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Dreaming on the “Chitlin' Circuit”

Pictured here are Robert (Dutch) and Zerita (Rio) after a night of dancing at the Dreamland Ballroom located at Little Rock, Arkansas's, West 9th Street. It was once a vibrant, African-American business and entertainment district very similar to Black Wall Street in the Greenwood district. By the 1930s, Dreamland was firmly established as a stop on the "Chitlin Circuit," which showcased regional and national African-American bands and stage shows. This piece of history was also host to local musicians, dances, socials, concerts and sporting events. As you can see, the happy couple is “dressed to the nines;” which was the only way black people stepped out in those days. Zerita was quite fashionable; in fact, she and my aunts had a reputation as being sharp dressers. They shopped at M.M. Cohn’s basement (the basement was open to colored folk,) and many people admired their wardrobes. They looked well-to-do despite their modest earnings.

So much so, in fact, that a jealous neighbor once buried a chicken in my grandparents’ yard as form of curse. My granddaddy, a comedic type of guy, told me that if he knew about that chicken being there when it first happened, he would have dug it up and fried it (laughing out loud).

Zerita opened a flea-market booth and sold those clothes for a fraction of the cost—sometimes, giving them away to anyone who couldn’t afford to purchase them.



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