published Saturday, March 31st, 2012

Don't kill the Bessie Smith Strut

Mayor Ron Littlefield emphasizes that his surprise and controversial decision to move the Bessie Smith Strut from Martin Luther King Boulevard to the Riverfront, where it can be staged in the more secure confines of the well-policed Riverbend perimeter, is being done to make it safe -- or safer.

Our fear is that such a mistaken move will kill the Strut by killing what it stood for: a symbolic, abiding effort not just to celebrate our cultural diversity and common heritage, but simply to share fun, funky, get-down times together in the African-American community's old Ninth Street neighborhood-- and to keep building on that.

Littlefield says his unilateral decision is not a surrender to the young black gangs whose increasingly frequent and frightening gun battles over turf could mar the Strut. Rather, he says, it's a recognition of the city's financial and moral liability for permitting a convenient venue for violence, and the moral responsibility to avoid that.

Yet it feels like a surrender to the fear of violence. It also reflects a seeming lack of determined effort to enlist help from black community leaders and neighborhood groups to ensure safety at the Strut; and just as importantly, to avoid the dismantling of the iconic cultural asset that the Bessie Smith Strut has become.

The planned shift of venue would impose other burdens of equity and access, as well. As a grand street party, the Strut has always been free to attendees and easily accessible to all comers. If that's part of its problem for the city, it's also part of its charm.

Putting it in the mix of Riverbend's gated controls would require a separate gate-fee at best, and an expensive pin at worst. The cost and wait at the gate, the transportation-and-parking drill, and the separation from its original venue would have other consequences. They would pose economic barriers for many long-time patrons, dampen the spontaneity that has always characterized the Strut, and jeopardize the financial opportunities of its traditional neighborhood vendors, who suddenly could face a stiff Riverbend permit fee.

Indeed, the whole idea of moving the Strut runs counter to its patrons, and to the reasons it's long been faithfully supported by its traditional philanthropic sponsors.

Then there's the psychic resistance. Shifting the venue from its traditional place along Martin Luther King Boulevard, and the Bessie Smith cultural center, reasonably strikes its patrons, and especially this city's black community, as a direct insult against the cultural benefit the Strut has long provided.

The Strut is approaching 30. It began in 1983, when philanthropist Jack Lupton rounded up funding for a novel, integrated community bash to celebrate the blues and our common heritage. Key to that was the venue -- the boulevard that was the cultural center for African-Americans, yet then a place most white Chattanoogans sped through in locked cars

The first Strut beckoned a smallish crowd, and ended up with a diverse gathering where people cheered musicians, jived and grooved, and joined together in a conga line.

The experiment not only worked -- it became a pillar of good times and good will. It helped build a stronger, more cohesive sense of our diverse community, and it fostered broad appreciation for the city's own legendary Bessie Smith, who came to be known around the nation, and abroad, as the Queen of the Blues.

The Bessie Smith Strut has for many years drawn tens of thousands of area residents -- on the free Monday night of Riverbend -- to roam Martin Luther King Boulevard from sound stage to sound stage for nearly half a mile, sharing barbecue, beer and great times. It would be a crying shame to lose it, and especially to lose it to a fear that could yet be defeated.

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nucanuck said...

Mayor Littlefield will not go down as one of Chattanooga's better mayors. This is but one more tone-deaf mis-step where he fails to connect with the essence of the city's real composition and definition.

A city that can't have a street party without police perimeters is one step closer to a police state. Next will we ban sidewalks because violence sometimes occurs on them?

March 31, 2012 at 2:30 a.m.
joneses said...

The black leaders are calling Littlefield a racist for moving the Bessie Smith Strut from MLK Blvd. Everyone knows Littlefield is a liberal. How are you going to get these black leaders back on your liberal racist plantation? It is very entertaining watching blacks calling a liberal the racist that they are. You better fix these black leaders as they are starting to think for themselves and everyone knows you liberals cannot have that.

March 31, 2012 at 6:48 a.m.
jesse said...

the strut has always been the best part of riverbend and moving it is prob.gonna ruin it!

March 31, 2012 at 8:40 a.m.
Here2Opine said...

Why not just put on the Chattanooga Tourism website "STAY AWAY, GANG ACTIVITY SO BADLY UNCONTROLLED HERE, KEEP YOUR TOURIST DOLLARS OUT OF OUR TERRIBLE CITY". And let Mayor Littlefield pay for a bunch of billboards stating the same all over the incoming interstates, to just keep going. Dislike completely.

March 31, 2012 at 10:19 a.m.
holdout said...

I hope to see the strut on MLK without the city and without FOF. Who says they have to hold the party for you?

March 31, 2012 at 1:44 p.m.
riverman said...

When black people show they can get together in a group of five or more without someone getting shot then maybe the city can move the Strut back to MLK.

