Each Black History Month, we’re offered the opportunity to further our understanding of the Black American experience. February provides a dedicated time to look back on our past, and recognize the immense struggles and contributions of all African Americans. Here in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, our history is as complex and unique as many other parts of the nation, and this month we’d like to shine a spotlight on one particularly significant bit of local Black history — Charlie’s Place.
Charlie’s Place was a popular African American nightclub and small hotel owned by Charlie Fitzgerald and his wife, Sarah, from the late 1930s to the early 1960s in the Booker T. Washington Neighborhood of Myrtle Beach. Before integration, Charlie’s Place served as a gathering spot and performance venue for many famous Black performers including Dizzy Gillespie, Little Richard, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Lena Horne and many others. While black artists were allowed to perform at white venues, like the nearby Ocean Forest Hotel, they were not allowed to use the hotel facilities. At Charlie’s Place, they could stay in the hotel, perform, and enjoy a meal. On many nights, whites outnumbered blacks at the popular nightspot where people gathered–unified by the fun, music, and dancing.
Charlie’s Place is also the location of one of the more well-known Ku Klux Klan disturbances in this region of South Carolina. In 1950, Klan members from nearby Conway, South Carolina, led a raid on the nightspot. Twenty-six cars of armed Klansmen circled the property and fired hundreds of rounds. Everyone escaped except for Charlie, who was badly beaten. The only death was a Klansman, who was shot in the back by another Klansman. Some Klansmen were charged, but no one was ever prosecuted. Charlie recovered from his injuries and continued to run his successful business.
The Fitzgerald home sat between the nightclub and the hotel they owned and remains there today, along with part of the hotel. In 2017, the city of Myrtle Beach began a project to preserve the history and musical culture of the former African American nightclub and hotel by purchasing the property. In the years since beginning this project, the city and community members have reconstructed and remodeled the Fitzgerald’s home for use as a community center and event space, and construction is ongoing. The plan includes renovation of the first four motel units and reconstruction of the other eight. A few of the rooms will be kept as a museum to the era, showing visitors what travel was like during segregated America. The other rooms will be used for small shops and community classes.
Visitors interested in Charlie’s Place (located at 1420 Carver Street) can schedule a free visit on Tuesdays, but tour spots are limited due to COVID-19. To schedule a free tour, contact Alfreda Funnye at 843-918-1056 or send an email to [email protected]. Those interested in learning more can also check out the Emmy-winning “Charlie’s Place” short documentary, available online at www.pbs.org or here.
If you visit: Consider a stop at the nearby Historic Myrtle Beach Colored School Museum & Education Center. Located just a few blocks from Charlie’s Place, this facility offers a unique opportunity to explore what education was like for African Americans in Myrtle Beach between 1932-1953. It also contains a large African American history display and serves as a community center.