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The 1945 Harvest Moon Ball

October 14, 2021
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Venmo: @bobbyswungover

This is part of the Harvest Moon Ball essay series. To see all the Harvest Moon Ball essays, please visit Swungover’s HMB page.

(Limited footage for this year)

So far, the only footage of the 1945 HMB we have seen is of the servicemen’s division.

Victory & Dancing

In April of 1945, the man most responsible for the death of millions of Jewish people, LGBTQ+ folks, political activists, Europian civilians, and both Allied and Axis soldiers, put a pistol to his head and took one last life. After Adolf Hitler’s death, it was only a few days before Germany surrendered. Though war in the Pacific would rage until September, America allowed itself to begin celebrating. The theme of the 1945 Harvest Moon Ball was “Victory.”

Let’s take a short moment to recognize a very specific group of people who helped make that victory possible. The army at this time was segregated, and the deeds of famous aviators like (“Lindy” himself) Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart and others inspired many swashbuckling youth to join the Army Air Corp (the nation’s first air force), especially when World War II broke out. However, in general the predominantly White-run America government did not think Black Americans were intelligent enough to operate sophisticated air craft. After appeals by Black American organizations and individuals, Roosevelt created a Black Air Corp program in Tuskegee, Alabama, a small town known only to outsiders for its Tuskegee Institute; a Black university on the site of an old plantation, founded by Booker T. Washington, who had been freed from enslavement by the Civil War. In the town’s new military air field, 14,000 Black Americans became pilots, navigators, engineers, mechanics, instructors, and other support staff. Most were college educated.

When the Tuskegee Airmen were first put into combat; they did not perform particularly well — because the enemy flew corkscrews around the old, outdated, beaten-up P-40 planes they were given. Whether unintentionally or not, the group had been set up for failure. Their commander pointed this out to a committee wondering what was going wrong, and thankfully justice prevailed and they were given another chance and newer air craft. This time, armed with the legendary P-51 mustang, the airmen proved themselves as one of the best flying squadrons of the war, even impressively shooting down 12 enemy fighters in two days. They painted the tails of their mustangs red, earning them the name “red tails.” Known especially for escorting bombers groups, the squadron had lost only 26 bombers to enemy fighters over more than 200 missions, almost twice as better than the average. Many all-White bombing crews cheered when they saw their escorts had red tails. (This author’s grandfather, a B-24 and B-17 pilot, could have been one of them.)

The “Tuskegee airmen” were not just pilots, but an entire support system of Black Americans showing excellence in the face of adversity. Like the 1936 Olympians, like the Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers.

The name “Tuskegee” might be familiar to our readers for a different reason. That’s because, beginning in 1932, the Tuskegee Institute was asked to help the United States government in a medical study. Promising local poor Black farming men free medical care, the government gathered 600 recruits for their study, around 400 of which unknowingly had syphilis, a disease that could ultimately lead to neurological damage, organ damage, blindness, insanity, scarring, and that can be passed on to loved ones and unborn children. Wishing to study the progress of syphilis, the doctors told the poor Black farmers only that they had “bad blood” and gave these men placebos, and never treated their syphilis. They went so far as to tell other doctors in the area not to treat the men, as they were being treated by the study. (How much did the Tuskegee Institute actually know of the unethical details of the study? We’ll point you to a place where you can learn more.)

By the way, simply one shot of penicillin can cure syphilis. Discovered in 1927, it was soon after being used to treat many diseases, and by 1947 had become the obvious easy cure for the disease. Yet the study continued administering only placebos until the 1970s while those in the study with the disease suffered its terrible symptoms, and the disease was passed to their spouses and children during pregnancy. It took the study being discovered and leaked to the press in 1972, and the outrage that inspired, to bring it to an end. By then more than 120 of the men had died directly or related to their syphilis, and more than 40 spouses and 19 unborn children were given the disease. Millions were paid to the victims in lawsuits, medical research guidelines were challenged and changed, and in 1997 President Clinton officially apologized on behalf of the government. But it was far too late, and not only for the hundreds of poor Black Americans directly affected by the study — the study directly lead to a strong increase of the distrust in government medicine and vaccines already present in the Black American community. Which, as you can imagine, is still impacting the health of Americans, and is a tragic aspect of our current pandemic.

(If you’re interested in this at all, we highly recommend you check out the complex depths of this experiment and why things went the way they did in a fantastic 2-part episode of the debunking podcast You’re Wrong About. You an grab them at your local podcast app, or you can find Part 1 here and Part 2 here.)

Prelims

This is a mis-labeled spread of 1945 Jitterbug prelims. These pictures are actually from the Roseland prelims.

Savoy prelims were held Aug 24. The band was not mentioned in articles. Here were the finalists:

The finalists were Jessica Cookley & James “Blue” Outlaw, Helen Daniels & Willie Jones, Pearl Edwards & Harry Connor, Bertha Davis & Morris Rhodes, and Connie Paulus & Claude Fleetwood. There was also Harriet Drayton & Count duBarry. (Most likely a fake name, perhaps alluding to the husband of Madame du Barry, who famously had only married the French count for the noble title that would allow her to live with the King Louis XV as his official courtesan. We like to imagine that perhaps Harriet’s partner didn’t want to compete in the ball and came up with a clever way of saying so.)

