Cassanello, Robert. To Render Invisible: Jim Crow and Public Life in New South Jacksonville. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2013.
Cassanello draws on the extensive theoretical work of Jürgen Habermas, Nancy Fraser, Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, and others to examine the connection between the color line and the public sphere in Jacksonville. Cassanello’s nuanced study of Jacksonville politics, residential segregation, and public participation traces the emergence of a black “counterpublic” that pushed back against conservative white Southerners’ attempts to remove blacks from the public sphere. In Cassanello’s view, the color line was both a mental construct that constrained African American freedom and a physical demarcation reified in the geography of the city. The public sphere and geography were therefore linked in Jim Crow Jacksonville. In addition to its valuable contributions to the intertwined histories of race and the public sphere, this work offers several important insights into the social and political milieu that performers encountered when they entered the city and shaped how they interacted with Jacksonville audiences. While Cassanello places the black counterpublic in “churches, schools, businesses, and fraternal organizations,” for example, nightclubs—which functioned as more than just businesses—were also spaces where “blacks could meet in private to foster a consensus about the state of race relations, explore the meaning of black citizenship, and develop strategies to combat white supremacy” (5). Cassanello’s focus on the geography of the color line is also especially useful for this project. Jacksonville’s “Harlem of the South,” situated on Ashley Street, affords a good example of the type of space that allowed a black counterpublic to flourish in Florida. Clubs like the Two Spot and Lenape Bar were important sites of black social and political engagement.
Dinerstein, Joel. Swinging the Machine: Modernity, Technology, and African American Culture Between the World Wars. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2003.
Dinerstein argues that African Americans interpreted the “urban soundscape” through swing by incorporating the unique sounds and rhythms of machinery and the heightened pace of the post-WWI economy into the music. According to Dinerstein, this musical interpretation came at a key moment in American history when critics were commenting on an emerging dissonance between the new political and aesthetic ramifications of industrialism and the much older patters of agricultural life that characterized American life before the First World War. Where industrialism seemed to prioritize machines over their human operators, big band jazz’s pulsing rhythms and wild dance moves brought the human element back to the center of the industrial aesthetic. This presents an interesting contrast to the “preindustrial” soundscapes encapsulated in the blues and still popular in the interwar south and highlights the cultural interaction between the rural south and the urban north. Dinerstein characterizes interwar American life by the aural symbiosis of jazz, machines, and cities, but this period also corresponds to the Chitlin’ Circuit’s first period of rapid growth and expansion in the predominantly rural south of the 1930s. Big band artists like Cab Calloway performed frequently in cities like Miami and Jacksonville, while smaller groups and blues performers continued to play small venues in rural towns. Thus, while Dinerstein argues that swing was a “nationally…unifying cultural form” that symbolized African Americans’ desire to escape the Jim Crow South, it developed in parallel with other, less “industrial” musical forms on the Chitlin’ Circuit. The continuing popularity and re-emergence of less “sophisticated” popular music in the South—culminating in the explosion of rock ‘n’ roll—suggests a unique tension between resistance and continuity in the popular music scene that informs this project.
Dunn, Marvin. Black Miami in the Twentieth Century. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1997.
Dunn narrates the African American experience in Miami from slightly before the city’s founding in 1896 to the late 1990s, arguing in the process that four major historical events brought African Americans to the “magic city.” The collapse of the Bahamian economy, first, pushed immigrants to small settlements like Coconut Grove in the 1880s. The Great Freeze of 1894-95, followed closely by the arrival of Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railroad in 1896, brought successive waves of migrant laborers to the city in search of work. Haitian and Cuban turmoil, finally, led to a fourth wave of migrants beginning in the mid-twentieth century and continuing to the 1990s. With each wave of immigration, Dunn argues, African American newcomers in the city faced remarkable challenges. Despite segregation, multiple forms of discrimination, racial violence, and other cultural frictions, black Miamians built vibrant neighborhoods of their own as they almost literally built the city around them. Dunn emphasizes a fundamental paradox in Miami history that, like the work of Raymond A. Mohl, places the city squarely within the Jim Crow South. Blacks played an essential role in the rapid construction of the city—indeed, African American voters provided pivotal votes in the incorporation of the city and the relocation of the Dade County seat—but, at the same time, white Miamians enforced an extremely rigid system of segregation in the city that continued to characterize Miami politics and culture well after the Civil Rights struggle of the 1950s and 1960s. Dunn’s examination of Overtown culture and night life from 1930 to 1960 is especially useful for this project and provides important context for a collection of oral histories collected at the University of Florida in the 1990s.
