April 10th, 1956

Nat King Cole Attacked by White Men While Performing in Birmingham, Alabama

On April 10, 1956, African American singer and pianist Nat King Cole was performing before a white-only audience of 4000 at the Municipal Auditorium in Birmingham, Alabama, when he was attacked and knocked down by a group of white men. The attack happened so quickly that some audience members believed the attackers had rushed the stage to attack a drunk man near the front row who had been jeering at Mr. Cole, "Negro, go home." Police present at the concert in case of trouble 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.

Nat King Cole was born in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1919 and moved with his family to Chicago as a child. He was a popular national performer in 1956 and, in observance of Birmingham's racial segregation laws, had scheduled separate performances 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.

After the attack during the Birmingham whites-only show, Mr. Cole returned to the stage and received a ten-minute standing ovation but did not finish the concert. "I just came here to entertain you," he told the 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 scheduled blacks-only show later that night.