Communist agitation, labor agitation, civil rights agitation, pointless intellectual conversation and tuneless playing of guitars: The July 29, 1964 bust of The Quorum Club

On Wednesday night, July 29, 1964, the police raided the Quorum. Seventy-three persons were arrested and charged with “disturbing the peace”: playing guitars out of tune, engaging in conversations that had no logical end or conclusion, etc. Among the 73 were the tenants in the apartments upstairs and in the slave quarter apartment and some curious citizens who had come out to hear Babe Stovall perform his country blues and spirituals in the coffee house that night.

Recollections about The Quorum Club:
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(From The Golden Triangle: An Interview with James Nolan
by Dennis Formento, found on Exquisite Corpse website):
DF: What was the clientele of the Quorum Club like?
JN: The Quorum was a coffeehouse, didn’t serve alcohol, and so was a little straighter and more politically oriented, aligned with the civil rights groups. John Beecher, an elderly Southern poet, an important figure in the civil rights movement, used to show up. There was a church next door, and I’m not sure of the exact relationship between the coffeehouse and the church, but some liberal protestant churches were setting up these coffeehouses as meeting places for blacks and whites in the South.
The Quorum Club had a tiny stage where folk singers, jazz musicians, and poets performed, and tables where people played chess. The mood was funky and mellow, which is why we were so shocked when the police raided. The formal charges–I still remember verbatim–were “the tuneless strumming of guitars and pointless intellectual conversation.” Of course, one of the main activities there was black voter registration, which is what brought the heat down.
At the Quorum there was a moral purpose to change society. The Discussion Group had more artists on Jackson Square, and the Quorum people were more social activists. You have to remember we were in the middle of a social revolution, and in 1968 Martin Luther King was assassinated, Robert Kennedy was assassinated, even Andy Warhol was shot. Closer to home, that year my parents committed me to St. Vincent DePaul hospital because I was coming down to the Quarter, had long hair, was smoking grass, and I think some neighbor saw me holding hands with a black nun at a civil rights demonstration. It was war.

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(from Trembling Pillow Press website):

Lee Meitzen Grue began reading her poetry at The Quorum Club during the early sixties. There she met musicians, Eluard Burt and Maurice Martinez (band leader Marty Most). Burt had just come back to New Orleans from San Francisco where he had been influenced by the Beats.The Quorum Club was the first non segregated coffee house in the South. At that time it would have been unlikely for Lee Grue to meet and work with African American musicians any place else.

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(Interview by Dennis Formento of Robert Cass, quintessential “40s bohemian. Interview first published in Mesechabe: The Journal of Surregionalism):

M: It throws a new light on another story about the old Quorum Club at 611 Esplanade. You remember it?

BC: I ran it during its last period. They just gave me a certain amount to make the coffee. I showed movies in there too.

M: Were you around for the Great Quorum Club Raid in August 1964? People were playing music, it was interracial, and the police came in, arrested seventy-five people and took them all to court. The charges included “communist agitation, labor agitation, civil rights agitation, pointless intellectual conversation and tuneless playing of guitars.” The judge threw it out.

The Quorum Club Documentary

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About DW

New Orleans resident, writer, activist.

One thought on “Communist agitation, labor agitation, civil rights agitation, pointless intellectual conversation and tuneless playing of guitars: The July 29, 1964 bust of The Quorum Club

  1. Annie says:

    Very interesting, never heard of it. P. neither.

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