Black Woodstock

Harlem 1969: Jesse Jackson, Nina Simone, B.B. King and 100,000 spectators gather for a concert worth remembering.

Richard Morgan in Smithsonian Magazine:

WoodstockjesseEthel Beaty-Barnes, then an 18-year-old fresh from her high-school graduation, still remembers what she wore to the Sly & The Family Stone concert in Harlem in 1969: a floral halter top and matching bellbottoms, her hair in a sidebun. “It was so overcrowded. People were sitting in the trees. It was boiling hot but not one ounce of trouble,” she said recently from her home in Newark, New Jersey. The word “trouble” back then was a euphemism for chaos.

The concert she attended, what some now call the Black Woodstock, came on the heels of two of Malcolm X’s former aides being shot—one fatally. The local NAACP chairman likened Harlem at the time to the vigilante Old West (earlier that year, five sticks of dynamite had been found behind a local precinct house; a cop dampened the charred fuse with his fingers). So it came as little surprise when the NYPD refused to provide security for the festival. Instead, security came from the Black Panthers, 21 of whom had been indicted for plotting to mark Martin Luther King’s assassination by bombing Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Abercrombie & Fitch and other stores across Manhattan.

Besides Sly, the festival’s roster included B.B. King, Nina Simone, Abbey Lincoln and Max Roach, the Fifth Dimension, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Stevie Wonder, Mahalia Jackson, Moms Mabley, Pigmeat Markham and more. Speakers included then-mayor John Lindsay, introduced on stage as the black community’s “blue-eyed soul brother.”

More here.