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.
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.