Hemmingway, Theodore. “The Rise of Black Student Consciousness in Tallahassee and the State of Florida.” In Go Sound the Trumpet!: Selections in Florida’s African American History, edited by David H. Jr. Jackson and Canter Jr. Brown, 259–272. Tampa, Fla.: University of Tampa Press, 2005.
Hemmingway examines the many cultural influences that came together in Florida in the years after World War II to inspire the black student movement in Tallahassee. Strong leadership was one of the crucial factors in Tallahassee activism. Minister and activist Charles Kenzie Steele, FAMU students Patricia and Priscilla Stephens, and others took the lead in articulating African American resistance in the city. These leaders and the followers they inspired and organized drew on a strong tradition of black activism articulated by W.E.B. DuBois, Marcus Garvey, and several others to respond to a number of national and regional trends. Outrageous acts of racial violence that spread across Florida and the South in the late 1940s and early 1950s, including the wrongful conviction of four African American men in Groveland in 1949, the political marginalization of blacks in Altamonte Springs in 1951, and the assassination of Florida NAACP president Harry T. Moore in 1951, gave local impetus to a growing national movement for civil rights that students encountered in the mass media. These trends, Hemmingway argues, culminated in the Tallahassee bus boycott of 1956 and the ongoing student movements at FAMU and FSU in the late 1950s and early 1960s. While Hemmingway’s survey of black activism from reconstruction to the late 1950s helps contextualize the Florida Circuit, his emphasis on the influence of mass media and the deep cultural immersion of students suggests—but does not make explicit—the importance of popular music in the students’ milieu. Articles of The Famuan newspaper at Florida A&M University from the late 1950s, for example, review recent music performances on campus in columns right beside editorials on civil rights. This supports the idea that popular culture and politics were deeply connected in Tallahassee.
Jones, LeRoi. Blues People: Negro Music in White America. New York: William Morrow, 1963.
This work, written pseudonymously by Amiri Baraka, examines the crucial tension between the cultural preferences of middle-class African American “citizens” and their working-class “freedmen” counterparts. Compared to blues and its expression in early improvisation jazz, Jones argues, big-band jazz subsumed African American cultural expression into a more commercially palatable musical product that muted resistance and tended to reduce black autonomy. Blues for Jones was a “secret” response to cultural oppression; it derived its power from the physical, legal, and mental separation of the artists that created it in the South. From a “covert retention” within early jazz, blues transcended and outlived the crass commercialism of the big-band era and made decisive contributions to both bebop and the emergence of rhythm & blues and soul. Thus, where big-band jazz reflected the “shallowness” of American popular dance music, Rhythm & Blues was “an emotionally sound music” that advanced the cause of African American autonomy. The tension between commercial musical products for “citizens” and covert “freedmen” expression highlights a key aspect of the Florida Chitlin’ Circuit. Contrary to Jones’s preference for bebop and urban resistance, which was centered on northern performers and audiences, newspaper articles and oral histories from Florida indicate that the underground music scene in the South crossed socioeconomic boundaries in order to articulate a more universal language of resistance. Big-band jazz was short-lived on the Florida circuit, however. Boogie-woogie, Rhythm & Blues, and soul were more enduring and defined African American popular music in Florida for most of the period this project covers.
