Why I Yelled at the Kara Walker Exhibit: "Anger shot up my body like a hot thermometer. Face flushed, I walked to the Mammy sphinx. Couples posed in front of it, smiling as others took their photos. So here it was, an artwork about how Black people’s pain was transformed into money was a tourist attraction for them... Something snapped... I yelled that this was our history and that many of us were angry and sad that it was a site of pornographic jokes." [more inside]
For a while, the first African American graduate of the University of Vermont was George Washington Henderson, who would become the first black inductee to Phi Beta Kappa. Except he wasn't the first black graduate... [more inside]
In 2002 Henry Louis Gates jr. published The Bondwoman's Narrative. It was the first publication of a novel written in the 1850s by a former slave who wrote under the name Hannah Crafts. The original manuscript has been digitized by Yale's Beinecke Library. The book caused a splash at the time, sold well and was reviewed widely, including an essay by Hilary Mantel in the London Review of Books. The identity of Hannah Crafts was uncertain, which cast a slight shadow on its provenance, but Prof. Gregg Hecimovich discovered the writer's true identity. Her name was Hannah Bond and after escaping slavery she became a teacher in New Jersey. Journalist Paul Berman further fills in the story of Colonel Wheeler, the slaveowner whose family was depicted in The Bondwoman's Narrative. Wheeler was the US ambassador to Nicaragua in the 1850s and played a major part in the administration of General Walker, the American who became a short-lived dictator of Nicaragua and tried to set it up as a slave state.
This will be a very short diary. It will not contain any links or any scholarly references. It is about a very narrow topic, from a very personal, subjective perspective. The topic at hand is what Martin Luther King actually did, what it was that he actually accomplished. The reason I'm posting this is because there were dueling diaries over the weekend about Dr. King's legacy, and there is a diary up now ... entitled, "Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Dream Not Yet Realized." I'm sure the diarist means well as did the others. But what most people who reference Dr. King seem not to know is how Dr. King actually changed the subjective experience of life in the United States for African Americans. And yeah, I said for African Americans, not for Americans, because his main impact was his effect on the lives of African Americans, not on Americans in general. His main impact was not to make white people nicer or fairer. That's why some of us who are African Americans get a bit possessive about his legacy. Dr. Martin Luther King's legacy, despite what our civil religion tells us, is not color blind. [more inside]
"Two women, Edna Knowles and Peaches Stevens, were wed in Liz's Mark III Lounge, a gay bar on Chicago's South Side, before a host of friends and well-wishers."--JET Magazine, October 1970 The Pop-Up Museum of Queer History offers a terrific post on the public rituals queer African American women have used to celebrate their partnerships since the 1920s.
Remember that what has once been done may be done again. Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers were inspired by the life of his father, Alexandre. However, Alexandre Sr. was not just a handsome swashbuckler or a vengeful former prisoner. The boy who came from Haiti to France as “slave Alexandre” in 1776 had, by the age of 32, become commander-in-chief of the French revolutionary army in the Alps, eventually leading 53,000 troops to victory against formidably trained Austrian alpine forces. [more inside]
The King Center archive launched a new web interface this year, featuring online access to thousands of historical documents relating to Dr. Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement.
'“The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975“ is an incredible documentary with an equally incredible story behind it. The film is constructed entirely from hundreds of hours of archival footage of the black power movement, footage that’s not just rare, but unseen; it was shot by a Swedish news crew in the 1960s and 1970s, then left untouched in a Swedish TV station’s cellar for 30 years, where it was discovered by documentary filmmaker Göran Hugo Olsson.' [more inside]
February is Gay Black History Month. [SLYT]
Bill Cosby: "A lot of people think we oughta wash white, but we aint gonna, you see." "People think that we Afro-Americans started with nothing but little grass skirts like the kids in the Tarzan movies....but uh, we had something before we left Africa." "Now if you want to look history right straight in the eye... you're going to get a black eye. Because it isn't important whether a few black heroes got lost or stolen or strayed in American history textbooks. What's important is why they got left out." Black History: Lost, Stolen, or Strayed. (Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) [more inside]
Within that small and very specific sub-genre of musical Americana identifiable as the train imitation, there is one amazing performance, from 1926, that set the standard: Pan-American Blues. The man who recorded it did a fine and fanciful job of evoking the sounds of a fox chase as well, and his rhythmically compelling solo rendition of John Henry stands as testament to the potential for musical greatness achievable by one man and a humble harmonica. He was an African-American who was a founding member of the Grand Ole Opry, a musical institution that we rarely (as in, never) today associate with black people, and his touching and tragic story, documented here, is one that will be of interest to those concerned with the racial, economic and socio-cultural history of American popular music. He stands at one of its more unexpected intersections: his name is DeFord Bailey. [more inside]
On June 15th, 1920 in Duluth, Minnesota, three young, black circus workers, Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson and Issac McGhie, were lynched. The Minnesota Historical Society has a great site devoted to the terrible event, Duluth Lynchings Online Resource. I'd especially like to point out the Oral Histories section, which has short interviews with African-Americans who lived through the event. In 2001 Minnesota Public Radio covered the story, inspired by a campaign to build a memorial to the three men, which was dedicated in October of 2003. The Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial has a fine website which is well worth visiting.
