LeRoi Jones, Art D’Lugoff and Nat Hentoff Duke it Out


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

March 18, 1965, Vol. X, No. 22

Gig at Gate: Return of the White Liberal Stompers

By Jack Newfield

Goateed, immaculately dressed Negroes looking for a pogrom, carefully coifed Hadassah ladies looking for a lynching and impassive hipsters looking for a “happening” jammed the Village Gate last Wednesday night. The marquee proclaimed blues singer Paul Butterfield, but the magnet was LeRoi Jones and his White Liberal Stompers.

The Stompers had made a spectacular debut at the Village Vanguard two weeks ago when they refused to play a dirge for the slain civil rights workers Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner and for the six million Jews incinerated by Hitler.

“Those boys were just artifacts, man,” poet-playwright-polemicist Jones had said of the dead integrationists. “They weren’t real. If they went (to Mississippi) to assuage their leaking consciences that’s their business. I won’t mourn for them. I have my own dead to mourn for.”

For his gig at the Gate, Jones was accompanied by atonal jazz pianist Cecil Taylor and jazz critic-cum-revolutionary journalist Nat Hentoff, who described himself as “a so-called white who tries to empathize.” Also on the panel were Bob Gore, a full-time civil rights worker for CORE who took Schwerner’s place in Meridian last summer; Art D’Lugoff, a radical with ample Jewish identity, who owns the Gate; and moderator Paul Krassner, editor of the Realist.

The debate, billed as “Art, Politics, Race, and the Apotheosis of Hate,” proved to be part psychodrama, part vaudeville, and part intellectual laxative for the panelists. The audience, more steamed-up than the panelists, punctuated the debate with interruptions, insults, groans, and amens.

The high points of the unSocratic dialogue included: LeRoi Jones proposing Mao Tse-Tun for Mayor of New York; the Jewish D’Lugoff calling the Jewish Hentoff “anti-Semitic”; a Negro from the audience calling Reverend Martin Luther King a “jackass”; another Negro in the audience calling for a “black SAC”; LeRoi Jones calling a white woman in the audience a “rotten fruit”; and Cecil Taylor repeatedly asking D’Lugoff for a job.

The evening began on an appropriately false note. All six panelists politely played musical chairs and stiffly posed for a photographer from the New York Post, a journal they have all condemned at one time or another with varying amounts of venom.

Krassner opened the proceedings by reading a quotation from comedian Dick Gregory saying the civil rights movement isn’t a struggle between black and white, but between right and wrong.

“Would you care to comment on it,” he asked Jones.

“Is there something special you want me to say?” the playwright replied innocently, as he fumbled through his briefcase. “I think white America represents the most repressive force on earth today,” he added blandly.

“Does that mean me?” asked Krassner.

“The metaphor can be extended to include you, too,” Jones retorted softly. A few moments later he told D’Lugoff: “Man, you’re the power structure.”

D’Lugoff, the angriest of the debaters shouted back: “Ford and duPont are the power structure, not me. I’ve been fighting the power structure. I’ve fought cops and cabaret card finger printing. LeRoi, you’re a racist and a bigot.”

Jones fired back: “In jazz you’re the white power structure. You hire and fire. You’re just a shopkeeper in a very hip ghetto situation.”

Taylor then interjected to ask why D’Lugoff had never hired him.

“It’s my own damn business whether I hire you, Dizzy, Archie Shepp or Nina Simone. Ninety per cent of the musicians I hire are Negro. I don’t hire on the basis of race.”

“Negroes don’t own jazz clubs or record companies,” Hentoff asserted…”It doesn’t make any difference to a cat in Harlem, Bedford-Stuyvesant or Chicago’s southside that six million Jews died. The only Jews he sees are the landlords and shopkeepers. That’s the
whole point.”

D’Lugoff exploded: “What you just said is a disgrace. What you’re saying is anti-Semitic.”

Taylor interrupted to complain again about his unemployed state. “Art says who he employs is his business,” he said, “but 90 per cent of your business — your power — comes from the sweat of blacks. I want to question your stand.”

Jones joined the war on Taylor’s poverty: “Why did you ask him on the panel if you never hired him as a musician,” he asked D’Lugoff. “Stan Getz gets six times what Bud Powell gets when he plays Birdland.”

“Bullshit,” roared D’Lugoff. “Nina Simone and Miram Makeba make more money than I do.”

The floor was opened to questions and a middle aged white woman rose to politely ask Jones: “Do you have any faith in any constructive change in this country?”

“You’re talking about you,” Jones answered. “My vision of you is that you are hopeless — is that you are rotten fruit…I don’t know why you would ask me a dumb question like that.”

Blushing and shaking her head the woman crouched very low in her seat, fingering her jewelry.

Angered by Jones’ response another white woman asked him: “If we are all rotten fruit, then why do you collaborate with us? Why are you here?”

“I’m here,” Jones answered, “because Art promised me the club for a benefit on March 28 if I came tonight. That’s why I’m here.”

Later a schism appeared among the stompers when Hentoff strayed from the melody. He accused Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah of “running an authoritarian state. He’s doing a perfect Wallace-type job. I’ve heard that from some Nigerians.”

“Nigerians,” Jones informed the errant Hentoff, “are the most treacherous people in the world.”

“But they were very hip Nigerians,” Hentoff said in defense of his deviation.

“Some Nazis were hip, too,” Jones countered.

Towards the end of the evening a white woman asked Jones what exactly his program for social change was.

Jones gracefully hunched forward in his chair, stared out into the emptying room and answered: “You are disqualified from humanity by your acts and your mind to say anything…You — second person plural — are a rotten cancer.”

On the way out all the “rotten fruits” and “rotten cancers” were handed leaflets written by Jones asking for contributions for his Black Arts Repertory Theatre.

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Go here to see this article as it originally appeared in print.]