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:

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

Buffalo Soldiers, WWII, Bessie Smith, Who Knows?


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.

’60s Black Radio and Beyond: Petey Greene and Beyond

Petey Greene

For some limited time the documentary “Adjust Your Color: The Truth of Petey Greene” will be available for free viewing on Hulu. Here’s the Hulu link.

You might also find it on your local PBS station this month: PBS Independent Lens. It is just under an hour and well worth watching.

Most people today would agree that one power of the Internet, or Web communications is that anyone “broadcast” almost instantaneously.

I think it might actually be more like narrow-casting. Valuable? Yes. Powerful? Without a doubt. Reaching across generations? Not necessarily. And when you toss income levels in with age, you’ve really constricted that filter.

We know that in our country old people are not valued as much as young people, and poor people are not valued as much as wealthier people. So, maybe it doesn’t matter that your YouTube video won’t reach many people in those groups, who won’t or can’t pay for Internet access in their homes or mega data plans for their phones.

Let me cut to the chase, RADIO was the tool that reached everyone. There is nothing now like radio was. There may be again some time. Probably will be, but not now. Not even TV. A) because of the costs of owning and operating a TV broadcast station and B) because of the division between broadcast and cable, and then we’re back at cost differences.

So, check out the Petey Greene documentary. You will see an all-star line-up of TV and radio personalities who got their start because of Petey Greene.

Check the history of NY’s WLIB which became Black-owned in the ’70s and was an important and powerful tool for the exchange of information and ideas among Black New Yorkers.

Petey Greene: b. January 23, 1931. d. January 10, 1984

On this 15th day of Black History Month, I salute Petey Greene and the other pioneers of Black radio and broadcast TV.

NAACP: It all began with ending lynching

That “Colored People” part puts some people off in this day and age, but the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is historic. When it was founded in 1909, “colored” was the language of the day. I take the language as a nod to its longevity.

Campaigns against lynching and against segregation were its earliest battles. Whether it keeps its historic name or not, it must be acknowledged that the NAACP has been and continues to be an agent for positive change in the U.S., and has made the country a better place.

Jelly Roll Morton: (Hot Adult Jazz)

Jelly Roll Morton

One of the questions I screwed up on the “Jeopardy!” contestant test online last week was about Jelly Roll Morton, so I figured I could stand to give him some attention now. If the question had been about Eubie Blake or Louis Armstrong, I would’ve been fine, but for whatever reason, there’s been a void in my knowledge of Jelly Roll.

I’ve been listening to his music for a few hours today. The instrumentals are great for the whole family. Ragtime piano, ragtime band, blues, jazz. The lyrics on this album, Jelly Roll Morton: The Last Sessions, are family-friendly, thanks to double entendres.

Things get a little more complicated when you have to explain that in the late 19th century “jelly roll” was slang for female genitalia. Then if you want to get into how Jelly Roll learned his craft, you’ll find yourself talking about a boy playing piano in a bordello.

When you start reading his lyrics, you have to be prepared for, um, “blue” language. I don’t think there’s anyone on a mainstream label, no rapper, no rocker, no one talking more explicitly about sex than Jelly Roll did. If you know Cam’ron’s “Bottom of the Pu_ _y” tune, then you have an idea of where Jelly Roll went with some of his tunes. Here’s the deal though, he was playing the piano and singing in brothels, sex was being sold. Those lyrics fit the environment. That’s not all that he wrote, but when you start reading his recollections and lyrics you’ll see that the man heard a lot, saw a lot, lived a lot, and wrote songs about it all.

Jelly Roll was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1885. His birth name as Ferdinand Joseph LeMothe (sometimes written Lamott). Jelly Roll’s stepfather’s name was Mouton, which the youth altered and adopted as Morton.

New Orleans was colorful in the 20th century and it was just as wild in the 19th century. It was a good time city with a whole lot of partying and mixing going on. These were days before cocaine was outlawed and you had people, “colored” and white partying together and using cocaine, opium, alcohol, pretty much anything and everything. When Jelly Roll was still a boy his grandmother kicked him out of the house because he didn’t want to stop playing piano at the bordellos. She didn’t think that was a proper environment for a youngster. I think most parents and guardians would agree.

This was a time when a talented piano player who wrote tunes and could play tunes by ear was a large draw for a saloon, bar, or bodello. People would stay longer, drink more and spend more. The piano players were well-paid and well-respected within that world. From the stories he tells, he was also quite the little pool shark. He did OK for himself all-around from a young age.

