Eaton’s book appeared in 1955, when Jim Crow laws, laws that restricted the rights of African Americans, were still in force in the South. In a number of ways, this biography protests against such practices, though it is by no means a militant document and passes in silence over some episodes of seemingly prejudicial treatment. When Armstrong is arrested for disorderly conduct on New Year’s Eve, for example, Eaton makes no comment on whether the white police officer and judge who jail him are motivated by racial stereotyping; she merely reports the events.
In two important ways, however, Eaton does mark and implicitly condemn racial injustices. First, she constantly makes the reader aware of the segregated conditions that hamstrung the young Armstrong in his search for a livelihood. Eaton carefully explains, for example, the many precautions that Armstrong’s quartet had to take to perform surreptitiously in the white nightclub district of New Orleans. The patrons there wanted to hear the youths, but segregationist laws made it outlawed territory for the group.
Second, Eaton’s portrait of Armstrong acts as a reprimand to racist institutions. Armstrong earnestly and honestly strives to make a living, yet he is checked at every turn by a system that makes almost no provision for African-American advancement. The fact that he succeeds because of his almost superhuman effort is certainly to his credit, but it also functions to discredit a social organization in which a person of average abilities, because of his or her color, has few prospects. Thus, the book will strike a chord in all young readers with a concern for justice and tolerance.