1956 April 10

Birmingham Racists Attack Nat King Cole on Stage


The popular African-American singer Nat King Cole was attacked and beaten by a mob of racists while performing on stage in Birmingham, Alabama, on this day. Four men jumped on stage at the Birmingham Municipal Auditorium while Cole was midway through his song, Little Girl. One man hit Cole in the face, knocking him to the floor of the stage. Plainclothes officers rushed to protect him, but uniformed police officers blocked them thinking they were among the attackers. The Ted Heath Orchestra, a British group that was touring with Cole, launched into singing God Save the King to help restore order. Cole reappeared and told the audience he could not continue because his back was injured and he needed to go to the hospital. This attack occurred in segregated Birmingham, and so the first show was for whites and a separate show later was for African-Americans.

Later in the year, on November 5, 1956, Cole launched a weekly television show on NBC television, making him the first African-American to host his or her own show on a major national network. Many television stations in the South, however, refused to carry the show.

In fact, however, the African American jazz pianist Hazel Scott briefly had a television show in 1950 on the small Dumont television network. The show was cancelled on July 29, 1950 after she was called to testify before HUAC because of her left-wing political activity.

Read an eyewitness account of the attack: http://www.artsjournal.com/rifftides/2006/05/eyewitness_the_attack_on_nat_c.html

See and hear Nat King Cole sing Unforgettable: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fy_JRGjc1To

Read: Daniel Mark Epstein, Nat King Cole (1999)

Learn more about Nat King Cole: http://www.blackpast.org/aah/cole-nat-king-1919-1965

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