Archive for the ‘Civil Rights Movement’ Category

Roots of Rock & Roll in the Rocket City

August 7, 2010


civil rights book signing/ rock & roll show was a big hit

March 23, 2010

"Ivy Joe would sing and the white guys would back him up." 

Jane DeNeefe March 20, 2010 Flying Monkey Theater

Ivy Joe Milan

Frye Gaillard

Marengo County: Reclaiming the History

March 12, 2010

Listen here:
WLRH podcast of

Tombigbee River Bluff

“Marengo County: Reclaiming the History,” adapted for audio from Alabama’s Civil Rights Trail: An Illustrated Guide to the Cradle of Freedom.

Ivy Joe and the Snowballs Integrate Huntsville

February 6, 2010

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!”

Encyclopedia of Alabama: Jerry “Boogie” McCain

January 3, 2010


Listen to Steady:

Coauthor of Alabama’s Civil Rights Trail: An Illustrated Guide to the Cradle of Freedom.

January 1, 2010

Title page of

Encyclopedia of Alabama: Jerry “Boogie” McCain

December 31, 2009

Encyclopedia of Alabama: Jerry “Boogie” McCain << click here for article

Posted using ShareThis

Encyclopedia of Alabama entry for Alabama bluesman Jerry “Boogie” McCain, written by Jane DeNeefe.

Jerry “Boogie” McCain

December 31, 2009
site of Bunk Richardson lynching in 1906, depicted in book McCain is holding.

Jerry Boogie McCain shows the site on the Coosa River where Bunk Richardson was lynched in 1906. Photo by Jane DeNeefe 2008.