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Reporter Recalls Historic 1957 Louis Armstrong Scoop.

Fifty years ago this week, Larry Lubenow, a journalism student and part-time reporter for the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald, managed to break an unlikely story that made international headlines and caused political repercussions. In an interview in Grand Forks, the normally good-tempered jazz great Louis "Satchmo" lacerated President Eisenhower for his handling of the Little Rock school integration crisis and set off a diplomatic firestorm by calling off a planned State Department-sponsored tour of Russia in protest.

Tuesday night, Lubenow himself will be interviewed in Queens, N.Y. by Vanity Fair writer David Margolick as part of the Louis Armstrong House Museum's program, "Louis Armstrong and Little Rock: What Really Happened." The program, at the Langston Hughes Community Center in Corona at 7 p.m., is an extension of the museum's exhibit "Breaking Barriers: Louis Armstrong and Civil Rights," on view through October 8.

"It was a shock, really, to get that call from Margolick," acknowledges Lubenow, now head of Larry Lubenow & Associates, a pr firm in Cedar Park, TX. "I hadn't realized it was the 50th anniversary of Little Rock--I don't feel that old. And I haven't told very many people about the Armstrong story."

The historic 1957 interview had gone smoothly enough until young Lubenow mentioned that Grand Forks was the hometown of Judge Ronald Davies, whose ruling that the integration of Central High School in Little Rock must proceed had just led to Governor Orval Faubus's deployment of the Arkansas National Guard to bar nine black students from entering.

"He just exploded," Lubenow tells E&P. "He said he'd traveled all over the world for this country, and the way they were treating black men, he felt like he didn't have any country." Armstrong accused President Eisenhower of having "no guts" and called Governor Faubus "an uneducated plow boy. "

When he proclaimed he was canceling the State Department-sponsored tour of Russia in protest, Lubenow knew he had a scoop. But when his paper decided to hold it enough day to get a photo of the writer and the musician together, Lubenow decided to file the story to the AP in Minneapolis on his own, and soon it was in newspapers all over the U.S. and around the world.

Notes Michael Cogswell, director of the Louis Armstrong House Museum, "Louis was not known for speaking out, but he was keenly aware of the civil rights movement and was a victim of vicious racial discrimination himself."

Armstrong never backed away from his remarks or his stance later. Lubenow moved on to the Bismarck Tribune, and eventually joined the renowned pr firm Carl Byoir & Associates in New York, and never again worked for a newspaper.

A full story on this episode will appear in the October issue of E&P.

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Author:Bedway, Barbara
Publication:Editor & Publisher
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 18, 2007
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