HARLEM, Manhattan — The Apollo and activism go hand-in-hand. For artists like Nina Simone and Sam Cooke, the theater became a safe haven where they could express themselves.
Several years after it opened, the Apollo held a benefit for the Scottsboro Boys — nine African-Americans jailed for allegedly raping two white women on a train in Alabama in 1931. The benefit raised money for teens' legal defense.
The Apollo also served as a sanctuary for artists of the Harlem renaissance that gave rise to a sense of black nationalism, which became the cornerstone of the Civil Rights movement.
As black consciousness grew, so did the calls for change. 10,000 peaceful protesters marched down Fifth Avenue in response to lynchings across the country. In the early 1960s, Tony Bennett, Thelonius Monk and Moms Mabley were among entertainers that helped the Apollo raise more than $20,000 for the March on Washington.
Dr. King acknowledged the Apollo's contribution by sending a telegram to Apollo owner, Frank Shiffman, personally thanking him for the support. Soon after, the Apollo began hosting an entire week of benefit performances called "Freedom Week." All of the proceeds were donated the civil rights organizations.
Politically charged performances were the norm.
One of Africa's most controversial artists, Fela Kuti, even found refuge at the Apollo.
The Apollo also played host to one of the biggest freedom fighters of our lifetime, South African president Nelson Mandela. Two decades later, the theater welcomed America's first black president, Barack Obama.