February 9th is Alice Walker’s Birthday

alice walker picIt’s still February 8th on the West Coast, so I’m considering this a February 8th post and an early birthday greeting to Alice Walker. I don’t know if I’ll have any other living people on this BHM blog, but I’m going with Alice Walker for this day.

In this Q&A we discuss sexuality, identity, the writer’s role, and our rapidly changing society.

Alice Walker Q&A


The Trini Connection – Lord Kitchener, Calypso King

Part of my family is from Trinidad, but according to my father, nobody liked Calypso. Well, his mother didn’t and apparently her children weren’t wild about it. When I finally got my hands on a Lord Kitchener CD in the 1990s, I felt like I’d found the key to my family’s humor.

Here’s “If You’re Brown,” and you may say this point of view is dated.

After all, there’s a black man in the White House and (it goes without saying) a Black First Lady and children.

On that note, here’s one more Kitchener tune: “If You’re Not White, You’re Black.”

What I like about Kitchener is that he wrote and sang about these topics.

Here’s some more information about Lord Kitchener:

http://www.tntisland.com/kitchbio.html

(Never mind the typos/run-together words.)

On this 4th Day of Black History Month, I honor Lord Kitchener (April 18, 1922 – February 11, 2000).


A TRUE ICON: Billie Holiday, briefly

If everybody lived to 101, Billie Holiday would be alive today. That’s kind of a trip, right? You see all these 100-some-odd year old folks in the news. They’re Bille Holiday’s contemporaries and Billie Holiday had so much more to say when she died in the Metropolitan Hospital in NY on July 17, 1959, after being arrested in the same hospital room weeks before.

When I was about 13 years old, my mother told me that Billie Holiday, Lady Day, was one of her favorite singers. But Cass Elliot, “Mama Cass” was another one along with Carol King, so I never was too sure what that really meant. One day in a record store I found a compilation LP and bought it for my mother. I listened to it, and listened to it, but never really felt like I got what Lady Day meant to my mother. My mother’s life was not tragic like Lady Day’s but really what child really knows the darkest night of their mother. That’s not the stuff mothers easily reveal, at least not mothers like mine, and not at that time. Maybe mothers blog about it now.

Lady Day sang like no one else ever had before. In 1958, Frank Sinatra said of her: “With few exceptions, every major pop singer in the U.S. during her generation has been touched in some way by her genius. It is Billie Holiday who was, and still remains, the greatest single musical influence on me. Lady Day is unquestionably the most important influence on American popular singing in the last twenty years.” That was Frank Sinatra quoted in “Ebony” magazine.

While always loved by those who love music, Billie Holiday has at times almost been dismissed as a sad, hopeless figure and a drug addict in American culture. One can barely link Billie Holiday without linking heroin. Perhaps it is her ability to express sadness and hopelessness with voice and song-writing, and her dependency on heroin that play such a large role in defining this unique talent, this stellar African-American talent. On this third day of Black History Month, I honor Billie Holiday.


February 2nd, 2014 – Canada’s Viola Desmond

Canada’s Viola Desmond, because why not start with a little controversy. If you search for African-Canadian heroes, Viola Desmond’s name is one of the first delivered. Desmond was a successful business woman born on July 6th, 1914 in Halifax, Canada, and passed away in New York on February 7, 1965.

According to Wikipedia, in 1946, Desmond went to the movies and sat down in the orchestra section reserved for “whites only”, declining the balcony where regulations would require her to sit. She was forcibly removed from the theater and charged with tax evasion. As wild as the tax evasion charge sounds, the Canadian government justified the charge because to the taxation difference between ground floor tickets and balcony tickets. The amount in question? One cent.

The Viola Desmond event became the most publicized racial event of that time in Canada. Desmond would lose the case, and the racist policies continued at that theater. During the trial Desmond was supported by the Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and in turn when Desmond’s lawyer returned her fee after losing the case, Desmond contributed the sum to the NSAACP.

Between the import of Desmond’s actions and that it involved rebellion against the segregated seating, Viola Desmond is sometimes referred as the Rosa Parks of Canada. There are those who would argue against that moniker, but Desmond’s actions did help to move Canada toward racial equality.

It would be 66 years after the event that the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia would grant Desmond a posthumous pardon via Royal Prerogative.

Two years ago on February 1, 2012, Canada Post issued the Viola Desmond stamp.

bhm-violadesmond


28Black – 2014

It’s Black History Month, 2014! Yes, it’s the shortest month, but I decided back in 2011, that I would use it, use the designation, for my own purposes.

If you’ll look at 2012, you’ll see that most of February went without a single post. In fact, there was only one post, on February 1, 2012. That was my dad talking about his hero Paul Robeson one morning. Most of my Black history thinking for the rest of that month was focused on my father. And the same thing happened for Black History Month, 2013. My father passed away on July 15, 2013. I miss him a lot and will be thinking of him a lot during this month as always.

