Encouragement for encouraging change (1963)

Brandon Wilcox, guest writer

It was the 1957 piano competition concert of Jazz Arts. I was playing in a qualifier for the Jazz Arts competition in the Colonial Theatre in Sacramento in the middle of February. My audience: all white, Blacks were not admitted. The announcer called my name loud and clear, “Next, Steven Craig Collins.” I walked up to the piano and began to play . I started playing a piece that was meant to encourage Whites to notice the major segregation going on at that time. Unfortunately I got a lot of negative feedback and was disqualified and booted out of the competition. It wasn’t the competitiveness that made me never want to play a concert again, but it was the lack of realization of how Blacks were being treated, and I failed to convince my audience of that. That is why I never participate in concerts anymore. There is no way I can make a difference.


I wake up from my long slumber. It is 8:00 in the morning on May 4th, 1963. I approach my closet and put on my Dacron Polyester-Blue shirt with my dark-navy peacoat . I head downstairs to greet my two sisters: Carol and Kathy.  Carol is 22 yrs old and Kathy is 18. They have been supporting me with anything I seem interested in which really means a lot, but right now they seemed distracted by the television set in our living room.

I glance over on the television. Apparently the news reporters on the news are talking about The Children’s Crusade in Alabama. They were explaining that  “On D-Day (May 2), 1000 students ditch classes to march two-by-two out of 16th Street Baptist Church and endure arrest. In the following week, thousands more students are knocked off their feet by high pressure water hoses, menaced by police dogs and angry whites, and incarcerated in improvised jails at the county fairgrounds” (“Teaching).

I took the side of the Blacks because they didn’t do anything to bring about this injustice done to them. America should be about helping those around us and providing support if needed. I proceed on with my day and headed to the local diner, Chuck’s Hamburgers, for breakfast. When I arrive at the diner my friend Marie is there to greet me. She was at my concert 6 years back, but she has been encouraging me ever since.

“Hey Steven!” she calls out to me with enthusiasm as I walk into the diner.

“Hey,” I answer back and proceed to walk toward her. I regularly see Marie at the diner because she would rather go out than stay home. I take the vacant seat beside her and order my meal. When my order finally arrives, the special for today which is a pineapple sundae, we start conversing.

“So have you figured out what you are doing for the concert in November?”

“No, I don’t think I will participate in that.”

“What!” she exclaims in disbelieve. “You can’t! You won’t!”

“You’re right Marie I can’t! Don’t you remember what happened last time?”

“It wasn’t your fault.” her voice lowers to a more solemn tone.

“I think it was!” I exclaim in frustration and regret as I stand up and start to walk out of the diner.

“Wait!” Marie says, hoping I will at least listen to what she had to say, but to her disappointment I keep walking. I couldn’t bare to think of that concert again. It was too hard on me to make me forget and forgive myself now. I walk toward my house lost in thought. I didn’t mean to walk way from her. I just didn’t want to talk about it. I knew fairly well that I had made a mistake.


I arrive home and head upstairs to me room. It is June the 25th. I have a Video Tape Recorder and listen to a few jazz tunes by Duke Elington, but something else I recorded was one of John F. Kennedy’s speeches on the Civil Rights Movement. Basically “On the evening of June 11, following Gov. Wallace’s infamous stand in the schoolhouse door, President Kennedy addresses the nation on the issue of civil rights, for the first time roundly condemning segregation and announcing his intention to submit a comprehensive civil rights bill to Congress” (“Teaching). It motivated me to hear someone as important as our President say something about the Movement and try to make a difference. So I pulled out my piece “Go Tell it on the Mountain” that I didn’t plan on playing; however, because of this recent event I felt more encouraged to play again for a patriotic benefit concert in The Colonial Theatre on November the 25th.


It is November 25th. I had planned to take the day off and relax because of all the practicing I had to do. The movie Cleopatra had just been released, and the Crest Theatre  was showing it. So I headed over to the theatre and bought my ticket for the movie. In the theatre the description read “Scenes of unparalleled spectacle” (Monteith). After the movie I headed back home to start dinner for my two sister Carol and Kathy. It was the night of  the benefit concert, but I still didn’t want to do it. As soon as the thought of quitting approached my mind, Marie suddenly grabs ahold of me and turns me around facing her.

“Steven…I need to talk to you about this concert.”

“About the concert? Why all of a sudden? I’m not doing it, and I thought I could but I


“Steven it’s not just about the concert; it’s about you!”

I struggle to maintain my composure, but finally I am able to keep it together.

“What about me?”

“Steven, you’re an amazing pianist, and an amazing person. You inspire others and me with your playing. When you all of a sudden stopped because you didn’t believe you could inflict change on the movement it saddened me. Steven you can’t expect this entire nation to support blacks right away, but I know that in doing this benefit concert that you will impact someone in the audience locally; that in itself will creat the spark that will provide support and end this segregation!”

That hit me so much and boosted my confidence to play. I didn’t recognize Marie’s encouragement to me until this moment. She believed in me and supported me all the way, and that’s what was going to make me play for this. I was doing this for her, but also for the Civil Rights Movement as well. It was my chance to show the world how wrong segregation between Blacks and Whites was.


It is December 27th, 1963, and because of my performance, Sacramento, California, has recognized segregation issues. Even if nothing changes, I will still remember what Martin Luther King Jr. said on August 28, 1963, “…There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, When will you be satisfied?We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: For Whites Only.We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream” (“Martin).


Works Cited


“Martin Luther King I Have a Dream Speech – American Rhetoric.” Martin Luther King I Have a             Dream Speech – American Rhetoric. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2017.

Monteith, Sharon. American Culture in the 1960s. Edinburgh University, 2008.

“Teaching about 1963: Civil Rights Movement History.” Civil Rights Teaching. N.p., n.d. Web.                28 Mar. 2017.


1960s Fashion for Men & Boys.” RetroWaste. n.p., n.d. Web. 06 Apr. 2017.

Best Concert Halls & Theaters In Sacramento.” CBS Sacramento. n.p., n.d. Web. 06 Apr. 2017. “Innovations of the 1960s Timeline.” Timetoast. n.p., n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2017.

The People History — Steve Pearson. “What Happened in 1963 Important News and Events, Key             Technology and Popular Culture.” What Happened in 1963 Inc. Pop Culture, Prices                  Significant Events, Key Technology and Inventions. n.p., n.d. Web. 06 Apr. 2017.

U.S. Timeline, 1960-1969 – America’s Best History. n.p., n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2017.