Charlie’s Place, a new South Carolina ETV documentary, tells the story of an African-American nightclub owned by Charlie and Sarah Fitzgerald in Myrtle Beach, S.C. from the 1930s to the 1960s. Charlie’s Place on Carver Street was a significant stop for musicians on the Chitlin’ Circuit in the segregated South, and welcomed black and white patrons. Top African-American stars, including Billie Holiday, Ray Charles, Ruth Brown and Little Richard, were usually in town to play the Ocean Forest Hotel. But they would follow their society set with a “Saturday Night Special” performance at Charlie’s Place for an integrated audience. Blacks and whites came for the music and the “Black Hollywood” atmosphere of the club. Whites also came to learn new dance steps, which included the Twist, the Chicken, and the Shag, years before the general public knew of them. The film is narrated by Phylicia Rashad, and features interviews with many who went to listen, learn, and dance at the club.
The Fitzgeralds also owned a motel that was listed in the “Green Book” that African-Americans used to travel safely during that era, but it was the integrated audience at Charlie’s Place that finally gained the attention of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1950s. Charlie Fitzgerald was beaten and left for dead by the side of the road. He would recover and the club would continue until 1965, when tastes shifted and the very music the Fitzgeralds featured became popular with people of all races in all clubs. Fifty years after Charlie’s Place closed, efforts are being made to revitalize the neighborhood, which now serves as an important example of racial diversity and black entrepreneurship.
Charlie’s Place premieres Thursday, April 26 at 9:00 p.m. on SCETV and repeats Sunday, April 29 at 4:00 p.m. It will also be rebroadcast Monday, April 30 at 8:00 p.m. on SCETV’s sister channel, the South Carolina Channel, which is available via antenna and on select cable services.
Charlie’s Place filmmaker Betsy Newman, an award-winning documentary and web content producer at SCETV, has been awarded the S.C. Governor’s Award in the Humanities. Newman has produced 12 documentaries about the Palmetto State. She has been nominated for two Emmy Awards and is the recipient of a CINE Golden Eagle. Her documentary The Education of Harvey Gantt was screened at the National Museum of American History. She is also the project director of Between the Waters, a virtual tour/interactive website about Hobcaw Barony. Her next project is Reconstruction 360, an interactive educational tool about the legacy of post-Civil War history.
Charlie’s Place is part of Carolina Stories, SCETV’s continuing documentary series on South Carolina history and culture. The series currently contains over 70 documentaries. Charlie’s Place is made possible in part by South Carolina Humanities, The ETV Endowment of South Carolina, The City of Myrtle Beach, Burroughs and Chapin, and by The Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce and the Myrtle Beach Rotary Club.