One of Morton’s most widely recognized tunes today is the Tiger Rag (“Hold that Tiger”). Here’s Adam Swanson playing it at the 2010 Old-time Piano Contest in Peoria, IL. I chose this clip to show the rag time action on the keyboard and because Swanson does an elbow draw, which was one of Morton’s signature moves. (Not everyone who plays this tune does that move.) Morton used standard notation to write his music and band arrangements. I’d like to find out how he notated the elbow drag. Check this out.

Morton died in Los Angeles, Calif. on July 10, 1941. The apex of his career had definitely been decades earlier, and in the ’30s he had been overshadowed by Louis Armstrong and the big bands of jazz. By some accounts Morton had turned bitter toward the music world in his later years. In his recollections recorded in the Library of Congress project in 1938, he clearly had regrets about his failed marriage. You can read transcriptions of those Morton interviews conducted by Alan Lomax here. The Library of Congress Recordings project as transcribed also contains Jelly Roll’s original lyrics to many songs. (Adult Content)

The Doctor Jazz site is a rich source of information about Jelly Roll Morton.

There are several biographies about Morton available, and in 1992 George C. Wolfe brought his “Jelly’s Last Jam” to Broadway with the late, great Gregory Hines. Here’s a clip from that.

On this 13th day of Black History Month, I doff my cap to Jelly Roll Morton for his inspiring creativity and his contributions to America’s gift to the world, jazz.


1968 U.S. Open Tennis Champion Arthur Ashe

Arthur Ashe

Arthur Ashe
Born:  July 10, 1943
Died: February 6, 1993
Tennis champion, humanitarian, U.S. Army Lieutenant 1st Class, U.C.L.A. graduate.

The Arthur Ashe site is a great source of information. Biographical information, pictures, a contest, a 1968 quiz, and more.

Arthur Ashe’s foundation works for youth tennis, of course, but also education and health. Ashe was struck with serious health issues starting in 1979.

After his heart attack, he dealt with heart surgery twice, brain surgery and his fatal illness AIDS, which it’s believed he contracted from a transfusion during heart surgery.

I salute Arthur Ashe for all that he accomplished in his short time on earth.

Kentucky Derby, Black Jockeys?! In What Universe?

I’d never heard of Jimmy “Wink” Winkfield, and I was OK with that. Here’s a piece of history that I learned today thanks to @MrBlackJockey on Twitter: At one time, before the Jim Crow laws, Black jockeys dominated horse racing.

Bob Hope and Jimmy "Wink" Winkfield. Jet Magazine, 1953.

Lisa Winkler writes in “The Kentucky Derby’s Forgotten Jockeys” for Smithsonian Magazine the “In the first Kentucky Derby in 1875, 13 out of 15 jockeys were black. Among the first 28 derby winners, 15 were black. African American jockeys excelled in the sport in the late 1800s. But by 1921, they had disappeared from the Kentucky track…”

The Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision of 1896, AKA “Separate but Equal” would slowly create a situation where black jockeys could not be at the race tracks by law. Imagine every Black man on the Miami Heat, for example, getting locked out (and every Black fan too). Now imagine it across the NBA, across all sports.

Isaac Burns Murphy, one of two Black jockeys in the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame, Saratoga, N.Y., and the first jockey elected to the Hall of Fame.

As the race track situation worsened, some jockeys, trainers and grooms migrated to the North for other opportunities, but the era of Black jockeys was over in the U.S.A. One jockey, Jimmy “Wink” Winkfield left the country in 1904, and went to Czarist Russia. He became a champion racer there, and after the Bolshevik Revolution, he sought refuge in France. He raced in France from 1920 to 1930 and then retired with 2,600 lifetime wins.

Winkfield handled a lot of hardships in his life. He had to overcome the struggles with his career in the U.S. under Jim Crow and a tough economy, losing his stables in France to the Nazis during the Occupation, and of coursre the slights such as the one dealt him when he returned to Kentucky in 1961 for a pre-Derby gala event as a guest of Sports Illustrated when he had to persist in order to be granted admittance.

Once the board shifted, it shifted for a long time. Not one Black jockey raced in the Kentucky Derby after 1921 until Marlon St. Julien raced in 2000.

On this 11th day of Black History Month, I honor Jimmy “Wink” Winkfield and Isaac Burns Murphy for their superb achievements in the sport of horse racing.