One thing I’ll do differently this year is instead of limiting the posts to writings on Americans, I may include people of African descent in other countries, with a focus on places outside the United States where my family lives and has lived. That list includes Barbados, Bermuda, Canada, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Now, before we start taking on the coming events, milestones and reminiscences of 2014, I’ll close with a look at February 1, 2012. The lone BHM post of 2012:

One of the things that I appreciated the most about the experience in my first year of 28Black was the time I spent reflecting on my elders who have passed. I found myself wondering about their experiences, their reactions to Black figures and prominent events in early 20th century American History. I wondered if my great uncles enjoyed Jelly Roll Morton, Ma Rainey. I would have loved to have seen their faces or heard their reactions when Joe Louis won the heavyweight championship.

The first year of 28Black made me hungry for time travel.

I can’t travel back in time, but I can confer with this 81-year-old I know to see where his memories might take us. This year I’ll spend some time checking in with my father for his take on people, issues, politics and other things related to being black, and in recognition of Black History Month.

Here’s a teaser:

Background on the Peekskill Riots:
Peekskill Riots – Wiki


29 Black – 2012!

Yes, yes, yes! Happy Leap Year BHM Everyone!

I’m glad February has an extra day to work with this year.

One of the things that I appreciated the most about the experience in my first year of 28Black was the time I spent reflecting on my elders who have passed. I found myself wondering about their experiences, their reactions to Black figures and prominent events in early 20th century American History. I wondered if my great uncles enjoyed Jelly Roll Morton, Ma Rainey. I would have loved to have seen their faces or heard their reactions when Joe Louis won the heavyweight championship.

The first year of 28Black made me hungry for time travel.

I can’t travel back in time, but I can confer with this 81-year-old I know to see where his memories might take us. This year I’ll spend some time checking in with my father for his take on people, issues, politics and other things related to being black, and in recognition of Black History Month.

Here’s a teaser:

Background on the Peekskill Riots:
Peekskill Riots – Wiki


African-American History & Tucson Students

Arizona was in the spotlight a lot in 2010 with debates about immigration reform and about teaching high school students about America’s ethnic groups through focused study on individual groups. The Mexican-American studies class in the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) has garnered the most attention and it remains in the spotlight this year with the State and the TUSD at loggerheads. The State wants to school district to shut down the class claiming that it violates state law, and TUSD is allowing the class to continue.

Like many other people in the area (and beyond), I was curious about just what was being taught – actual curricula, not just statements about it being “La Raza” studies preaching revolution.

The Native American Studies and African-American Studies classes are not considered controversial. You’ll get an idea of what’s being taught in the African American Studies class thanks to KXCI. This year, news host Amanda Shauger at Tucson’s KXCI Community Radio 91.3 broadcast Black History Month works by TUSD students enrolled in African American Studies, in addition to works by staff members and by community members. The entire podcast times in at about one hour, ten minutes, and is a total of 48 segments.

Hear the podcast and read the order of presentation here.

On this 20th day of Black History Month, I honor the Class of 2011 and each and every graduate who lives up to the challenge of improving the United States of America by advancing equality for all.


Gold and Slaves

USA 34-star Flag, 1861-1863

Lush dreams of a wealth provided by gold and slave labor. Who does that sound like? Old time Arizonans. That’s why Tucson flies the southern cross for rodeo events. Or one of the reasons, the other being to appeal to all the rodeo fans who sport the symbol on their bodies, trucks, and t-shirts. Mayor Walkup seems to love it, certainly supports it flying at the rodeo grounds. I don’t really care what agrarian symbols people choose to decorate their bodies, clothes and other personal items with. I do take issue with public funds being used to fly the flag at city-sanctioned events.

I’m a Yankee observing life in Arizona, which has been called the “Mississippi of the Southwest.”

I think there’s still some bitterness in the dirt here from 19th century people ticked off that the North put the kibosh on their slave empire dreams. Oh Well. In 1863, President Lincoln abolished slavery in the Arizona territory by signing into law the Arizona Organic Act.

If they had been able to hang in there and the North was putting them out of business this year, it’s easy to imagine Gov. Brewer gathering her troops to defend her slave state against Washington and Obama!

OK, that would make a good movie.

Meanwhile here’s some good reading on Arizona’s dream of getting rich off the backs of African slaves.

  1. Blood and Treasure: Confederate Empire in the Southwest. Donald S. Frazier.
  2. Arizona Organic Act – Wiki
  3. The Civil War in Arizona: The Story of the California Volunteers, 1861-1865. Andrew E. Masich.

Horses, Horses, Horses

Rodeo and Buffalo Soldier Teaser Day
It’s almost Rodeo Week here in Tucson, which means it’s the time when Tucson is at its most Mississippi-ish.

The Real Cowboy Association is a rodeo-lovers organization that presents rodeos and raises awareness about Black cowboys. As I’ve said elsewhere, I don’t think a Real Cowboy will get thrown off his game by a piece of fabric blowing in the wind, but I still don’t think Tucson running the southern cross for rodeo week is all that cool. Mayor Walkup disagrees. Whatever.