Continuing the trend of the war years, the list has many dancers that will only appear in this one Harvest Moon Ball: Helen Daniels, Pearl Edwards, Harry Connor, Bertha Davis, Harriet Drayton, Count duBarry, and Connie Paulus.

Morris Rhodes and James “Blue” Outlaw, though, you will see again.

Finals

After four years of America being at war, the end seemed in sight — at least enough to finally release all that pent up energy from waiting out the long storm of world disaster. Those in our current pandemic who have gone to a dance after being cooped up in the house for a few months, can probably imagine the energy that coursed through this crowd. 20,000 people who had been holding their breadth for four years.

Finals were held September 5th. Juanito Sanabria provided the ballroom music, and Randy Brooks provided the swing music.

The only footage we have seen of this year shows only the servicemen’s division, but, there is very likely more footage out there somewhere. But here’s what we got:

There’s not a lot to tell about this dancing compared to what we’ve seen from the Harvest Moon Ball so far. The servicemen and their partners are probably showing us, if anything, a great approximation of the general “American” jitterbug of this time, albeit at a high (but still amateur) level. But note how many of the elements of the Black American Harlem Lindy Hop as we know it are present — there’s swiveling, Charlestons, close-position, open position, breaking away, shining, and tricks. This film could be what the Harvest Moon Ball Jitterrbug finals would have usually looked like had its amateur rule been strictly enforced.

Something else to note about the Servicemen’s division: Though the servicemen could technically come from anywhere in the allied forces, they were usually either stationed in New York or just so happened to be on leave there, and so they couldn’t exactly bring their hometown partners to New York. So their HMB partners were mostly New Yorkers. Often danced with for the first time a few days — or right before — the contest prelims.

Winners

First place went to Connie Paulus & Claude Fleetwood. as th earticle above states, Connie & Claude only practiced three nights a week after midnight.

2nd place went to Megie Vecchiarelli & Jo-jo Giamo, two Long-Island dancers we will see again. By the way, many of the names of White dancers in the Harvest Moon Ball are obviously Italian (and most of the others suggest Jewish ancestry). Though those two cultures are a large part of New York population, it appears to us they are still a larger portion of the Lindy Hop contests. We suspect there’s an interesting cultural story there.

Third place went to Jessica Cookley & Harry Conner. You may have noticed something odd here — Jessica was listed as dancing with James “Blue” Outlaw in the prelims, and here she has a different partner. Obviously, Outlaws absence and Jessica’s partner change could be any number of things — an injury, or perhaps a gig opportunity for James. But we also know that James “Blue” Outlaw had gone under different names for competing in previous years, perhaps because he was doing professional dancing gigs, so that also might be a reason. “Blue” Outlaw was also one of the top Lindy Hoppers still around at this time —- it’s possible “Blue” used Harry Connor’s name to compete with Jessica. But that’s all conjecture. (We get bored, just looking at winner’s listings.)

Aftermath

Seeming to try to make up for the lack of Jitterbug Jive photos from the last few years, the Daily News went all out and did a full page of them from this year’s comp.

Notice the word “Kinked” used in the caption title. As Black hair is often termed “kinky,” it is most likely implied as a racially-based pun.

By the way, we wouldn’t be surprised if Connie and Claude are the same dancers as those in this fantastic photograph from the Savoy ballroom. They seem to match facially (hair lines, brow lines, ear shapes, and overall smile and face shape):

We should also mention that, according to historian Judy Pritchett, Frankie Manning thought this dancer was Billy Ricker (understandable). We leave you to compare.

(We also wouldn’t be surprised if this is a picture of a young Andre 3000 and he’s actually an alien that will never die. Well, technically, an Atlien.)

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Sources & Thanks

  • Information on the Tuskegee Institute and Tuskegee Airmen come from several sources, most notably this, this, this, this, this, and this.
  • Except where otherwise stated, all newspaper articles, pictures, and information on the details of the 1940 Harvest Moon Ball were taken from editions of the New York Daily News.
  • Thanks to Judy Pritchett for sharing her knowledge with us.
  • Thanks so much to Robert CreaseCynthia Millman, and The Frankie Manning Foundation for republishing the fantastic Robert Crease bios which are a great wealth to these articles specifically and the history of the dance in particular that have helped shape these essays.
  • Whenever we refer to either “Norma’s Book” or “Frankie’s Book,” we are speaking of their memoirs: Swinging at the Savoy: The Memoir of a Jazz Dancer by Norma Miller and Evette Jensen, and Frankie Manning: Ambassador of Lindy Hop by Frankie Manning and Cynthia Millman.
  • All spelling and grammar problems are mine alone; one man army!

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