Chapter 3: 1940s Don’t you Know the War’s On?
The pinch of The Depression still was alive,
Too many children never went to school
The Anti-lynching bill didn’t pass;
People redeemed soda bottles to eat at Father Divine
Poor white and black still walked behind the mule
Savagery was hidden behind gentile masks;
When cotton was the king,
Uncle Sam was the law
Jim Crow was the rule.
Jazz greats were touring overseas and Strayhorn took the A Train to meet with Duke,
People easily fell in love;
They travelled the waterfront in search of a Lover Man.
You go to my Head and Our Love is Here to Stay,
Things Ain’t what they Used to Be for There Will Never be Another You,
There’s a Cottage for Sale on the outskirts of town
Wrapped in the delight of our dreams,
Ooh, What a little Moonlight will Do.
After another episode of The Mercury Theater, Walter Winchell denounced Hitler
But while he reported trouble on the left, we were attacked from the right
And the days of infamy began,
Germany declared war on Europe as we declared war on Japan,
Allies on either side of the argument meant that everybody was in some kind of a fight.
Draft notices were out and men began to disappear.
Black out shades and air raid drills were a part of everyday life.
Broken hearts and dreams delayed sat on the platform of the Army bound train
Clergy prayed for the brothers and sons,
Wives and mothers had to be strong and make every sacrifice
Because now the war was on.
Defense plants opened and everything had to be of one accord,
So, no cars were made and very few records were printed,
Rubber, nylon and gas were scarce,
Coffee, butter and sugar were cut short
Forty ounces of meat had to last all week
It was the cost civilians had to pay,
Fighting for democracy across the high seas.
Roosevelt put everybody to work
He said no discrimination was allowed,
Ships and tanks, bullets and planes were made by women!
Fannie Hill* testified,
‘Hitler got us out of the white folk’s kitchen!’
Cause sisters finally had good paying jobs,
While the brothers fought for democracy in segregated troops, ain’t that some G.I. Jive?
Men of combat cried like a child when they saw what the Nazis had done to the Jews,
But for the first time they were treated with humanity by folks with white skin,
And that planted the seed for civil rights to begin ’cause when they got home,
They refused to ever be relegated to a second-class citizen.
What makes your Big Head So Hard?
Jazz showed no sign of slowing down even as rhythm and blues came on,
Louis Jordan and Nat King Cole kept the radios hot and the dance floor full of folks ready to let the good times roll,
Hungry servicemen on a weekend pass
Landed upon towns where the joint was jumping and fine women were waiting,
That’s all they needed to know;
They were tickling and lovin,
Dancing and huggin
Beggin and pleadin,
If you Can’t Smile and say Yes,
Please don’t Cry and Say No,
Do Nothing until you Hear from Me.
And in 1945
The soldiers that survived came home to their love and made her his bride,
But by then the world caught us in a lie;
Japanese were locked in camps;
The Spanish and Native Americans had long been driven from their land,
Africans denied basic human dignity and fighting for what America claimed itself to be,
And by 1949, Hollywood showcased the shame with
Pinky, Lost Boundaries, Intruder in the Dust, None but the Brave,
That moved us to the dawn of a powerful age
That would change the country and would pave
The direction for the rest of the century.
Jim Crow had advanced reservations for every show,
He met black musicians at the front door
And told them to go to the back,
Stay out of sight until time to come on,
Our music masters had to sleep on the bus
In some places, they were attacked on stage,
Abused by managers, heckled by the audience who paid to see them,
With bloodied faces and wrecked nerves
They struggled just to make enough money to eat,
They met this awful fate all over the country
While the war against hatred was taking place,
Bombs were blasting on both sides of the high seas,
But they managed to carry on and create
Some of the best tunes to ever be heard.
Now you would think that if you weren’t there to catch the show, you just missed out;
missed the band, the dances and shouts,
missed the riffs, solos and jam,
Just before television
People caught their stars
On an oversized gadget
And it was called
It was just like going to the movies;
a video jukebox,
Enjoying the sound of Hollywood, New York and Kansas City,
Stage props added to the mystique
Lyrics were the script for a skit that brought the song to life,
Fats Waller hollered Your Feets too Big
Cab Calloway enjoyed Virginia, Georgia and Caroline,
Count Basie Jams and Louis Jordan Jive
Were all seen on the Panoram
For the cost of one dime.
The Panoram made it possible to see
Three minute soundies in restaurants and bars;
Train stations and luncheonettes,
Everyone had a chance to enjoy the popular stars,
So our music videos are not new,
The short lived panoram was the mother of it all,
It promoted artists and gave Black performers a chance to have far and wide exposure when other doors were closed.
Soundies from the Panoram,
That’s where music videos began.
Horse of Another Color
Asia and Europe were cut off during the war
So, the good stuff was hard to come by,
But that all changed after the bomb was dropped,
After Hitler and his crew were finally stopped,
A new connection was made
Turkish opium dominated the trade and was refined in
Marseilles located in France.
It arrived at American shores devastating New York
Folks were nodding on the corner,
It was everywhere
Anesthetizing frustration and despair
On this stuff called horse.
It consumed the love that once kept us strong,
Friends became strangers when this horse came along
Trust was gone,
Doors that was once open with welcome
Were shut tight with the deadbolt on.
Shame prevailed in back alleys and shooting galleries
Disgusted faces looked upon those who were sick and weak,
Life was brutal whether straight or a junkie
When the White Horse came to town
From the shores of the Mediterranean Sea.
Under the Guidance of Green
The Northern Migration was only half of the struggle to have a better life,
But travel nightmares continued long after that.
Thanks to Jim Crow there were hardly any places to go,
Where black folks weren’t insulted or worse
By malicious mindsets that sanctioned abuse and ruthless attacks.
They took their life in their hands hitting the road;
Had to go into the woods for relief
Couldn’t stop anywhere to get a bite to eat,
And they had to stay clear of sundown towns
Travelling across the U.S. was a dangerous for black and browns.
Some were robbed of their money or thrown in jail,
Others simply disappeared and never made it there;
The odds were even greater if they drove a nice car,
Or had that uppity, educated middle class air.
A man named Victor Hugo Green, bless his heart,
Created the Negro Motorist Green Book,
Taking the edge off from danger
Keeping travelers safe and secure,
Offering much needed information,
To locate entertainment, gas, room and board.
It listed directions on hospitable destinations and how to navigate off the main road,
As folks trekked along in the American novelty
Compliments of Henry Ford.
The book was a menu for every state in the union
With hotels, restaurants, barbershops and hair salons,
It listed night clubs and family parks,
Even service stations, camps or a road side house
Were all detailed in the green book to keep people off treacherous roads after dark.
The Civil Rights Bill signed in 1964 opened the door for every American to enjoy all public places,
So, the Green Book for safe travel was put to rest;
Look how far we’ve come from gas station maps to GPS,
Departing and arriving all over the world,
Feasting upon the joys of leisure and accepting only the best.
We must remember what our ancestors endured
When their options were few to none,
As they travelled from the east coast to the west,
From Lincoln Highway to Route One.
May we take some time to remember their rough and rocky ride,
When the only safeguard they had,
Came from a green book known as Negro Motorist Travel Guide.