Charlie‘s Place, Transcription
Edited by Beverly Patterson
Phylicia Rashad, unseen narrator.
Interview excerpts are credited to the following (in order of appearance):
Leroy Brunson ,Professional Golfer
Dino Thompson, Restaurateur and Author
Herbert J. Riley, President, Carver Street Development Corporation
Louis Simmons, Former Employee, Ocen Plaza Hotel
Colbert Brown Jr., Founder, Boys and Girls Club of the Grand Strand
Eric Crawford, Assistant Professor of Musicology, Coastal Carolina University
Richard Durlach, Dance Instructor, University of South Carolina; Co-owner of Big Apple Historic Dance Site
Maurice Williams, Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs
Birgitta Johnson, Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology, University of South Carolina
Frank Beacham Author of Charlie's Place
Sam B. Shanley, Myrtle Beach Lifeguard, 1950-51
Patricia Burgess, Lifelong Myrtle Beach resident
Michael L. Chestnut, Myrtle Beach Business Owner and City Councilman
Hold back the dawn
Hold back the dawn
Stop all the clocks
I just got the news that my baby wants to rock
All she wants to do is rock
NARRATOR: They say music brings people together. It certainly did at Charlie's Place in the African-American Carver Street neighborhood of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, during segregation. White kids were crazy for black music and dance, and Charlie Fitzgerald welcomed them to his club.
All she wants to do is stay at home
NARRATOR: Charlie's Place was a regular stop on the Chitlin' Circuit of black nightclubs in the South. All the great R&B musicians played there. Until one night in the summer of 1950, when terror struck.
She doesn't like to ride on airplanes
Never had a trip on a streamline train
When it comes to loving she knows what it's all about
All she wants do is rock
NARRATOR: In the 1930s, Myrtle Beach was a little seaside town. Its beaches, hotels and restaurants were welcoming, if you were white. African-Americans who wanted to enjoy a dip in the ocean had to go to Atlantic Beach, although many members of the black community worked as cooks, maids and waiters in Myrtle Beach's white establishments. Charlie Fitzgerald was an entrepreneur, and he had no use for Jim Crow laws and conventions.
LEROY BRUNSON: He was a man that people respected. When he spoke, people listened. He did and went wherever he wanted to go. He wasn't a man that you told Charlie where to go or what to do.
NARRATOR: Sarah Fitzgerald, Charlie's wife, was his business partner. They opened their club on Carver Street in the black neighborhood known as The Hill in 1937, a year before Myrtle Beach was incorporated. Blacks couldn't stay in white hotels, so in 1946, the Fitzgerald's opened a motel, The Whispering Pines. It was listed in The Green Book, a guide to safe places for African-American travelers that was published from 1936 to 1967. The Fitzgerald's also ran a taxi company.
DINO THOMPSON: Here was a man that was a successful businessman in the 30's and 40's, who sat in a white restaurant in the 40's, and sat in the white section of the movie theater. He was a substantial man, black or white, back in the day. And he ran his club well, and brought some of the greatest groups and music there.
NARRATOR: From the 1930s to the 1960s, Carver Street had a thriving club scene. There were the Patio Casino and the Little Club Bamboo, and of course, Charlie's Place.
HERBERT J. RILEY: Black Hollywood, that's what I always heard and saw a taste of. Even people who didn't play music, like Redd Foxx, it seems like everybody either played, stayed, or partied at Charlie's Place.
Do you know what it means
NARRATOR: Billie Holiday.
To miss New Orleans
NARRATOR: Fats Domino.
In my back door someday
NARRATOR: Lena Horne.
In a real oyster stew
NARRATOR: Little Richard
You won't do your sister's will
Every single cloud
NARRATOR: Ruth Brown
No woman don't treat me so mean
NARRATOR: Ray Charles
Meanest woman I've ever seen
NARRATOR: Ella Fitzgerald.
LOUIS SIMMONS: Buddy Johnson, The Platters, Wynonie Harris, you'll see everybody come. Every two weeks a different big band coming on. He had them posters, he's go around and put it on the telephone poles. And everybody know what's coming to Charlie's Place next week.
COLBERT BROWN JR.Both sides of the street which was about 10 blocks alone, you would have cars, you could hardly get through there. It was a crowded area, and I mean that's where we were.
NARRATOR: Charlie's Place was part of a network of black-owned nightclubs across the South and parts of the Midwest, known as the Chitlin' Circuit. It began in the 1930s as a way to employ black entertainers. The promoters and producers were African-American, and the venues ranged from country juke joints, to urban clubs like Atlanta's Royal Peacock Lounge.
