Saturday, September 3, 2011

Dear Gladys, Why did you lie to me?

Charles Hamilton Houston (9/03/1895 - 4/22/1950)
For a Law School Dean or Legal Counsel to the NAACP, painstaking attention to perfection in all details can be A Good Thing. In matters of the heart, not so much. The University of Missouri at Kansas City Law School has published a lengthy essay about Houston and his most notable case, Gaines v Canada. Included are portions of letters Houston wrote to his first wife before their marriage:
His letters to his girlfriend since his Amherst days, Gladys Moran, show him to be a no-nonsense perfectionist—and more than a bit suspicious.  Houston’s letters frequently took the form of lawyer-like interrogatories—a series of two dozen or more questions with space provided underneath each for Gladys to answer.  Typical questions concerned her activities: “How many times have you been to the theatres, what theatres, and with whom?” or “When and how often have you been late to class?”  When a letter from Gladys contained a misspelling, Houston sternly demanded that she practice the correct spelling: “You spell 'perhaps' wrongly; you spell it 'prehaps.'  Write it below correctly 25 times and never spell it wrongly again.” (Gladys dutifully completed her assignment.) On one occasion, Houston learned from a friend that Gladys had received a “D” in a class when she claimed to have received a “B.”  Houston’s wrote a terse letter, with every word underlined: “Dear Gladys, Why did you lie to me?  Charlie.”  Keeping a tidy house may not have been the first priority of Gladys, but a letter from Houston suggests that it might have been his: “And you better darned right pick up.”  (Houston’s  inquisitiveness and prickliness did not deter Gladys accepting his offer of marriage.  The two wed in August 1924.  They amicably divorced in 1937.)
Some days it's hard to get a sense of the person I'm writing about. Other days, waaaaaay TMI.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Cat Therapy

Romare Bearden didn't seem to give up, give in, or give out. 
Advice for life...
  • Do what you love.
  • Learn from gypsies.
  • Hug a cat.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Make You Wanna Holla

For two months now I've been doing the birthday bios, and most of them are cookie-cutter bland. Chronological narratives of education, accomplishments, and accolades. Nothing inflammatory. If you want the dirt on anybody, look somewhere else. I've left out assorted arrests, drug use, sex, propensity for violence, and kind of skimmed over the fact that, well, yeah, Nat Turner did kill a bunch of whitefolks. Didn't even write about Michael Jackson yesterday, since I'd already skipped two days in a row and decided to make it a three-day weekend off instead of struggling with the obvious issues.

So, here I was back today, taking notes on Roy Wilkins, thinking ho-hum, NAACP wonk, yawn, Spingarn, Presidential Medal of Freedom, oh, hey, asked to resign and accused of mismanagement of funds, well kind of interesting but not really worth notice considering the NAACP leadership has been in that kind of kerfluffle ever since. And the bios happen to be on a local NAACP website, which is obviously not the best place to go into messy details of any kind.

Paul Robeson
Then I got to the part where he collaborated with J. Edgar Hoover to discredit Paul Robeson. This is how describes the effects of the Red Scare era persecution of Robeson:
In the 1930s and 40s, this son of an escaped slave was the most famous and widely respected Afro-American man in the world, having thrilled thousands with his commanding presence and magnificent deep baritone voice on the Broadway stage and Hollywood screen. He popularised black spirituals, and became a global working class hero when he learned over twenty languages in order to sing international folk songs in their original tongue. For two decades, he was the world’s most popular concert performer. But, by the time of his death at the age of 77 from complications following a stroke, he was a forgotten and broken man. For the last twenty years of his life, Robeson suffered a series of mental breakdowns and even twice tried to kill himself. How could such a brilliant and gifted world figure have been so comprehensively destroyed?
Paul Robeson is one of the reasons I started writing about African American history.

Roy Wilkins is one of the reasons it's such an emotional challenge sometimes.

After posting Wilkins and taking a break I started on Eldridge Cleaver for tomorrow. No ho-hum there. From Panther to... Republican? Mormon Republican? Supported Reagan in 1984, after the Alzheimer's had clearly set in? I vaguely remembered Cleaver had changed course, but all that's just a little hard to take.

Another break.

Thought about Wilkins and Robeson. About Cleaver. About some of the other folks who have had birthdays lately. Carl Rowan, a corporate spokesman and board-sitter whose civil rights legacy was mostly downhill after his fifteen minutes of fame escorting Charlayne Hunter on her first day at the University of Georgia. Althea Gibson, who retired from competitive tennis because of financial reasons and had a brief career in show business, including playing John Wayne's sweetie's maid in a Civil War era western. She eventually died alone and broke.

Are those the options? Despair or denial? Either way, as Gil Scott-Heron wrote (and Marvin Gaye sang), sometimes it just makes you wanna holla and throw up both your hands.

