I’m taking an online course in Southern folk culture and doing some added research about blues music history. With either topic it is impossible to avoid the racism and segregation that’s so closely associated with life in the American South.
Blues singer, Ruth Brown, talked about growing up in a Southern town with strict lines separating whites and blacks. At a local dance function the dancers were literally separated by a rope dividing the dance floor into white and black sections. The band, which was often black, would get to playing fast tunes and in the ensuing dance fury the rope often came down and social divides forgotten until someone would notify the police. Then the music would be stopped, the rope re stretched, and segregation restored.
One of the most famous towns in blues history is Bentonia, MS. Since the late 1940s it’s been the locale of the Blue Front Cafe, a famous juke joint where even today people come from all over the world to experience the blues as it began. The current owner, bluesman Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, is the son of its founders. Bentonia is an integrated community these days but in the days of Jim Crow it was horribly segregated. So much so that unlike other bars and restaurants the Blue Front was forced by a curfew law to close each night at 10:30 pm. The hypocrisy of this being that during cotton harvest it was permitted to stay open twenty-four hours a day to help keep the black field laborers content till the crop was in.
One story told about Bentonian segregation is that the Blue Front and other black businesses were not permitted to sell and serve Coca Cola products. Coke was the white people’s drink of choice so blacks were forced to get their soda fix with Royal Crown, Pepsi, Nehi and other “lesser” drinks. I’m thinking that if possible Bentonian whites would have ordered less oxygen in the air breathed by blacks. Except when needed to chop that cotton!