Monica Roberts

Finnie's Ball

Filed By Monica Roberts | February 04, 2008 11:43 AM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Media, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: African-American, GLBT, LGBT history, SGL community, transgender

New York wasn't the only place having drag balls.

When the Great Migration began out of the rural Deep South, African-Americans congregated in large northern cities such as New York, Detroit and Chicago. That migration also included Afican-American SGL peeps as well.

GLBT African-Americans in Chicago gravitated to Chicago's South Side, frequenting clubs such as the Pleasure Inn on East 35th Street and the Plantation Café on East 31st Street as patrons and entertainers. They began hosting drag balls that became fashionable social events for straights and gays alike.

And one of the biggest was Finnie's Ball

Alfred Finnie was a gay African-American man who founded in 1935 what would become the biggest and best of the Chicago Halloween drag balls.

Building on the Chicago interracial drag balls that had taken place on the Near North side since the 1920's, Finnie's first ball had humble beginnings. It was held in the basement of a South Side nightclub on the corners of 38th and Michigan Avenue. That first ball cost a cool 25 cents to get in the door, and its first attendees were predominately African-American.

The ball was a hit, and over time became an eagerly anticipated annual event for residents of Chicago's South Sise. At the ball's peak period during the 50's, it became an elaborate event attended by multiethnic gay and straight crowds numbering in the thousands. The balls were so popular that the Chicago Defender, Jet magazine and for a few years Ebony magazine covered them, complete with captioned pictures.

Unfortunately, Alfred Finnie didn't live long enough to see his creation blossom. In addition to working as a club doorman, Finnie was a street hustler as well. The street part of his life caught up with him in 1943 when he was killed during a gambling brawl.

Finnie's Ball continued drawing crowds well into the 60's, but the drag ball tradition didn't die. In 1970 new life was breathed into it by Chicago drag legend Jacques Cristion in 1970 when he hosted his first ball. Dodi Danials soon followed, and the revitalized chapter of Chicago drag ball history continued through the 70's and 80's.

Finnie may be long gone, but the event he created ensured his name would live on forever as an interesting part of our African-American GLBT history.

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Thanks for the lesson, Monica. That was fascinating. I'd like to see you do something deeper - or, well, if not you, someone.

You know how they do the history books that read like a novel (and usually end up taking some license with the subject!)? I'd like to see something like that done on this. I'll bet it would make one helluva book.