Mobsters – The Cotton Membership

by Jaelyn Conley

THE BLACKS WERE ON THE STAGE.

THE WHITES WERE AT THE TABLES.

THE MOBSTERS WERE BEHIND THE SCENES.

AND SOMEHOW THE MAGIC TOUCHED THEM ALL – Jim Haskins – “The Cotton Membership.”

Within the 1890’s, Harlem was the land speculator’s dream. The elevated railroad strains that had been prolonged to 129th Road in Manhattan, had remodeled the realm from the hinterlands to what was referred to as “The Nice Migration.”

On the time, black households lived principally within the space between Thirty-Seventh Streets and Fifty-Eight Streets, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues. The higher crust of society seen Harlem as the following step for the upwardly cellular, and consequently, splendorous townhouses costing 1000’s greater than comparables downtown, have been being constructed as quick because the Harlem land could possibly be bought by the land speculators.

By 1905, the underside of the Harlem actual property market fell although the ground. The land speculators have been pressured to face the truth that the townhouse had been constructed too fast, and that the costs have been far above what the folks have been ready to pay for them.

On the verge of chapter, the land speculators used ways that at this time could be unlawful. They determined to lease their buildings to black tenants, far above what they’d cost white tenants. Then, in a frenzy to recapture their losses, the land speculators approached white constructing homeowners and advised them in the event that they did not buy vacant buildings they’d lease them out completely to blacks, thereby decreasing the worth of the white landowner’s properties. The white landowners did not chew, so the land speculators made good on their guarantees. Whites started shifting out of Harlem in droves, changed by black households who had by no means lived in such a superb neighborhood earlier than. Black church buildings adopted their congregations from the slums of Manhattan to the splendor of Harlem, and by the early 1920’s, Harlem was the most important black group in america.

Nonetheless, most blacks couldn’t afford the excessive rents charged by the white constructing homeowners, in order that they took in tenants, inflicting two and typically three households to dwell in a one, or two-bedroom house. Coinciding with the overcrowding of Harlem, got here the inflow of unlawful enterprises, akin to numbers runners, homes of prostitution, and drug sellers. This was counteracted considerably when affluent blacks, principally within the leisure enterprise, determined Harlem was the place they may showcase their abilities in a neighborhood full of folks of their very own race. Fritz Pollard, famous All-American soccer participant, who made his cash in the actual property, moved to Harlem, as did fellow All-America soccer participant Paul Robeson — destined to hone an excellent profession appearing and singing on stage. They have been shortly adopted by well-known singers like Ethel Walters and Florance Mills, and Harlem was prepared for a renaissance equal to that of the glowing White Method on Broadway.

Nonetheless, when there was cash to be made, white gangsters like Dutch Schultz and Owney “The Killer” Madden have been prepared to leap in and take the income, by power if obligatory, which is the way in which they did enterprise anyway. Schultz muscled his method into the Harlem numbers enterprise, chasing out such black notables as Madam Stephanie St. Claire and Caspar Holstein. And in the course of the peak of Prohibition, Madden had his eyes on the proper place to promote his bootleg booze: The Membership Deluxe on 142nd Road and Lenox Avenue.

The Membership Deluxe was owned by former world heavyweight champion Jack Johnson, the primary black heavyweight champion of the world. Whereas, Johnson was proficient together with his fists, Madden and his formidable crew have been good with weapons, knives, and bats. A number of selection phrases, backed with the specter of violence, with few meager bucks thrown in, and Johnson handed over Membership Deluxe to Madden and his companion/supervisor George “Huge Frenchy” DeMange. The 2 gangsters renamed it The Cotton Membership.

To not completely insult a black man with the status of Johnson, Madden threw Johnson a bone, and let him cling across the joint, resplendent in a tuxedo. Johnson would smile and inform everybody who requested that he was the assistant supervisor below DeMange.

To grasp why such an excellent heavyweight boxer like Johnson would cower earlier than Madden, who was barely five-foot-five-inches and 140 kilos after an enormous dinner, one must be made conscious of Madden’s background.

Owen “Owney” Madden was born at 25 Somerset Road, in Leeds, England, on December 18, 1891. In want of labor, his father moved the Madden household to Liverpool. In 1903, when younger Madden was solely 12, his father died, and his mom re-located her household to America, deciding on the West Facet of Manhattan, in a neighborhood referred to as “Hells Kitchen.”

Madden fell in with a boisterous gang referred to as the Gophers. He turned proficient within the favored crimes of the period: robberies, muggings, and labor racket beatings. To be able to damage and intimidate, Madden’s favourite weapon was a lead pipe, wrapped in newspaper.

