POEM

  “The Best Damn Jig Show”

A poem by Leslie Cunningham dedicated to her grandfather Leon Claxton

Leon Claxton

My grandfather Leon Claxton was a wealthy showman 

with a lavish home on the West side of Tampa 

and shiny new sedan  


He was one of the first Black entertainment moguls 

before Russell Simmons, Tyler Perry or P. Diddy 

He rocked custom-made suits from Saskatoon 

and puffed on Cuban cigars hand-rolled in Ybor City 


Gwendolyn Claxton


His leading lady Gwen 

was the perfect little wife

like Beyoncé to Jay-Z

a real woman in his life

and when it came to showbiz

she would compliment the deals 

manage the home, the troupe, and stay fly, 

and help Claxton stack his mills.


At filling stations in the South

racism hit him hard

They’d say “No gas here nigger,

unless you're driving a white man’s car!”

So, he acted like a chauffeur just to get by

because a rich Black telling lies during segregated times

was a matter of live or die. 


One of Florida’s first Black Shriners 

a distinguished noble of Harram 23 

using secret handshakes and rituals and 33 degrees 

a master of Freemasonry


Showing brotherly love 

he gave to the needy

and helped to build a thriving city

I remember the motel he owned Cypress Street

His picture hung proudly by the bar

Symbolizing leadership in the Black community

Claxton took his dreams real far

 

With hopes to one day leave his kingdom  

to an heir, a prince, a son  

a legacy worth preserving

for generations to come


Harlem in Havana


Yet, when social revolutions broke out in Cuba and at home

and Black people took to the streets in rage

Claxton and his colored troupe 

fought from the main stage

In a time when people of color were fighting for basic rights   

Claxton was taking show business to incredible new heights

dispersing Black and Latin music and dance along the way

“Harlem in Havana” helped wash away the tar mask 

from Canada to the U.S.A.  

and created a multicultural arts movement 

that still resonates today 


 Until now, the story of Leon Claxton’s life and lore 

has been a great mystery

buried alongside Jim Crow

my grandfather had the best ‘Jig Show’ 

in all of carnival history 


(Written in 2017)