Did I mention that I hadn't written over the weekend because I was in the middle of my sixth annual totally incapacitating "Katrina made it just too damn clear that this country doesn't care about Black people, or poor people, or maintaining a decent infrastructure for any of the people" end of the hot Texas summer meltdown?  Throw in this year's extravaganza anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which in popular history had nothing to do with jobs or freedom, and has been reduced to a couple of convenient soundbites and lots of warm fuzzy feel-goods.

Deep breath here.

Okay. I'm not going to commit suicide. I'm not going to vote for Rick Perry. I'm not even going to spend too much time dwelling on how identical those two actions are. I'm gonna sing along with Brother Gil, and then with Brother Sam, and then get back to the Minister of Information.

Lord knows we need to know about Ministers of Information these days.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


"Shame on Marvel Comics! This is not diversity; this is a disgrace! Spiderman was Peter Parker, and Peter Parker was white. Create a new character if you want to prove that Marvel Comics is “diverse”. Minorities are typically less than 18% of the population, but they seem to get nearly 100% of the history. Why should white children not have a comic book hero that they can identify with?" ~

This was one of many negative comments from USA Today listed at Bleeding Cool. Not the most offensive, not the angriest, but arguably the most ill-informed. Here are demographic stats from the 2010 census, with projections for 2050 (from Wikipedia):

U.S. Census Population projections[42]
Whites (includes "Some other race")79.5%74.0%
Non-Hispanic Whites64.7%46.3%
Hispanics/Latinos (of any race)16.0%30.2%
African Americans12.9%13.0%
Asian Americans4.6%7.8%

So, the minority population is a little over one third, with the notorious "majority minority" predicted within 40 years. Most history is white unless otherwise specified. And here's a comic book hero for white kids to identify with:

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

James Baldwin Quotes

  • Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor. 
  • Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them. 
  • I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain. 
  • I knew I was black, of course, but I also knew I was smart. I didn’t know how I would use my mind, or even if I could, but that was the only thing I had to use.
  • It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have. 
  • Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. 
  • No people come into possession of a culture without having paid a heavy price for it. 
  • People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.
  • People can cry much easier than they can change.
  • People who treat other people as less than human must not be surprised when the bread they have cast on the waters comes floating back to them, poisoned. 
  • The most dangerous creation of any society is the man who has nothing to lose. 
  • The only thing that white people have that black people need, or should want, is power-and no one holds power forever. 
  • The paradox of education is precisely this - that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated. 
  • The power of the white world is threatened whenever a black man refuses to accept the white world's definitions. 
  • The questions which one asks oneself begin, at least, to illuminate the world, and become one's key to the experience of others. 
  • The world is before you and you need not take it or leave it as it was when you came in. 
  • There are few things more dreadful than dealing with a man who knows he is going under, in his own eyes, and in the eyes of others. Nothing can help that man. What is left of that man flees from what is left of human attention. 
  • There is a "sanctity" involved with bringing a child into this world: it is better than bombing one out of it. 
  • Those who say it can't be done are usually interrupted by others doing it. 
  • To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time. 
  • You know, it's not the world that was my oppressor, because what the world does to you, if the world does it to you long enough and effectively enough, you begin to do to yourself. 
  • I knew I was black, of course, but I also knew I was smart. I didn’t know how I would use my mind, or even if I could, but that was the only thing I had to use.
Read more about James Baldwin 

Monday, August 1, 2011

Langston Hughes & Tennessee Ernie Ford

Does anybody else see the resemblance?

Peanut Butter & Pencil Sharpeners.

George Washington Carver. Even before Black History Month came about, Americans black and white knew that he invented peanut butter. Over the years we've learned about other African American inventors and scientists: Daniel Hale Williams (open heart surgery), Charles Drew (blood banks), Lewis Latimer (light bulb filament), Elijah McCoy (lubricating device known as "The Real McCoy"), Garrett Morgan (gas mask and traffic light), even John Lee Love (pencil sharpener).

We've learned about the first African Americans to do everything from being elected President of the United States to recording a surfin' guitar album (Freddie King).

So, at what point does an excellent idea to expand concepts of history shrink into an interesting trivia contest? What needs to be included in Black History, whether the length of study is a month or a lifetime? Here are some of the criteria I've found myself developing recently in choosing people to profile.

  1. Men and women whose actions directly benefitted all African Americans -- the civil rights leaders, abolitionists, and legislators who made a difference.
  2. Those who expanded knowledge of Black culture through the arts and social sciences.
  3. Outstanding leaders and pioneers in other fields who serve as role models for African American youth.
Working in a daily format, some entries might not be ones not many people are familiar with. Other days force a choice between such legends as Thurgood Marshall and Medgar Evers. The one constant is, when reading a biography, is the reaction "I've got to tell somebody about this!"