The State Of The Strut - And Response

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Bessie Smith Strut is on life-support in a vegetative state of existence.  And that’s referring to the clone that exists now; the original Strut has been dead for decades.  It’s poetic irony that Mark Making finished removing the Bessie Smith mural from the side of Champy’s Chicken just in time for the Bessie Smith Strut.  Of course, there is another on the historic street, a head portrait equal in size to another of Martin Luther King, Jr.   

The mural that is going to replace the one removed commemorates an event very worthy of commemoration (the 1960 Howard student-led lunch counter sit-ins), but still, couldn’t the removal have waited a week or two?  I see this hasty removal as a foreshadowing of what’s going to eventually happen to the Bessie Smith Strut.  And happen fairly soon, I expect.

Riverbend started as a moderately-priced (dirt cheap compared to now) 10-day festival for the whole community.  One of its initial goals was to draw people downtown to make them aware of the venues available for dining and entertainment, or at least to get them focused on the long-ignored possibilities of the city’s riverfront. 

Monday nights were dedicated as a people’s festival, free of charge, to draw people to the shrinking but still thriving business district along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, née East 9th Street.  Back then the name change wasn’t even a year old and many still called it by its old name; I helped in the campaign for the name change and I still do.

Part of the people’s festival idea was to bring together folks from across all socioeconomic and racial spectrums, which it did, from upper to lower class, including middle and working class, both black and white, many of the former either neighborhood residents or frequent patrons of the still numerous entertainment venues on the street.  I couldn’t help noticing when I saw the photo in this Tuesday’s edition of Times-Free Press that the crowd seemed more than a little monochromatic and homostratous.  

In the beginning of the Bessie Smith Strut, Ninth Street (MLK Boulevard) was lined with places such as the Whole Note bar and dance hall (which also had superb lunch buffets very cheap) and Shirley’s Jazz Den, a frequent haunt of mine (and my parents, as well, both of them—she still is—jazz aficionados) in addition to numerous other bars and restaurants, like Memo’s Chopped Weiners.  Let and Let Live barber shop had been operating for decades, and still is, along with several other barber shops and beauty salons.  There were also gas stations, liquor stores, and mom and pop convenience stores.  And, of course, the history-filled Martin Hotel above it all.

Live and Let Live and the other hair places remain, but all the entertainment spots vanished in the face of the crack cocaine tidal wave that hit in the late 1980’s.  Between my last visit in late 1987 before leaving for the Philippines and my first visit after my return in January 1990, Ninth Street had become a ghost town.  The Martin Hotel had closed its doors shortly before I left for boot camp and was demolished a year later. 

But the Bessie Smith Strut continued.

After returning from the Philippines again in late December 1991, this time from working with the U.S. Refugee Program, this time with a wife and son, I looked forward to visiting Ninth Street again for the Strut, always my favorite part of Riverbend.  I quickly learned, however, that the character of what used to be the people’s festival had very much changed, along with the greater festival surrounding it. 

The entertainment at the Strut has always been superb, but since all the entertainment businesses on MLK Blvd. have closed, having the festival there has been like administering medicine to the dead, to twist the use of Paine’s axiom.  It no longer bears any resemblance to the Bessie Smith Strut as it was intended.  Charging a fee and having fences only add insult to mortal injury.

The Bessie Smith Strut, if it is to continue, should be separated completely from Riverbend and made free and unfenced once again.  Maybe then it could get back to its original purpose and assist in bringing back an area finally showing signs of returning life (Champy’s, Chattanooga Smokehouse, for examples).  After all, if UTC doesn’t ingest the remainder of MLK Blvd. the way The Blob of the 1950’s ate people, the neighborhood may survive. 

Otherwise, end the charade and put it out of our misery.

Chuck Hamilton 

* * * 

Really? The fences and fees have added insult to injury. Silly me. I always felt it was the gun play, one of which was fatal and the mass surge of festival goers running from fights. Lets not forget the robberies.  

The police and city leaders hold their breath on the evening of strut day and don't breathe until the street sweepers come out and clean up the thrown trash left behind from the participants at this hallowed area.  

The gangs just days ago opened fire in daylight at a gathering which included small kids across from Howard School. It's not 1950 anymore, it's 2013. Yes, folks used to sleep at night with their doors unlocked and windows opened, but not anymore. But if it'll make you feel better then by all means, go ahead. it's a free country, or it used to be. As for me? I'll always vote for common sensibility and be prepared for the evil that runs our streets every single day.  

Michael Burns



Remove Not The Ancient Landmarks

How have we progressed, racially speaking, if we engage in acts of violence and destruction? I was just beginning to see signs of real harmony and friendship between the races when this new spirit of turmoil emerges. Makes me think back two years or so to the destruction of thousand-year-old statues and other works of art in Syria – or to the destruction by Chairman Mao (Vietnam ... (click for more)

True Unity

I and my better half had the experience of unity in it purist form  tonight .  We went to one of our favorite restaurants close to  Hamilton Place .  We were seated at our favorite table and were greeted by our wonderful waiters and waitresses.  Next to and behind us was a group of African Americans just enjoying their evening to the fullest. ... (click for more)

Excitement Builds As Tennessee Valley Prepares For Monday's Eclipse

Sandra Nicholson, director of the Edu-Care Daycare Center on Signal Mountain, is as ready for  Monday’s  historic solar eclipse as she’s ever going to be. It took some doing, she said, but she has finally enough pairs of NASA-certified solar safety glasses for everyone in her family.  She’s just one of the tens of thousands of Tennessee Valley area residents ... (click for more)

Berke, Hinton Moving To Have City Removed As Trustee Of Confederate Cemetery

Mayor Andy Berke on Friday said he has asked City Attorney Wade Hinton, on behalf of the city of Chattanooga, to file the necessary paperwork "to confirm the city is no longer listed as a trustee of a Confederate Cemetery on East Third Street." Mayor Berke said, “Our action today makes it clear that the city of Chattanooga condemns white supremacy in every way, shape and ... (click for more)

Unbeaten Boyd-Buchanan Wins Hixson Invitational

The Upperman Bees came to Chattanooga on Saturday, hoping to improve on their second-place finish from a year ago in the Hixson Invitational volleyball tournament. The Bees were again the best in their pool as they defeated teams from Hixson, Grace, McEwen and Notre Dame. They got a note of revenge in the Gold division semifinal with a 25-13, 25-17 win over defending champ ... (click for more)

Baylor Wins Showdown At The Sunsphere Volleyball

The Baylor Lady Red Raider volleyball team got its season off to a great start this weekend by winning eight straight matches and claiming the championship hardware in the Gold division of the Showdown at the Sunsphere tournament in Knoxville. Baylor had wins over King's Academy, Farragut, Heritage, Siegel, Oak Ridge, Brentwood and Hardin Valley with another win over Heritage. ... (click for more)