Little Rock/Gotta Roll
Grand Fork, North Dakota Supper Club Gospel, September 17, 1957
By David Mills
Hey pops how’s everything?
White folks still in the lead
The gig was in the evening, the TV that afternoon.
As I sat in the hotel with my integrated All-Stars,
Faubus and his National Guard hooligans --
blocked the constitution, blocked Brown
V… blocked those kids
Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen
Minniejean, Carlotta Walls, Mother-
shed, Pattillo and five other kids just
trying to disintegrate (mash desegregate
and integrate together) lily-white Little
Rock Central High while a mob of white
faces heckled them. Few hours, I’d also be
mobbed by a crowd of white faces, wanting
my sound to at least integrate their ears,
screaming my name ‘cause they wanted
me to attend their school; wanted me
to be their guidance counselor of cool.
But the footage of that poor child’s face,
that cracker’s phlegm. That chance meeting
of hope and hate, hot on her ninth-grade cheek…
Nobody knows her sorrow
“Way they treating my people down
south, colored man ain’t got no country.”
Negro problem, you say? How ‘bout the ofay issue?
See, I can’t tell if Weisenhower gonna
condone or condemn this jive ‘cause he
two-faced and gutless, his stomach
up in his skull—a replacement face
Associated Press wanted to run a story
about how I’d run my mouth. Fine. Print it.
Scrawled “SOLID” across the piece—ALL
CAPS—cause my downtrodden family’s long
been acquainted with that old-south suffering.
“Nobody knows but Jesus”
Negro Satchmo’s ancestors came from the jungles
of Africa possessed a primitive savage’s intelligence
level. He’s indebted to the white race for all he has
accomplished. Join my indignation until such low
specimens are brought before justice to apologize
to American people or be given a one-way ticket
to Africa where he belongs.
Spartanburg Herald-Journal Letter to the Editor
American people?! Last I checked, I’m one
of ‘em. I ain’t taking back a thing. If I can blow
my trumpet for white folks I should be able
to blow my top at them, too. From time to time.
See, over the years, only loud mouth
they liked me to open was my horn.
Press asked what I would say if the State
Department booked some gigs in the Kremlin.
Just straighten out that goulash down south,
you won’t have to worry ‘bout what Soviet
propagandists do with my words. Think
about it, it’d be a lot harder for Russians
to read my mind through my music.
Sometimes I'm down
Because I put my horn down but spoke up
newspapers said: good ol’, grinning,
Satchel mouth how could he utter such
things? Treating me like I was just
a toothy, Louie-come-lately; like
I wasn’t up on current events; I was on
a 1st-name basis with head-whipping and spit.
Disc jockeys in Memphis, Little Rock, Jackson, Charleston, Nashville stopped spinning
my platters, my wax planets, wouldn’t let a black man rotate on his own improvised axis.
Oh, yes, Lord
Then, them kung-Fu music maestros, be-boppers and boppers
to be badmouthing me: “moldy fig, hanky head, years-long-
plantation Tom crooning “darkie” on “Sleepy Time Down South
hypocritally unhip,” ‘cause I criticized the administration but kept
blowing (& bowing) before segregated audiences.” But Dizzy,
Mingus and Max, not one jazz Bo stood beside me on that world
stage. Nowhere to be found. Not them or their chaotic bop-racket.
Sometimes I'm almost to the ground
The controversy hardly died down but I was still about the uplift
travel abroad travel back—my stand haunting me like
my head’s a sour melody I can’t get out of my head.
Nobody knows the trouble I've seen
lack of spades-got-my back haunted me
the rest of my natural-born days
correspondents insisted my remarks was a grave mistake. But Eisenhower
had stompers on the ground a few days after I split my lips
“Mr. President Daddy when you deployed
them armed escorts, them battle-ready 101st
Airbornes to enforce the law and enroll
them kids armed with nothing but lunch,
I thought this was a great country. Noticed
those paratroopers’ rifles look like my horn
pointed the wrong way, though: the butt
should be where my bell is. Still, I’m Red
Beans and Ricely yours. Satchmo.”
Sometimes I'm up
Let’s take one from Decca’s good book: the choir, organ
happy-get handclap. The Little Rock, supper club gospel: