LaVilla: Perk and Loretta’s Soul Lounge

by Tim Gilmore, 9/18/2013

Perk and Loretta’s Soul Lounge at 530 North Broad Street epitomized LaVilla’s most tragic and final years.

Urban legends abounded that the owner of Perk’s had been gunned down in a phone booth.

Perk’s, as it was often called, didn’t go down until most of LaVilla was already demolished and its residents scattered across the landscape. In the summer of 1996, undercover cops bought crack cocaine and heroin on several occasions at Perk’s.

Neighboring businessmen remember the police raiding Perk’s when the place kept operating after losing its liquor license. They came in with a SWAT team and helicopters.

Perk was Andrew Preston Perkins, and his criminal record stretched back decades.

In the 1970s, Perk was arrested for a numbers racket he ran from the Soul Lounge. The FBI tracked Perk and his gambling partners throughout 1976 and 1977.

In a typical episode of the cloak-and-dagger investigation, FBI agents watched Eddie Allen, Perk’s pickup man, leave LaVilla, park his motorcycle outside an apartment complex on Old Kings Road on the northwest side of town and open the hood of a nearby car. In a few minutes, a woman came out of an apartment holding a cigar box, into which Allen, hidden behind the car, placed a brown package. After he left on his motorcycle, the agents followed the woman to the Cohen Brothers’ department store on Hemming Plaza downtown, where they watched her spend the package’s contents.

FBI agents searched numerous residences and businesses associated with Perk and found betting slips and lottery sales records at all but one of them.

What happened at Perk’s in the 1970s and ’80s echoes in strange ways today through Kimberly Daniels, one of the most controversial politicians in Jacksonville’s history. She claims to be Perk’s daughter.

Daniels has attracted national attention for her hysterical antics and wildly conservative beliefs since Jacksonville elected her to City Council in 2011.

She said she’s tired of hearing about the Holocaust, because Jews own everything.

Certainly, beliefs in black communities about conspiratorial Jewish ownership go back a long way. Malcolm X told an interviewer in 1963, “Walk up and down in any Negro ghetto in America. Ninety percent of the worthwhile businesses you see are Jew-owned. Every night they take the money out. This helps the black man’s community stay a ghetto.”

A half century later, Kimberly Daniels repeated the same ideas. While there are historical reasons blacks saw Jews this way—in many communities both groups were ostracized and black communities were the only places Jewish merchants could operate—Daniels seemed merely to mimic old assertions.

Daniels has argued that celebrating Halloween can invite the demons that infest the holiday into your house.

She not only believes that gay people are possessed by demons, but she performs exorcisms to cast out the demons of homosexuality. She doesn’t call them exorcisms though. She calls them deliverances.

“It’s kind of crazy for me,” she told a Times-Union reporter, “to be on the City Council and then I go home and sometimes I talk to people with demon voices coming out of them.”

In a sermon aired widely before Jacksonville voted her to City Council, Daniels said she was thankful for crack houses, because without them, she wouldn’t be here. She said she was a former prostitute and crack addict.

Then she said she was thankful for slavery, because if it weren’t for slavery, she would probably be in Africa somewhere, worshiping a tree.

She later tried to explain what she meant by saying, “If slavery would not have happened, I wouldn’t be living in the greatest country in the land.”

In Kimberly Daniels’s 2005 autobiography, Delivered to Destiny: From Crack Addict to the Military’s Fasted Female Sprinter to Pastoring a Diverse and Multicultural Church, Kim’s Story of Hope is for Everyone, she talks about spending lots of time at Perk and Loretta’s Soul Lounge when she was growing up.

Perk was handsome and respected as a big man in LaVilla. He had lots of money and lots of women.

Daniels’s account of how Perk’s once-radical political ideals devolved into cold capitalist opportunism by the late 1970s and 1980s makes for sad reading. His metamorphosis parallels all the white anti-establishment types of the hippie 1960s, in accordance with the zeitgeist, who became proto-capitalists in the Reagan 1980s, in accordance with the zeitgeist.

If you’d never been out of poor black neighborhoods by the 1980s, maybe you had to adopt your own Reaganesque—no-government-interference—make-profit-at-all-costs attitude. If, in the late 1960s, you’d adopted a black-radical, Black-Panthers mentality, by the 1980s you became the inverse of white Reaganism, which was much the same as official Reaganism, but illicit.

In the 1960s, Perk was a prominent member of the Boomerang Gang. The boomerang refers to the idea that what goes around comes around, that the chickens come home to roost. The Boomerang Gang challenged segregation in Duval County, which had hardly changed despite the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision.

Just as the Black Panthers in Oakland tailed the police in cars full of shotguns in a theatrical attempt to police the police, armed members of Jacksonville’s Boomerang Gang personally escorted the only two black city council members to work each day. Though some black radicals threatened to burn down white businesses in the downtown area, whites started to see the Boomerang Gang as a force for calming angry and terrified urban black people and keeping alive possibilities of reconciliation.

In 1960, the Boomerangs responded to whites attacking blacks in Hemming Plaza with baseball bats and ax handles in reprisal for black protests of segregation. The police hardly responded to the white attacks, but came to the scene when the Boomerangs showed up. One Florida newspaper headline from 1960 said, “Jacksonville’s Negro Hoodlums Get Jail Term.”

From the politically radical late 1960s, however, Perk’s position as community leader moved from political activism and confrontation with white racists to making lots of money, building up his status, and intimidating opposition.

But in the years between his political radicalism and his gambling enterprises, Perk ran for city council. As someone who had fought for greater black power in the city, surely this campaign represented hope. Perk must have hoped his candidacy could make some kind of difference. Or was his political ambition a function of his ascendancy to power in LaVilla and the black community?

Kimberly Daniels remembers seeing the political ads and placards asking for Perk’s vote to City Council. She was 13 years old. She knew she was Perk’s daughter, but Perk had never acknowledged her as his child. It was an open secret. A lot of people knew it, but nobody ever spoke of it.

Daniels claims her exorcisms of gay men and women came from her growing up with and learning to love the gay men who performed in “sissy shows” in her father’s bar.

Several nights a week, Perk and Loretta’s Soul Lounge featured drag shows.

“Baby Kim” came to see the “sissy shows” regularly. She says she loved “her sissies.” She lived a couple floors up from the bar and several gay men and transvestites lived in the apartment beneath hers.

In 2005, she said, “I loved my sissies, and ministering to homosexuals will forever be close to my heart.”

But in 2009 she called gay people “an army of darkness.” She offered prayers gay people could say: “I renounce the perversity of the lifestyle. I declare that I hate it,” and “I renounce masturbation.”

Another prayer says, “I renounce the witchcraft that comes with homosexuality/lesbianism. That which I have participated in knowingly, or that unknowingly would tie me to the demonic supernatural, is under my feet.”

One of the gay men who worked at Perk and Loretta’s Soul Lounge tried to convince Kimberly’s mother to take her to one of Perk’s campaign parties.

“Now you know that baby needs to be with her daddy in the time of his glory,” he argued to no avail.

Eartha at 93

And now I think about the similarities and differences between Kimberly Daniels and Eartha White, whom people called Jacksonville’s “Angel of Mercy.” Eartha White founded a rescue mission, hospitals, and charities. I wonder what Eartha would say to her.

Growing up, Daniels spent so much time in her father’s bar, one block away from the Clara White Mission, the city mission Eartha named for her mother.

Kimberly Daniels couldn’t say publicly who her father was, though it was an open secret in the community. Eartha White couldn’t say who her father was, though a few people knew without anyone publicly saying that he was a wealthy white man.

Daniels constantly draws attention to herself, screams and rants on stage and behind the pulpit, while Eartha was as soft-spoken and persuasive as she was tiny. Despite having a following, Daniels disgusts and turns many people off. Eartha’s humility and gentleness and kind soft voice inevitably drew people toward her. You just couldn’t turn away from Eartha.

Daniels attained the political office she remembers her father seeking. Eartha never sought political office, though she worked behind the scenes and had greater political power, both locally and nationally, than either Perk or Daniels would ever have.

Daniels would become more radical (in the 21st century) than her more legitimately radical father (late 1960s) by exorcising homosexuals instead of providing armed escorts for black city councilmen. Daniels’s radicalism reaches so far that it sounds like far-right-wing, white-supremacist Southern conservatism. Eartha tried to figure out the greatest good for the greatest number. She was practical, because her life’s desire was to help as many people as she could.

Kimberly Daniels said she was thankful for slavery. Eartha’s mother had been a slave. I wonder if Daniels would have told Clara White that she was thankful for slavery.