"Frank Joins the Club"


Perhaps the most-remembered episode of Frank's Place was "Frank Joins the Club," an examination of the role skin color plays in New Orleans society, and the infamous "paper bag test" that once separated light-skinned Creoles from dark-skinned blacks.

In the show, Frank is thrilled to be invited to join an exclusive old-line Creole men's club, but waitress Anna-May is furious: "They gonna bag-test that boy," she snaps, and, using a brown paper bag from the kitchen, confronts Frank about people laughing at him because he's "colored":

Frank: "I'm colored? What do you mean, I'm colored? I haven't heard that word in 20 years!"

Anna-May: "See this bag? Which is darker, me or the bag?"

Frank: "You."

Anna-May: "Which is darker, you or the bag?" ...

Tiger: "Skin color used to be the big separator in New Orleans, Frank."

Anna-May: "Still is. They just ain't as out in the open about it."

When Frank discovers he's been invited to join the "Capital C Club" as a token "educated" dark-skinned man, he rejects them: "All my life I've been the only black ... I'm not about to become the only black in an all-black club!"

"That episode was one of the most stunningly frank examinations of color bias among African Americans that I've ever seen on TV," says David Mills, a writer for HBO's The Wire.

"Black people were shocked," says Reid of the episode. "My favorite letter of all time in my 40 years in show business came from a woman who was born and raised in New Orleans and was living in Michigan. She was about 70. She was a very fair woman who had a very black sensibility and wasn't accepted in the black community, but didn't want to pass. And you could literally see where her tears had dropped on the letter."

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