published Sunday, April 8th, 2012

Keep the Strut at home

Discontent with Mayor Ron Littlefield's surprising decision to shift the Bessie Smith Strut from its traditional, 30-year home on Martin Luther King Boulevard to Riverbend's riverfront venue has generated enough backlash that there's a chance it will be reversed. And that's a good thing. The decision was made without any consultation between the mayor and the Strut's advocates, especially those in the city's African-American community for whom the event has long held symbolic significance. For that, and a number of other reasons, it should be reversed.

The Strut's music, ambiance and atmosphere resonates with a diverse mix of area residents and visitors, to be sure. Tens of thousands of people from every corner of the region have long embraced the open, annual street bash, strolling, laughing and jiving to the music from one sound-stage to the next between Lindsay Street and Central Avenue.

Many share a sense of interracial pride and ownership of the Strut, but it is the black community that most feels a sense of personal loss over the decision to move the Strut. There's ample reason for that. The Strut was established on Martin Luther King Boulevard not just to celebrate the legacy of Chattanooga-born Bessie Smith, the legendary queen of the blues in her time on the national and international stage. It was fixed there, as well, for symbolic cultural reasons -- to celebrate the community's African-American heritage on what then was still the traditional center of the city's black community.

Martin Luther King Boulevard today is hardly a shadow of the old Ninth Street. Before the renaming of the street in 1982, and after it for while, the street was the lively center of the city's black community. Before its slow dismantling began, it was lined fully on both sides with two-and-three story brick buildings that housed bustling black businesses, restaurants and nightspots. The surrounding black neighborhood, now more diverse, provided supporting texture.

In the era of this city's piece of the Civil Right's movement, and through the 1970s, the boulevard was also the scene of large demonstrations against racial discrimination here. And for decades after that, the racial divide that made Ninth Street/M.L.King Boulevard the cultural center of the black community between downtown and Central Avenue to the east remained demarcated by a deliberate sidewalk gap.

When Miller Park was built and opened between 9th and 10th Streets in 1973, the sidewalk on the south side of Ninth Street, between Georgia Avenue and Market Street, was purposely taken up and replaced with a formidable earthen berm that ran to the curb. For members of the black community who walked into downtown from their business and cultural center east of Lindsay Street, where the Bessie Smith Museum now stands, that barrier largely stopped them from meandering into what was then the only downtown park and green space.

It steered them, instead, across the more difficult crossing at Georgia Avenue to north side of the street, where businesses remained until Miller Plaza was built. The notable sidewalk gap remained until Mayor Bob Corker, Littlefield's predecessor, fixed it before he left office in 2005.

The Bessie Smith Strut was created in 1983 in an effort to help mend such divisive history. So the appeal of black leaders, who are now rightly seeking support from the City Council to reverse Littlefield's decision, merits redress. The city should continue its partnership with private sponsors and the Friends of the (Riverbend) Festival that have long made the Strut possible.

Mayor Littlefield, who has suggested the risk of violence as the reason for moving the Strut, is throwing obstacles in the way. He wants the thin M.L. King Merchants Association to assume liability and security responsibilities and to manage the Strut.

He shouldn't make this such a hard path. There can never be a guarantee of safety in public places. The cultural value of the Strut, moreover, rises far above entertainment. Killing it, and needlessly staining the city's racial relations and partnerships, is the larger risk.

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328Kwebsite said...

The Strut needs to stay on MLK.

These security claims are, in my opinion, totally bogus. Having been to war several times; I see no legitimate concern for security that would be in any way satisfied by moving the event to the Riverfront. I have personally been involved in more riot control operations than most Chattanooga Police officers. The move to the Riverfront under the pretense of improving security is total BS.

Changing the location has almost no impact on the risk assessment for that event.

It would, however, impact the profit margin. There would be immediate, observable changes in profit for some retailers and service providers if the event's location were changed. Even if only the name were retained, it could still be exploited for the immediate generation of profit. First up: food sales.

The Bessie Smith Strut offers one profit motive that other large events in town do not: the chance for local restaurant operators to make money by pre-cooking low overhead food items in their kitchens. Once cooked, these items are moved to MLK where they are resold at The Strut.

Alongside those larger, for-profit contract food sales are many smaller, thin-margin, food and beverage sellers. The smaller sellers may give the appearance that food sales are small time. Overall, they're not. Some of our city's larger restaurant operations participate in preparing food for The Strut.

Anyone who's been in a bar, watching them cook the turkey legs to sell across town, on the day of The Strut, knows this. If you can't get a beer because they are cooking Strut food, then you can see where their interest and profit lie.

Even the choice of foodstuffs at these street vendor booths is picked to generate high profit margin. The profit is practically built into the food itself. Who buys turkey legs in the middle of summer?

They're not selling endangered species steaks out there. Strut turkey legs rival Riverbend's fried sugar and flour passed off as funnel cakes. Food and drink make money in Chattanooga.

Restaurants gain and lose, by location, as a direct result of these large street events. Those businesses are owned by voters who back local politicians like Mayors. Pleasing those people is worth a Mayor's time. That's what I think is really happening here.

If the Strut is moved to Riverfront Parkway, the food preparers make more profit because their company's kitchens are that much closer.

As with Mayor Corker's claims about re-routing the streets, Mayor Littlefield's citations of security concerns are a tangent. Security is not actually the main issue. Profit for supporters, however, is.

April 8, 2012 at 11:28 p.m.
328Kwebsite said...

Moving The Strut does not change the security situation with the crowd. If a crowd of equal size, composition and conduct participated in the same activities just a few blocks away, it is not reasonable to believe that some unnamed security concern would be mitigated. Crime does not occur by latitude and longitude. Crime occurs when people infringe on someone else's rights beyond the victim's ability to consent to the imposition. Location has little or nothing to do with it.

Location, however, can have a great deal to do with profit. Our Chattanooga Mayors, like Littlefield, often keep an eye on both location and profit when making their decisions.

If Mayor Littlefield can get away with exploiting poor people to bring a few more dollars to his supporters, he will. Meanwhile, he'll cloak himself in "security" as both cover and self-praise.

It's a lot easier than explaining to people that it's about a few thousand bucks in restaurant payoffs. Try getting a beer in a bar with a turkey leg contract on Strut Tuesday. You'll see what I mean. Littlefield's ploy is fooling no one and angering many.

Put The Strut back where it belongs. Get it out of the Mayor's pocket now.

April 8, 2012 at 11:35 p.m.
joneses said...

Littlefield has shown exactly how racist the dummycrats are towards blacks by moving the Strut from MLK. The black leaders in Chattanooga got playing the race card correct this time. it is about time they showed the true colors of the dummycrats.

April 9, 2012 at 5:32 a.m.
chatt_man said...

joneses, surely you mis-typed your most recent opine. Everyone knows the democrats are the party for exploiting, I mean for expressing the black community's interests.

April 9, 2012 at 11:14 a.m.
joneses said...

chattman

Of course they are for the black community. I read last week where the democrat union controlled government school called Brainerd High School will graduate half of it's seniors this year. Democrats sell this to the blacks as a positive accomplishment.

April 9, 2012 at 1:09 p.m.
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