“In This Here Place…”

Emilio Cruz. Figurative Composition #7, 1965, oil on canvas. Smithsonian American Art Museum. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. David K. Anderson, Martha Jackson Memorial Collection, 1980.137.21

We are nearing the end of discussion of Toni Morrison’s Beloved in one of my classes. My favorite part of the novel (and perhaps the reason I love it so much) is the sermon Baby Suggs, holy delivers in the Clearing. Instead of an actual Bible verse, love is her text. To those newly loosed [one way or another] from the chains and nightmare of slavery it is a reminder of their humanity and a call to release the atrocities of the past and imagine a new reality. After exorcising their demons through dance, laughter, and tears, Baby Suggs delivers a love letter to their beautiful souls. For me, this is the most powerful part of the book:

In this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don’t love your eyes; they’d just as soon pick em out. No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it. And O my people they do not love your hands. Those they only use, tie, bind, chop off and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face ’cause they don’t love that either. You got to love it, you! And no, they ain’t in love with your mouth. Yonder, out there, they will see it broken and break it again. What you say out of it they will not heed. What you scream from it they do not hear. What you put into it to nourish your body they will snatch away and give you leavins instead. No, they don’t love your mouth. You got to love it. This is flesh I’m talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved. Feet that need to rest and to dance; backs that need support; shoulders that need arms, strong arms I’m telling you. And O my people, out yonder, hear me, they do not love your neck unnoosed and straight. So love your neck; put a hand on it, grace it, stroke it and hold it up. And all your inside parts that they’d just as soon slop for hogs, you got to love them. The dark, dark liver–love it, love it and the beat and beating heart, love that too. More than eyes or feet. More than lungs that have yet to draw free air. More than your life-holding womb and your life-giving private parts, hear me now, love your heart. For this is the prize.  –Toni Morrison, Beloved

I cannot locate a quality clip of Beah Richard’s phenomenal [understatement] performance of the second part [above] of Baby Sugg’s sermon, but here’s the first part.


About the Image: The artwork featured above is the work of Emilio Cruz, an African American artist of Cuban descent. You can see more of his work by clicking the link. It is one of the postcards in Paintings by African-Americans from the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Unbought and Unbossed | Black Women Who Ran

You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas. —Shirley Chisholm (1924-2005).

Today is President’s Day, but I’m not thinking about the dead white men who are featured on U.S. currency; I’m thinking about the Black women who ran for President of the United States.

I drafted a lengthier [not published] post on this topic four [plus] years ago when Hillary Clinton was the Democratic presidential candidate. At the time, I was annoyed because in some media circles there was almost an erasure of the women who paved the way for Clinton. She did achieve some firsts–first to win a major party nomination by winning a majority of the delegates in the Democratic Party primaries and the first to win the popular vote–but obviously Clinton was not the first woman to run for president.

Among the many women who preceded Clinton’s first bid for the presidency in 2008 were more than a few African American women: Charlene Mitchell (1968); Margaret Wright (1976); Isabel Masters (1984, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004); Lenora Fulani (1988); Monica Moorhead (1996, 2000, 2016); Joy Chavis Rocker (2000); Carolyn Moseley Braun (2004); Cynthia McKinney (2008).

Peta Lindsay (2012) and Kamala Harris (2019) followed.

Besides our current Vice President, perhaps, the most celebrated Black woman who ran for President of the United States is the “unbought and unbossed” Shirley Chisholm. Chisholm, who began her career as a teacher, became the first African American woman to be elected  to Congress. She served seven terms for her New York district. Four years into her service as Congresswoman, Chisholm became the first woman and African American to seek the nomination for President of the United States from one of the two major political parties (1972). You can read all about Chisholm’s bid for the presidency in the April 2016 Smithsonian Magazine article.

These women ran on various party tickets–the Communist Party, the People’s Party, the Green Party, Party for Socialism and Liberation, the Looking Back Party, the Workers World Party, the Independent Party, and of course, Republican and Democratic parties. Despite their diverse approaches, the platforms of these women were similar; they focused on education, social justice, and economic and racial equality.


