Things were slow, as was the new usual, on Broadway on June 4, 1941. With only a quarter of the number of new productions underway since the happier days of just 20 years prior, the district had turned to the more time-tested business of vice - burlesque houses and “adult entertainment” venues.
But just two blocks off Broadway in the St. James Theater, Orson Welles’ production of Native Son had been playing for a month and a half and had garnered more than its share of expected attention. And as the saying goes in the industry, any publicity is good publicity. The Brooklyn Diocese had issued a boycott of the show almost immediately and the Legion of Decency had set up pickets on the sidewalk. Yet the crowds still turned out and the theater filled up every night. The presence of police, as well as some very conspicuous communist-hunting FBI agents prevented any incidents.Because of the topic of the play, the audience was uncommonly mixed, meaning there were a few black people in the audience and during the intermission a young dark-skinned man made his way to a side exit and slipped outside. His name was Harry. He stood in the alley smoking a cigarette until he was met by a friend, Sidney, and after a few moments of animated discussion he handed his ticket stub to him. Sidney then entered the theater to watch the rest of the show, briefed on what had already taken place. Harry would be outside waiting when it ended, to be filled in on the second half.