Nat King Cole, the jazz great, was without a doubt one of the most gifted American performers of his day. Cole was a very brilliant actor who played on Broadway plays and was remembered for his soothing voice and dexterity on the keyboard. He was also remembered for his soothing voice and proficiency on the keyboard. In 1956, his show, The Nat King Cole Show, made history by being the first variety show hosted by an African-American performer.
However, the jazz singer received the shock of his life when he was attacked on stage by the KKK in the same year. The singer was beaten and knocked down by a mob of white males on April 10, 1956, while singing in front of an all-white audience of 4,000 at Birmingham’s Municipal Auditorium.
According to the Equal Justice Initiative, some members of the crowd thought the attackers had rushed the stage to fight an intoxicated man near the front row who had been jeering at Cole and shouting, “Negro, go home.”
Cole was one of the biggest musical artists when he arrived in Birmingham in 1956 to play. However, he was compelled to book separate events for White and Black audiences due to the city’s racial segregation regulations. The Montgomery native played in front of a segregated audience in Mobile, Alabama, the night before the Birmingham attack, and was booed by several in the audience.
The singer and pianist was midway through his third song of the evening, the love ballad “Little Girl,” with his all-White backing band at Birmingham’s Municipal Auditorium on April 10 when the sad incident occurred. A 19-year-old Vermonter named John Birchard, who was in the audience, later recounted the events.
“The evening got off to a good start. Until it was time for Cole to appear, the performers went through their songs and quips. The Trio’s curtain went up, with Nat sat at the piano, half-turned toward the audience, and the floor mic between his knees. He was received warmly by the audience, and he proceeded to sing. Suddenly, there was a disturbance from the back of the Auditorium, followed by four men, two in each aisle, sprinting for the stage. They rushed the stage, with one of them assaulting Cole and knocking him off the piano bench and onto the floor.”
“It was instantaneous anarchy. The audience erupted into applause and screams. “Before you could blink, a hundred officers appeared onstage, struggling with the four white men and pulling them away,” Birchard claimed.
Cole’s assailants were apprehended by police at the Birmingham show. Four individuals have been charged with inciting a riot, and two others have been detained for questioning. Outside the arena, police discovered a car with weapons, a blackjack, and brass knuckles.
Cole came to the stage to a standing ovation after the incident, but he told the audience he couldn’t finish the act because his back hurt. He addressed the White gathering, “I just came here to entertain you.” “That’s exactly what I assumed you wanted. Alabama is where I was born. Those people made my back hurt. I’m sorry, but I’m not able to continue because I need to see a doctor.”
Cole was evaluated by a medical and went on to perform later that night in front of a Black audience.
According to reports, Asa Carter, a copywriter and novelist, orchestrated the attack on Cole. Each of the putative Klan members — Jesse Mabry, E.L. Vinson, Mike Fox, and Orliss Clevenger — received a maximum penalty of 180 days in prison plus penalties during the sentencing hearings for the 1956 attack.
Cole’s attack reflects the realities of being a Black man in America, where racial injustice rallies have exploded in recent years. “I can’t understand it,” Cole would say of his attack while still alive.
“I’ve never participated in a demonstration. I’ve also never joined a segregation-fighting group. Why are they attacking me? “All I want to do now is forget about it.”
Cole, who considered himself an entertainer rather than a politician, was viewed as a traitor by the NAACP because he insisted on doing segregated events. Cole would eventually join the Civil Rights Movement and be an active participant in the 1963 March On Washington for Jobs and Freedom, but only after a few years.