In early days for some strange reason, the little town of Keystone, WV sported one of the biggest red light districts [Cinder Bottom] in existence.
On payday Saturday nights, men, young and old, came from far and near to pay their respect to the “ladies,” and for other sports such as drinking and gambling.
Big open top automobiles were in style during the early twenties. The Chalmers, Pierce Arrows, Peerless, Packard and Cadillac were possibly the more expensive and elaborate machines. Anyone who could afford one or two of these machines usually used them for public conveyance as taxis. One gentleman is reputed to have owned at least three of these expensive machines, each driven at various times or the other by one of his sons, for the purpose of hauling passengers mainly from town to town and most assuredly to and from the Bottom.
It was common to speak of “going to catch some air.” This meant going for an automobile ride purely for pleasure. In the back of my mind there is a pleasurable memory of seeing carloads of “ladies” dressed in their finest garb, being driven through various communities in the county waving to those they knew as friends and vice versa. Suffice to say the young bucks gaped in awe, while some of the older clientele, wishing not to be recognized on their home territory, shied away shamefully.
There is one truism which must be mentioned. To my knowledge, which of course on this subject may be limited, the “ladies,” whenever in public, always conducted themselves in a most ladylike manner. This is even more remarkable in face of the fact that public dances were attended by all segments of society. Dances were the main source of diversion and were always invitational social events. Those who wanted more exclusive social life attended private home parties or sociables sponsored in homes by small private clubs or individuals. All social events, public and private, were definitely chaperoned.
Music for dancing at home parties was usually furnished by individual guests who accepted it as correct and proper to take their turn at the piano. Anyone who played a fairly good jazz piano was always assured of an invitation. Music for the better public dances was almost always furnished by the Edward Watkins Saxaphone Orchestra from Bluefield. This organization was reorganized in the early twenties and became known as Edward’s Collegians, employing exclusively young musicians who were students at leading Negro colleges. The group remained intact for a long period playing dance engagements in many of the large cities throughout the South, East, and Middlewest.
–excerpt from “Black Culture,” by P. Ahmed Williams, from Mountain Heritage, McClain Printing Co, Parsons, WV,1977