S.A.’s Keyhole Club won the right to stay integrated

Posted by mcorcoran on December 23, 2017

Don Albert’s Keyhole Club had always been open to whites and Hispanics, as well as its core African American clientele, when it opened in 1944 at the corner of Iowa and Pine in the black Eastside. Albert closed that club in 1948 and moved back to his native New Orleans. But he was lured back to San Antonio by businessman Willie “Red” Winner who bankrolled the new Keyhole in 1950.

Duke Ellington and Nat King Cole hanging out at the Keyhole.

The new location, at 1619 Poplar St. in the Westside, came with a new problem, recently elected Police Commissioner George M. Roper, who had heard that white girls were dancing with black boys and that just wasn’t going to happen on his watch. In June 1951, Roper ordered the Keyhole closed because of an allegedly unsafe roof. Restraining orders were filed to keep the club open until the case went to the 4th district Court of Civil Appeals in October ’51. On the 17th of that month, Associate Justice Jack Pope ruled that the closing of the Keyhole was “not due process of law. It is no process at all.” He ordered Roper to pay all court costs- and the Keyhole, officially, became the first integrated nightclub in the South. It closed in 1964.

The building at 1619 Poplar is still standing, with many of the old Keyhole features, such as the glass brick bar, preserved.

The Keyhole hosted weekly “barn dances.” Red Winner and Don Albert are wearing white hats.

Read more about Albert and the Keyhole here.

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