Before the Civil Right Movements in the 1960s, Jim Crow was the law of the land. Spokane was not exempt from racial segregation. Black Spokanites were restricted to the few restaurants, nightclubs, and hotels that were willing to serve them. Even celebrity was not enough to get a black entertainer a hotel room--as Sammy Davis Jr. would discover when he tried to stay at the Davenport in 1945.
Sammy Davis Jr. performed with the Will Mastin Trio, the group consisted of Davis, his father Sammy Davis Sr. and Will Mastin. The Trio was put on hold when Sammy Davis Jr. was drafted during the Second World War. In 1945 he would rejoin the group and they resumed touring.
In 1945 the Will Mastin Trio was scheduled for a ten-day run at the Spokane Vaudeville Theater. When the performers attempted to check in at the Davenport Hotel, the staff pretended that the hotel was full. They were informed that “colored hotels” were rare in Spokane.
As they left, Davis Jr. heard the bell boy say “Nervy nigger wanted a room.” Then the doorman said to Davis, “Go on, get outta here. Go back where you belong.” When Davis Jr. confronted the bellboy there was an altercation that left the musician laying on the sidewalk with a broken nose.
The Will Mastin Trio ended up sleeping on tarps in their dressing room floor at the theater that night.
Though racial tensions in Spokane were not as prominent as they were in the deep South, segregation was real. There were public swimming pools that were off-limits to non-whites, and racial covenants attached to the deeds of many homes stating that "only members of the white race" would be allowed to live in them. It was not until the 1970s, and federal legislation, that open segregation began to disappear in Spokane.