Madden made a ton of cash in a racket referred to as the “insurance coverage enterprise.” Because the president of his personal “insurance coverage firm,” Madden would go to the native institutions and inform the enterprise homeowners that the proprietor wanted “bomb insurance coverage,” in case foreigners, or perhaps even Madden himself, determined to bomb the businessman’s retailer. The enterprise homeowners caught wind fast, and paid Madden what he demanded. In the event that they did not pay Madden, that is businessman’s shops would go up in flames and particles in a matter of days, and typically even hours. Whereas Madden was a member of the Gophers, and making tons of cash in his “insurance coverage enterprise,” he was arrested 44 occasions, however not as soon as did he ever go to jail.

When Madden was 17, he earned his nickname “The Killer.” A poor Italian immigrant did nothing flawed, besides cross paths with Madden on a road in Hell’s Kitchen. In entrance of a crowd of his fellow Gophers, and whomever else was standing on the road that day, Madden pulled out a gun and shot the Italian useless. Then Madden stood over the useless physique and introduced to the assembled crowd, “I am Owney Madden!”

By the point he was 23, Madden had not less than 5 different murders to his credit score. Therefore the nickname – “The Killer.”

Nonetheless, Madden thought he was bulletproof, till November sixth, 1912, on the Arbor Dance Corridor, which was within the coronary heart of the territory managed by the Gopher’s rivals: the Hudson Dusters. Madden strolled into the corridor by himself, like he had nary a care on this planet, throughout a dance given by the Dave Hyson Affiliation. Madden was watching the proceedings from the balcony, when eleven Hudson Dusters surrounded him and shot Madden six occasions. Madden was rushed to the hospital, the place a detective requested Madden who had shot him.

“Nothin’ doin,'” Madden stated. “It is no enterprise however mine who put these slugs into me. My boys will get them.”

By the point Madden was launched from the hospital, six of his eleven assailants had already been shot useless.

Whereas Madden was recuperating from his wounds, certainly one of his fellow Gophers, Little Patsy Doyle, figured he’d take management of Madden’s gang. Doyle was additionally intent on taking again his former girlfriend, Freda Horner, who now was the only real property of Madden. Miss Horner advised Madden about Doyle’s intentions, and consequently, Madden advised Miss Horner to inform Doyle she could be glad to satisfy him for a date at a saloon on Eighth Avenue and forty first Road. When Doyle arrived, dressed to the nines and all smiles, two of Madden’s gunmen shot Doyle useless.

Being the apparent suspect, Madden was arrested three days later for the homicide of Little Patsy Doyle. At Madden’s trial, he was shocked to find that Miss Horner had betrayed him too. Miss Horner testified in court docket that it was Madden who had arrange the Doyle homicide. In consequence, Madden was convicted and sentenced to 10-20 years in Sing Sing Jail. He did solely eight years, and was launched in 1923, simply in time to strong-arm Jack Johnson into promoting him the Membership Deluxe, a.ok.a.- The Cotton Membership. By this time Madden was large into bootlegging together with his companion Huge Invoice Dwyer, and the Cotton Membership was the proper place to promote their unlawful hootch, particularly their well-known Madden No. 1 beer, which was thought of the best brew in New York Metropolis. They took in a reliable man named Herman Stark as their entrance man/companion/stage supervisor, however the present throughout the present was utterly run by Madden and DeMange.

In accordance with Jim Haskins e book The Cotton Membership, when Madden and DeMange took over the joint they redid the whole inside “to cater to the white downtowner’s style for the primitive.” The membership was revamped in “jungle decor,” with quite a few synthetic palm timber dotted all through the spacious institution, which had seating for 700 folks. Essentially the most beautiful draperies, tablecloths, and fixtures have been bought, indicating this was a “plush late-night supper membership,” and the exorbitant costs highlighted that reality. The menu was various. Apart from the standard steaks and chops, the Cotton Membership cooks drummed up Chinese language and Mexican dishes, in addition to “Harlem” delicacies like fried chicken and barbecued spareribs.

DeMange presided over the entrance door like a tyrant. One rule was completely clear. Though the waiters, busboys, bartenders, cooks, service personnel, and performers have been all black, no black folks have been allowed inside as prospects. (The title itself – The Cotton Membership — got here from the sunshine brown coloration of undyed cotton.) The refrain ladies needed to be “tall, tan, and terrific” which meant that they needed to be not less than 5-feet-6-inches tall, mild skinned, and no older than twenty-one. The ladies additionally needed to be knowledgeable dancers, and not less than be capable to carry a tune. For some unknown cause, there was no color-shade restriction on the black male dancers, who have been all proficient in “high-stepping, gyrating and snake-dancing.”

