Janet "Belle" Carter
Janet “Belle” Carter (born in 1902) escaped on the rescue train (ran by the Bryce brothers) from Rosewood in January 1923 and traveled with her brother, Evan, to New York. During the Rosewood massacre her mother (Sarah), sister (Ruth), and uncle (John) were killed in their family house where Sylvester made a heroic stand.
Belle is an amazing vocalist who was able to sing gospel and jazz with equal ease. In May, 1923 she auditioned for the BJC just as it was opening and was hired on the spot. She prefers her middle name, Belle, to her first name. Her secret desire is to live in Paris and sing in the opera.
Blessed with a bright and sunny personality, she is always optimistic. However, Rosewood traumatized her and she struggles to overcome her recent fear and distrust of white people.
Shortly after she began singing at the BJC Janet notices Andrés Fontenot as a regular patron. Although he is white, she develops a secret crush on him. Conflicted by her new-found fear of white people, racial pressures from other blacks at the club, her brother’s over protection, and sadness about her father’s insanity, Belle still falls in love with Andrés Fontenot. Eventually Belle and Andrés meet. After some time he confesses to her his secret identity after Sylvester remembers him and blesses their now-secret courtship. Belle and Andrés marry in 1928. Their son, Philipe, was born in 1933.
Andrés Fontenot was born on July 4, 1900 in a small town outside of Atlanta, Georgia. His mother was a mulatto woman who was the seamstress of what was once an influential plantation owning family. His father was the white son of the owners, who became romantically involved with André's mother.
His mother, Francis Jones, was 19 years old when he was born. She was born in 1881 to a woman named Nichole Jones who, was herself a seamstress and former slave (born 1863). Francis taught Andrés French as he grew up, insisting that they speak it together at home.
Andrés and his mother moved to Chicago, when he was 5 years old, where he spent the remainder of his childhood. Francis and Andrés never returned to the South, although Andrés’ father came to visit them three times during his childhood. He excelled in music, and was a bright child. His mother's plans for him to go to college were dashed when she died of gout at the age of 35 in 1916.
After drifting for a while, playing piano, doing odd jobs, and attempting to raise enough money to go to college, Andrés went to France in 1918 and served with the American Expeditionary Forces, 372nd Infantry Regiment until the end of WWI in November of 1918. The 372nd, like the 369th, were brigaded with French Army formations. They were issued French equipment and arms but wore US uniforms; the "blue hat" nickname is derived from the blue-painted Casque Adrian helmets they wore. Andrés was decorated in WWI for breaking cover to warn French artillery they were about to fire on his unit.
After the war he remained in France, since he had no family in the United States, and was treated with dignity there. Andrés obtained French citizenship and became very active in Socialist politics.
A devoted socialist, Andrés was motivated to return to the United States to help the plight of African Americans. He settled in Harlem in 1925 and taught French as an Associate Professor at the New York City College. He began frequenting the Black Jay Club at that time, secretly working with some of the performers who were trying to improve their working conditions. None of them knew that he was black. He "passed" as a white man, but was conflicted by this. Because he served in the 372nd Regiment, Andrés felt it unlikely that he would encounter anyone from the New York-derived 369th Regiment. Socialism is waning in the United States by 1924. He is invited by one of his college instructor friends to go “Slumming” with him. Andrés uses that as cover to spend time with black people.
Evan Carter is Belles’ older brother. In 1923 he is 30 years old. Evan was born in 1893 and served in WWI (at the age of 25) for the French in the 369th (New York) regiment. He is the unsung hero of Roseville, Florida who managed to kill two Klansmen and injure two others when Roseville was attacked on the night of January 4, 1923. Between 15 and 25 individuals—many of them children—were in the Carter house when the mob approached that night and two men in the mob kicked down the door. They were met by Evan’s Winchester rifle. Because of his training as a marksman and his combat experience in WWI, Evan defended his family’s home.
The stand-off at the family home lasted for hours. One child had been shot in the eye. Several other people had been wounded on both sides, but many of the black children, led by Belle, had been able to escape out the back door and hid in the brush until they were able to make it out of Rosewood.
