IT SEEMS A GOOD GUESS THAT THE MET WAS TARGETED BECAUSE IT WAS OPERATED OUT OF NEW YORK. BY NOVEMBER OF 1961, SIMILAR THREATS AGAINST ALL DOWNTOWN THEATRES WERE MADE.
IN MARCH OF 1962, A PLAN PRESIDED OVER BY MAYOR EMERITUS WILLIAM HARTSFIELD WAS ANNOUNCED, WHEREBY THE FIRST RUN DOWNTOWN THEATRES (LOEW'S GRAND, ROXY AND RIALTO) WOULD DESEGREGATE ON A LIMITED BASIS IN CONJUNCTION WITH THE 1962 SEASON OF THE MET AND ITS ATTENDANT INTEGRATION. THE OTHER DOWNTOWN HOUSE, THE PARAMOUNT, HAD SHUTTERED IN 1960.
THE DESEGREGATION OF THE OPERA WENT OFF WITHOUT INCIDENT, AT LEAST ACCORDING TO THE FINAL PARAGRAPH OF THE JOURNAL REVIEW OF "ELEKTRA" THE 1962 OPENER. "TWO NEGROES EACH WEEK WOULD BE ADMITTED TO EACH OF THE FOUR DOWNTOWN THEATRES" FOR TWO WEEKS, AFTER WHICH ALL RESTRICTION WOULD LIFT, ACCORDING TO THIS PIECE OF MID-MAY, 1962. AN ARTICLE FROM THE PREVIOUS JUNE REFLECTS A DESIRE ON THE PART OF SOME TO BUILD A NEW THEATRE TO REPLACE THE FOX, PRIMARILY BASED ON THE IDEA THAT THE FOX AT 4600 SEATS WAS TOO SMALL. THE FOX EXACERBATED THIS PROBLEM IN DECEMBER, 1964 WHEN IT REDUCED ITS SEATING CAPACITY BY 500. THE FOX DID SO TO INSTALL NEW ROCKER HIGH BACK SEATS IN THE ORCHESTRA SECTION, FOR WHILE OPERA ATTENDANCE REMAINED AT A SOLD-OUT LEVEL, MOVIE ATTENDANCE WAS IN DECLINE.BY 1965, PLANS WERE ON THE DRAWING BOARD FOR THE CIVIC CENTER, OR AS ATLANTA MAGAZINE TERMED IT, "CIVIC CAMELOT." IT WAS TO BE BUILT ON THE SITE OF SLUMS DEMOLISHED BY THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT'S PROGRAM OF "URBAN RENEWAL.""LAST YEAR AT FOX" SOUNDED A FALSE ALARM IN MAY, 1967 (THE MET PLAYED THE FOX THE NEXT SEASON) BUT REFLECTS THE AMBIVALENCE WHICH THE MET HAD TOWARD THE NEW CIVIC CENTER. THE FOLLOWING MARCH OF 1968, THE NEW BUILDING WAS COMPLETE, BUT THE OPERA REUSED TO BUDGE. CIVIC CENTER MANAGER ROY ELROD IS FOUND TO BE "HOLDING [THE MAY, 1968 OPERA] DATES IN THE FERVENT WISH THAT THE MET WILL SOMEHOW CHANGE ITS MIND, [BUT] THE OPERA'S GENERAL MANAGER SAYS IT'S IMPOSSIBLE." LOCAL FESTIVAL PRESIDENT KENNEDY CONCURRED: "WE COULDN'T RESEAT IN THE NEW HOUSE. THE AUDITORIUM [SIC] IS A BEAUTIFUL BUILDING, AND WE'RE THRILLED TO HEAR IT'S ACOUSTICALLY FINE, BUT YOU CAN'T POSSIBLY RESEAT FROM THE FOX TO THE AUDITORIUM [SIC]-- IN COMPARABLE SEATS."DURING THE 1968 OPERA WEEK, BING WAS TAKEN OVER TO THE NEW BUILDING FOR A SECOND TOUR. STILL ON THE FENCE. (ON THE TOUR WITH BING FROM THE MET IS STAGE CARPENTER JOE VOLPE--INCORRECTLY SPELLED "BOLPE"-- WHO WOULD WORK FOR THE COMPANY FOR 42 YEARS AND BECOME GENERAL MANAGER OF THE MET HIMSELF FROM 1990-2006.)THE MORE CONSERVATIVE OF THE ATLANTA PAPERS THE JOURNAL NEVERTHELESS TWO DAYS LATER MADE A PUSH TO LEAVE THE FOX FOR INCREASED SEATING CAPACITY TO SATISFY "PEOPLE...WHITE AND NEGRO WHO ARE HUNGRY FOR OPERA TICKETS." CLEARLY THE LIBERAL MAYOR IVAN ALLEN HAD A HAND IN THE MOVE, AS HE IS SEEN HERE "PRYING LOOSE...TICKETS [AT THE FOX] TO BE SOLD PRIMARILY TO NEGROES."

