Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Deep Deuce Prologue

May 4, 2009, note: Deep Deuce history is considerably expanded in a 2009 series of 30-40 articles contained in The Ultimate Deep Deuce Collection.

I'm calling this post, "Deep Deuce: A White Man's Pause." It is the first of 3 parts describing the historic "Deep Second" (later to be called "Deep Deuce"), but, more broadly, the posts concern Black citizens' history and/or contributions to Oklahoma City as well as I've been able to learn as an outsider (White) looking in to the Black part of our history that I know little about.

The 2nd part of this topic, Deep Deuce History, is here. The 3rd part, Famous Deep Deucians, is here.

Initially, I was motivated to write a post about this area since it is "in vogue" to do so right now ... but the catalyst was the marvelous print I saw (and will shortly purchase) at the Oklahoma History Center this past Saturday, shown below, of the old Aldridge Theater at 303-305 N.E. 2nd Street (click on the pic for a larger image):

This vibrant image resonates vitality and inspires a pride in Oklahoma City of "Deep Second", later to be called, "Deep Deuce", the principal commercial and entertainment area for the Black population of Oklahoma City in a much earlier day. The area was the venue for much Oklahoma City Black heritage as well as for the contributions of many members of the Black community to our city's richness.

Lately, most if not all non-Black Oklahoma Citians have come to take pride in this all but vanished historic part of Oklahoma City history as they continue to shear themselves of their past racial prejudices ... pride in the likes of Black jazz musicians like Charlie Christian and Jimmy Rushing, the internationally renowned author Ralph Ellison, and many others.

I do feel such a pride ... but after researching this post, other considerations give me pause as to whether I have a "right" to claim a share in the pride.

Initially, I merely wanted to find out more about the Aldridge Theater, being prompted to do so by the print, above. After Googling that name in lots of ways, I decided to search the Daily Oklahoman's on-line archives to see what I could find ... what jazz musicians were playing at the Aldridge Theater, when, what the ads were like, etc., anything I could find.

A search for "Aldridge Theater" before 1950 in the Oklahoman's archives resulted in only 3 (count 'em, THREE) "finds", all brief articles, 2 about fires in 1937 and 1938 and a 1945 article about an employee being charged with theft from the theater. Nothing else – no articles about great local or other jazz musicians coming to Oklahoma City, nothing. It's as though the area did not exist and/or was wholly irrelevant to the dominant White part of the city.

By the time I'd finished my research for the general topic, I revisited the Oklahoman's archives, and, on a hunch, searched for the term, "nigger." That search resulted in 1,375 "finds," all of them including that word. 3 for "Aldridge Theater" .... 1,375 for "nigger." I didn't look at them all – I was too disgusted and ashamed as a White Oklahoma City descendant to do so – but, I did think that it was historically important to present at least a few of them so that they would not get lost in the real-life story, when finally getting down to talking about those magnificent Black Oklahoma Citians I previously mentioned, to be described in the next blog post.

A May 30, 1906, article, bears the headline (upper case is the Oklahoman's, not mine), "RUN THEM OUT." The sub-headline reads, "NIGGER ATTEMPTS TO ASSAULT WHITE WOMAN WHO OUTWITS THE BLACK RASCAL – USED A HAIR PIN AS DAGGER". The headline for an August 14, 1906 article reads, "A BRAVE WOMAN", sub-headline, "FOUGHT A BIG BUCK NIGGER AND PRESERVED HER HONOR." The 12th Oklahoma City mayor was J.G. Messenbaugh. In an October 26, 1906, Oklahoman article, he was quoted as saying, "Mayor Messenbaugh opined that there was no reason they should 'allow one nigger to haul slop in the day time even though he had but one eye.'" These are but 3 of the 1,375 "finds" in searching the Oklahoman's archives for the term, "nigger".

Stepping aside from non-personal evidence, I'll add this personal story. I was an Oklahoma State University debater from 1961-1965, a freshman in 1961-62. Toward the end of that school year, our Coach, Fred Tewell (father of the Edmond golfer Doug Tewell) intended to treat us to a nice dinner and night out in Oklahoma City. He had a place in mind, a great steak house at what is now at the south end of Frontier City ... the name alludes me today. Whatever its name, we parked outside and went in to be seated.

One (excellent) member of our debate team was a squeaky-clean young Black man, and he naturally entered the restaurant with the rest of us. On entry, and seeing our Black colleague, we were told that Blacks would not be served but that the rest of us were welcome.

In my lifetime, I cannot remember a time that I have experienced greater embarrassment or shame because of the color of my skin.

We left and drove into Oklahoma City and had great food at the old Sussy's Restaurant on Classen Boulevard. But, there is no way that this occasion will ever be a pleasant memory – it is as ugly as it is real – and Black people living in Oklahoma City from 1889 through the 1960's-1970's experienced this same thing and much worse on a daily basis.

While experiencing a walk through the history of this area, it is right to remember why the area existed in the first place - Blacks had no place else to go.

