Tag Archives: Black History Month

Hattie McDaniel

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Hattie McDaniel was a groundbreaking actress, the first African-American to win an Oscar for best supporting actress. Here’s her story:

I knew about Hattie McDaniel’s role in Gone with the Wind, but I didn’t know she was also a singer. Here she is in 1943’s Thank Your Lucky Stars, singing “Ice-Cold Katie”:

McDaniel costared with James Cagney in Johnny Come Lately in 1943:

Here is McDaniel with Ruby Dandridge on The Beulah Show in 1952. She passed away from breast cancer later that year.

Here she is in her most famous role:

Creative Juice #231

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Creative Juice #231

Enjoy these twelve creative articles.

Outstanding African-American Authors

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As an old white woman, I never knew until fairly recently that all my life I’d been the beneficiary of white privilege. I’d heard of it, but I didn’t think it applied to me, because I’m not rich. You have to be rich to be privileged, right?

Wrong.

Every day, I am the recipient of advantages that aren’t offered to my darker brothers and sisters. I am spared the assumptions made of people of color just because my skin is pale.

Three things made me aware of this phenomenon—an article in my Lutheran denomination’s magazine, and two groundbreaking books by African-American authors.

When I read the nonfiction book Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, I realized how much I take for granted, and how many obstacles to success people of color face. It opened my eyes and broke my heart.

Next to The Holy BibleHidden Figures is the most important book I’ve ever read. As a boomer born in the 1950s and living through the tumultuous 1960s, I thought I knew all about the civil rights movement. It turns out I knew very little. I thank Margot Lee Shetterly for educating me. For example, I didn’t know that long before I was born, thousands of African Americans graduated from historically Black colleges and universities. They were every bit as highly educated as white college graduates, but had trouble finding employment in their fields. Many entered the teaching profession, working in Black schools, offering hope to the next generation. Good work, but low-paying, especially the farther back you go.

The book is very well-written. It reads like a novel, though it is nonfiction and scrupulously annotated. I am humbled to learn about the Langley Research Center computers, and I believe Hidden Figures should be required reading for everyone in the United States, especially white people like me. The movie based on it is often on TV, and I watch it whenever I can.

I read Angie Thomas’ YA novel, The Hate U Give, to find out what all the fuss was about. I was prepared not to like it, but it transcended my expectations. The story is multi-layered, with difficult family issues, and yet you understand that Starr and her parents are people with principles who want to do the right things. Thomas does a great job of weaving a spellbinding plot. I’m not sure if her aim was to give white people an idea of what it is like to be a Black person in America today, but The Hate U Give has opened my white female senior citizen eyes. When people started saying, “Black lives matter,” white people, me included, said, “All lives matter,” to which Black people replied, “You don’t get it.” Thanks to this brilliantly written book, I am beginning to understand.

Not every book by a Black author needs to change the world. Some are just good stories.

I’ve read Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone, and it transported me to a different world. Drawing from West African myth, Adeyemi created the kingdom of Orïsha (which on the endpaper map looks a lot like the continent of Africa). Its citizens fall into two groups: the diviners, distinguishable by their white hair, who could perform magic; and the kosidán, who can’t. Eleven years before the beginning of the story, magic disappeared from Orïsha, the same night as the Raid, a genocide of the diviners orchestrated by ruthless King Saran, who believed magic was destroying Orïsha and was determined to wipe it out. And that’s all I’m going to tell you, because if you are tired of the same old fiction, you are ready for Children of Blood and Bone. One warning, though—things do not get wrapped up at the end, so you’ll probably have to read the second and third installments.

Years ago I read Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, Terry McMillan’s Waiting to Exhale, and Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress. I’ve read at least one Toni Morrison book, but I can’t remember which.

I love Maya Angelou’s poems and wisdom. I’ve read two of her autobiographies, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Gather Together in My Name. They barely get her out of her teens; I’ve got five more to go. She lived an amazing life and overcame huge odds. Did you know she was a teenaged madam? She also wanted to join the Army and qualified for Officer’s Candidate School, but that dream ended when she was accused of being a Communist. She danced professionally for a short time; then her partner reconciled with his ex and fired her.

