Elvis Presley: not a racist

Posted August 13th, 2007 by Eric Greenwood · 2 Comments

Phew! I was so totally ready to burn my copy of Aloha from Hawaii. Despite a rumor dating back to the mid-1950’s, Elvis Presley never actually uttered these words: “The only thing Negroes can do for me is buy my records and shine my shoes.” Chuck D of Public Enemy didn’t help matters with this 1990 lyric: “Elvis was a hero to most… straight-up racist that sucker was, simple and plain.” The New York Times investigates the decades old urban legend. Sun Records owner Sam Phillips slams the door on the idea: “The lack of prejudice on the part of Elvis Presley had to be one of the biggest things that ever happened. It was almost subversive, sneaking around through the music, but we hit things a little bit, don’t you think?”

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2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 sandra m // Aug 19, 2007 at 10:42 pm

    After Elvis Presley’s death, his legacy has been shaped in a way that distorts history. First, he was not a co-founder of the music that came to be known as rock ‘n roll. Media continually mentions Presley in the same sentence as the likes of Ike Turner, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Fats Domino. Yet, those black pioneers were already established by the time Elvis came on the scene. Secondly, Elvis Presley was not the race unifier he’s portrayed to be. Notwithstanding his collaboration with a few black musicians, Elvis played in segregated venues. That’s the way it was in the South. But, black musicians saw something else happen at their concerts. As Little Richard recalled, white fans broke through the ropes that separated them and climbed down from their “special” section to be where the action was-with the black kids. Those moments were cited by the NAACP as being just as instrumental as marches and demonstrations in dismantling segregation. But, no such race mixing occurred at Elvis Presley concerts. Indeed, footage from his concerts show no black people in the audience. And, if somebody shows me one, he’ll be there courtesy of Photoshop.

  • 2 Eric Greenwood // Aug 19, 2007 at 11:10 pm

    Elvis was often quick to admit his debt to black music, as the linked article clearly demonstrates, despite his naive mistake of saying no one sounded like him early in his career. He didn’t dictate who came to see him play. Elvis also didn’t claim to be a race unifier; he was just a singer. Being dead, he obviously has little control over how he is portrayed by this media thing you reference.