ERIC CRAWFORD: It was important that these great entertainers had some place that they can make money, tour, a living. And also help other people in those communities make a living too.
RICHARD DURLACH: From Louisiana and Mississippi, all the way to North Carolina, Southern Virginia, there's this phenomenon of juke joints. They're intense, they're rocking, they're not air conditioned, and there's just the most extraordinary music and talent happening in those places.
MAURICE WILLIAMS: We couldn't afford nothing fancy 'cause we didn't have the money neither. So therefore, the clubs you played were on a low budget, low, everything was a low budget and you didn't make that much money, but you still was working.
HERBERT J. RILEY: Most of the clubs in the Chitlin' Circuit in the South weren't all that safe because some of them were just run down places. But Charlie's was different. You couldn't go in this place unless you were dressed properly, unless you knew how to carry yourself. Charlie's was one of the jewels in the South. It had an excellent reputation among musicians.
ERIC CRAWFORD: Ruth Brown's quote said that, "Charlie would pay you as the sweat was on your brow." In other words, just as you just finished singing or performing, you were paid right then and there.
NARRATOR: In its early days before World War Two, Charlie's Place had an advantage over some other clubs. It was located near the Ocean Forest Hotel.
HERBERT J. RILEY: Ocean Forest Hotel was the first million-dollar hotel in the South. You have elites from all over America coming there and staying, and they would get the best entertainment, or Charlie could get the entertainers from over at the Ocean Forest to come his place, and do what became known as Saturday Night Specials. They find out, well, you know, Macy, Lady Day's going over to this place, in the colored section, and they wanted to come, they wanted to see it, and Charlie realized there was money there. A few started coming and they became comfortable, you know, and more and more came to the point, where--I'm told--there'd be lines of Cadillacs.
1947 FILM CLIP: For a special dance now by Red Calhoun and The Boys, turn 'em loose kids.
NARRATOR: By the end of World War Two, the Big Band era was winding down, and a new kind of music with its roots in blues and jazz, was on the rise. It was called Rhythm and Blues.
BRIGITTA JOHNSON: The kind of beginning of the youth culture starts right at the so-called baby boomer generation, right there in the 40's and 50's, and so this is kind of where your musicians are now being able to shine. So it was not just a jazz musician, now you can become a rhythm and blues star.
So they're playing this kind of faster, you know, blues-based jazz, and people are loving it. People are now having this new technology called a jukebox, and also being able to follow these smaller bands that play this more upbeat, you know, more young-sounding music.
NARRATOR: The white kids who lived at the beach or came down for the summer to work as waiters and lifeguards, were dying to learn how to dance to black music that they heard on radios and jukeboxes.
FRANK BEACHAM: George Lineberry ran a big jukebox company on the East coast. He would stock all his jukeboxes in Myrtle Beach. And he had playlists, except he ignored the playlist, and he would put the black music on the white jukeboxes.
BRIGITTA JOHNSON: You had young kids in the 50's starting to question America, question their reality, particularly young white kids saying, "Why can't we party with these people, why can't we hang out"? They have this great music and they start to push back. And so eventually you start having white kids kind of sneak over to the black side of town.
NARRATOR: Sam Shanley and a group of friends hitchhiked to the beach in the summer of 1948.
SAM B. SHANLEY: We knew about Charlie's Place. We knew that all of the musicians stayed there who we really admired. We would go over and stand back in the shadows, very, very respectfully, and watch our black friends dancing to pick up steps from them. Once, at least, Harry Driver, another very famous, a beach person of that time, were invited to come up and dance, and they did, and everybody moved back and they danced pretty good.
NARRATOR: Dino Thompson was a local Myrtle Beach kid. His father knew Charlie well, and Dino was always welcome at Charlie's Place.
DINO THOMPSON: Every time I went to Charlie's Place, they taught me a new dance. I learned The Slop, The Chicken, I learned The Twist a year and a half before the song came out. Every time I'd go, I'd work on a dance, I'd go there and they'd say, "We don't do that anymore, we got a new one." So the black community was extraordinarily creative with music and dance.
NARRATOR: One of the best dancers at Charlie's Place, was the hostess. Her name was Cynthia Harrell, and her nickname was Shag.