About the Image: Like the image in last Monday’s microblog, this image is the work of artist Erin K. Robinson. It is part of a beautiful collection of postcards, Brave. Black. First. Celebrating 50 African American Women Who Changed the World, published by Clarkson/Potter Publisher, an imprint of Penguin Random House in collaboration with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.  Does the yellow and red remind you of anything? 😉

“A Valentine”

A Valentine (1906)
Priscilla Jane Thompson

Out of the depths of a heart of love,
     Out of the birth-place of sighs,
Freighted with hope and freighted with fear,
     My all in a valentine, hies.
     Oh, frail little missive
            Of delicate texture,
     Speed thee, on thy journey,
            And give her a lecture! 

Fathom her heart, that seems to me, cold,
     Trouble her bosom, as mine,
Let it be mutual, this that I crave,
     Her ‘yes’ for a valentine.
     Oh, frail little missive,
            In coy Cupid’s keeping,
     Oh! speed back a message,
            To set my pulse leaping.

Happy Valentine’s Day!


Focus on Black: Click the link and learn a bit about Priscilla Jane Thompson.

#ThursdayTreeLove | Le Flamboyant

“Le Flamboyant,” 2003, Enel Desir. Acrylic on Canvas.

Isn’t this a stunning work of art?

I pulled “Le Flamboyant,” the image above, from an old agenda that I can’t bring myself to toss because it is beautiful and educational. Though I love the rural scene depicted here, we all know I am drawn to this masterpiece because of the “flamboyant” or flame tree, which dominates this work of Haitian artist Enel Desir.

Enel Desir was born in Cavaillon, a small town in southwest Haiti, and began painting at a very young age. While attending the lycée [high school], he worked various jobs–as a photographer-reporter, a calligrapher, and an illustrator. Under the supervision of a French art teacher, Desir studied the work of such great masters as Velasquez, Renoir, and Rembrandt, which had tremendous influence on his early style.

One of his favorite subjects is the Haitian market scene, which he interprets through his colorful depictions of merchants selling flowers, and his still lifes of local fruits and vegetables. The colors Desir uses–soft green, red, orange, light blue, and yellow–enhance the appearance of the black skin of the human figures in his paintings. In 1991, the art critic Ed McCormack compared Desir with the great Mexican muralist Siqueiros. “Desir,” McCormack said, “creates sophisticated pictorials.”

Desir has participated in numerous worldwide exhibitions; his paintings have always been well received, particularly in the International Exhibition of Seville, Spain (1992) and in South Africa. Very much in demand, his works have been featured on television and in museums, books, magazines, and newspapers around the world. He was a featured artist at the Organization of American States’ exhibit in Haiti, held in Washington, DC, where he resides and paints. –from 365 Days of Black History, IOKTS Productions, published by Pomegranate.

I have had little success with finding more of Desir’s art via the internet. One brief biography of the artist pointed out that though he is a prolific artist compelled to create art, his work is scarce in the marketplace. I did manage to find one other image at the Galerie d’Art Nader of Haiti.

For actual photos of the beautiful flamboyant tree, click here.


I am joining Parul Thakur for #ThursdayTreeLove every second and fourth Thursday of the month. If you would like to play along, post a picture of a tree on your blog and link it back to her latest #treelove post.

Love of Freedom

In every human Breast, God has implanted a Principle, which we call love of Freedom; it is impatient of Oppression, and pants for Deliverance.

