Having completed the February Black History highlights, I began to spend time researching for my upcoming event, the annual “An Affair to Remember: Remembering the Blues.” As I was researching information about the history of the blues, a genre very misunderstood, neglected and under appreciated, I ran across information about why that may be the case. I especially became interested in the information about the Chitlin’ Circuit, which is indirectly related to the blues and other genres. The Chitlin’ Circuit grew out of a time when black people were not allowed to perform at white establishments. From the 1930s until the 1960s, the Chitlin’ Circuit reached its peak, and after laws were passed striking down some of the Jim Crow Laws, by then the circuit had served its purpose.
The network consisted of black-owned nightclubs, dance halls, juke joints and theaters in the South, on the East Coast and parts of the Midwest. African-American musicians and other types of performers flourished at these welcoming and safe venues in the era of Jim Crow. In some areas there were large turnouts of both whites and blacks, even though they were separated in the dance halls. When Ruth Brown, a famous singer, was interviewed, she stated that there was a rope or chain that separated the blacks from the whites. She said that many times they would dance so hard that the rope would fall down, but they would keep on dancing. However, when the assigned policemen saw that the rope was down they would go on stage and demand the musicians stop the music until the divider was put back up, and then the music would start back up again.
When traveling, the blacks had to be very careful about where to stop when in need of restrooms, food or a place to rest. Mr. Victor Hugo Green, a northerner, compiled the Travel Guide/Green Book for the area in the North to begin with, but because of his concern about the health and safety of blacks in all areas, he added other safe places located in the South and Midwest. He was well aware that entertainers were experiencing similar problems of discrimination as they traveled. Many places on the route from the North to the South were not welcoming to black musicians, performers, speakers and traveling preachers. These venues that were open to serve blacks eventually became known as the Chitlin’ Circuit. This association is applicable because during the days of slavery when hog killing time came around, the blacks were given the chitterlings but not the ham and bacon from the hogs. The dish dates back to American slavery, when the master ate “high on the hog” and kept the ham and bacon for himself and his family, giving the less desirable parts to the slaves. It was only after the blacks began to raise their own livestock that they were able to keep the better parts of the slaughtered animals for themselves and their families.
For those who aren’t from around here, “chitlins” are a soul food dish made from pig intestines. Just as the chitterlings nurtured the slaves, the Chitlin’ Circuit nurtured African-American musicians, actors and other entertainers during the time of racial segregation.
I asked a local historian if Rome, to his knowledge, was listed as a part of the Chitlin’ Circuit, and he stated that it may not be listed in the Green Book, but he believes that it should have been listed there. This Roman told me that the Rome area served as a part of the Chitlin’ Circuit because he could recall several places like Idle Hour and the Fraternal Lounge that always welcomed entertainers like James Brown, B.B. King, Little Richard, Bo Diddley, Billy Wright and many others.
There may be other local Romans who can shed more light on the subject of Rome being in the Chitlin’ Circuit.