HERBERT J. RILEY: Many of the original shaggers, the ones that's in the Shag Hall of Fame, they'd call it, Cynthia "Shag" Harrell was teaching them steps, which they took back to Robert's Pavilion, and taught it to other people. It seems most likely that they'd go back and say, "Shag taught me, Shag taught me," and the name stuck, and there was a dance which became called the Shag.
Shoobie doobie doobie doobie doobie doo bop bop
RICHARD DURLACH: It's impossible, I believe, to attribute to a certain time and place, the dance that we know as Shag. But certainly this entire phenomenon, the exchange of culture, is what created it. Whether it was at Charlie's Place, whether it was at The Silver Slipper, which is another one of those juke joints in the South, whether it was at the Big Apple, whether it was at The Savoy, without this exchange of culture, American dance, American jazz music would not be what it is today.
DINO THOMPSON: We wanted what they had, we went where they were to hear it, and we got along.
LOUIS SIMMONS: And as soon as you get in Charlie's Place, it's on the right-hand side, there's a balcony, and the left-hand side is a balcony, and the middle floor for dancing. The white used to be on the left, and the black on the right and the middle. You know when that music get good, everybody want to dance together. Then the white kids started coming on in the middle of the floor, and nobody didn't like, they thought we was mixing.
NARRATOR: The success Charlie's Place and its popularity with white youth, attracted the unwelcome attention of the Ku Klux Klan.
ERIC CRAWFORD: The Klan asked them to stop doing that. This racial mixing can't happen here. He said, no, you know, and that he was not going to change that. That was very bold, you know, that was very bold.
BIRGITTA JOHNSON: You have that kind of catch 22, where you have to be successful, but not too successful to become uncomfortable for your local white patrons. And at the same time, you have a divided white community, and having to navigate that. Basically seeing the future where this would be possible at a time where people are violently resisting what you were trying to do.
NARRATOR: The summer of 1950 was not especially hot for South Carolina, but racial tensions across the state were heating up. And Charlie's Place was about to become a target.
All she wants to do is rock
NARRATOR: Two years earlier, in 1948, African-Americans won the right to vote in South Carolina's Democratic primary for the first time since reconstruction. At the 1948 Democratic National Convention, the party platform included strong support for civil rights. When the platform passed, 35 Southern Democrats walked out in protest. Two weeks later, they formed the States' Rights Democratic Party, known as the Dixiecrats, with South Carolina's governor, Strom Thurmond, as their presidential candidate. Harry Truman won the Presidency in 1948, Thurmond carried only four states. Never one to accept defeat, in 1950, Strom Thurmond challenged incumbent Senator, Olin D. Johnston, for his Senate seat. Both candidates used anti-black rhetoric to appeal to their base of white voters. By the summer, the race had reached a fever pitch.
FRANK BEACHAM: It was probably the most racially active campaign in the history of South Carolina. Blacks were at these rallies, but it didn't stop them from using highly charged language. It's hard to believe what they were saying. And that's when the Klan was revived, in the summer of 1950, because in a way they felt like they were being given permission to do that.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER ON FILM CLIP: If you're happy with the communist and the Negro running affairs of your country, then I'll say you sit back down on your tail and let 'em run it, because that's what you want. But I say to the people that does not want the Negro and does not want the socialist or the liberal element in this country running their business, I ask you now to rise up and be a white man!
CROWD ON FILM CLIP: And we don't want 'em.
NARRATOR: In this racially charged atmosphere, the Ku Klux Klan was emboldened and its membership increased. A grocer from Aiken, South Carolina, named Thomas Hamilton, founded the association of Carolina Klans, and appointed himself the Grand Dragon. He found plentiful support. And throughout the spring and summer of 1950, he led Klan parades in small towns around the state. On August 26th, the association of Carolina Klans, headed for Myrtle Beach.
DINO THOMPSON: One night, it was August, about eight o'clock, and here comes a slow-moving caravan of 26 carloads they said, I remember it was a long parade. And some were walking beside the cars and some were carrying shouldered weapons, you know, hunting rifles and shotguns.
HERBERT J. RILEY: They were escorted to the black community by two Myrtle Beach policeman. Myrtle Beach Chief of police was sitting in the front seat, with the Grand Dragon, whose name was Thomas Hamilton. They went through the community, and made a bunch of noise and a bunch of threats, but they kept driving.
PATRICIA BURGESS: My granddaddy had a shop on 21st. The Klansmen, which, I don't know which one it was, come and stop and he says "Scott, I asked you to cut out all your lights. We're not gonna bother you." They said "Keep these kids in the house".