------------BACKGROUND-------------

A LISTING OF CURRENT AMUSEMENTS FROM THE ATLANTA JOURNAL OF 1960 SHOWS A TOTAL OF FORTY-FIVE "WHITE" MOVIE THEATRES AS OPPOSED TO SIX FOR "COLORED." THERE ARE SEVEN FIRST RUN MOVIE THEATRES (INCLUDING TWO PEACHTREE ART HOUSES, ONE AT 13TH, THE OTHER IN GARDEN HILLS), EIGHTEEN NEIGHBORHOOD HOUSES, FIFTEEN DRIVE-IN THEATRES, AND FIVE "OUT-OF-TOWN," THEN MEANING ALPHARETTA, SMYRNA, MARIETTA AND STONE MOUNTAIN. PRIOR TO INTERSTATE INSANITY, THEY WERE INDEED "OUT OF TOWN." ALL THEATRES WERE SINGLE SCREEN.THE OPERA COMMENCING IN 1910 AND ALLOWING FOR INTERRUPTIONS FOR PORTIONS OF TWO WARS AND THE GREAT DEPRESSION PLAYED TWENTY-FOUR ONE-WEEK SEASONS UP THROUGH SPRING, 1942 AT THE DOWNTOWN BUILDING VARIOUSLY KNOWN AS THE AUDITORIUM-ARMORY, THE ATLANTA MUNICIPAL AUDITORIUM, AND THE OLD DOWNTOWN AUDITORIUM. IT WAS GIVEN A PROPER STAGE FOR THE MET'S DEBUT, THE STAGE LATER TOTALLY REBUILT IN THE 1930'S AS A WPA (WORKS PROGRESS ADMINISTRATION) PROJECT. THE AUDITORIUM PORTION WAS NOTHING TO SPEAK OF, AND THIS 1945 PHOTO COURTESY OF GEORGIA STATE IS A REALLY GOOD LIKENESS OF WHAT WAS IN THEATRICAL TERMS "A BARN." YET FOR ALMOST EIGHTY YEARS EVERY LARGE ATTRACTION PLAYED THERE, INCLUDING THE ATLANTA SYMPHONY. I SAW THERE THE BALLET'S "NUTCRACKER;" THE ROAD SHOW OF "OLIVER;" AND "HOLIDAY ON ICE, 1958." WRESTLING MATCHES AND BOXING BOUTS WERE HELD THERE AS WELL, ADDING PRECIOUS LITTLE TO THE FACILITY'S PRESTIGE.MY GRANDFATHER TROT'S BROTHER CLARK FOREMAN (1902-1977) PICTURED BELOW WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE FIRST DESEGREGATED PERFORMANCE AT THE AUDITORIUM FOR AN APPEARANCE BY GEORGIA-BORN "FAMOUS NEGRO TENOR" ROLAND HAYES IN DECEMBER, 1925. AFTER MUCH CONTENTION WITH THE CITY'S RULING CLASS (FOREMAN'S UNCLE WAS THE PUBLISHER OF THE ATLANTA CONSTITUTION) IT WAS AGREED THAT THE AUDITORIUM BE DIVIDED INTO HALVES (HOUSE RIGHT AND LEFT), AND WHITE TICKETS WERE SOLD ON ONE SIDE, "COLORED" ON THE OTHER, RIGHT UP THROUGH THE BALCONIES-- HORIZONTAL INTEGRATION IF YOU WILL. HOWEVER THIS RADICAL INNOVATION PROVED A ONE-SHOT, AND CLARK SOON THEREAFTER DEPARTED TOWN AND BECAME FDR'S FIRST "GOVERNMENT LIAISON TO THE NEGRO" IN THE NEW DEAL. HAYES WAS ARRESTED AND BEATEN IN ROME, GEORGIA A FEW YEARS LATER WHEN HIS WIFE SAT IN THE WRONG SECTION OF A SHOE STORE, AND LIKE CLARK, NEVER AGAIN RESIDED IN HIS HOME STATE.

