The Cotton Club – The haven for mobsters and whites at Harlem

The Cotton Club is considered to attract everyone which includes the Whites, Blacks and the mobsters, who were simply fascinated by it. Harlem during the 1890s was regarded to be the dream of every land speculator. The area had been transformed from hinterlands to something known as ‘The Great Migration’ and extended to Manhattan’s 129th Street.

During those days, the residents between 37th Street and 58 Street comprised mostly of Black families, while the society’s upper crust had viewed Harlem to be developed for those upwardly mobile. Hence, fabulous townhouses that costs thousands of dollars were developing quickly, since land of Harlem might be purchased by land speculators. However, the speculator’s expectations fell flat by 1905. They forced the white landowners to hand out their property to the blacks at higher rents, an illegal tactic, thereby making Harlem by the 1920s to become the country’s largest black community. But the blacks found the rents to be too high and took in more tenants, overcrowding the Harlem and slowly infested various illegal activities like drugs, prostitution and numbers games.

The Cotton Club

However, mobsters like Owney Madden and Dutch Schultz came to Harlem and took to illegal activities by force from the blacks and to sell bootleg booze. Schultz had his sights on Club Delux located on Lenox Avenue and 142nd Street for bootlegging purpose. It was Jack Johnson, the world’s first heavyweight black champion had owned this place, but was forced by Schultz to hand it over to him. Schulz had it renamed as ‘The Cotton Club’.  It was his partner George DeMange and Madden who took control of the club.

After taking it over, the whole interior of the club was redone for catering to the taste of the white downtowner’s. ‘Jungle décor’ was used having several artificial palm trees across the spacious establishment having a seating capacity for accommodating 700 people. It boasted of having exquisite fixtures, tablecloths, draperies, which indicated its being plush supper late-night club. It served varied menu and the prices were exorbitant. Even though every staff of the club was a black, customers of black origin was not allowed.

Its success

Right from its beginning, the Club was an instant hit with those who visited it. The rules were very stringent and brutes were present at the door for enforcing its policies. In 1933, with the end of the Prohibition period, the club was formally handed over to DeMange by Madden.