The Newport Jazz Festival’s ‘Negro Problem’


Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives.

June 24, 1959, Vol. IV, No. 35

Whose Festival?

By Nat Hentoff

If you’re Negro and are planning to go to the Newport Jazz Festival for the first time over the Fourth-of-July weekend, you had better be very sure of your room reservations. Again this year, applicants for rooms have received letters from Newporters saying they’d be welcome–unless they’re Negro.

Sometimes, however, that specification hasn’t been made clear in advance arrangements, and Negroes have been turned away from lodging houses and hotels, particularly the Munchinger King, one of the town’s two principal hostelries.

To my knowledge, however, the Newport Jazz Festival has yet to make a public announcement to the townspeople exhorting them not to discriminate. It’s a disgusting situation, and as Negroes continue to be insulted there each year, the reason for holding this largest of all jazz festivals in Newport becomes less and less tenable. “But,” I’ve heard a Festival official say, “all cities have some prejudice.” Newport, however, is small and limited in its lodging facilities, and a Negro who goes all the way there to hear music that came from the Negro may easily find himself without a place to sleep. If the Festival can’t straighten out the town at least over the July 4 weekend–and it could if it tried, because the natives have come to depend on the bread that jazz brings–then it ought to take the Festival elsewhere.

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]