Slumming Became a Mania
"In the 1920s, 'slumming' became a mania, as urban elites sought out the exotic, the 'real,' wherever they could find it. They packed into the speakeasies that filled the cities after the imposition of Prohibition, where they could rub shoulders with Italian, Irish, or Jewish gangsters. They filled theaters to see ethnic entertainers such as Ragtime Jimmy Durante, late of Coney Island, or the anarchic Marx Brothers. And in the most startling turn of all, they discovered Negroes living in their midst.
"In the early 1920s, sophisticates scrambled to grab a share of the black life that the southern migration was bringing into cities. White producers mounted all-black musicals. White couples fumbled with the Charleston. And white patrons poured into Chicago's South Side jazz joints and Harlem nightclubs. If they were lucky, they squeezed into the Vendome, where Louis Armstrong held the floor, or Edmond's Cellar, where Ethel Waters sang the blues. The frenzy was shot through with condescension. White slummers thought black life exciting because it was "primitive" and vital. Visiting the ghetto's haunts became the era's way to snub mainstream society, to be in the avant-garde. 'Jazz, the blues, negro spirituals, all stimulate me enormously,' novelist Carl Van Vechten wrote H.L. Mencken in the summer of 1924. 'Doubtless, I shall discard them too in time.'"
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Thanks for commenting. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at www.teardownbook.com.