More information:
National Museum of Racing Hall-of-Famer Isaac Burns Murphy in and the official Hall of Fame bio

Smithsonian Magazine article about the history of Black jockeys: The Kentucky Derby’s Forgotten Jockeys

James “Wink” Winkfield in the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame

Black Jockeys will be commemorated over Memorial Day Weekend, 2011, at the Kentucky Derby. Information about the events

MrBlackJockey on Twitter

Morgan Freeman Hates Black History Month

Morgan Freeman: I don’t want a black history month. Black history is American history… [to Mike Wallace] I’m going to stop calling you a white man, and I’m going ask you to stop calling me a black man. I know you as Mike Wallace and you know me as Morgan Freeman.

I completely disagree with Morgan Freeman on Black History Month here, but I didn’t always. Living in Tucson, a city with an African-American population of about 3% is much different from living in a city like L.A. or S.F. or New York.

E'Dena Hines and step-grandfather Morgan Freeman

The other thing, and I don’t know if Freeman talks about this at all in the remainder of the interview, is that race and actors is a huge topic. I remember Morgan Freeman from his N.Y. days. I have lot more respect for N.Y. actors than I do for Hollywood actors. That’s just the way I am. It’s one of the craziest inverses of the art world that people who perform live onstage 8 times a week, make so much less money than Hollywood yahoos. Those who have succeeded at both, like Freeman, get a big tip of the hat from me.

(Ahem. Is there an elephant in the room – Freeman’s relationship with his ex-wife’s granddaughter E’Dena, whom he helped raise? Well, let’s leave that alone.)

Freeman might say that he’d feel the same way about race, that we need to ignore topics about race for racism to recede, even if he were a mechanic at Joe’s Garage, and maybe he would. If what he means by “ignoring race” is that we don’t notice it at all, well, yes, that’s been called being “colorblind” and is probably a fantasy like Snow White.

Speaking of Snow White, here’s the deal with actors, and the world of the performing arts: Directors and Casting Directors rule. Yeah, so if Director X isn’t imagining Snow White being played by the brilliant dark-skinned actress, then she doesn’t have a job and doesn’t have chance of getting the job. That’s how it is most of the time, casting is by type. (Just like Mariah wouldn’t be cast to play “Precious.”)

Denzel Washington, Whoopi Goldberg, and Morgan Freeman come to mind as examples of Black actors who were cast in roles that were originally described/defined as being white. (For the hell of it, I’m going note that all three are New York actors.)

We can look at Hollywood and see many times when white actors have been cast as Native American, Chinese, Latino. Yes, it adds to their resumes, yes there’s the joy of creating and performing, but let’s not forget that for professionals, those jobs are paying the rent. Especially when actors are just starting out, and they all start somewhere.

The other part of that is what I call “neutrality” being the Holy Grail. In my eyes, that’s what a performer like Freeman aspires to. It’s not about “being white,” but about an actor having the skills to play any part ever written. The reason that falls apart in the eyes of many directors is that they don’t believe their audience will be able to read all the different relationships as they, the directors, want them to. Will interpretation go in too many directions?

Morgan Freeman, like Paul Robeson before him and like James Earl Jones, has a recognizable, commanding voice that works neutrally. When Freeman narrates an international hit about penguins that has nothing in particular to do with the Black experience, and everything to do with universal human experience, it’s a conquest for him. I don’t think Ja Rule could’ve gotten that gig even though his voice is deep too, dig?

I get where Freeman is coming from in this clip. I understand his objection to Black History Month. I disagree. I think many lesson plans are written for this month by teachers who would skip the content if there weren’t a Black History Month. It’s not about the crazy menus at the NBC commissary. Freeman is a very successful artist and probably doesn’t care a whit what youngsters are taught in districts with extremely small African-American population. I do care. That’s it. And this year, of course, I’m enjoying taking this time to reflect on Black History during this month.

Well, one more thing – about the white-skinned ethnicities, Latino and Jewish come to mind, let’s not forget:

  • Estevez=Sheen
  • Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz=John Stewart

We all know what’s going on there, right? There’s nothing really like that for Black performers, unless you want to count what Michael Jackson was doing. Hell, I don’t know what he was doing, but the point is, it doesn’t work. And the world of radio and music has its own world of borders and boundaries that are just as tough as a close-minded casting director.

Malcolm X’s Legacy

A feud over the estate of Betty Shabazz, the widow of Malcolm X, has created divisions among the couple’s six daughters and has resulted in something none of them had intended: keeping part of their father’s legacy from the public.