Lauterbach, Preston. The Chitlin’ Circuit: And the Road to Rock ‘n’ Roll. 1st ed. New York, N.Y: W.W. Norton, 2011.
While Lauterbach is more interested in narrative than analysis in his examination of the southern Circuit, he fleshes out the inner workings of the musical underground and argues that Rhythm & Blues and (later) Rock ‘n’ Roll developed on the road—in southern dance halls and night clubs—rather than recording studios. The Chitlin’ Circuit was a backwater for popular artists. It was part of a larger economy of vice and entertainment, Lauterbach explains, that included gambling enterprises, dance halls, bootleg liquor producers, and prostitution rings. Financed by this universe of vice, performers worked for unreliable club managers, navigated the perilous social and political landscapes of Jim Crow, and were often exploited by promoters and booking agents. Even so, important artists like B.B. King, Ike Turner, Little Richard, Bo Diddley, and James Brown emerged from the back roads of the Circuit. Another important aspect of Lauterbach’s argument links the Circuit to the geography of the color line. The fortunes of African American urban space and the innovation of the Chitlin’ Circuit were mutually connected. As black urban spaces disappeared, the important cultural expressions of the urban R&B and Rock ‘n’ Roll scene disappeared as well. Beginning in the late 1960s, commercial recordings replaced live performances as the primary engines of musical development. This argument sheds light on the simultaneous decline of the Circuit in Jacksonville’s LaVilla neighborhood and Miami’s Overtown in the 1960s and highlights the critical link between culture, economics, and politics at the heart of this project.
Lawson, R. A. Jim Crow’s Counterculture: The Blues and Black Southerners, 1890-1945. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2010.
Lawson argues that the blues drew on the griot tradition in West Africa to both mirror the distressing social position of working-class African Americans and offer them a means to interpret, accommodate, and criticize the Jim Crow South. By playing new instruments and engaging an expanded marketplace, blues musicians were representative of an emerging popular counterculture that was centered not only on the personality and lifestyle of the artist, as they portrayed themselves in the music, but in their ability to communicate subversive coded messages to African American communities while simultaneously entertaining white audiences. Similarly to Jones (Baraka) and others, Lawson attributes the development of the countercultural message of the blues to the separation built in to the southern color line. Two further characteristics of the blues, however, contributed to its importance in popular culture. First, it was expressive of both communities and individuals. Both could use it to articulate their identities. Because it was such a powerful tool, therefore, blues transcended class, gender, and age divisions before merging with the broader patterns of American popular culture to become “a pathway to freedom and inclusion” (22). When placed in conversation with Cassanello, Jones (Baraka), and Lipsitz’s Footsteps in the Dark, Lawson’s work brings the intersection of counterculture and counterpublic into clearer view and offers a clear interpretive framework for the Florida Chitlin’ Circuit. Spaces on the Circuit were separate and intimate; they were frequented by diverse audiences who understood the coded messages of the blues and cheered when those messages were made more overt in the late 1950s.
Lipsitz, George. Class and Culture in Cold War America: A Rainbow at Midnight. Praeger Special Studies : Praeger Scientific. New York: Praeger, 1981.
Music is a small but important part of this study. Lipsitz argues that popular music in the Cold-War era was transformed by the meeting of white and black music traditions during World War II. The blues made up the African American portion of this fusion. Drawn from African precedents and shaped by a history of labor exploitation—both enslaved and free—the blues, according to Lipsitz, “expressed class as well as racial perceptions” (198). Both blues and white country music, however, encapsulated a preindustrial worldview. As wartime necessity brought workers into closer contact in northern cities and factories, Lipsitz argues, musicians were searched for ways to fuse the blues with country to articulate their resistance to industrial capitalism. Rock ‘n’ Roll was the result of this fusion. Lipsitz contradicts Dinerstein in several key respects. For Dinerstein, big-band jazz of the 1920s and 1930s represents a compromise between the logic of industrial production and the human imperative inherent in earlier musical forms. Lipsitz—and others, including LeRoi Jones—indicate that the compromise was temporary and incomplete for working class audiences in both the north and south. This work underlines and helps explain the shifting tastes on the Florida Chitlin’ Circuit. Between 1935 and 1970, performers and audiences transformed the Circuit from a collection of jazz dance halls featuring famous performers from New York and Chicago, to boogie-woogie, R&B, and soul night clubs that hosted small combos and solo performers. Resistance and accommodation, Lipsitz suggests, were not mutually exclusive aspects of this transformation. Instead, the venues on the Chitlin’ Circuit were vital sites of working class interpretation.
