On this dayApr 10, 1956

White Men Attack Nat King Cole During Performance in Birmingham, Alabama

Image | Echoes/Redferns

On April 10, 1956, African American singer and pianist Nat King Cole was performing before an all-white audience of 4000 at the Municipal Auditorium in Birmingham, Alabama, when he was attacked and knocked down by a group of white men. Before the attack, a drunk man near the front row jeered at Mr. Cole, "Negro, go home."

Nat King Cole was born in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1919 and moved with his family to Chicago as a child. Cole was a popular national entertainer when he performed in Birmingham in 1956 and, due to the city's racial segregation laws, he was required to schedule separate shows for white and black audiences.

The night before the attack, he performed before a segregated audience in Mobile, Alabama, and was booed by scattered members of the crowd.

Police were present at the Birmingham concert in case of trouble, and apprehended Cole's attackers quickly; four men were charged with inciting a riot while two others were held for questioning. Outside the arena, officers later found a car containing rifles, a blackjack, and brass knuckles.

After the attack during the segregated "white only" Birmingham show, Mr. Cole returned to the stage; the remaining audience gave him a ten-minute standing ovation, but he did not finish the concert. "I just came here to entertain you," he told the white crowd. "That was what I thought you wanted. I was born in Alabama. Those folks hurt my back. I cannot continue, because I need to see a doctor."

After being examined by a physician, Mr. Cole went on to perform at the show scheduled for a black audience later that night.

About EJI

The Equal Justice Initiative works to end mass incarceration, excessive punishment, and racial inequality.

Learn more

About this website

Until we confront our history of racial injustice and its legacy, we cannot overcome the racial bias that exists today.

Learn more