Nat ‘King’ Cole attacked on stage – archive, 1956

 Nat “King” Cole on stage after being attacked, 10 April 1956.
Photograph: Bettmann/Bettmann Archive

BIRMINGHAM (ALA.) APRIL 11.
Nat “King” Cole, the Negro entertainer, to-day cancelled three appearances in the Southern United States and left for Chicago to rest after being attacked by white men while he was singing with Ted Heath’s band here last night. Mr Cole received a slight back injury during the scuffle. To-day six men were formally charged with assault with intent to murder him, but later the charge against four of them was changed to conspiracy to commit a misdemeanour.

Later, police reported more than a hundred white men had planned to attack Cole and overpower Heath’s band. They said the affair had been planned four days before it took place. A total of 150 men from the Birmingham area and near-by towns were to have arrived at the auditorium, but the mob failed to show up.

Mr Cole was singing when men from the audience clambered over the footlights and rushed at him. One grabbed his knees and brought him to the floor. Police ran on to the stage and seized three of the assailants. The three others were arrested later.

Mr Cole, who was appearing before an all-white audience, has been active in the fight for equal rights for Negroes. One of the men arrested is a member of the board of directors of the local White Citizens’ Council, which supports segregation. Police said they came in a car in which were found several rifles, coshes, and brass knuckles. The council is waging a campaign to rid Alabama of “rock and roll” music which it calls immoral, claiming that the music is a scheme by the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People of which Mr Cole is a member, to bring white youths in favour of integration of the races in the South.

Attempts by a group of Negroes to enter a white cafeteria in Houston, Texas, after three of them had been refused service, led to violence to-day when a white man hit a Negro lawyer. The owner, Mr W Derrington, announced afterwards that he was closing the cafeteria to both whites and Negroes because he did not wish to be held in contempt of Court by refusing to serve Negroes.

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