ACCORDING TO CLIFFORD KUHN'S INFORMATIVE 1990 BOOK, "LIVING ATLANTA: AN ORAL HISTORY," "BLACK ATLANTIANS WERE NOT WELCOME TO HEAR THE MET AT THE AUDITORIUM...'WE COULDN'T GO TO OPERAS AND THE LIKE. THEY WEREN'T SEGREGATED [SIC] IN TERMS OF SEATING, I MEAN NEGROES COULDN'T GO IN. MR. HAROLD [MOREHOUSE MUSIC PROFESSOR KEMPER HAROLD] SHREWDLY WORKED OUT A WAY TO GET HIS STUDENTS IN THERE BY HAVING THEM SERVE AS USHERS. THAT'S THE ONLY WAY YOU COULD GET IN, AS USHERS.'" IN 1926, THE ROXY THEATRE (ORIGINALLY THE GEORGIA) OPENED DOWNTOWN AND WAS THE FIRST ATLANTA HOUSE TO FEATURE SEATING FOR BOTH RACES, AS THE UPPER BALCONY PLAN BELOW SHOWS A "CROSS-AISLE FOR COLORED."THE ROXY SPORTED A NEON "COLORED ENTRANCE SIGN" ON THE SIDE STREET OFF PEACHTREE.AN EXPERIMENT OF SORTS IS DESCRIBED IN THIS 1949 ARTICLE WHERE THE ROXY "FOR THE FIRST TIME TURNED ITS ENTIRE BALCONY TO NEGROES THURSDAY FOR THE SHOWING OF 'PINKY.'" THE PICTURE'S THEME WAS RACIAL CONFLICT WHEREIN "JEANNE CRAIN [A WHITE ACTRESS WHO PORTRAYED PINKY] USED NO MAKEUP TO GIVE HER A NEGROID APPEARANCE." THE JOURNAL WRITER CONTINUES, "LIKE OTHER NEGRO PROBLEM MOVIES THAT HAVE REACHED ATLANTA, 'PINKY' OFFERS NO SOLUTION."A 1954 SHOT OF THE ROXY, COURTESY GEORGIA STATE, SHOWS AN ALL-WHITE CROWD ON LINE FOR TICKETS TO SEE THE "ALL-NEGRO CAST" IN THE CINEMASCOPE PICTURE, "CARMEN JONES," MUSIC BY BIZET. "CARMEN" WAS A POPULAR OPERA HERE, AND THE MET PLAYED IT AT THE FOX IN '48, '52, '55, '59, AND '68.THE OPENING OF THE FOX IN 1929 PROVIDED A SECOND ATLANTA THEATRE WHICH ALLOWED SEATING FOR BOTH RACES.
THE "COLORED ENTRANCE" AND BOX OFFICE WERE LOCATED TO THE EAST OF THE STAGE ENTRANCE ON PONCE DE LEON AVENUE. AN INTERVIEWEE IN KUHN'S ORAL HISTORY OF ATLANTA RELATES, "MY WIFE AND I WENT TO THE FOX THEATRE ONCE TO SEE A PICTURE THAT WE WANTED TO SEE. YOU HAD TO CLIMB AN ENORMOUS FLIGHT OF STAIRS ON THE OUTSIDE TO GET TO THE BLACK BALCONY UPSTAIRS. WE SAT DOWN, BUT WE WERE SO UNCOMFORTABLE WE LEFT. WE JUST FELT ASHAMED." A MOREHOUSE COLLEGE PROFESSOR REMEMBERS HEARING THE MOREHOUSE PRESIDENT SAY, "I WOULDN'T GO TO A SEGREGATED THEATRE TO SEE JESUS CHRIST HIMSELF." ATLANTA MAYOR JACKSON LIKEWISE HAD A STRONG ANTIPATHY FOR THE FOX THEATRE, AS HE VOCALIZES IN THE PUBLIC BROADCASTING DOCUMENTARY ON THE FOX OF 2004. IT SHOULD BE POINTED OUT HOWEVER THAT, REGARDLESS OF COLOR, ONE COULD FROM 1947, ATTEND THE MET WITHOUT HAVING TO USHER. FOX PERSONNEL REFFERED TO THE 188-SEAT GALLERY AS "NIGGER HEAVEN."THE PIEDMONT DRIVING CLUB (BELOW), EXCLUSIVE AND RESTRICTED, WAS PART AND PARCEL OF THE SPRING MET TOUR. IN HIS AUTOBIOGRAPHY, "5000 NIGHTS AT THE OPERA," RUDOLF BING OPINES, "I MUST ADMIT I ENJOYED THE VISITS TO ATLANTA. NEVER HAVE I KNOWN A PLACE TO BECOME SO EXCITED ABOUT OPERA: WORK STOPPED, SLEEP STOPPED ALL OVER TOWN WHILE THE METROPOLITAN WAS THERE. WORK STOPPED FOR THE COMPANY, TOO; TULLIO SERAFIN ONCE CALLED A REHEARSAL IN ATLANTA, AND HIS SOLOISTS TURNED UP WITH VOICES LIKE FROGS. 