March 31, 2012 at 2:16 p.m.
328Kwebsite said...

I loved attending The Strut and I never felt security was a problem. I have not been to Riverbend in years and I will not start now. The Strut will not actually take place this year, no matter what the mullet festival people think they're doing.

March 31, 2012 at 5:14 p.m.
LaughingBoy said...

There is absolutely nothing wrong with moving this event over to the river. The crowds during the nights where R&B acts are headliners are always diverse. This could be too unless local black "leadership" race-baits people into boycotting. Yes then it would fail and probably end. Go eat barbecue, drink beer or cokes and enjoy the fellowship. Don't fall for the race-baiting.

March 31, 2012 at 6:23 p.m.
MasterChefLen said...

What a sorry excuse for a mayor. Too bad the City Council rubberstamp's everything he proposes.

March 31, 2012 at 9:37 p.m.
chet123 said...

LAUGHINGBOY...I WILL GIVE YOU SOMETHING TO LAUGH AT HA HA HA HA!

RACE-BAIT???? A NEW TERM FOR THE RIGHT-WING NUT.......RACE BAIT....ITS NOT YOUR FAULT YOU ARE RACIST....THE BLACK BAITED YOU....DO YOU KNOW HOW IDIOTIC THAT SOUNDS.....THE BLACK PEOPLE BAITED US POOR RIGHT-WING REPUBLICAN, DEFENDER AND BUTT KISSER OF THE RICH AND GREEDY. THE BLACKS DID IT...WHINEEEEEEEEEEEE!WHINEEEEEEEEEEEE!.HA HA HA HA HA

YOU BEST LAY-OFF LISTENING TO RUSH LIMBAUGH AND FOX NEWS....THEY'RE DUMBING YOU DOWN AND DOWN AND DOWN AND DOWN HA HA HA

April 1, 2012 at 12:15 a.m.
chet123 said...

I DONT CARE ABOUT A STRUT....PULL THE PLUG!

IF THE RIGHT-WING VEIW THE BLACK SO THUGGIST AND UNDESIRABLE....THEN JUST STAY AWAY FROM AROUND THEM!!! I DONT HEAR ANY DEMOCRATS CRYING ABOUT A STRUT.....THIS IS WHY THE DEMOCRATS ARE THE GREATEST......GO DEMO!!!!

April 1, 2012 at 12:24 a.m.
dfclapp said...

By the logic used to destroy the Bessie Smith Strut, the city should close all the River front venues and Coolidge Park rather than seeking methods with businesses and neighbors to aid the law-abiding majorities who just want to have a good free time together on city streets.

April 1, 2012 at 6:28 a.m.
chioK_V said...

I'm not a Littlefield supporter, but I don't see any racism in all this. Just common sense. If you don't appreciate and take care of what you have you're bound to lose it. When people stop acting like they need the overseer watching over them at all times to make them behave, and take better care of what you have, it won't be so easy for others to take it away from you.

April 1, 2012 at 11:53 a.m.
jesse said...

O.K. how about saturation police presence on m.l.k. during the strut? THATS better than moving the entire venue to riverwalk where they gonna start CHARGIN your A$$ just to get in!THIS WHOLE DEAL is about the fact that THE STRUT is free!periot! can't be havin that sh#t we gotta make some bucks off the strut so we gonna move it down on the river!politics as usual!follow the money!

April 1, 2012 at 1:04 p.m.
LaughingBoy said...

Where is the racism here? Be specific.

April 1, 2012 at 2:17 p.m.
jesse said...

hey laughing boy! we got folks on here that think the fact that waffle house serves GRITS for breakfast is RACIST!!

April 1, 2012 at 3:07 p.m.
joneses said...

I do not know what the problem is with having the strut on MLK. Someone needs to tell this liberal dummycrat mayor that he need not run from Memos, one of the very few black owned businesses on MLK, as they are not a threat. Actually the owners of Memos are warm, friendly and wonderful people. I still think it entertaining to watch some of the black leaders calling a liberal mayor a racist. Maybe these blacks are finally realizing that the liberals are the true racist. The liberals are either running from the blacks or trying to convince them of what they need.

April 1, 2012 at 3:52 p.m.
LaughingBoy said...

They are not running from the businesses that are doing good things in the community. They are running from the wilding teens, who get no supervision from home, before someone gets shot and killed. The police support the move because of the way anyone wanting to cause trouble can easily move about between the buildings.

April 1, 2012 at 3:59 p.m.
AngryNegro said...

Now, this is the problem with this damn town in the first place. The reason Blacks and whites, and any other color for that fact, can't get along here. When white privilege get challenged in this town whites begin super-imposing their fears on the rest of us. Bottom line, let the Blacks alone and watch them thrive. White folks, leave us to our own devices and be yourselves amazed.

April 12, 2012 at 7:32 p.m.
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