While researching for this article, I came across many authors whose names I know but whose books I haven’t read: Octavia Butler, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Marlon James, Colson Whitehead, Jessmyn Ward, Jacqueline Woodson, Zora Neale Hurston, Ta-Nehisi Coates. Hopefully, I will read some before next Black History Month.

African-American Dancers

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There have been many great African-American dancers; I am just scratching the surface here, just mentioning the ones who most captured my attention.

Throughout my childhood, Sammy Davis, Jr. was frequently on television. As a member of the Rat Pack, he was a frequent guest on variety shows, specials, and late night talk shows.

Alvin Ailey was one of the most famous choreographers of modern dance. The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and its school express the African-American experience through dance. Here is vintage footage of one of his pieces.

Gregory and Maurice Hines grew up performing tap dance routines together in night clubs. Then they danced together in Broadway musicals, and eventually in movies such as The Cotton Club and Eubie. A generation of children remember them from appearances on Sesame Street. When Gregory passed away in 2003, Maurice continued to perform. Here he talks about their partnership:

Nobody danced like Michael Jackson (though everybody tried). I could have done without the crotch-grabbing, but I admire his precision of movement. And the magic of the moonwalk. And can anyone forget “Thriller”?

Misty Copeland has the distinction of being the first African-American principal dancer in the American Ballet Theater. The video that follows is a clip from a documentary about her life.

Creative Juice #230

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Creative Juice #230

Twelve tantalizing articles to spark your imagination this weekend.

Creative Juice #229

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Creative Juice #229

These articles will challenge your intellect while satisfying your need for beauty.

Two Historic African-American Poets

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The first ever African-American to have a book of poetry published was Phillis Wheatley. Her master submitted the manuscript to the publisher along with a letter that explained:

PHILLIS was brought from Africa to America, in the Year 1761, between seven and eight Years of Age. Without any Assistance from School Education, and by only what she was taught in the Family, she, in sixteen Months Time from her Arrival, attained the English language, to which she was an utter Stranger before, to such a degree, as to read any, the most difficult Parts of the Sacred Writings, to the great Astonishment of all who heard her.

The book’s preface states:

THE following POEMS were written originally for the Amusement of the Author, as they were the Products of her leisure Moments. She had no Intention ever to have published them; nor would they now have made their Appearance, but at the Importunity of many of her best, and most generous Friends; to whom she considers herself, as under the greatest Obligations.

Here is one of the poems from her book:

 O N  V I R T U E.

   O Thou bright jewel in my aim I strive
   To comprehend thee.  Thine own words declare
   Wisdom is higher than a fool can reach.
   I cease to wonder, and no more attempt
   Thine height t’ explore, or fathom thy profound.
   But, O my soul, sink not into despair,
   Virtue is near thee, and with gentle hand
   Would now embrace thee, hovers o’er thine head.
   Fain would the heav’n-born soul with her converse,
   Then seek, then court her for her promis’d bliss.
        Auspicious queen, thine heav’nly pinions spread,
   And lead celestial Chastity along;
   Lo! now her sacred retinue descends,
   Array’d in glory from the orbs above.
   Attend me, Virtue, thro’ my youthful years!
   O leave me not to the false joys of time!
   But guide my steps to endless life and bliss.
   Greatness, or Goodness, say what I shall call thee,
   To give me an higher appellation still,
   Teach me a better strain, a nobler lay,
   O thou, enthron’d with Cherubs in the realms of day.

After publication of her book, Phillis Wheatley’s masters emancipated her. She married, and bore three children, all of whom died in childhood. She herself died in poverty at the age of 31.

Alice Ruth Moore Dunbar Nelson was a teacher, author, and social activist. The following poem is from her first book, Violets and Other Tales, published in 1895:

Alice Ruth Moore Dunbar Nelson
 A PLAINT.

 Dear God, 'tis hard, so awful hard to lose
 The one we love, and see him go afar,
 With scarce one thought of aching hearts behind,
 Nor wistful eyes, nor outstretched yearning hands.
 Chide not, dear God, if surging thoughts arise.
 And bitter questionings of love and fate,
 But rather give my weary heart thy rest,
 And turn the sad, dark memories into sweet.
 Dear God, I fain my loved one were anear,
 But since thou will'st that happy thence he'll be,
 I send him forth, and back I'll choke the grief
 Rebellious rises in my lonely heart.
 I pray thee, God, my loved one joy to bring;
 I dare not hope that joy will be with me,
 But ah, dear God, one boon I crave of thee,
 That he shall ne'er forget his hours with me.

