Satchmo and the Little Rock Nine
“I don’t get involved in politics,” Louis Armstrong once said. “I just blow my horn.” One evening in 1957, however, he decided to speak up, and his remarks may have had large consequences.
On September 17, 1957, Armstrong was scheduled to play a concert in Grand Forks, North Dakota with his All Star Band. A young reporter, Larry Lubenow, had been assigned to get an interview with Armstrong for the local paper, the Grand Forks Herald. Unfortunately, Lubenow could not schedule an interview with Armstrong before the concert, so he decided to get crafty and posed as a bell captain at Armstrong’s hotel. After Lubenow revealed his subterfuge to Armstrong, the trumpeter agreed to an interview. Two weeks earlier, the Little Rock Nine, nine African-American teenagers, had being barred from entering Little Rock’s Central High School. Lubenow boldy asked Armstrong’s opinion on the matter. President Eisenhower was “two faced,” Armstrong said, adding “It’s getting so bad a colored man hasn’t got any country.” He also had some choice words for Governor Faubus of Arkansas who had resisted orders for desegregation of schools.
When the interview was published, Armstrong defended his remarks despite his road manager’s wishes and backlash from sponsors, artists, and radio stations around the country. The African-American community, which had called him an “Uncle Tom” on more than one occasion, rallied around Armstrong. A week after the interview, President Eisenhower sent 1,200 paratroopers to Central High School to defend the Little Rock Nine and enforce desegregation, which might have had a little something to do with Satchmo’s remarks.