Miraculously, Evan was able to escape from the house to find his father, Haywood Carter, and join Belle in Gainesville. Haywood had been away from Rosewood at the time of events and returned to find his wife, daughter, and brother dead. The grief compromised his sanity, and although he was able to accompany Belle and Evan to New York, where they found housing, Haywood never recovered.
Evan works at the BJC as a janitor during the day and sometimes works as a doorman/bouncer at night. He noticed Andrés one night but could not place him as a fellow soldier. Evan is overprotective of Belle. He hates white people for what they did to him and his family. He is bitter about Roseville and suffers from PTSD. Evan is constantly afraid that someone might recognize him from Roseville and he might be arrested to face murder charges. Because of that, he always carries a loaded Colt .45 for protection.
Billy "Kid" Anderson
Billy “Kid” Anderson is a young black stage hand (17 years old) that can’t get into the “brown bag” parties some of the cast members throw. He is in madly unrequited love with Susan Wright (one of the dancers), who doesn’t seem to know he exists. Billy is obsessed with the notion of the “New Negro”. He reads, and quotes from works by Booker T. Washington and Alain Locke. Billy idolizes Evan Carter as a shining example of a new, respectable military breed of tough negro. Billy is killed by the police in what is now called a case of “profiling”. Belle Carter is badly affected by Billy’s death.
Susan Wright is a 19 years old “high yellow” (biracial) dancer at the BJC. She lost her job as a dancer at the Stork Club when it was discovered that she was both underaged and black. Wright simply does not like men. She is aware of Billy’s infatuation for her and uses it as cover, by throwing oblique comments at him that he believes are encouragements.
Wright is angry at her parents for their skin being so light. She identifies as black and seeks to prove that fact whenever she can. She reluctantly participates in “brown bag” parties but she wants to be accepted by the other dancers. Wright is secretly in love with Belle.
Samuel Klein, a Jewish immigrant born in 1891, is the bookkeeper for the BJC. Maury wanted Sam to MC and provide a 'legitimate' face. Maury believes Sam has the “gift of gab”, but also knows how to keep his mouth closed. Maury’s impression of Sam becomes especially heightened after Jack O’Reilly utterly fails as the MC when the BJC was first opened. It turns out that Sam is an excellent MC. He quickly becomes the most recognized face of the club management from that time forward. Sam keeps meticulously accurate books, but also maintains a detailed diary of everything that happens, in case he is prosecuted and has to defend himself. Sam is quick to say that he is a bookkeeper - not an accountant. He handles money intake and outflow under strict orders, but he does not make key strategic financial decisions or policies. In 1923 Sam is 32 yrs old. Because of his position as MC and bookkeeper, Sam knows everyone and everything that happens. He can easily navigate both sides of the racial divide.
Sam eventually has a large family. His son, Jonas, was born in 1950 when Sam was 50 years old. In 1971 David was born to Jonas. David discovered his grandfather Sam’s diaries and reads from them, which form the narrative of “Harlem Voices”. David is 46 years old in 2017.
Siwel is the black Composer/Conductor/Arranger/Music director for the BJC. He is primarily a jazz musician who, curiously, insists on incorporating strings into his band. He leans heavily towards ballads, but is also known for composing riotous upbeat jazz. Siwel detests the Cotton Club-like “jungle” sound and refuses to go near it. Among other composers of his time, Siwel is the butt of jokes for using strings instead of more winds and brass instruments.
Undeterred, Siwel consistently churns out new music at an astonishing rate for the hectic performance schedule at the BJC, including beautiful songs that caress Belle’s voice. The “secret sauce”, as he puts it, is the strings because they reinforce Belle’s overtones. He’s got loads of jazz street creds, but strives for a “finer” expression of atonality a la Arnold Schóenberg, whom he is nuts over. He is also nuts over Belle.
Jack "Boot" O'Reilly
Jack 'Boot' O’Reilly, the BJC manager worked for Maury and was a buddy in the Irish gang they were in as boys. He is a racist, misogynistic tyrant, who believes in the harsh enforcement of all rules. Jack is mostly uneducated, vain, egotistical, pathological, and inept. His way to manage the Club was through fear, intimidation, and getting others to do his work. He was sent to prison for molesting his second wife’s 4 year old granddaughter in 1935.
"Harlem Voices" © Clovice A. Lewis, Jr. 2017 All Rights Reserved.