My fellow alumnus of the mighty class of 1975 at Howard University, Donald Temple, Esq., is one of the country’s finest civil rights and consumer protection attorneys. Beyond his trade, he has always been a deep and far-reaching thinker, even back to the days on the Capstone, when he started Ubiquity, his own co-educational social organization.
He is even capable of discerning such lofty topics as why his beloved Philadelphia Eagles traded Donovan McNabb to the Washington Redskins.
So he sent a typically provocative e-mail, regarding an article a Howard student had shared with him. Its title is Sexual Economics: Sex as Female Resource for Social Exchange in Heterosexual Interactions by Roy F. Baumeister Department of Psychology Florida State University and Kathleen D. Vohs Faculty of Commerce, Marketing Division University of British Columbia. He suggested the topic was controversial, to which I replied, “what’s controversial?”
The more I thought about it, the more I concluded that sex is at the heart of all economies, from the most advanced to the more “primitive.”
However, people are loath to acknowledge that fact. My new novel, Cakewalk, an historical novel about the unsung creators of jazz, is about a group of black men–humble Pullman porters by profession–who essentially sewed up a monopoly on the most desirable sex in San Francisco.
The city by the bay sanctioned legal prostitution from its beginnings until 1914 and the waterfront district spawned by the Gold Rush was a magnet for travelers long after the gold diggings waned.
From 1850, African-Americans owned some of the nightspots in that district, reaping relatively large fortunes with dance halls and nightclubs.
In the 19th century, “jass” was a euphemism for sex. Around the turn of the century, the most prominent of these clubs, Purcells So Diff’rent and Needmore, began to spawn what became known to academics as the “animal dances” in which the taboo against men and women touching while dancing was removed. The objective of the dances and the music to go with it was to convince men to buy enough alcohol so that they could earn drink tokens that would entitle them to have sex with the ladies of the night. Eventually, the term for sex became the name for the music.
I was inspired to pen the novel for several reasons: one to explore why this history had been hidden; two, to figure out why Purcell’s was so important that it was the first building rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake and three, to examine how both of the major proprietors could die within a month of each other, only to have their establishments taken over by someone with mob ties.
But at the heart of all that is the economic equation of sexuality. So I look forward to discussing the issue during the debut of Cakewalk, Saturday, April 17 with a walking tour through the still-extant buildings of the earliest jazz clubs beginning at 10 a.m.; followed by lunch and a book signing at the oldest black bookstore in the nation, Marcus Books, 1712 Fillmore St. at 2 p.m.