Whitewash: A Journey through Music, Mayhem and Murderby Frank Beacham
In “Charlie’s Place,” for the first time the true story is told of the Ku Klux Klan's violent attempt in South Carolina in the post World War II
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A compelling new book that destroys carefully constructed myths to reveal three extraordinary events that many influential Southerners would just as soon forget.
In “Charlie’s Place,” for the first time the true story is told of the Ku Klux Klan's violent attempt in South Carolina in the post World War II years to stop dirty dancing and kill the emerging black music behind it—rhythm & blues.
The author describes how a handful of adventurous young black & white dancers—with the help of a fearless black nightclub owner—risked life and limb in an era of racial segregation to create a bold new dance and an enduring Southern musical legacy.
The story evolved from a series of recorded interviews by the author with many of the key figures credited with the creation of South Carolina’s state dance, the shag, and the state’s music, a sub-genre of rhythm and blues now called Carolina “beach music.”
In a vivid description, he reconstructs the violent armed assault in 1950 by the Ku Klux Klan in an attempt to shut down “Charlie’s Place,” an influential Myrtle Beach night club where white and black dancers shared the dance floor and helped create what is now called the shag. The violence sprang from the aftermath of one of the state’s most openly racist political campaigns, the 1950 U.S. Senate election between Strom Thurmond and Olin D. Johnston.
“Young black and white South Carolinians—in a time of segregation—put their lives on the line to defy the state’s white establishment and create a genuine musical legacy,” said Frank Beacham. “An irony is that South Carolina’s government officials made the shag and beach music the official dance and music of the state without even understanding or noting it’s remarkable historical significance.”
The Legacy of the Orangeburg Massacre
An act of racism in a small college town leads to peaceful protest by frustrated black students. The governor, elected on a platform of racial moderation, responds with a vast show of armed force. Each side misreads the other, escalating the conflict. Then, in a peak of emotional frenzy, nine white highway patrolmen open fire on the students. In less than ten seconds, the campus turns into a bloodbath.
Over four days in early February, 1968, this scenario played out in Orangeburg. On the final day, three black students were killed and 27 others wounded when the lawmen sprayed deadly buckshot onto the campus of South Carolina State College. Most of the students, in retreat at the time, were shot from the rear—some in the back, others in the soles of their feet. None carried weapons.
The killings occurred in a southern state heralded for its record of nonviolence during the civil rights era. In attempt to preserve its carefully-cultivated image of racial harmony, a web of official deceptions was created to distort the facts and conceal the truth about what happened in Orangeburg. The state's young governor, Robert E. McNair, claimed the deaths were the result of a two-way gun battle between students and lawmen. The highway patrolmen insisted their shooting was done in self-defense—to protect themselves from an attacking mob of students.
At first, the state’s cover-up worked. Later, it unraveled. Now, after more than 40 years, the story of Orangeburg continues to simmer unresolved in a twilight zone of blame and denial.
The Secret of Honea Path
On the morning of September 6, 1934, in the tiny town of Honea Path, South Carolina, friends and neighbors came to blows in a labor dispute. When it was over, seven people were dead and 30 others wounded.
The bloody riot at the town's cotton mill on that warm Thursday morning shaped the lives of two generations to follow—not because of the shock of what was known, but by what was unknown. Fear, threats and intimidation were used to silence the story of the greatest tragedy in the town's history.
For 60 years, the story of a mass killing in a small town was successfully erased, not only from the history books, but from the public consciousness of those people most affected by it. An instrument of fear—so powerful that parents were afraid to tell the story to their own children—formed a lifelong social contract for entire community's survival.
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Meet the Author
FRANK BEACHAM is a New York City-based independent writer, director and producer who works in print, radio, television, film and theatre.
A former staff reporter for United Press International, the Miami Herald, Gannett Newspapers and Post-Newsweek, Beacham’s articles and stories have appeared in dozens of magazines and newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and Village Voice. Two stories from his non-fiction book, "Whitewash: A Southern Journey through Music, Mayhem and Murder," are being developed into feature films.
Beacham has written three non-fiction books on video for the American Society of Cinematographers, and has been a long running columnist on television and the Internet for TV Technology magazine. He is a contributor to "Toward the Meeting of the Waters," a new anthology on the civil rights movement published by the University of South Carolina Press.
Beacham was executive producer of Tim Robbins’ Touchstone feature film, "Cradle Will Rock," which was released nationally in 1999 and is currently available on home video. "Maverick," a new stage play by Beacham and George Demas, is currently in pre-production in New York.
Beacham wrote and directed the American Public Radio drama, "The Orangeburg Massacre," starring David Carradine, Blair Underwood and James Whitmore. It won the 1991 Gold Medal for Best History and the Silver Medal for Best Social Issues programs in international radio competition among 26 nations at the New York Festivals.
Beacham produced, with the late Richard Wilson, the six-hour retrospective, "Theatre of the Imagination: Radio Stories by Orson Welles & the Mercury Theatre" and wrote, directed and produced the documentary, "The Mercury Company Remembers" with Leonard Maltin. Previously, he has written for "Riverwalk: Live From the Landing," a weekly jazz broadcast from American Public Radio.
During the 1970s and 80s, Beacham was owner of Television Matrix, a film/TV production company that developed and produced a wide range of programming for broadcast, cable, syndication and home video markets. The company also supplied video news crews and freelance news reporting teams to the networks and other broadcasters.
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