'REMEMBER,' SERAFIN SAID, 'WE ARE HERE ALSO TO SING!'" KUHN'S "LIVING ATLANTA" CONTINUES: "'IT WAS A GREAT EVENT,' EXCLAIMS ATLANTA JOURNAL CITY EDITOR HUNTER BELL OF THE MET'S ANNUAL VISIT... 'THE ARTISTS WERE ENTERTAINED IN THE HOMES OF ATLANTA LEADERS. THEY WOULD GO TO THE CAPITAL CITY CLUB ON MONDAY NIGHT AND THE PIEDMONT DRIVING CLUB ON SATURDAY NIGHT, AND SING AT DINNER DANCES DURING OPERA WEEK. THEY LOVED TO COME HERE.' THE MANY JEWISH FAMILIES WHO SUPPORTED OPERA WERE EXCLUDED FROM THE ELABORATE RECEPTIONS HELD AT THE PIEDMONT DRIVING CLUB AND OTHER PLACES IN ATLANTA, 'WHERE,' IN THE WORDS OF CLARICE FEIBELMAN,' OUR FOLKS WERE VERBOTEN.’"RUDOLF BING RELATES, "FOR YEARS, ATLANTA PAID US A FRACTION OF WHAT OUR PERFORMANCES COST US TO GIVE, BECAUSE THE BOARD, OTHERWISE SO WORRIED ABOUT MONEY, WOULD NOT AUTHORIZE ME TO DEMAND A HIGHER FEE FROM SUCH NICE PEOPLE." THIS SOCIAL CONTRACT WAS TORN ASUNDER FOREVER IN MAY OF 1966 WHEN BING'S COMPANY REFUSED TO ATTEND THE ANNUAL SATURDAY AFTER-PARTY AT THE DRIVING CLUB "BECAUSE THE COMPANY'S NEGRO MEMBERS WERE NOT INVITED." NOVEMBER OF 1968 BROUGHT THE NEWS THAT THE MET WOULD HENCEFORTH PLAY THE CIVIC CENTER.THE "CIVIC CAMELOT" WAS UTILIZED BY THE MET FOR THE NEXT SEVENTEEN SEASONS UNTIL THE MET CEASED TO TOUR ENTIRELY. "ONE ALWAYS FELT ONE WAS 'SLUMMING' WHEN ATTENDING THE CIVIC CENTER," AN OLDER ATLANTIAN QUIPPED, "AND I DON'T MEAN IN A GOOD WAY."AS WITH MANY RULES, THERE ARE EXCEPTIONS. THIS EXCEPTION'S NAME WAS GRAHAM JACKSON, SHOWN BELOW AT THE FOX ORGAN CONSOLE, UNDATED.HIS CLAIM TO FAME AS AN ATLANTIAN CAME NOT FROM A GOLF SWING NOR FROM WRITING A BOOK, AS WITH MISS MITCHELL OR MR. BOBBY JONES. NEY, HE WAS FIRST MENTIONED IN THE NEW YORK TIMES IN 1937 AS BEING "A NEGRO PIANIST WHO IS ONE OF THE PRESIDENT'S FAVORITE ENTERTAINERS." MISTER JACKSON PLAYED THE PIANO, ORGAN OR FOR ITS PORTABILITY THE ACCORDIAN, AS HE DID MANY TIMES FOR FDR AT THE "LITTLE WHITE HOUSE" IN WARM SPRINGS, GEORGIA.GRAHAM WAS DOWN THERE, REHEARSING FOR A MINSTREL SHOW ON APRIL 12, 1945, WHEN THE FOURTH TERM PRESIDENT'S HEART WAS ATTACKED. "GRAHAM'S INEXHAUSTIBLE REPERTOIRE HAD FOUND FAVOR WITH THE PRESIDENT FOR MANY YEARS."LIFE MAGAZINE'S PHOTOGRAPHER SNAPPED HIS PLAYING DVORJAK'S "COMING HOME" ON HIS ACCORDIAN AT WARM SPRINGS AS HIS PATRON SAINT WAS PUT ONTO THE DEATH TRAIN.MISTER JACKSON WAS A BUSY MAN, NOT TO BE PUT OFF, SAY, BY CANCELLATION OF A GIG IN DONALSONVILLE, GA. "I'VE BEEN WONDERING HOW FAR DONALSONVILLE IS FROM UNADILLA." LATTER TOWN HAD