Past Times

June German was a summer highlight in Rocky Mount

The 1947 June German in Rocky Mount was by invitation only.
The 1947 June German in Rocky Mount was by invitation only. NEWS & OBSERVER FILE PHOTO

The June German was the highlight of Rocky Mount’s social calendar from the late 1800s to the mid-20th century. The annual dance sponsored by the Carolina Cotillion Club was held in a decorated tobacco warehouse, and the festivities lasted until the sun came up. But the dance was home base for a weekend of house parties and entertaining guests from across the South. June can be pretty stifling in Eastern North Carolina, especially in those pre-air-conditioned days. As North Carolina writer Thad Stem Jr. described it, “The warehouse, its tin roof mercilessly exposed to the pitiless sun, had the devil wondering if he shouldn’t relocate his establishment.”

In 1950, N&O writer Bugs Barringer described preparations for that year’s festivities.

Next Friday night Rocky Mount will play host to hordes of young folks from Miami to Washington who will attend the 70th annual June German here. Like all previous Germans, admittance is by invitation only.

The June German is like a brook – it just goes on and on. When many Cape Jasmines that are grown here burst into fragrant bloom, folks here know that it is time for the June German. For the last several weeks, intense preparations have been made by members of the Carolina Cotillion Club to make this German the best that has ever been held.

The countless fertilizer sacks have been either removed or shifted to another part of the big tobacco warehouse, but the memory lingers on. Workers have been busy all week, putting up the elaborate decorations. The girls have been buying new evening dresses or getting the old ones cleaned. Mothers have been trying to find enough rooms and beds for the horde of youngsters that will descend upon this city next week. Within the next few days, girls and their dates will start a round of parties that will be climaxed by the June German.

To say that the June German is unique is putting it mildly. There is nothing like it anywhere. It is a big college dance, carnival and Old Home Week rolled into one.

J. P. Bunn, local lawyer, is the unofficial historian of the dance. He attended his first German in 1890 as a young boy and has missed very few since. Originally, according to Mr. Bunn, the dances were held in the fall in connection with an agricultural fair. This was later changed to an early summer date so the college students could attend. Also it was found by the economy-minded members of the club that a band could be secured cheaper.

Every male dancer to be admitted to the floor has to be dressed in black evening clothes. There are no exceptions to this rule. There has been a strong movement underway to let the members of the club wear white dinner jackets to the June German, but every year the motion is voted down. As one member explained it this week, “Traditionally black evening clothes have always been worn to the June German, and it is not any hotter now than it was when the first one was held.”

There will be countless intermission parties throughout the long night of the June German. Residents throw open their homes to the many visitors. These families with youngsters of college age will get little sleep next Friday night and Saturday morning. The dance doesn’t end until 5 o’clock in the morning, and the visitors will still be going strong. It is the only night in the year when the older bankers, insurance men, merchants and others who usually go to bed by 11 o’clock will still be up when dawn comes.

There have been many wild tales about drinking at the June German, but they are mostly exaggerated by folks who never attended the German.

Twenty marshalls have charge of the conduct on the floor, and no drinking is allowed. If a person drinks elsewhere and manages to get on the floor, he is asked to leave. Of course some drinking goes on at the private parties, but the last few years the Germans have been mild affairs, despite rumors to the contrary. To many the parties are more important than the June German itself. Visitors, who haven’t seen friends since the last June German, catch up on the gossip and what has been happening during the last year. Food is always good and plentiful as Rocky Mount hostesses go all out to entertain the visitors.

James (Fats) Tanner of Jacksonville has been master of ceremonies and wouldn’t’ miss a June German – not even for a big steak. The German plays such an important part in the social life of Eastern Carolina that one couple cut their honeymoon short to come back for the dance and festivities. Very few weddings are held in this section during the week of the June German because the brides-to-be know that few people would attend their weddings and miss the June German.

After the German many couples go directly to the various beaches along the coast for weekend house parties. The N&O, 6/4/1950

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