On this day in 1956 Nat King Cole was attacked while on stage in Birmingham Alabama. He was attacked by a group of white segregationists (otherwise known as scum “Stupid Caucasian Uneducated Morons”). They were upset that a couple of years before there had been a landmark ruling (Brown Vs Board of Education). That case had mandated the desegregation of all public schools. The men who stormed the stage that night were some of the remaining members of the White Citizens’ Council. The council had grown quickly when it was formed in 1954 but then dwindled.
This was not Nat King Cole’s first brush with racism, how could it be in the atmosphere of 1950s USA? Remember that in spite of the desegregation law passed by the Truman administration in 1948 the US army did not announce plans to act on the law until 1951 and it was was segregated units fighting liberty and justice in Korea.
Cole had been the first black TV presenter but the show was pulled when he could not get a sponsor for nationwide broadcasting in 1957. He was also subject to objections and abuse when he moved into the fashionable (rich) area of Beverly Hills, but he refused to move.
On this day Cole was told that there would be trouble but he still decided to go on stage. When at 7 o’clock he strode onto stage where the UK’s Ted Heath band (mainly white) was waiting to accompany him there was a fair amount of tension back stage. The security was tight with local police being very visible. A little way into the show the trouble began and Cole had to leave the stage.
After 30 or 40 minutes he returned to complete the show.