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New Orleans. Can’t Ride Together

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This is Mike Strong in Hays, KS for HPPR. The book I'm reviewing is March, a graphic history by John Lewis that's a three-book trilogy.

As John Lewis relates the story of the Freedom Riders, he talks about the effort to send in 10 more riders from Nashville to Birmingham, after one of the buses is attacked and burned. On May 20th, 1961, the bus with the replacement riders pulls into the Montgomery station and they exit to be met with a mob that attacks them.

The replacement riders run to a cab and pile in (March: Book 2,, page 75), yelling, “Driver, GO!!” The driver, panicked, says, “I can’t! It would violate state and city law. Blacks and whites can’t ride in the same car.” Then the crowd gets to the cab and starts pulling out all the occupants, including the driver.

At this point, federal agent John Seigenthaler tries to intervene and gets clubbed. Finally, the assault stops when Alabama’s Public Safety Director Floyd Mann fires his gun in the air and backs down the crowd. But it could have ended with their deaths.

When I read “Blacks and whites can’t ride in the same car,” I immediately thought of a video interview that Nicole English and I shot in 1999 with Leonard Reed. Leonard was telling us stories about a trip he and heavyweight fighter Joe Louis did for an exhibition golf match in 1948 or '49 in New Orleans.

Those were times of real fear. Even so, that fear inspired some classic practical jokes; although, in the moment, Leonard admits that he had real fear, until he realized that Joe was pulling one on him. And as Leonard Reed said of Joe, “He was a real jokester.” I found some of that video footage from 1999 and I will let Reed tell you three of the stories himself.

Leonard Reed spent his life between worlds, living and working in the Black entertainment industry, starting at a time when vaudeville was our most prolific venue.

Leonard was a mix of white, Black and Choctaw, but he looked white. As a boy of 13 years old, he was already in deep police trouble when Lincoln High School principal Hugh Oliver Cook l (1921-44) took him in after two or three previous foster homes rejected him. He was a problem kid. Cook was a top national educator and Leonard credits Cook with turning him around, making sure he was educated.

Leonard was a co-creator, with his partner Willie Bryant, of the tap-dance routine “Shim Sham” (after the nightclub’s name and designed as a closer in which the audience could join with little training, similar to a line dance). They originally called it “Goofus” after the music title.

Reed became a producer in the world of Black entertainment, spending a great deal of career time in Harlem. He produced at the Cotton Club and was with the Apollo when it was still a vaudeville space called Hurtig & Seamon’s Burlesque. Leonard travelled the world entertaining, and he produced and worked with heavyweight champion Joe Louis for years.

In 1951, Leonard helped in breaking the PGA's color barrier when the PGA unwittingly allowed him in as a member based on his appearance—you know, able to “pass,” Then Joe Louis applied, and the PGA refused to allow him in because Joe was "colored." Leonard told them they had already allowed "colored" folk in because he (Leonard) was "colored." They were shocked. Joe got in, and Leonard and Joe toured for years together.

Listen Wednesday April 20th to hear selections from an interview Nicole English and I did of Kansas City resident Leonard Reed. White, Black and Choctaw, Leonard looked white. He and Black heavyweight champ Joe Louis worked golf tournaments and shows such as Ed Sullivan when it was illegal for Blacks and whites to travel in the same cab. Joe used this to play a joke on Leonard in New Orleans in 1948 or '49.

This is Mike Strong in Hays, KS for HPPR Radio Readers Book Club.

REFERENCES

My very old-style page started in 1999 with later additions: https://www.kcdance.com/BarbLen/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aaEy5_lT7gk – My video published by someone else. A bit rougher in story and language and longer at 10:50 with the stories in the link set above and a couple more stories.

Wiki page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonard_Reed

They traveled and exhibited together, playing golf and gags. Here is a link (6:41) to YouTube showing Leonard and Joe on the Ed Sullivan show: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JgiKMHk43Do

Apollo Theater and Hurtig & Seamon https://s-media.nyc.gov/agencies/lpc/lp/1299.pdf https://blackthen.com/apollo-theater-history-behind-harlems-entertainment-mecca/

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Spring Read 2022: Graphic Novels—Worth a Thousand Words 2022 Spring ReadHPPR Radio Readers Book Club
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