5. How The South Was Won or The Kids Were Alright

Central High SchoolSeptember 4th, 1957. Governor Orville Faubus of Arkansas calls out the National Guard to prevent 9 African-American students from attending Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. That night Bobby Poe and The Poe Kats had a gig at The University of Arkansas. Integrated bands were not the norm, to say the least, in 1957. What could have been a recipe for disaster turned into a reaffirmation of the human spirit.

The Poe Kats played the gig. My dad remembers that the crowd of college kids swarmed around African-American piano player Big Al Downing in joyous ecstacy when Big Al played the Fats Domino and Little Richard numbers in the band's repertoire. The only unpleasant reminder of segregation that evening was that Big Al couldn't leave the stage to go to the bathroom because the toilets were "Whites Only".

In those days The Poe Kats took a sort of fiendish delight in circumventing the Jim Crow rules of the day. To get Big Al in motels on the road, one band member would distract the desk clerk while Big Al carried some equipment with a blanket over his head quickly towards the room. It's a wonder they weren't lynched at some point.

Many of the gigs on the road for the band were at little dives and beer joints. My dad had the bright idea of approaching the biggest, baddest dude in the place and buying him a drink. The band usually had no problems after enlisting such a protector at each gig...