Remnants of Charlie's Place, Myrtle Beach SC
* This is a long post, with a lot of history. Charlie's Place is where "The (Carolina -Ed.) Shag" dance was invented. It was a black nightclub/motel at Myrtle Beach during the 1930's that defied segregation, was a stop for famous black musicians on the "Southern Chitlin’ Circuit". (Considered the home of “Beach Music,”-or early rhythm and blues- which spawned "the Shag"), and site of a KKK attack in 1950. Charlie’s Place became very well known throughout the Southeast.
* I met & talked with the architect, Joel Carter, whose firm is restoring the motel and office/home. Learned a lot of history and was given a tour! There used to be a row of motel rooms on both sides of the home/office, but only the left row remains. Some rooms were painted solid vibrant colors and some were stenciled or roller painted (not wall paper).
Charlie's Place as it looked back in the day
Charlie's Place opened in 1937, at the height of the swing dance craze, by Charlie and Sarah Fitzgerald. It remained popular for more than a decade.
This part of “the Hill,” is an old African-American neighborhood on Carver Street. It was once was the epicenter of black culture in Myrtle Beach. It's less than a 1/2-mile from the Boardwalk and Promenade, but it’s hidden behind the hotels and attractions. Most of the 18 million annual tourists to Myrtle Beach, never make their way to this part of town nor know the significance of it. (A letterbox brought me here)! It was the gathering place of famous musicians and enthusiastic club goers. A place of racial integration, where blacks and whites came to just drink and dance.
Charlie welcomed all people. Black and White. (Whites were called lindy hoppers; blacks were referred to as jitterbuggers at the time-according to articles). Whites staying in the big hotels would regularly join the bustle on Carver Street at Charlie's Place, for the music, where they all danced together.
During the Jim Crow years, Black entertainers could perform in White venues and hotels, but because of segregation, they were not allowed to use the hotel facilities or stay the night there. Instead, the performers on the "Southern Chitlin’ Circuit" would opt to stay on "the Hill" at Charlie's Place in his motel. (Charlie's Place was the most happening place in the area in the days before integration).
Charlie's Place provided a place for African-American artists of the day to perform (& stay), including: Ray Charles, Little Richard, Muddy Waters, Etta James, Marvin Gaye, Fats Domino, James Brown, The Drifters, Percy Sledge, Billie Holliday, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Lena Horne, Count Basie, Ruth Brown, and more!
The musicians would rehearse in the ballroom at Charlie's Place during the day (often attracting neighborhood children-but had to be 21 to go dance in the evening). They would perform late-night gigs either at Charlie's Place or other hotels/venues. Then they would stay the night in the adjacent motel at Charlie's Place.
Charlie built the motel so that the black musicians performing at his place and other venues/hotels in Myrtle Beach, would have a safe place to sleep. There was a show at Charlie's Place every 2 weeks or so from Spring to Fall. All of Carver Street would buzz with activity.
It is said that customers/patrons could find an answer for nearly every "recreation" he or she desired & the food was also good! Here on Carver Street, Charlie Fitzgerald operated not only the restaurant and nightclub, and the motel, but also a gas station and cab company! (Along with gambling inside a private room curtained off from the main club area. And according to some articles... there was also rumors and suspicions of a brothel also).
Charlie Fitzgerald was an African-American from New York. Not a whole lot is known about him. Charlie's legal name was Lucius Drucker. His past and the reason for the name change have always been a mystery even to those who called him a friend.
The radio stations at the time (considered white-controlled) refused to play what they called “jungle music”. But by 1950, White people couldn’t get enough of this new music, which inspired plenty of movement on the dance floor. They could come to Charlie Place to hear the music they craved! And to do the Shag! The main reason everyone wanted to be at Charlie’s Place.
The Shag was a new dance style-a slower, smoother, sexier version of the jitterbug. And got it's name from a waitress at Charlie's Place!
The waitress was Cynthia Harrol. She often visited New York City to dance in Harlem’s nightclubs and she brought her talents to the floor at Charlie’s Place. Soon patrons were talking about “the Shag on the Hill.” Harrol’s nickname was "Shag".
While everyone got along at Charlie's Place, the Jim Crow laws, segregation, and the Klu Klux Klan created problems....
In 1950, the Ku Klux Klan organized a vicious attack on Charlie's Place.
This KKK charter was led by Grand Dragon-Thomas Lemuel Hamilton who was born in Aiken, South Carolina in 1907. He joined the Ku Klux Klan in 1926, at the age of 19. When he moved to Augusta GA he was a Klan Member there. Moving back to SC, he organized the South Carolina Chapter that attacked Charlie's Place. The Thomas L. Hamilton Klavern No. 42 in Langley, South Carolina was chartered in 1949. In Nov that year, Hamilton became the Grand Dragon of the Association of Carolina Klans (North & South Carolina).
Thomas L. Hamilton with his Klan warned & threatened Charlie Fitzgerald, but he refused to ban his white patrons.
On the night of Aug. 26, 1950, the KKK cruised through Myrtle Beach’s black neighborhoods and thru "the hill" to Charlie's Place. Local police cleared the way for dozens of cars in the motorcade dressed in their robes and hoods.