All she wants to do rock, rock rock
All she wants to do is rock
NARRATOR: Charlie's Place was full of customers when the Klan drove by. Charlie Fitzgerald called the police, warning that there would be trouble if they came back. Around midnight, the Klan returned.
And the way she huckle-bucks knocks me out
DINO THOMPSON: The Klan kind of took that as, "You can't tell the damn Klan not to come back." Turned the caravan around, came back to Charlie's Place, they kind of swarmed up on Charlie's big lawn in his parking lot.
LEROY BRUNSON: My brother and I was at a house right across the street. We was under the porch, laying on our belly looking at people running. They was shooting and screaming and calling names and the bullets flying everywhere.
NARRATOR: The Klan shot 100s of rounds of bullets into Charlie's Place.
LEROY BRUNSON: So my mom came out and dragged us from under the house, and we went to the woods. What went on back behind the house, you know, because they were doing a lot of shooting.
NARRATOR: A few people were injured, and one person, a Klansman, was gravely wounded. Under his robe, he wore a policeman's uniform. Charlie Fitzgerald stood his ground, but the mob overwhelmed him and threw him in the trunk of a car.
DINO THOMPSON: Took him to a deserted area somewhere, tied him to a tree and beat him badly, and they marked him. They marked him by snipping the lobes of his ears off.
NARRATOR: Ed Washington, who drove a taxi for the Fitzgerald's, was on his way home that night when he happened to see Charlie lying by the side of the road, and rescued him.
PATRICIA BURGESS: And we went to work the next day, and the children was telling us all about it, and we didn't do what they said do, and they'll tell their daddy, and they daddy'll kill us. It was a scary time.
NARRATOR: The policeman who was shot, James D. Johnston, died that night, and no one was ever charged in his shooting. Horry County Sheriff, Ernest Sasser, speculated that Johnston was killed by a bullet from a Klansmen's gun. Sasser was a friend of Fitzgerald. He arrested Charlie. And the story goes that he jailed him for his own protection. He released him a few days later and Fitzgerald left town fast, heading north.
DINO THOMPSON: We don't know where, he might've went to Philadelphia, New York, but he kinda disappeared for a time. Charlie was never charged with anything.
NARRATOR: Sheriff Sasser began arresting Klansman.
DINO THOMPSON: He arrested 12, 13 Klansmen. Arrested the Grand Dragon. They were found innocent, you know, when they went to trial. They threatened to kill the sheriff, they threatened to get him voted out of office, run out of town.
FRANK BEACHAM The sheriff ran for reelection. One of the few places that voted to keep him in was the district around Charlie's Place.
NARRATOR: The Klan attack in Myrtle Beach became national news and the NAACP arranged for Charlie to tell his story to the FBI.
HERBERT J. RILEY: Thurgood Marshall took Charlie to Washington, DC to testify at the justice department. There he named names.
FRANK BEACHAM: But no charges were ever brought. J. Edgar Hoover was against doing anything. The local FBI man in Atlanta called it the Charlie Fitzgerald case and would do nothing. It basically, the whole thing died.
NARRATOR: Charlie Fitzgerald recovered. He returned to Carver Street and re-opened his club, but he died of cancer five years later. Sarah Fitzgerald operated the club until 1965 when it finally closed.
BRIGITTA JOHNSON: Charlie would be one of those people what he would show that we can have dignity and walk upright in this particular society. You're successful, you're a business person and you're thumbing your nose at this law that people have been afraid of for generations. This is kind of what the everyday, local person looked to for hope.
NARRATOR: Today, Carver Street is very different from the old days, Charlie's Place is gone although a portion of the Fitzgerald's motel and home remains. In 2015, the City of Myrtle Beach purchased the motel and the adjoining land where Charlie's Place once stood. A group of Myrtle Beach citizens and the city are working together to develop the property into a catalyst for economic development of the Carver Street community.
MICHAEL L. CHESTNUT: That was the place to go, back in the day. And I want to see that happen again.
NARRATOR: Mike Chestnut is a local businessman and a member of Myrtle Beach City Council.
MICHAEL L. CHESTNUT: Hopefully Charlie's Place can be the kickoff and the revitalization of the neighborhood and save the history of the neighborhood and give people a sense of being part of what's going on.
UNIDENTIFIED CITY PLAN PRESENTER: Carver Street is on that side, this green--
NARRATOR: At a meeting in August, 2017, the community agreed to the city's three-phase plan for Charlie's Place.
