Clayton “Peg Leg” Bates was born in the small town of Fountain Inn in 1907. His love for tap dancing began at the age of five, and he became a legendary tap dancer despite a tragic cotton mill accident that left him with one leg at the age of 12. This statue located in his hometown memorializes Bates and his accomplishments. The work was sculpted by Joe Thompson, South Carolina Governor’s School of Arts and Humanities Visual Arts Department Chair.
After Bates lost his leg, his uncle carved a wooden peg for him. Bates was determined to continue dancing despite his disability. He despised people pitying him and strove to be better than most two-legged dancers. Bates began doing shows in carnivals and minstrel shows, and his success eventually landed him spots in Vaudeville circuits by the age of 15.
Known for his grace, rhythm, and acrobatics, Bates quickly established a successful career as a tap dancer. During the 1930s, he was a featured dancer in Harlem nightclubs and lit up the Broadway stage with his unique take on classic tap steps. Bates broke down many racial barriers while he was touring, and famously made 19 appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show during the 1950s and 1960s.
When he wasn’t lighting up the stage, Bates spent time with his wife and child. He also owned and operated the largest African-American resort in the country – the Peg Leg Country Club in Kerhonkson, New York. The popular resort catered to black clientele and often featured many jazz musicians and tap dancers. Peg Leg Bates eventually sold the property in 1989, but continued to spread his philosophy of overcoming adversities by speaking to children and handicapped groups.
Bates received the Flo-Bert Award in 1991, the Distinguished Leadership in the Arts award in 1992, and the Order of the Palmetto award in 1998. Peg Leg Bates passed away in the December of 1998 in his hometown of Fountain Inn.