———. Footsteps in the Dark: The Hidden Histories of Popular Music. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007.
Although much of this study is situated in the decades after the decline of the Circuit, Lipsitz argues that popular music contains important “hidden histories” that different communities of listeners and performers use to interpret the past. The use value of pop for listeners, therefore, cannot be interpreted by lyrics, music, or critical reception alone; instead, popular music should be viewed as an important index of change over time. Unlike other scholars, who interpret postwar popular music as a response to consumerism and industrialism, Lipsitz in this work argues that the commercial nature of popular music in the twentieth century makes it an even more valuable indicator of cultural value. Because consumption was an increasingly important part of Americans’ daily lives, he explains, consumers used commercial products—like recorded music—to register emotions that may have otherwise been suppressed. This insight introduces popular music as a vitally important interpretive tool for historians of the twentieth century. Lipsitz opens the alternative archive of popular music in order to challenge several widely accepted narratives of music history. In the documentary Jazz, for example, Lipsitz argues that filmmaker Ken Burns applies an uncritical and ahistorical nationalist narrative to a music that was at the center of African American resistance and the civil rights struggle. More useful for this project is the critical framework that Lipsitz provides for understanding the importance of popular music for diverse communities. He illustrates the “hidden histories” of a music created by communities “hidden” behind the color line and draws a direct link between jazz and the civil rights movement.
Mohl, Raymond A. “The Pattern of Race Relations in Miami since the 1920s.” In The African American Heritage of Florida, edited by David R. Colburn and Jane L. Landers, 326–365. Gainesville: University Presses of Florida, 1995.
Mohl examines the processes of segregation that characterized the history of African American life in Miami from the 1920s. Despite a history of ethnic and racial diversity that seems to differentiate Florida—Miami in particular—from the rest of the Deep South, Mohl points out a parallel legacy of racial division that incorporates the city into the broader history of the Jim Crow South. The most enduring and visible aspect of this division, Mohl argues, is the pattern of residential segregation that has shaped the geography of Miami since it was founded in the late nineteenth century. City planners and developers shaped a persistent public policy in Miami that was designed to remove African Americans from the valuable business districts of the city to its more distant suburban fringes. Though this physical symbol of the Jim Crow color line was present from the city’s beginning, Mohl illustrates the ways that local policy combined with federal support during the New Deal and led to the destruction of Overtown in the 1960s when planners routed Interstate 95 directly through the historically black community in downtown Miami. In addition to residential segregation, numerous other processes of segregation and discrimination—in employment, allocation of city services, and political representation, among other indicators—continued to shape African American life in the city when the article was written in 1995. Mohl’s discussion of the history of Overtown and white violence in Miami provides important context for this project. Rockland Palace and the Mary Elizabeth Hotel, two important stops on the Circuit, were located in Overtown. Their fortunes rested on those of the community of that supported them.
Neal, Mark Anthony. What the Music Said: Black Popular Music and Black Public Culture. New York: Routledge, 1999.