A wailing siren drew Charlie outside his club at about 9 p.m. Charlie saw the line of cars pull in. One of the cars flashed a cross lighted by neon lights and had a big red light in the front above the bumper that blinked on and off & had a siren blowing. Each vehicle held 4-5 Klansmen yelling and shouting warnings & obscenities.
The KKK motorcade departed and Charlie called the police, telling authorities that if the Klan returned, there would surely be bloodshed.
The Klan got word of Fitzgerald’s message around 11 p.m., just as they had reached Loris, some 30 miles west of Myrtle Beach.
The KKK returned just before midnight....
About 60 klansmen in 25 vehicles stormed the club, disarmed Charlie Fitzgerald, and threw him into the trunk of a Pontiac vehicle.
The Klan then shot up the place with more than 500 rounds, aiming many of the bullets at the jukebox. Patrons, black and white, fled through the back of the building.
Several people were injured. Gene Nichols, (who operated another nightclub on "the Hill"), was shot in the foot. Clubgoer, Charlie Vance, sustained internal injuries from a beating he received at the hands of several Klansmen. Cynthia Harrol, the dancer nicknamed "Shag", suffered an injured back after being beaten. Klan members then crushed her fingers by slamming shut the cash register drawer as she tried to secure the club's money.
Only one person was killed, a Klansman... (Later said to have been killed by fellow Klansmen although no one was ever charged for his murder).
At the hospital, when the dead Klansman's blood-stained white robe and hood were removed, a police uniform was revealed. James D. Johnson, 42, an off-duty police officer from Conway SC, had been shot in the back.
Charlie Fitzgerald rode in the truck of the car for an hour before the car stopped at an inlet waterway, 600 yards from Highway 544, about 2 1/2 miles west of Myrtle Beach. It was a deserted road near an old saw mill.
There, the members of the KKK viciously whipped and beat him. They then took a knife and sliced off a piece of each of Charlie's ears, one man saying, "We’ll mark him so we’ll know him.’ When this man leaned over, Charlie saw a silver badge, which was in the shape of a shield and about the size of a silver dollar pinned on the inside of his shirt pocket. It looked like a Deputy Sheriff’s badge.
Charlie was then left bleeding on the road to die. He got himself up and staggered slowly to Highway 17, (the main inland business thoroughfare along the Carolina coast). There he was picked up by a motorist, Ed Washington, who was driving his cab down Highway 544. He took Charlie back to his nightclub.
At 3 a.m., Sheriff C. Ernest Sasser drove to Charlie's Place and arrested Charlie. Rather than take him to a local hospital for medical treatment, the Sherriff transported Charlie to an undisclosed jail 3 hours away in Columbia. The sheriff then took a Public stance of silence (Revealing no information about the arrest—including what Charkie had been charged with and why he was taken 3 hours away).
No public records exist that document an arrest of Charlie Fitzgerald or of any charges filed against him...but Charlie spent 2 weeks in 3 separate jails. (It has been speculated that possibly, Sheriff C. Ernest Sasser, who was friendly with Charlie Fitzgerald, was protecting the club owner).
10 Ku Klux Klan members were arrested and charged with conspiracy to incite mob violence. Some of them were:
The Grand Dragon Thomas L. Hamilton, L. Sims Jr. (a beer truck driver), Dr. A. J. Gore (a Conway optician), Clyde Creel (a Service station operator), and June Cartrette (a farmer).
Meanwhile, Charlie Fitzgerald—charged with no crime—remained in an unknown jail.
On Oct. 5, a Horry County grand jury cleared 5 Klansmen, including the Grand Dragon Thomas L Hamilton, of all charges. All the others had already been released after a hearing in which no probable cause was determined.
Charlie eventually recovered from his injuries, put the nightclub back together, and opened it's doors to the shaggers and music lovers of Myrtle Beach.
But the town was shaken by the KKK attacks. Some blacks left town, including workers at the hotels. Some whites still came to hear the music, but many were then afraid to visit "the Hill" and avoided Carver Street.
Charlie died on July 4, 1955 from cancer.
Charlie’s Place remained open after his death and closed in 1965.
Charlie's place then sat abandoned and neglected for over 50 years. The bar/nightspot building was demolished. His home and the motel deteriorated. The row of motel units on the right side were also torn down. The home/office and left side row of the motel's units are all that are left.
The city of Myrtle Beach purchased the property in 2015. Block grants were secured to pay for a restoration project. Carter Architecture-Joel Carter (whom I met) and project leaders devised a 3-phase initiative based on community input. The Carver Street Committee has been working to secure the site of Charlie's Place and preserve it's legacy. The old house/office that belonged the Charlie & Sarah Fitzgerald on the property will be turned into a multipurpose space or community center. What is still standing of the old motel will be restored. A couple of the spaces will be a mini-museum telling the story of the site and the community it served. Eventually, new buildings are planned to be added to the site to create a marketplace.
Jennifer Dawn McGinnis spends her weekends exploring new places and locations with historical significance. After her visit to a particular spot, she researches the area further, then writes about the location and her experience on her blog,
Jen's Historical Travels: https://www.facebook.com/JensHistoricTravels