Gumby's Institutions > Club Alabam
In addition to following individual figures of note, Gumby was also interested in documenting the less famous black people who nevertheless contributed to broader American culture and society. Thus it was that he compiled scrapbooks on "Negro Art," "Negro Business, Labor, and Newspapers," "The Negro in Baseball," "The Negro in Drama," and "The Negro in Politics," among other volumes intended to preserve a record of African-American achievement throughout varied aspects of society. The volume that the above pages appear in, "Negro Entertainers," was one such instance of this facet of Gumby's documentary approach. His focus on the Club Alabam here illustrates his use of an institutional presence as a symbol of individual achievement.
Located on 44th Street near Broadway, the Club Alabam was one of the premier nightclubs of the 1920s where an audience of white patrons would gather to see black performers. It helped launch the career of Fletcher Henderson, one of the earliest bandleaders to gain commercial success with an all-black orchestra during the jazz era. As the above advertisements make clear, the club's ability to offer "flashing, dashing Creole beauties" and "the cleverest, peppiest Dixie revue" (both euphemisms for black performers) was a large part of its appeal: the lower social position of such performers could allow them to perform the "daring dances" that created the "fantasies" sought after by their audiences. While Gumby also documented many less exploitative instances of the use of all-black casts (see: the American Negro Theatre, the Federal Theatre Project Macbeth, and Porgy), his inclusion of memorabilia about the Club Alabam provides a more nuanced picture of the opportunities available during Gumby's lifetime for "Negro Entertainers."