I learned about both of these poets through the Project Guttenberg Project, which publishes works in the public domain online so that they may be discovered by new audiences. Here are links to Phillis Wheatley’s Religious and Moral Poems and to Alice Ruth Moore Dunbar Nelson’s Violets and Other Tales.

Faith Ringgold, Multi-Faceted Artist

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Faith Ringgold, Multi-Faceted Artist

Faith Ringgold is a painter, sculptor, writer, quilter, and performance artist. She was born on October 8, 1930, in Harlem, New York, right in the midst of the Harlem Renaissance, to Andrew Louis Jones and Willi Posey Jones. Her mother was a fashion designer, and her father loved to tell stories. The home environment they created encouraged their children’s creativity. Because of asthma, Faith spent much of her childhood quietly at home, drawing, coloring, and sewing.

Her neighborhood was full of creative Black people. Duke Ellington and Langston Hughes lived around the corner. Sonny Rollins was one of her childhood friends.

She enrolled in City College of New York, planning to major in art, but in 1950, that was not an approved course of study for women; so she majored in art education instead. After graduation, she taught art in New York City public schools, painting on her own. Later, she served as a professor of art at the University of California in San Diego. Her paintings echoed the Civil Rights movement, and also the feminist movement, and coincided with her social activism. She was influenced by African art, particularly in her use of color.

Faith Ringgold; story quilt; quilt
Tar Beach 2 (1990), story quilt by Faith Ringgold. Photo by Brooklyn Museum; used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License; cropped.

After viewing an exhibit at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, she was inspired to create “story quilts” that combined painting and quilting in the African-American tradition. Her first story quilt was a collaboration with her mother.

The same trip also launched her foray into sculpture. She made masks, often extending them with bodies. Her sculptures are mostly soft sculptures, doll-like.

Photo of Faith Ringgold, taken in April, 2017 by Brooklyn Museum; used under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Ringgold has authored and/or illustrated 17 children’s books. Her books have earned her prestigious awards, such as the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award and the Coretta Scott King award for illustration. She was also a runner-up for the Caldecott Medal.

To learn more about Faith Ringgold’s life and to view high resolution images of her art, check out her website.

Creative Juice #228

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Creative Juice #228

This is an art-heavy edition.

A Black History Month Treat: The Other Mozart

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Joseph Bologne, le Chevalier de Saint-Georges

Joseph Bologne was born December 25, 1745, on the island of Guadeloupe in the West Indies. His father was a minor French noble; his mother was the African slave of his father’s wife.

His father adored the baby boy, and couldn’t help noticing his quick intellect. He wanted nothing more than for Joseph to grow up and take his place among the nobility. He even gave him a special title: le Chevalier de Saint-Georges. His early education included learning to read and write in French, riding, shooting, and playing the violin.

When Joseph was eight, his father moved him and his mother to Paris. Joseph was enrolled in an exclusive academy. He became an accomplished swordsman, virtually unbeatable at fencing. He was also an elegant dancer and very popular with the ladies.

But his greatest talent was his musicianship. He was a virtuoso violinist. The young queen, Marie Antoinette, herself a fine musician, invited him to come to Versailles and play with her. Joseph was also an acclaimed composer and a sought-after conductor. He aspired to be the director of the Paris Opera. But the three divas of the opera company complained to King Louis XVI that it was beneath them to take orders from a mulatto. The king left the position unfilled.

Eventually, Joseph became aware of the longing of the French people for a more egalitarian form of government. He sympathized with the cause of the Revolution, and became the commander of a regiment of a thousand black soldiers. After the overthrow of the monarchy and the beheading of Louis XVI, the Reign of Terror began, and the nobles’ lives were at risk—including the Chevalier’s. Joseph was imprisoned. Ultimately, he kept his head and was released.

Today Joseph Bologne, Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges, is known for the beautiful music he composed. Sadly, after his lifetime, his music fell out of favor and was not performed for almost 200 years; but in recent decades, it has been rediscovered and new audiences appreciate his genius. He is thought to be the first Black classical composer. His style is often compared to Mozart’s.