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KEY Oklahoma City

It’s a typical evening at the Deep Deuce Grill. The restaurant’s gas lanterns emit a warm yellow light, bouncing off the brick walls and onto the faces of those gathered here after work.

Peering out amongst the attorneys, politicians, and medical students who frequent this
neighborhood restaurant, the casual diner might miss the significance of this place. But after learning about the history of this building, in fact this entire city block, few people will ever view it quite the same.

The Deep Deuce Grill is located on Northeast 2nd Street between Walnut Avenue and Stiles Avenue, just three blocks north of the Bricktown Ballpark. Nestled within an upscale apartment community overlooking Bricktown, the Deep Deuce Grill is situated in the heart of the Deep Deuce Jazz District, where jazz legends Jimmy Rushing and Charlie Christian were raised.

Today, most of the old buildings along Second Street have been torn down, victims of dilapidation and urban decay. A new apartment community has been built in its place, inviting suburban residences back to downtown living.

But a few structures, including the Haywood Building, were saved from destruction. Renovated in 2003, the Deep Deuce Grill is a cozy, neighborhood bar and grill that serves as a meeting place for hundreds of families and
business professionals.

Several remnants from the past have been preserved by the building’s current owner and incorporated into the restaurant’s design. For example, the original red door that greeted Dr. Haywood’s patients now adorns the restaurant’s east wall. Wood floor panels retrieved from the building’s upstairs offices were used to create many of the restaurant’s dining tables. And church pews salvaged from a nearby church destroyed by fire were restored and converted into the bar’s countertop.

The Deep Deuce Grill’s menu includes a wide variety of entrees, from half-pound hamburgers, to chicken wraps, to hand-selected 8-ounce filets and prime rib-eye. Patrons can choose from a large selection of cigars, wines and imported scotches.

Long before the restaurant and residential developments, however, the Deep Deuce reflected a very different time in our nation’s history.

THE PAST

Beginning in the late 1800’s, the Deep Deuce became the economic and cultural center for African-Americans in Oklahoma City. Within walking distance of downtown and the warehouse district (now Bricktown), African-Americans lived in the Deep Deuce. Most lived there not by choice, but by social forces beyond their control.

Segregation was prevalent throughout the United States, and Oklahoma City was no exception. State legislatures frequently passed laws attempting to separate African-Americans from their white counterparts.

“Even after the United States Supreme Court declared [segregation] ordinances unconstitutional in 1916,” states Dr. Bob Blackburn, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Historical Society, “de facto segregation kept the wall intact, making Second Street [Deep Deuce] a symbolic battle-line in the fight against racial injustice.”

Despite these obstacles, several notable African-Americans emerged from the Deep Deuce to become national leaders in their respective professions.

JIMMY RUSHING AND CHARLIE CHRISTIAN

Jimmy Rushing was born and raised in the Deep Deuce. In fact, the Deep Deuce Grill operates in a two-story brick structure built by Jimmy Rushing’s father, Andrew, in the early 1900’s. Jimmy Rushing performed lead vocals for Walter Page’s Blue Devils, the Bennie Moten Band, and the Count Basie Orchestra from the 1920’s to the 1950’s.

Rushing’s earliest musical influences were shaped in the Deep Deuce, listening to the music emanating from the dance halls along Second Street. During interviews later in his life, Rushing would recall sneaking into one such establishment as a young man to play the piano. Rushing would hone his musical skills at nearby Douglass High School, frequently performing at high school dances.

Another Deep Deuce resident, guitar-great Charlie Christian, would also have a lasting impact on the history of jazz music. Born in Texas in 1916, Christian’s family moved to the Deep Deuce when Charlie was two years old. Like Rushing, Christian would spend countless hours perfecting his musical skills on the street corners and commercial establishments in the Deep Deuce.

Christian spent three years traveling and recording with Benny Goodman, who initially refused to listen to Christian play the guitar. Goodman later consented after Lionel Hampton snuck Christian into play at a nightclub where Goodman was scheduled to perform.

Novelist Ralph Ellison, who lived in the Deep Deuce during this same time period, recalled Jimmy Rushing’s voice “jetting like a blue flame in the dark… high and clear and poignantly
lyrical… steel bright in its upper range and, at its best, silky smooth.” About Charlie Christian, Ralph Ellison reminisced that “[Charlie] would amuse and amaze us at school with his first guitar— one that he made from a cigar box— playing his own riffs… based on sophisticated chords and progressions that [even] Blind Lemon Jefferson never knew.”

Between Jimmy Rushing and Charlie Christian, the Deep Deuce in the 1920’s and 1930’s represented an important chapter in America’s jazz history.

DOCTOR W.L. HAYWOOD AND MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.

W.L. Haywood was an African-American physician who relocated to the Deep Deuce in the early 1900’s. Haywood founded the first black hospital in Oklahoma City along with Dr. W.H. Slaughter, and he was the first African-American physician admitted to practice at University Hospital (now OU Medical Center).

Haywood purchased the building, now occupied by the Deep Deuce Grill, in 1938. His medical clinic was located on the second floor of the structure. In addition to practicing medicine, Haywood was an accomplished businessman and civil rights leader who regularly published newspaper columns promoting black businesses and railing against segregation in the Black Dispatch.

The Deep Deuce also played a minor role in the life of another civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr. In 1954, King applied to fill a ministerial vacancy at Calvary Baptist Church, still located on the northeast corner of N.E. 2nd and Walnut Avenue, one block west of the Deep Deuce Grill.

The Oklahoma City congregation respectfully chose not to hire King, citing his youthful age and lack of experience. Instead, King ended up accepting a ministerial calling at Dexter Avenue Church in Montgomery, Alabama, and becoming a leading figure in America’s civil rights movement.

Located at 307 N.E. 2nd Street in Oklahoma City, the Deep Deuce Grill opens at 11 a.m. on Monday through Saturday. The kitchen closes at 10 p.m. on weekdays and later on weekends.

The Deep Deuce Grill features live music inside and outside (weather permitting) every Thursday through Saturday. Guests may wish to relax on the outdoor patio next to the open fire-pit. Parking is free to the public. The Deep Deuce Grill can be reached by calling (405) 235-9100.





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