Just three weeks before Cooke arrived in Shreveport, racial tensions in the south reached a tragic flash point when members of the Ku Klux Klan bombed a predominantly Black church in Birmingham, Ala., killing four girls.
The following Sunday, a planned vigil in Shreveport turned violent when police officers — led by Public Safety Commissioner George D’Artois — severely beat Reverend Harry Blake inside Little Union Baptist Church.
That was the Shreveport that Sam Cooke and his three companions drove to in 1963; and when they arrived at the Holiday Inn, the group met the same hate driving those attacks.
Even though Cooke had a reservation at the hotel, the staff refused to give them a room. In his biography of the singer, Dream Boogie, Peter Guralnick describes the incident:
“The man at the desk glanced nervously at the group and said he was sorry, there were no vacancies. Charles protested vehemently, but it was Sam who refused to back down. He set his jaw in the way that Barbara knew always meant trouble. Sam kept yelling. He had just as much right to be there as any other damn body.”
“The Negroes were seated in their car in front of the motel and were blowing their car horn loudly and interrupting other guests,” read an article in The Shreveport Times the next day.
A detective told The Shreveport Journal that the group “honked the horn for a lengthy period of time and refused to leave.”
Police arrested Sam, Barbara, Charles and their manager, Senior Roy Craine.
John Paul Jackson, now 72 years old, remembers the night well. He was a junior at Booker T. Washington High School and went to the concert with friends.
“I found out he was coming to town and decided to drive my buddies,” he recalls. “I had a driver’s license and access to the family car.”
Like others in the audience, he was oblivious to what had transpired earlier in the day.
“He gave a hell of a performance. We didn’t know he had been arrested until we read it in the paper the next day,” said Jackson.
Unfortunately, those stories were all too familiar for Jackson, who participated in student protests following Rev. Blake’s beating that September.
“I was shocked because I had just seen him the night before, but living in those times, it wasn’t uncommon,” he says.
Header Image: AP Photo; Birmingham Church Bombing: AP Photo