To indicate how strict Madden and DeMange have been about their coverage of segregation, a couple of month earlier than their second grand opening, (The Cotton Membership was closed by Prohibition brokers for some time, ever although the native cops have been on the pad), the next job interview came about. Current have been Madden and DeMange, together with their choreographer Althea Fuller, and their orchestra conductor Andy Preer. The lady being interviewed was Queenie Duchamp.

DeMange to Madden: Boss, when is the membership going to be able to open?

Madden: The pigs will not trigger us bother for a time. They know if we’re pressured to shut for bootlegging they will not get their bonuses. As it’s, they’re lacking the additional padding and the boys have been complaining to the Sarge. Yeah, they’ve discovered their lesson. As for the membership’s present… let’s ask Althea and Andy.

DeMange to Preer: Andy, how’s the pit? Prepared for subsequent month’s opening?

Preer: We shall be. If Althea will get her ladies prepared, the pit is able to stomp.

Althea Fuller: Boss, we had a setback. One of many ladies went and located a “ethical conscience.” She’s following her sister, a Garveyite, again to Africa. Disgrace, she was a looker within the entrance line. Don’t fret, Boss, I’ve already bought replacements able to audition for you at this time. Certainly one of them appears to be like promising and comes with a suggestion. She’s within the entrance row, third one in… Queenie Duchamp. First, let’s have a look at if she will keep in mind the steps she was taught this morning.

(Andy Preer leads the orchestra in “I’ve Discovered a New Child” and 5 dancing ladies audition. Queenie Duchamp is third from the left.)

Madden: Preserve the third and the fifth. The opposite ladies are too darkish and brief. Althea, be sure you grill them about guidelines and rehearsals. We’re NOT working a intestine bucket operation right here.

(Madden leaves together with his bodyguards)

Fuller: Queenie, come right here. You bought the job on just a few situations.

Queenie: Something you need Miss Fuller.

Fuller: Primary – No booze, No boys, No medicine. No exceptions.

Queenie: Sure, Miss.

Fuller: Quantity two- Rehearsals are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday beginning at 1:00 p.m. sharp. All rehearsals are MANDATORY and lateness won’t be accepted. I do not know what you have heard, however rehearsals listed below are grueling and performances are lengthy with many elaborate costume modifications. Which means you possibly can’t afford to be draggin’ your ass round right here. Be sure you eat and get your relaxation. Do you perceive?

Queenie: Sure, Miss Fuller.

Fuller: Quantity three – No mixing with the patrons. There are about 700 whitefolk that stroll by these doorways each night time. And in accordance with Mr. Madden, they solely have one objective right here and that is to spend cash. They arrive right here to listen to the best Negro music and dance numbers within the metropolis. They may act like they need to be your pal after a few drinks, however they do not. Mr. Madden does not need the races mixin’ and so far as I am involved, I feel that is higher for enterprise anyway.

DeMange: If a white buyer begins to present you an issue or tries to make a reference to you, inform me. I will care for it. It is occurred earlier than. Typically these wealthy folks get a pair drinks in them they usually assume they personal the world. Don’t fret about it, simply let me know. We run a decent ship right here.

Queenie: Sure, Mr. DeMange. No downside Ms. Fuller. I’m an entertainer and I perceive the significance of follow. In reality, I am a singer, a blues singer! For those who ever want a singer….. (Ms. Fuller and Mr. DeMange have a look at one another.)

Fuller: Look, missy. Your objective right here is to bounce, smile and comply with the principles… not sing. Bought it?

Queenie: Sure, Miss Fuller. Bought it.

Fuller: One other factor… keep out of bother. You are a looker and the membership world may be soiled and harmful. It does not need to be although. Preserve to your self and no matter you do, keep out of Mr. Madden’s method. For those who do that, you will be superb. Now go to wardrobe for a becoming.

Queenie: Sure and Thanks, Miss Fuller.

The Cotton Membership was a direct success with the downtown swells. On opening night time, the Fletcher Henderson band entertained the gang (Henderson’s band was the home band till June 1931). By way of radio broadcasts originating nightly from the Cotton Membership, Henderson’s band was so successful, he turned one of the crucial wanted band leaders in America. Following Henderson was the Duke Ellington Band (till 1934), after which Cab Calloway and the Cotton Membership Orchestra.

