Events that changed history – how fighting for racial integration cost Frank Sinatra a $10k gig, but he did it anyway

Frank Sinatra, or Ol’ Blue Eyes as he was often called, was a beloved film star, a member of the famous Rat Pack, and a gifted singer known for hits like “Strangers in the Night” and “My Way”. He did much more than just entertain America, though.

With his help, a little-known event in 1945 made a positive difference on the state of racial integration in the USA. Events and the people who speak at them can clearly be incredibly powerful forces for change.

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In 1945, Sinatra starred in a short film promoting integration and acceptance called The House I Live In in which he tells a group of street kids that “religion makes no difference, except maybe to a Nazi or somebody who’s stupid.”

Cheesy as it is, the message is quite beautiful:

The House I Live In (1945) by Lost_Shangri_La_Horizon

The film was sadly the beginning of a downward spiral for Sinatra’s career due to his strong (and unpopular) political views, particularly on equality and racial integration.

Later in ’45, Sinatra was invited to Gary, Indiana where white students from the Froebel School (Gary’s only integrated school at the time) were boycotting classes. The boycott began on September 18th as an attempt to have Froebel’s black students removed. The school’s Principal, Richard A. Nuzum, who had been fighting against the oppression of black students at Froebel was also scrutinized, as the boycotting students called for his dismissal.

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When an investigation of Nuzum was opened on October 1st the boycott ended–temporarily. After three weeks, however, Nuzum was found to be a fit principal, and the outraged white students resumed their walkout.

When the school’s administrators had no luck in convincing students to return to classes, they invited both Sinatra and heavyweight champion Joe Louis to visit the school. While Louis was unable to break previous commitments, Sinatra cancelled a $10,000 gig to speak at Froebel.

To a packed auditorium, Sinatra sang the rousing song from his short film, also titled The House I Live In, which includes the line, “All races and religions – that’s America to me.” He also gave a speech, calling the boycott “the most shameful incident in the history of American education.”

The strike ended just 11 days later. He may have given up a $10,000 engagement, but Sinatra made more than a statement by appearing in Gary. This little-known event made an impact on history, something no amount of money could have done.

We’re fans of stories that highlight incredible people and events, so we couldn’t resist this one, especially with Sinatra’s song including lyrics like this:

The town I live in, the street, the house, the room

The pavement of the city, or a garden all in bloom

The church, the school, the clubhouse, the millions lights I see

But especially the people

That’s America to me