BEEN WRITTEN UP AS A "HOTBED" OF KLAN ACTIVITY.MISTER JACKSON, WHO HAD BEEN THE HOUSE CONDUCTOR AT THE COLORED THEATRE "81" [DECATUR STREET] TRANSCENDED RACE RELATIONS. HERE BELOW IN THE "WEEKLY NEWS ROUNDUP OF THE NEGRO COMMUNITY" IN JANUARY, 1952, HE IS FOUND PLAYING AT THE ANSLEY PARK GOVERNER'S MANSION.WAS HE THE STEREOTYPICAL "UNCLE TOM?" RATHER HE WAS ONE OF THE MORE CALM PERSONAGES, WHO PLAYED DAILY ON WERD-AM, THE GOSPEL RADIO STATION; THE FOX, THE PIEDMONT DRIVING CLUB; THE WESTMINSTER SCHOOL WHERE I SAW HIM; AND HERE AT A LONG-STANDING ENGAGEMENT, THE JOHNNY REB RESTAURANT OUT IN MARIETTA WHERE NOW CROWDS THE COBB GALLERIA ENERGY CENTER AND THE SMYRNA OPERA. "INFORMALITY REIGNS...WITH COLLARD GREENS AND CANDLELIGHT," MARCH, 1959. YOLANDE GWIN CAPTURES MISTER JACKSON TEN YEARS LATER WHERE HE TELLS THAT HIS NEW ACCORDIAN HAD BEEN GIFTED HIM BY WINTHROP ROCKEFELLERTHE NEW YORK TIMES DID NOT HONOR MISTER JACKSON WITH AN OBIT UPON HIS DEATH IN 1983, BUT MENTION WAS MADE OF HIS RECOGNITION BY LESTER MADDOX, THE FIRST POLITICIAN TO HONOR HIM AS A GENTLEMAN OF INTELLECT-- AND NEED I SAY--SOUL.TAKE A ROAD TRIP WITH ME IF YOU WILL TO HUNTER STREET, CORNER ASHBY. THERE REMAINS IN DERELICT THE LAST ATLANTA COLORED THEATRE, THE ASHBYPROCEED WEST ON HUNTER AND YOU WILL FIND THE CHANGE OF STREET APPELATION MISTER JACKSON UNDERTOOK SUCCESSFULLY AND WITHOUT MALICE: "C" STREET HE HAD CHANGED IN THE LATE 1940'S TO "WHITE HOUSE." HE WAS AN ACTIVE MAN WHO "ROSE ABOVE"(IN THE WORDS OF NOEL COWARD) HIS LOT IN LIFE. DID HE MAKE A MILLION? SEEMS NOT, FOR NOT A BLOCK FROM HIS HOUSE ON NEARBY BOOKER STREET IS THE FORMER RESIDENCE OF MY GRANDMOTHER RARY FOREMAN'S EMPLOYEE AND MY BELOVED NURSEMAID, HATTIE JACKSON, WHO COULD NOT HAVE EARNED MORE THAN $30 PER WEEK.WALK SOUTHWARD, BE ASTONISHED BY THE BEAUTY OF THE BOOKER T. WASHINGTON HIGH SCHOOL.
THEN PIVOT ABOUT--THERE IS GRAHAM JACKSON'S PAEAN TO FDR-- HIS HOME AS MODIFIED TO REPLICATE "THE LITTLE WHITE HOUSE."
I SAVE FOR LAST HUGH PARK'S AROUND TOWN JOURNAL PROFILE OF MISTER JACKSON FROM OCTOBER, 1950. LET ME BORROW TWO QUOTES: IN REGARDS TO THE MANY RADIOS IN MISTER JACKSON'S HOME, "'THERE IS SO MUCH GRAND MUSIC IN THE AIR THAT I CAN'T MISS IT,' HE SAID WITH A BREATHLESS EXCITEMENT THAT HAS NEVER DIMINISHED." MISTER JACKSON CANNOT SLEEP, FOR "'SCORES KEEP RUNNING THROUGH MY HEAD,' HE WENT ON, 'WHEN I GO TO BED AND WHEN I WAKE UP I CAN'T SLEEP WHEN THERE'S SO MUCH MUSIC IN THE AIR.'"
PARDON ME IF I CONTRAST AND COMPARE HIS WORDS WITH THOSE OF LEONARD BERNSTEIN AS QUOTED IN FRANCIS ROBINSON'S BOOK: "YOU SEE, MUSIC IS SOMETHING TERRIBLY SPECIAL. IT DOESN'T HAVE TO PASS THROUGH THE BRAIN.... IT GOES DIRECTLY TO THE HEART. THIS IS REALLY THE CROWNING DELIGHT OF OPERA..."