April 10, 1956 – Birmingham, Alabama Racists Attack Nat King Cole on Stage

Nat King Cole

On this day in history, popular African-American singer Nat King Cole was attacked and beaten by a mob of racists while performing on stage in Birmingham, Alabama. Birmingham was very segregated, so Cole had two shows scheduled – an early show for whites, and a later show for blacks. According to an eye-witness, during the first show, four white men ran to the stage and started attacking Cole. Police rushed in and grabbed them. Cole was slightly injured in the fracas and considerably shaken up; he was taken to the hospital so could not perform for the second show. The witness reported:

Later, we learned from newspaper accounts that the four racists who launched the attack were local Klan members who cooked up this plan. They did some jail time for assault and battery or some such minor charge. The Birmingham police apparently had been tipped off that there might be trouble at the concert and were stationed backstage.”

Later in the year, on November 5, 1956, Cole launched a weekly television show on NBC television, making him the first African-American to host his or her own show on a major national network. From 1956-57, Cole hosted some of the most revered names in jazz and pop on his NBC series: Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis Jr., Harry Belafonte, Johnny Mercer, Mel Tormé and Peggy Lee, among others. Many television stations in the South, however, refused to carry the show.

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