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Harold Fox on Chicago

One of the contributors of oral narrative to Carolyn Eastwood's Near West Side Stories was Harold Fox, one-time Maxwell Street tailor (he invented the zoot suit), swing band leader and raconteur nonpareil. Fox's stories are marvelous--it must have been wonderful, if a bit time-taxing, to have him bend your ear--and two of them in particular are quite emblematic of Chicago life.

When Father Pat came to the store to thank me he said he was going to give me a card belonging to the St. Jude Society. Pretty near all the policemen in Chicago belonged to the St. Jude Society. I said thanks very much, but how is this card valuable? He said, "All the cops belong to the St. Jude, so if a cop pulls you over for speeding take the card out and show it to him and you'll have a free ride."

So I kept the card in my wallet, and I was doing a little speeding around Grand and Western and a cop pulled me over and said I was going 10 miles over the limit. I said, I'm sorry and all that, and he said, "Let me see your license." I kept the card right alongside my license and he said, "Oh, I see you're a member of the St. Jude. I'm a member too." I said, yeh, they said if sometime I'm in trouble I should just show this card and you'd give me a pass. He said, "Well, I will give you a pass; this and $5 will get you a pass." So he still got his cut.

And...

For Christmastime the kids in the neighborhood always had to have a new suit. They might be wearing workclothes on their regular jobs, but for the holidays they wanted to look really sharp, so Fox Brothers tailors and seamstresses worked 24 hours a day getting out the orders. In about 1944, International Harvester called me and they said, "The black kids have recommended your band to play at the employees' dance at Union Park Temple for Christmas Eve." I had made suits for all these kids, four to five hundred of them, and they also knew the band from gigs in the neighborhood.

The night of the dance they had a buffet table with about 10 chefs; everything you could think of. Nine o'clock came and nobody showed. Our band was on the stand and the International Harvester president was there. "When are these kids going to show up?" they were asking. Well, to make a long story short, nobody showed up.

Four days later when the kids came around we said, "Hey, what happened, they had all these eats. The band had to take all the eats home." One of them answered, "Well, we found out that they ran two dances, one for the whites on a ballroom on Crawford, and ours, and we weren't going to stand for that. We work together, and we can dance together." So they boycotted the dance.

Official corruption, institutional segregation. Perfect.

March 7, 2005 in Books, Chicago Observations | Permalink

Comments

I purchased my first tailored made suit from you when i was in high school in the 60's. I'm looking for a powder blue fabric with dark blue pin stripes to be made. I believe that if anyone can do this you can. I appreciate your response. Thank you very much. Sincerely Jerry Rowell

Posted by: Jerry Rowell at May 8, 2006 4:43:24 PM