Regardless of the actual fact the one booze served on the premises was Madden’s No. 1 beer, prospects have been allowed, even inspired, to deliver their very own booze that they had obtained illegally elsewhere. After all, the administration had a hefty set-up cost, which included the glasses, ice, and the mixers. If a buyer got here unprepared and nonetheless wished booze as an alternative of beer, the doorman, and typically even a waiter, got here in useful. A bottle of champagne may value a buyer $30, and a bottle of scotch – $18, a kingly sum in these days. However the prospects have been well-healed, and no person ever gripped in regards to the costs; not less than, no person who cared about their continued good well being.

After some time, DeMange and Madden lightened up a bit on the “no-black-customers-allowed” coverage. This occurred in 1932, proper after W.C. Helpful, referred to as “The King of the Blues,” was denied admission, despite the fact that the Duke Ellington Band was inside taking part in songs that Helpful had written. Ellington pleaded his case to Madden, and Madden agreed to loosen his coverage. However just a bit bit.

Gentle-skinned blacks have been now allowed in as prospects, and some darker blacks, who have been well-known entertainers themselves. Nonetheless, blacks in combined events was a particular no-no.

Author and photographer Carl Van Vechten wrote, “There have been brutes on the door to implement the Cotton Membership’s coverage which was against combined events.”

Jim Haskins wrote in The Cotton Membership, “Solely the lightest-complexioned Negroes gained entrance, and even they have been rigorously screened. The membership’s administration was conscious that the majority white downtowners wished to watch Harlem blacks, not with combine with them.”

Even famed comic Jimmy Durante displayed blatant racism when he stated, “It is not obligatory to combine with coloured folks when you do not feel prefer it. You have got your personal social gathering and hold to your self. But it surely’s price seeing. How they step!”

Durante went so far as to intimate that blacks have been innately extra violent than whites. “Racial strains are drawn right here to stop doable bother,” Durante stated. “No one desires razors, blackjacks or fists flying. And the probabilities of warfare are much less if there is not any mixing.”

In 1933, after he settled a bit of downside with the IRS, and with Prohibition now over, Madden determined to name it a day. He handed over the reigns of the Cotton Membership to DeMange, and hightailed it to Scorching Springs, Arkansas, the place he opened a resort/spa, which turned the favourite hideout for New York mobsters on the lam from the legislation. In reality, when New York Mafioso Fortunate Luciano was in hiding, as a result of a bulldog particular prosecutor named Thomas E. Dewey had a warrant for Luciano’s arrest on a trumped-up prostitution cost, it was at Madden’s resort the place Luciano was lastly arrested after 4 months on the run.

After all, Madden was nonetheless a silent companion with DeMange within the Cotton Membership, however the big income would quickly diminish, earlier than coming to a halt in Harlem.

It began with the Nice Despair, which had lower down dramatically on the disposable revenue of the wealthy, and the previously wealthy. Downtown revelers who had frequented the Cotton Membership got here much less typically, and once they did come, they spent much less cash. These identical revelers bought caught up on the street gang mentality, and consequently, an avalanches of bullets stared flying in Harlem; whites taking pictures blacks, blacks taking pictures whites, and members of the identical race slinging photographs at one another. With a lot lead zinging although the Harlem air, white-oriented Harlem golf equipment just like the Cotton Membership suffered a dramatic lower in attendance.

As well as, no space of America was affected extra by the Despair than Harlem. By 1934, in accordance with the New York City League, greater than 80% of Harlem residents have been on “Dwelling Reduction,” which we now name Welfare. The Reverend Adam Clayton Powell fanned the flames of racial tensions when he began main boycotts of white-owned shops in Harlem, to be able to power them to rent extra black employees. Despair and resentment sprung up within the streets of Harlem, and this result in a fateful day in Harlem historical past.

A dark-skinned, 16-year-old Puerto Rican named Lino Rivera was sulking across the streets of Harlem, out of labor and desperately in search of a job; any job. To move the time, he took in a film, then went to the Kress Division Retailer on one hundred and twenty fifth Road. There he noticed a knife he wished. However the knife value ten cents and Rivera did not have ten cents. Rivera had simply snatched the knife and put it into his pocket, when a male worker of the shop grabbed Rivera, and a scuffle ensued. Whereas the 2 males have been battling and one other white worker tried to subdue Rivera, a crowd of black consumers surrounded the battle, clearly favoring Rivera. Throughout the melee, Rivera bit the thumb of one of many white staff. The injured man shouted, “I’ll take you all the way down to the basement and beat the hell out of you.”

Huge mistake.

Inside minutes, the rumor had unfold on the streets of Harlem that two white males have been beating a black boy to demise. This false rumor obtained doubtful affirmation, when a blaring ambulance pulled up in entrance of the Kress Division Retailer. It made no distinction the ambulance was there for the white man who had the severely bitten finger.