First Lake Charles Black Rodeo

More information about the Real Cowboy Association: Real Cowboy Association

I rode horses as a youth, before I switched over to motorcycles. I think a child gains a lot from interacting with large animals and from being able to hold their own, literally hold the reins, and give direction to something far larger and more powerful, than they. There’s also an undeniable connection to history and to horseback riders the world over. Attending the rodeo, and enjoying horseback riding is a great family activity. Though, again, I think the southern cross at the Rodeo Ground is a point of distraction for some southern Arizona families and would actually serve to keep them away.

In 2006, NPR did a story about a corral in Compton, Calif. Here’s a link to that story with text and audio: “Along for the Ride with Compton’s Junior Posse”

Then a few years later, Silent Noise productions made a short documentary about the Compton Jr. Posse. Here’s the trailer for that movie:

Most people who have heard more than a half-dozen Bob Marley songs have heard “Buffalo Soldiers.” When you’re in southern Arizona, you’re in the land of the Buffalo Soldiers. In Arizona, the Buffalo Soldiers, African-American soldiers, were stationed at several forts. The largest one was Fort Huachuca in Sierra Vista, Ariz. Sierra Vista is about 20 miles from Mexico, as the crow flies, and about 35 miles from the Naco port of entry. This was a vital position for border issues and skirmishes with Pancho Villa, warring with Native Americans, and helping to keep the “Boomers” off of the Tribal lands. The “Boomers” were white people who would attempt a squatters’ strategy to take Tribal land. You can read more about that here in Frederic Remington’s Scout with The Buffalo Soldiers.

Colonel Charles Young

After 1916, the Buffalo Soldiers were no longer on horseback. Colonel Charles Young, a Westpoint graduate, was the first African-American to attain that rank. He commanded Fort Huachuca from 1916 to 1917.

Discover Southeast Arizona has a very good illustrated history of the Buffalo Soldiers on this page.

Southwest Association of Buffalo Soldiers – non-profit based in Sierra Vista, Ariz.

Buffalo Soldiers February Events – Arizona State Parks

National Parks Service History of Buffalo Soldiers in California: http://www.nps.gov/yose/historyculture/buffalo-soldiers.htm

And finally, Bob Marley and the Wailers’ “Buffalo Soldier”


Buffalo Soldiers, WWII, Bessie Smith, Who Knows?

28black

I need to take a day off today. Another day added to the past, more history to reflect on!

I expect I’ll be able to do two posts tomorrow, if not AM & PM, then maybe both in the afternoon.

I got an email from my library today that the David Graham Du Bois novel, And Bid Him Sing, that I wanted has come in. David Du Bois taught my African-American journalism course at UMass-Amherst. Getting to know him in the student-teacher relationship and hearing about his life in Egypt meant something to me. He’s one of the people whom I expect to write about before the end of Black History Month.

David’s mother, Shirley Du Bois, lived for a time here in southern Arizona, and ran the USO at Fort Huachuca in Sierra Vista. I’d like to write about her and, of course, about W.E.B. Du Bois.

Here are the people who have been on my mind this month. I didn’t want to do a content matrix for the whole month. I could have planned out every day, but I wanted to let each day unfold.

Here’s the list of possibilities as it stands today:

  1. W.E.B. Du Bois
  2. Shirley Du Bois
  3. David Du Bois
  4. Charles Gordone, playwright
  5. Mahalia Jackson
  6. Bessie Smith
  7. Billie Holiday
  8. Frederick Doulgass
  9. Mary McLeod Bethune
  10. Avon Long, actor
  11. Langston Hughes
  12. Thurgood Marshall & revisit the NAACP
  13. Nat King Cole
  14. The Buffalo Soldiers
  15. Oscar Micheaux
  16. Booker T. Washington
  17. Crispus Attucks
  18. Jackie Robinson

More points of reflection than there are days in the month. That’s just a heads up. I’m not trying to nail down a schedule.

I’m glad I’ve done this Black History Month experience this year. It has made me much more mindful of my heritage in my day-to-day living. By “heritage,” I don’t just mean the overarching group of prominent African-Americans through history, but also, and I think, more importantly, the previous four generations of my family.

I’ve found myself wondering when my maternal grandfather might have first heard Jelly Roll Morton and what he thought of him. I wonder when that part of my family got its first phonograph.

In squaring myself with how many questions I’m now curious about, but have no answers to, I find that I’m almost envious of children today with all the recording tools available to them.

Those are some of my family members, over my shoulder in the picture above. I’ve probably thought more about time travel in this month than at any other time in my life. My grandfather was born just 35 years after the abolition of slavery. There is much that I would like to understand from his point of view and from my other elders who have passed on. This has been the most personal Black History Month for me yet. Thanks for reading along. I look forward to each and every day ahead.


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