Charles Mingus and His Eviction From His New York City Loft, Captured in Moving 1968 Film

In November of 1966, the great jazz bassist and composer Charles Mingus was forcibly evicted from his apartment in New York City. Thomas Reichman’s documentary Mingus (above) captures the sad moment when the musician, with his five-year-old daughter Carolyn at his side, looks through his scattered belongings the night before city officials arrive to cart everything away.

With the camera rolling, Mingus plays a few notes on a piano and then picks up a rifle and shoots a bullet into the ceiling. He finds a bottle of wine and gives a sip to his daughter. He recites his own version of the Pledge of Allegiance:

I pledge allegiance to the flag–the white flag. I pledge allegiance to the flag of America. When they say “black” or “negro,” it means you’re not an American. I pledge allegiance to your flag. Not that I have to, but just for the hell of it I pledge allegiance. I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. The white flag, with no stripes, no stars. It is a prestige badge worn by a profitable minority.

Scenes from the apartment are intercut with footage of Mingus and his sextet performing at a little club in Peabody, Massachusetts called Lennie’s-on-the-Turnpike. The combo features Mingus on bass, Dannie Richmond on drums, Charles McPherson on alto saxophone, John Gilmore on tenor saxophone, Lonnie Hillyer on trumpet and Walter Bishop, Jr., on piano. The music includes parts of “All the Things You Are,” Take the ‘A’ Train” and “Secret Love.”

But the film is more about the man than the music. It records an especially painful moment in Mingus’s life. He had hoped to use the loft at 5 Great Jones Street in Greenwich Village as a music school. In the final sequence, a crowd of reporters and cameramen jostle for position to record the humiliating scene as Mingus’s belongings, including his musical instruments, are hauled out to the curb and loaded onto a truck. Tears appear in Mingus’s eyes when the police block him from going back into the building. When the cops find hypodermic needles among his things, Mingus himself is loaded into a police car and taken away.

Related content:

1959: The Year that Changed Jazz

Thelonious Monk: Straight No Chaser

How to Potty Train Your Cat: A Handy Manual by Charles Mingus

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  • rena navon says:

    A French jazz lover I met when beginning graduate school studies in Romance Languages introduced me to many jazz artists, whom I enjoyed and play their records still. Charles Mingus’ story hits a sore spot in my heart; right now he’s describing swastikas on a Jewish tongue and the message hits even harder home for me.
    It’s hard to hear about the suffering of any minority and good manners for civilization as a whole can never be drilled too often. Thank you for your selection and let us all hope that this new lesson will make some contribution to changing America’s problematic history.
    Amen from Israel

  • Paul Tatara says:

    I truly admire Mingus the artist. But he wasn’t paying the rent. I, too, would be kicked out of a loft on Great Jones Street if I wasn’t paying the rent. So would anybody else. It’s interesting to hear him jabber on for a while, but I’ve never understood the point of this film, unless it’s to stress that even geniuses don’t get free housing.

  • SDC says:

    Way to miss the point, Paul. You’d probably have no trouble paying the rent going the route of self righteous white dude playing by the rules but doing nothing of consequence in the grand scheme of things. That a man of such talents who created work that lasted after his death is in such dire financial straits says much to anyone willing to look beyond his Tea Party Patriot pamphlet about makers and takers.

  • Mmarkham says:

    I had some gnats in my apartment and I sprayed them with Neem oil- which is an insecticide and antifungal made from a plant.this left streaks- and when we had an apartment inspection I was launched on a year long antagonism with the landlord which became an eviction notice this month.
    There have been no more gnats, until five minutes ago-when one little gnat came up to my face as if to say he was sorry.
    Wish me luck fighting the eviction
    I did call the local volunteer lawyers, but time will tell

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