PRESENTER: Focus on the phase one.
Including a music museum, a performance venue, and a community center.
The motel units, we will come back and talk about the site plan itself.
HERBERT J. RILEY: We're gonna restore this building. And so we'll have one room for the '40s. The front of the building will have a plate glass window, kind of like in a department store, so you can see it even at night as you come by. We'll take another room, 1950, same idea, but 1950s. Let people see how it changed. This is gonna be called Little Richard Road. We're gonna call it Little Richard Road after the famous Richard Penniman, Little Richard. Little Richard used to live in one of these rooms before he became a superstar.
But on the other side, we're gonna have Lady Day Lane in honor of Billie Holiday, one the greatest jazz performers of all time. A woman who's vocal style influenced the great Frank Sinatra, according to Frank Sinatra. The stage would be over there and it'd be facing here. This would be the picnic area, the concert area. You've got vendors, a row going up toward Carver Street where vendors can set up their booths.
Now this structure here was the home of Sarah and Charlie Fitzgerald. We're gonna to renovate it too with the help of the city. We're going to have a large meeting room. We're gonna have education facilities for children and old folk. We're gonna use it for many purposes but everything's going to be themed around the Charlie's Place, the heyday of Charlie's Place.
NARRATOR: In the fall of 2016, the first annual Myrtle Beach Jazz Festival was held on the Charlie's Place site, bringing big crowds to Carver Street. The second year, even more people attended.
MICHAEL CHESTNUT: I could just see the potential for bigger things to come. And how would that, you know, bring in some of these 16 million visitors that come into Myrtle Beach over into the neighborhood and, you know, would that spur other property owners to think about, "Hey, wait a minute, I got some property here too. You know, what can I do to help?" And I think Charlie's place is going to be that place that hopefully can bring us together and get us to think outside the box in as, it's bigger than just me.
HERBERT J. RILEY: Charlie's is about economic development. And if you're living seven blocks from the ocean, you should have economic development in the community. You should be self-independent, self-sufficient. We think we can do that.
COLBERT BROWN JR.: This is a good area to get in some type of business. And we have people who are interested in doing that. So we want to make available opportunities for the younger generation.
BIRGITTA JOHNSON: When young people realize how far this goes back, it's now another kind of possibility for them. Even in the midst of what's happening now, it's like, "Well, wait a minute, if Charlie and his wife could do this in the '30s and '40s, maybe I could do something like this in 2000s, in 2000, you know, 10s in this case. So definitely being another kind of role model of what people have always been doing to kind of fight against the odds.
She gets her kicks everyday
Yes, locking her fine self away
She rocks in the basement and she rocks upstairs
I can't take it no more
I'm gonna buy a rocking chair
All she wants to do is rock
All she wants to do is rock
All she wants to do is rock
Rock and roll all night long
The following credits roll during the music:
Narrator Phylicia Rashad
Writer, Producer, Editor Betsy Newman
Executive Producer Amy Shumaker
Associate Producer Jaquelyn Johnson
Project Scholars Eric Crawford
Veronica Davis Gerald
Videographers Xavier Blake, Cinematographer
Lynn Cornfoot, Camera Assistant
Super 8 Film Footage Steve Daniels, Cinematographer
Lynn Cornfoot, Camera Assistant
Title Design Able VFX
Avid Editor Dave Adams
Lighting and Set Xavier Blake
John B. Collins
Choreography Richard Durlach
Dancers Joseph Markis Allen
John Roberts Jr.
Reenactors Richard Bellamy
Vintage Cars The Columbia Classic Chevy Club
Costumes Workshop Theater of South Carolina
Film and Photo Archives Archive.org
Jack Thompson Photography
Library of Congress
Moving Image Research Collection - USC
NYPL Digital Collections
South Carolina Political Collections - USC
"All She Wants to Do Is Rock," Wynonie Harris
"Ambient Guitar," Stranger Eight
"Good Morning Mr. Blues," Wynonie Harris
"Bad Beach Band Boardwalk," Clivew
"Ain't Misbehavin," Louis Armstrong
"Oh! Babe," Wynonie Harris
"South Carolina," Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs
"Dark Was the Night," Blind Willie Johnson
"Splashin," Maceo Parker
Special Thanks Breedlove
The Kraken Gastropub
NARRATOR: Support for this program is provided by South Carolina Humanities, the ETV Endowment of South Carolina, the City of Myrtle Beach, Burroughs and Chapin and the following.