Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Black History Month: Peg-Leg Bates

Autographed publicity photo from the 1920s
(from Vintage Portraits of Black Men).
February is Black History Month and I want to thank the Plainfield Today reader who called the one-legged African American dancer Peg-Leg Bates to my attention.

Bates was the son of South Carolina sharecroppers and would entertain passersby in his small town of Fountain Inn by tap dancing in the street for nickels. After his father abandoned the family, Bates went to work at age twelve in cotton seed oil mill, only to lose a leg in a factory accident shortly thereafter.

His uncle Wit, returning home from World War I to find the boy legless, handmade his first 'peg leg'. Determined to dance, by the age of 15 Bates was making a living, working his way up from minstrel shows to vaudeville and finally to the big time dancing in Harlem clubs in the golden age of the Harlem Revival, becoming one of the premier tap dancers in the country in the middle decades of the 20th century.

He ended his life running a popular resort in the Catskills known as Peg Leg Bates Country Club.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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