Ivy Joe and the Snowballs Integrate Huntsville

Tommy Graham, Ivy Joe Milan and Chris Couchois, Huntsville Alabama, 1968

“Ivy Joe and the Snowballs Integrate Huntsville”

Everybody knows the 1960s were turbulent in Alabama. The general facts have been established: Huntsville managed to accomplish racial integration with less violence than Birmingham or Montgomery.

Back then, just like now, Huntsville’s business community was motivated by its special relationship to the federal government. To maintain our image as a forward-looking “space capital” or “rocket city” we really had no choice but to desegregate public facilities. Faced with local civil rights demonstrations, Police Chief Chris Spurlock did everything he could to keep Huntsville’s civic life civil.

Teenage musician Ivy Joe Milan also did his part to integrate Huntsville. As part of the first big wave of black students to attend Huntsville High School, he was looking for a way to shine.

So Ivy Joe was delighted when Tommy Graham, Chris Couchois, Billy Brown and Mike Byrum asked him to front their new band. Ivy Joe would sing, and the white guys would back him up.

Ivy Joe had always managed to find his own way. As an experienced “shoeshine boy” downtown, he was already an independent businessman. And he knew all the rock and soul classics.

So “Ivy Joe and the Snowballs” assumed their role in Huntsville’s social history. They played for white kids at the country club. They played black social clubs, a white country and western bar, high school dances and family barbecues. They played at teenage dance clubs like the Epic on Andrew Jackson Way, and television’s “Hullabaloo.”

Effective social change rarely occurs by administrative decree. Social change starts with individual acts of courage. As teenage musicians, “Ivy Joe and His Snowballs” helped Huntsville integrate peacefully.

Ivy Joe recalls, “It was all going fine until the night Martin Luther King got shot. That night, the people outside the Night Life Club on Holmes were so frustrated.

Some of them just turned on the Snowballs, just for being white. Ernest Jones and I just barely got the guys into the car and out of there! Then I got kicked out of Huntsville High for socializing with white girls in the corridors.”

When he says that, my sense of injustice flares, and I demand a better explanation.

But Ivy Joe says “Now, hold it!” He smiles at me, his dreadlocks animated. Then he explains, “I’m a historic figure. I’ve got to save some stories for my book!”


16 Responses to “Ivy Joe and the Snowballs Integrate Huntsville”

  1. jim pagel Says:

    In 1969, when Ivy Joe disappeared from the scene at Huntsville High, we students were told that he had been busted and thrown out of school after getting caught stealing a sound system from a church. The white girl story sounds more real, and a comment and correction on the “truth” would be appreciated.

  2. Jane DeNeefe Says:

    I will ask Ivy Joe if he would like to clarify the details of that story to post here. Establishing the facts of these various episodes and telling the truth about “grey areas” in Huntsville’s desegregation story would benefit everybody.

  3. Curtis Says:

    The band is playing at The Flying Monkey Arts Center, Huntsville, AL Check out HuntsvilleRocks dot com for more details.

  4. jsg Says:

    Wish that they were playing back in my days @ HHS (Class of ,83). Glad that they got back together for a “reunion” tour.

  5. Terrie Says:

    I was a student at HHS 1967-1970. I was dating a member of the “Coming Generation’ at that time. We really enjoyed you guys. You were a great lead singer. The band was really fun, Hope you will be playing again in Huntsville soon.

  6. Dan Pollock Says:

    Brave young man but I integrated Huntsville’s music scene first in reverse by being the only white guy in an all black band, “The Hi Fives” a few years before Ivy Joe.

    • janedeneefe Says:

      Yes, you did! But these kids didn’t know that.

      • Dan Pollock Says:

        True Jane. Please excuse me for coming off hoity toity but I’m just trying to ensure that the story is told as right as it can be and won’t have all of the errors of the writings of another era I was involved in before I got to Huntsville, “East L.A. Chicano Rock”,

  7. Eddie Roberts Says:

    It hurts that I was one of the original of Ivy Joe and the Snowballs and I am not associated in any of the history with them. In the beginning I was the lead guitar player and have great memories practicing in my parents living room and seeing “our band” grow into a top soul music band.

  8. larry perkins Says:

    recorded with Ivy during the 1st decade of 2000 and truly enjoyed him as a musician and a person

  9. janedeneefe Says:

    There is a new book that includes an updated version of this story:

    Eddie Roberts is in it as the original guitar player, and it also includes an account of the “church thieves” episode.

  10. Tony Weatherly Says:

    Thanks for a great old huntsville story.I was wondering ;was Mike Byrom in the band and is he around now.And also was there a singer by the name of Bobby Lynn?

  11. Joe De La Rosa Says:

    Under very pressing circumstances, in 1968/69 I met a young man and while getting to know each other, he mentioned that he was the leader of a band/group. His name was Ivy Joe and what caused me never to forget his story was that he being black and the rest of the group was white. The point in time I mentioned should explain why. The pressing circumstances…Vietnam. I have a photo I would like to share if these two are one in the same. And would to speak with him.

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