Neal argues that the African American critical tradition in the South—part of the Black Public Sphere further theorized by Cassanello in To Render Invisible—was initially developed in “safe” social spaces. Popular music was an important part of this development. According to Neal, popular music contained a number of “core narratives” that allowed African American listeners and performers to cultivate a sense of community in a hostile society. This effort to build and maintain autonomous communities forms the center of Neal’s thesis; music venues were therefore a prominent example of the type of covert space that allowed a black counterpublic to form. The Chitlin’ Circuit, Neal argues, was a crucial bridge between African Americans who remained in the South and the migrants who left for new opportunities the north and west. It provided a framework for reconstructing the “safe” spaces of the Black Public Sphere in the South in industrial centers like Detroit and Chicago, while also serving as a site for important cultural memories—which Neal terms “hidden transcripts”—of the African American experience in the South. This work supplements Cassanello’s study of the Black Public Sphere in Jacksonville by locating it within popular music venues in addition to more traditional spaces, offering an explanation for the increasing commercial success and cultural significance of black popular music in the years after the Second World War, and adding another link in the chain of arguments that bind popular music performance to the emerging political response to racism and industrialism in the 1950s.
Rabby, Glenda Alice. The Pain and the Promise: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Tallahassee, Florida. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1999.
Like Mohl, Rabby argues that Florida history cannot be disentangled from the history of the Deep South. Tallahassee was at the center of the slave-based plantation economy in antebellum Florida. After the Civil War, Florida’s capital city resisted change by reinforcing racism and hardening the color line. By the twentieth century, the city was a prime example of a “dual society” ordered around “the presumption of white superiority” (2). While there were subtle shifts in the post-World War Two city linked to the growth of its two universities and the expansion of state employment, racial violence and segregation were still the norm in the 1950s. Building on this broad “Southern” context, Rabby’s detailed study examines Tallahassee during the years of the Civil Rights Movement. Tallahassee student and community activists were active in a watershed bus boycott in 1956, organized an early southern chapter of CORE, and set a precedent for serving out jail terms after lunch counter sit-in protests that other activists across the nation would follow. While Rabby pays special attention to the key fights of the 1950s, her narrative culminates in the struggle for school desegregation in the wake of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Tallahassee schools were not integrated until 1970. Because a portion of this project focuses on Frenchtown and the Red Bird Café in Tallahassee, Rabby’s work provides indispensable context for understanding the social forces that shaped the city’s African American community. As other historians have shown, popular music was a crucial aspect of the political struggles that defined the postwar generation.
Saul, Scott. Freedom Is, Freedom Ain’t: Jazz and the Making of the Sixties. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2003.
Hard bop, according to Saul, developed in tandem with the struggle for civil rights and was a sort of sonic “alter ego” to the movement (2). Like the fight for civil rights, hard bop was grounded in older traditions of African American resistance. It also operated as a form of direct action expressed through improvisation and “rhythmic assertiveness”--an artistic realization, Saul argues, of the same impulses that gave rise to political direct action. Hard bop was linked to other aspects of the political struggle unfolding outside of nightclubs as well. Unlike their big band counterparts of an earlier generation, bop musicians worked in small, democratic combos that relied on each other to support the individual improvisational visions of the group’s members. In this sense, then, Saul argues that bop groups “might represent different kinds of publics and counterpublics” that took exception to “the quietly humming consensus” of the 1950s (6). While Saul theorizes an important link between music and politics that is useful for this project, this work also introduces a tension between the Black Public Spheres that operated in the north and south. Hard bop was a distinctively urban music, born in northern cities. It was not as popular with southern audiences as it was with northerners, but it was in the South that the Civil Rights movement was most active until the 1960s. This tension between the overt resistance expressed in bop improvisation and the overt political action of southern activists lends further support to the notion of a “covert” southern counterpublic that used music venues and performances to interpret and resist conservative white Southerners from the “invisible” side of the color line.
Shaw, Arnold. Black Popular Music in America: From the Spirituals, Minstrels, and Ragtime to Soul, Disco, and Hip-Hop. New York : London: Schirmer Books ; Collier Macmillan, 1986.
