November 1, 1952
I'm writing you this letter because I've heard through the family grapevine that you are upset that I'm not returning home to Alabama after I finish my last gig.
Mama, I can't. While I've been touring with Dad and Uncle Will on the road, I've seen a huge difference in the way we've been treated up north. It's not perfect by any means, mama, but it is so much better. I've had it with these Jim Crow "separate but equal" laws. I understand that our roots are in Alabama, and grandma and grandpa are there and you don't want to break up the family, but mama I've got to find a better way of life for myself.
Mama, do you know what it's like for me as a black entertainer? I go onstage in a nightclub where people pay good money to see me perform. But if I try walking in that same nightclub as a patron the next evening with a wallet full of money, I am not allowed to eat or drink there because of the color of my skin. I am tired of the segregated railway cars, restrooms, restaurants and drinking fountains. And someday if I'm lucky enough to have children of my own, I don't want them to have to read outdated textbooks, sit on broken furniture and be taught by lousy teachers just because they are African American.
I know I am learning these lessons a bit late in life. But that's because Daddy and Uncle Will shielded me from prejudice as best they could whenever we performed. When we were snubbed or not allowed in a club, Daddy told me it was because they were "jealous of our talent." And as an innocent child, I believed him.
But when I served in the United States Army during World War II, I finally was confronted by strong racial prejudice without dad by my side to protect me. Overnight the world looked different. It wasn't one color any more. I could see the protection I'd gotten all my life from my father and Will. I appreciated their loving hope that I'd never need to know about prejudice and hate, but they were wrong. It was as if I'd walked through a swinging door for eighteen years, a door which they had always secretly held open.
Like I said, mama, things aren't perfect up North, but they are better. And I've made a surprising good friend--mama, FRANK SINATRA is one of my best friends and I can't wait for you to meet him. We've played at a few clubs together, and one time I was told I wasn't allowed to eat in the restaurant after we'd finished performing. I took my plate and went to eat alone in our tour bus. The rest of the performers and the band stayed in the club, but Frank asked for a take-out plate too and came and ate in the bus with me. I couldn't believe it.
Mama, I promise you--someday I will make enough money and bring you and grandma and grandpa up North to live with me in a beautiful house, anywhere you want. In the meantime, please understand why I'm not ever going to live in Alabama again. Give everybody my love and I promise will see you at Christmastime. I love you!
Your devoted son,
SAMMY DAVIS, JR.
(Note to Professor G. and Class: Sammy Davis Jr. was actually from New York, I just made him from Alabama in this story for the sake of the pretend argument. But everything else in my letter is true. Sammy Davis performed with his father and Uncle Will and called themselves "The Will Mastin Trio." The paragraph about the Army is a direct Sammy Davis Jr. quote from one of his books, and the story about Frank Sinatra is a true anecdote told by Nancy Sinatra in her book "My Father." (My mom is a huge Frank Sinatra fan and has several books about him!) I hope you all enjoyed reading my letter written as "Sammy!" --Best, Lisa
ps: I chose the date November 1, 1952 randomly, only because the Jim Crow Laws were repealed in 1954.)