End of prologue. If you Black guys and gals want to welcome me as a White guy into your communion to share your pride, I'd be proud. But, I'll be and am proud of you, even if you don't.


Anonymous said...

Great post. I didn't know anything about the history of Deep Second (Deuce)until reading this. Sadly I guess most of the old Deep 2nd was razed to build the highway.

Doug Dawg said...

Thanks, anon. I'm a "Johnny come lately," too, and I'm just learing as I go. We've all got much yet to learn, me included to be sure.

Unknown said...

Thanks Doug I commend you as being a white man for having a spirit of justice and compassion for something which you have never experienced and could never really understand. As a black woman I appreciate you providing this knowledge as "our" community in this generation has lost its way and the only way we will find it is to know where "we" started. Maybe your article can help some of the blacks in Oklahoma to find their true identity and compel them to do a new thing here in Oklahoma to better "our" community as a whole.
Sincerely with love and open arms,

Doug Dawg said...

Thank you, D'Andra. What kind remarks on this, Martin Luther King, Jr., Day. And what a great day we will all share tomorrow. I'd be proud if I'd be allowed to give you a big hug!

Anonymous said...

My Aunt lived on the corner of 7th and Stiles in the 40's and 50's...No air back then ....We always played at Stiles park and were usually the only White(looking) Kids around...We were always proud of her for not being afraid...she had a gun behind every door...but never had problems....There were ladders to 2nd floor windows(fire escapes)and they were always open due the heat in summer.This was a red brick building on the south east corner
(7th and Stiles)and she ran a small grocery in the bottom of the bldg.
I remember going past the Duece every Sunday (on Walnut).It really was a little city all it's own...
My Family was never taught to hate, due to the fact that we are Bi-Racial is also strange that Our Story is never heard ...and sadly probably never will be.
But I am not ashamed to be of White/Indian ancestory ...
No one selects their skin color...
Growing up as a kid in the 50's it was not fun to see the Indian portrayed as the bad guy every night on TV and all the kids playing Cowboys and Indians.
Especially when your Family had been robbed of all Land and Riches by the white man.
It would make my GrandPa so mad
and he would always let us know that the Indians were not losers in each battle as portrayed on TV.
Alot of times we were refered to as "GUT EATERS ,and alot worse. Seems no one remembers the Indian stuggle to get along here.
The Black Population of Okla city is not the only Race of people that need an apology.
We have suffered also.
We too have feelings.

Doug Dawg said...

Thanks, anon, for your thoughtful comments. Although this Deep Deuce series of posts focuses on the Black community in the Deep Deuce area, I'd not been aware (before your post) of the Black/Native American interracial marriage families living in this same area, particularly in the context of Oklahoma City history. Your comments help to expand the historical knowledge and understanding and I thank you for making them.

Most often, abuses to Native Americans are presented in/from a larger venue (e.g., Oklahoma generally, or particular tribes) and are not seen from a particular metropolitan context such as Deep Deuce. Your comments broaden the OKC context and knowlege and doubtless involve another level of racial bigotry, and all such contexts ought to be presented in a complete review of Oklahoma City history.

Feel free to offer more, should you wish. These days, interracial marriages are not that big a deal ... my wife is a Native American ... but I know from her as well as from my own research and knowledge about the injustices that Native Americans suffered, also, even though I've not heard from her (she is not from Oklahoma City) about the Oklahoma City context of which you speak.

Again, thanks for your appreciated comment.

Doug Dawg said...

Whoops, anon! I see after making the above comment that you said that your parents were White/Native American, not Black/Native American. My fault for too fast a reading.

What you have to offer would be quite a unique contribution ... the child of White/Native American parents living in the Deep Deuce area which was predominately Black. I hope that you will offer more personal information about your personal experiences and those passed along to you by your parents.

Anonymous said...

I've commented to civic leaders and the media it would be fitting to restore many of the tribes names for the streets that once existed. I'm also a staunch supporter of removing the name Sheridan from our maps because of the message it sends in regards to Native American relations. They could even just name it Sheraton. But not after an Indian killer.

Anonymous said...

My names is Ellen Sheffield-Charles, the daughter of Musician, arranger, and band leader. I have been struggling for many years to get the record straight about Charles Christian and my dad's friendship, and musicianship.

When Charles Christian got discovered by John Hammond, the booking agent for Benny Goodman, Christian was the guitarist in the Leslie Sheffield (Rhythmaries) Band. I have managed to get my father inducted into the Jazz Hall of Fame in Tulsa, in the Historical Society on NE 23rd street and have written a book about my life as a musician's Daughter. Dad was the arranger for the Ernie Fields band, and played with Count Basie, and Alphonso Trent and his band. I am very proud of my Dad's accomplishments. If it had not been for my dad, a lot of the black musicians of OKC would not have had gigs, and bread to take care of their families. Most of the real jazz musician have passed away, but the memories, still linger on. I am a musician myself, and experienced many of the events during that time, with my dad. You may look on his facebook page for more info.