Clayton "Peg Leg" Bates

By:Kerry Egan


Name: Clayton "Peg Leg" Bates

Born: Oct. 11, 1907

Died: Dec. 8, 1998

Background: Clayton "Peg Leg" Bates entertained thousands, perhaps millions, of people around the world in his long and wildly successful career, made all the more remarkable because of the hardships he faced when young.

He grew up poor, the child of sharecroppers, and began working as a child in the textile mills in town. At the age of 12, his leg became mangled and crushed in a grisly accident at the cotton mill where he worked. Because the hospitals were segregated at the time, the doctor had to amputate his leg at the knee on his kitchen table. His uncle carved him a wooden leg.

Bates began tap dancing when he was five. After he lost his leg, he decided that the loss would not stop him. He taught himself how to dance with his peg leg and incorporated the sound it made into his tapping, making distinctive music with his dancing.

Bates became a famous dancer, appearing on Broadway, in movies and on television dozens of times. He even performed for the Queen of England.

In 1951, he and his wife opened a resort in the Catskills Mountains in New York called the Peg Leg Bates Country Club. He was the first African-American resort owner in the US. The resort regularly hosted many famous jazz musicians, including Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong.

Despite his fame, Bates always found the time to perform for groups of people with disabilities, starting in Army hospitals during World War II. He continued to perform for groups of children and adults with disabilities well into his retirement.

Bates returned to his hometown at the age of 91 to receive the prestigious Order of the Palmetto, South Carolina's highest civilian honor. He died one day later, just miles from his childhood home.

South Carolina connection: Bates was born and died in Fountain Inn.

Discover more: A statue of Bates stands in front of the Fountain Inn City Hall. 

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