Sunday, March 19, 2017
On this day, in 1925, a group of Columbia University students took their Barnard sweethearts to the opening of Smalls Paradise, Harlem's newest nightclub, to hear Charlie "Fess" Johnson and his jazz band. As the enthusiastic young people were drinking and enjoying the music, Jeff "Jelly Bean" Parker nudged his roommate, Elwood Fontaine, and pointed at the next table. To Elwood's dismay, a colored couple was seated, drinking champagne. He looked around the ballroom, and was mortified to note two other tables where colored couples were seated. Jelly Bean and Elwood summoned their waiter over, asked for their girlfriend's coats, and explained that they were leaving and had no intention of paying their tab. After all, they'd brought their dates out to hear Charlie Johnson's band, not to spend the evening mingling with colored people.