He lives in fame that died in virtue's cause.

— William Shakespeare

Clayton 'Peg Leg' Bates

Clayton 'Peg Leg' Bates was an African-American tap dancer, born on October 11, 1907 in rural Fountain Inn, South Carolina. For most of his life he called Kerhonkson home.

At the age of 5, Clayton danced for pennies and nickels on the streets of the Fountain Inn. When he was 12, he lost his left leg after it was mangled in the conveyor belt of a cotton separator at a mill where he was working. With no hospital nearby for Black people, his leg was amputated on the table in his mother's kitchen.


Clayton started to dance again using two broomsticks under his arm until his uncle, Whitt Stewart, whittled his peg leg. Within a short time, he overcame his tragedy to become a famous dancer.

Bates and his mother moved to Greenville where he danced at carnivals and county fairs until a New York producer discovered him at Greenville Black Liberty Theatre in 1927. By this time, his signature step was the "Imitation American Jet Plane," in which he would jump five feet in the air and land on his peg leg, with his good leg sticking out straight behind him.

On Broadway in the 1930s, he reinvented such popular tap steps as the Shim Sham Shimmy, Susie-Q, and Truckin' by enhancing them with the rhythmic combination of his deep-toned left-leg peg and the high-pitched metallic right-foot tap.


Throughout the 1930s, he played top Harlem nightclubs, including the Cotton Club, Connie's Inn, and Club Zanzibar. In the late 1930s, he was the opening act for the Ed Sullivan Revue. As one of the black tap dancers able to cross the color barrier, Bates joined performers on the white vaudeville circuit of Keith & Lowe and performed on the same bill as Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Fred Astaire, and Gene Kelly. In 1949 Bates sang and danced the role of the swashbuckling pirate, Long John Silver in the musical review Blackouts. He performed throughout the 1940s, including dancing in the popular Los Angeles version of Ken Murray's Blackouts. During his career, Bates performed more than 20 different times on the Ed Sullivan television show — more than any other artist — and performed before the King and Queen of England.

In 1951 he invested his earnings and with his wife, Alice, purchased a large turkey farm in Kerhonkson and converted it into a resort. The Peg Leg Country Club flourished as the largest black-owned-and-operated resort in the country, catering to black clientele and featuring hundreds of jazz musicians and tap dancers.

In the 1990s, after his retirement, Bates continued to be much in demand as an inspirational speaker. He often spoke to young people, senior citizens and handicapped groups, telling his audiences never to give up no matter what life throws their way. Bates occasionally returned to the stage as well, including a special production of "This Joint is Jumpin'" in New York in 1995.

For his contribution to dance and to society, Bates was given the Order of the Palmetto, South Carolina's highest honor. He called it the proudest moment of his life.

In 1991, Bates was honored with the Flo-Bert Award by the New York Committee to Celebrate National Tap Dance Day.

He died on December 6, 1998 in Fountain Inn, South Carolina, just a mile and a half from the place where he lost his leg. He was buried in Palentown Cemetery, Town of Rochester, Ulster County, New York.

On September 1, 2000 a portion of Route 209 in Ulster County was dedicated to the memory of Town of Rochester resident Clayton 'Peg Leg' Bates. "The designation of the Clayton 'Peg Legs' Bates Memorial Highway will serve as a reminder to all who travel through it of the kind of spirit that has defined what it means to be a New Yorker and an American," Governor Pataki said. "Clayton never let his disability detract him from pursuing his passion to tap dance and reach out to help others. In the process, he inspired countless others to overcome their own challenges and difficulties with the same kind of positive outlook and spirit."



Clayton 'Peg Leg' Bates



Diane DiPrima


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