That night time the streets of Harlem erupted in complete bedlam. Born out of resentment of the Despair, and the dismal method white folks had been treating black folks in Harlem for years, hundred of blacks rioted within the streets. They looted white-owned saved and pilfered merchandise as if that they had an absolute proper to take it.

The notion to the downtown whites was that Harlem was now not protected for them to enterprise into, even to see the wondrous leisure on the Cotton Membership. As well as, black musicians and entertainers now not thought of the Cotton Membership as the highest of the heap. It turned a spot the place the entertainers may begin their careers, however as soon as they bought observed, they went on to larger and higher issues. Enterprise turned so dangerous on the Cotton Membership, and different Harlem golf equipment that catered to the white downtown crowd, akin to Small’s Paradise on seventh Avenue, that Harlem’s Cotton Membership closed its doorways for good on February sixteenth, 1936.

DeMange and Herman Stark, with Madden’s blessing from Scorching Springs, moved the Cotton Membership downtown to Forty-Eighth Road and Broadway, to an area previously occupied by the Harlem Membership. The brand new Cotton Membership was a direct success. It had its grand re-opening on September twenty fourth, 1936. Cab Calloway and Invoice “Bojangles” Robinson carried out that night time, as did Avis Andrews, the Berry Brothers, and the beautiful Katherine Perry, who was so light-skinned she may simply move for white.

As a result of it was so accessible with its new Midtown location, the Cotton Membership was raking within the money. Within the third week alone, it grossed greater than $45,000, and within the first sixteen weeks, the common weekly gross was $30,000. The costs within the new joint have been greater than the Cotton Membership’s in Harlem. A steak sandwich rose from $1.25 to $2.25. Scrambled eggs with Deerfield sausage rose from $1.25 to a $1.50 and lobster cocktails went from $1.00 to $1.50.

Nonetheless DeMange and Stark saved packing them in.

One value that did lower was the Cottons Membership’s cowl cost. In Harlem, to be able to hold the “undesirables” away, the duvet cost was $3 per desk. Nonetheless, since blacks very not often crossed the “Mason-Dixon Line” of a hundred and tenth Road, the brand new Cottons Membership’s cowl cost was $2 per desk throughout dinner time, and nothing after that.

The brand new Cotton Membership continued to thrive till the summer time of 1939, when the Inner Income Service hit the membership’s administration with indictments for revenue tax evasion. The indictments hit the Cotton Membership Administration Corp, together with Herman Stark – President, George Goodrich, — Accountant, and Noah Braustein – Secretary-Treasurer, with 4 counts of failure to pay, and embezzlement of taxes. If convicted, all three males may resist 25 years in jail, and fines of as much as $20,000 apiece. Amazingly, as a result of he was simply listed as an worker, Frenchy DeMange escaped the indictment. At trial, the Cotton Membership Administration Corp. was discovered responsible, however the three officers escaped conviction. Nonetheless, Stark needed to fork over a hefty superb to the federal government, along with $3,400 owed in again taxes.

At first of 1940, it was apparent that the Cotton Membership, and Herman Stark, had cash issues. Apart from the excessive Midtown lease and the consequences of the Despair, the unions, particularly the musician union, had a stranglehold on Stark and his income. Earlier than his issues with the I.R.S., Stark was skimming cash off the highest to make up for any shortfalls the unions and the excessive leisure payrolls brought on. However with the federal government watching the Cotton Membership like a hawk, skimming was now inconceivable.

The Cotton Membership closed its door for good on June tenth, 1940. Stark and DeMange gave no official cause, however as one columnist put it, the principle cause was, “the shortage of the well-known, outdated filthy lucre.”

But, that rationalization could be too simplistic. After all cash was an issue, but in addition America’s style for music like Duke Ellington’s and Cab Calloway’s was altering too. The youthful era of Individuals have been enthralled with the brand new jazz and “swing” kinds of white bandleaders like Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw, and the “King of Swing” — Benny Goodman.

The Cotton Membership was an excellent thought whose lifespan had reached its conclusion. The black entertainers who had lower their tooth working on the Cotton Membership, folks like Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and Lena Horne, all went on to ascertain lengthy and wondrous careers. However the idea of an evening membership with all black leisure now not appealed to the white mainstream of America.

The Cotton Membership closed as a result of it was an idea that had blossomed, then like a gilded rose, slowly died.

Nonetheless, the reminiscence, and the affect of the Cotton Membership on society will linger so long as music and dance stay an integral a part of our American tradition.

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