Shaw argues that American popular music cannot be characterized, as some scholars have maintained, as a white “mainstream” that was periodically reinvigorated by black cultural expression. In Shaw’s view, popular music in America represents a constant process of cultural exchange in which members of the “mainstream” and “underground” share equal agency in shaping American culture. By examining the periodization of American pop, Shaw demonstrates the crucial importance of African American artists whose cultural expressions lent their names to the Ragtime era, Jazz Age, the Swing Era, and the era of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Shaw is careful to argue, however, that popular music operated as a kind of dialectic that repeatedly and simultaneously synthesized and transformed white and black popular music. This helps to explain the broad intercultural appeal of Rock ‘n’ Roll and R&B in the 1950s and 1960s. Florida artists often assume pride of place in Shaw’s work: Dunnellon-native Sil Austin and Florida transplant Bo Diddley were important agents in the development of Rock & Roll. Of greater importance to this study, however, is the direct line that Shaw draws between Black Nationalism and R&B/Soul. This music expressed a new pride and dignity that was absent in earlier blues performances, Shaw asserts, and was similar to the charismatic worship style prevalent in many African American churches. The implications of this bold new sense of pride for the Chitlin’ Circuit in Florida are clear. As with Shaw’s formulation of popular music, politics and culture supported each other in significant ways. The same pride that motivated soul singers flowed into activist efforts to resist and transform segregation.
Shell-Weiss, Melanie. Coming to Miami: A Social History. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2009.
Shell-Weiss offers a more complete picture than Dunn or Mohl of the many cultural influences and tensions in Miami. Where Mohl and Dunn place Miami squarely in the Deep South, Shell-Weiss views the city’s history in light of Caribbean and global influences. Bahamian immigrants formed the core of Miami’s African American community in the city’s early years; successive waves of Caribbean and Latin American immigrants redrew the racial boundaries in the city and contributed to a “tripartite racial system” that created new tensions. As it encountered southern norms, Shell-Weiss argues, this new and radically different racial order tended to reinforce the existing white-black divide in the city and exacerbate the discrimination outlined by Mohl and Dunn. These norms were not exclusive to southerners, however. Shell-Weiss argues that the predominantly northern-born business community in Miami took advantage of southern racial precedents to exploit the burgeoning African American workforce that migrated to the city throughout the twentieth century. Shell-Weiss’s detailed examination of immigration and cultural interaction in Miami contributes another source of context as well as a more nuanced interpretive toolset for understanding the cultural underground in Overtown. Mobility was one of the defining features of African American life for generations after the Civil War. As African American laborers moved to the thriving and expanding city, they built a vibrant entertainment center in the heart of the historically black district. The hardening racial divide Shell-Weiss illustrates, coupled with the economic ambitions of the city’s business community, nearly destroyed the district until historic preservation efforts in the late 1980s saved several important sites from destruction.
Sidran, Ben. Black Talk. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971.
Sidran, an American Studies scholar and popular musician who performed with the Steve Miller band, argues that there was a definitive link between African American music and politics. Where scholars traditionally argue that music reflects the society that created it, Sidran aims to elevate oral culture relative to “literate culture” and demonstrate the ways that music’s orality formed the basis of African American society. Sidran’s arguments about the political importance of black popular music are of more importance for this project and serve as both a primary and secondary source. Where Jones and Saul view bebop as the sonic counterpart to the civil rights movement, Sidran links African American resistance to soul music and argues that political change emerged from a secular cultural underground rather than a political underground fostered in southern churches. Written at the height of the Black Power Movement, this study is beginning to show its age. Sidran theorizes from potentially perilous generalizations, but his work when interpreted as a secondary source nevertheless fleshes out the African American counterpublic and draws a decisive link between cultural expression and the political changes that transformed the region in the postwar era. Black Talk may be more valuable as a primary source by demonstrating the public’s interpretation of black popular music. “[F]uture historians may well note,” Sidran argues enthusiastically, “that black music was the element that not only provided the basis for a viable social structure during times of crisis…but was at the heart of the ensuing black social revolution as well” (xvii). Sidran’s quote expresses the enthusiasm and vitality of the popular music scene that this project seeks to interpret.