In 1865, after the end of the Civil War, Col. P. H. Anderson of Big Spring, Tennessee, wrote to his former slave, Jourdon Anderson, asking him to return to work for him. In reply, Jourdon Anderson told Colonel Anderson exactly where he could stick his offer. This letter was part of The Freedmen's Book (full download in many different formats) which was distributed to those freed after and during the Civil War, so that they would know stories of other freedmen who had done well, including Touissant L'Ouverture, Phillis Wheatley and Frederick Douglass. The book was put together and published by Lydia Maria Child, abolitionist, women's rights activist, Indian rights campaigner and all around awesome person. She became famous in her own time for her cookbook The Frugal Housewife, but today her best known work is Over the River and Through the Woods. The Freedmen's Book was part of an effort by abolitionists after the war to educate freed slaves. The American Antiquarian Society has a great website about that movement, Northern Visions of Race, Region and Reform, which has plenty of primary sources and images galore.
"Whatever your life's work is, do it well. A man should do his job so well that the living, the dead, and the unborn could do it no better." -- Martin Luther King, Jr. Motivational poster for Black History Month
Dr. Mayme Agnew Clayton was a librarian and collector in Los Angeles who left behind a collection of remarkable value. Over the course of more than 40 years, she had collected the largest privately held collection of African-American materials, with over 30,000 rare and out-of-print books, 1,700 films dating back to 1916, as well as more than 75,000 photographs and scores of movie posters, playbills, programs, documents and manuscripts. Her collection, which has been compared to the Schomburg Collection in the New York City Public Library, was opened to the public in 2007. [more inside]
"It did feel a little isolating at the time, having atheist parents who thought skiing was a pretentious extravagance, believed America should stay out of Vietnam and regarded Valentine's Day and Mother's Day as 'meretricious, capitalist flim-flam.' " Daniel Grafton Hill IV (better known as this guy) remembers growing up with Daniel Grafton Hill III in a progressive, over-achieving, mixed-raced family. Meanwhile, the Hill father-son saga takes an ominous turn in the next generation.
Explorations in Black Leadership is a collection of video interviews with prominent African-Americans, focusing on activists of one sort or another. 34 people are interviewed, including Nikki Giovanni, John Lewis, Barbara Lee, Bobby Rush, Dorothy Height and Amiri Baraka. There are full transcripts of every interview. Here's an excerpt from the Nikki Giovanni interview: "The kids today have to have a voice. I'm amazed that they found it. I remember Sugarhill Gang with Sylvia, you know: "Uptown, Downtown, the Holiday Inn." You know, things like that. Then, of course, I remember the explosion of Tupac Shakur. Losing Tupac was a great loss for this generation. I have a tattoo--it says "Thug Life" --because I wanted to mourn with this generation. I don't see how people can knock the kids…paying so little attention. I had deep regrets--and I know Rosa Parks, you know, we don't hang out but I know her--I so regretted that she lent her name to be used against Outkast, because Rosa Parks is a wonderful--is a wonderful tune. And they were giving her problems. If people don't--if the younger generation doesn't sing the praises of the older generation they get forgotten."
Tom Feelings, an African-American illustrator, author, and historian, has passed. "I had used the functional form of a narrative without words, it is open to all people, especially those who have difficulty visualizing what Black people describe as racism from the past and its lingering presence in the present."
Did anyone else forget that February is supposed to be Black History Month? Would you believe that Black Entertainment Television (BET) did.