–18th century poet, Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784), in a letter to Native American ordained Presbyterian minister, Samson Occom (1723-1792)


About the Image: The gorgeous portrait of Phillis Wheatley is the work of artist Erin K. Robinson. It is part of a beautiful collection of postcards, Brave. Black. First. Celebrating 50 African American Women Who Changed the World, published by Clarkson/Potter Publisher, an imprint of Penguin Random House in collaboration with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. I received the collection as a gift from my hubby. Thankfully, the box includes two sets of the postcards–I send 50 out into the world and keep 50 for myself! 😉

Tired like Langston

“Langston,” Lynita Solomon. Used by Permission of the Artist

Yesterday, I read a Facebook post by a woman who denigrated Vice President Kamala Harris for no good reason. The woman asserted that Harris is not a role model and no one should have their daughters look up to her.

The post and responses were hateful and extremely disrespectful. I can’t figure out how people can stir up so much hatred for a person they don’t know just because they don’t agree with the person’s policies or positions on certain issues.

Beyond this illogic, some made lewd remarks and [like the original poster] claimed Harris did “anything” to reach the VP position. The whole thing was disturbing. And to make matters worse, the post was “liked” thousands of times and shared more than 17,000 times!

The comments played into the hypersexualized view of Black women that was written into the narrative of American history to cover the multitude of white men’s violations against Black women’s bodies and personhood. The narrative is hurtful and just as dangerous as the one that gets Black men and women shot for just breathing.

Like the speaker in Langston Hughes’s poem, I’m so tired.

Tired
Langston Hughes

I am so tired of waiting.

Aren’t you,
for the world to become good
and beautiful and kind?
Let us take a knife
and cut the world in two —
and see what worms are eating
at the rind.

About the Image: The art above is the work of graphic illustrator, Lynita “Elle” Solomon. She posted the image on Instagram in honor of the day Langston Hughes was born, 119 years ago. Lynita has an amazing way of presenting her subjects “without faces,” but we know exactly who they are anyway. You can see more of her work by clicking the image above.

For Langston | Shatter This Darkness…Into a Thousand Lights of Sun

Today would have been Langston Hughes’ 118th birthday. Some of my Hughes books are in my [work] office; others are unfortunately buried in one of my many unpacked boxes, so I didn’t have the pleasure of revisiting my precious books and slowly inhaling the pages.

Like so many other Black poets, I fell in love with Langston Hughes through the books on my older siblings’ bookshelves. I took a course focusing on Hughes in graduate school and was sorely disappointed by the instructor’s style. He was knowledgeable but not an effective facilitator. He missed Hughes’ brilliance in his focus on the “celebrity” and ambiguity of Hughes.

I accidentally shot the “abstract” photo this morning while finishing up a letter to a friend. It pairs well with the closing lines of Hughes’ poem, “As I Grew Older.”

It was a long time ago.
I have almost forgotten my dream.
But it was there then,
In front of me,
Bright like a sun—
My dream.
And then the wall rose,
Rose slowly,
Slowly,
Between me and my dream.
Rose until it touched the sky—
The wall.
Shadow.
I am black.
I lie down in the shadow.
No longer the light of my dream before me,
Above me.
Only the thick wall.
Only the shadow.
My hands!
My dark hands!
Break through the wall!
Find my dream!
Help me to shatter this darkness,
To smash this night,
To break this shadow
Into a thousand lights of sun,
Into a thousand whirling dreams
Of sun!

–Langston Hughes, “As I Grew Older”

Many read this poem and see disillusionment. The speaker of the poem dismisses the idealism and replaces it with the realization that in America his Blackness stands as a barrier to his dream. However, there is hope here too…He has “almost forgotten” the dream, but he recognizes that thick walls of racism can be breached, toppled even, by his dark hands.

Moreover…

Dark hands united with other hands can “shatter the darkness…into a thousand whirling dreams of sun.”

#ThursdayTreeLove | You’ve Got a Place Here Too

A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin, and culture is like a tree without roots. –Marcus Garvey

It rained so much during the last two weeks that my heart sang whenever the rain ceased or the sun brightened the skies–even if for only a few moments. As always, I took every opportunity to note the trees.

For some reason I was most drawn to the interaction of the trees: Trees touching. Bare trees mingling with half-dressed trees. Signs of spring and winter in one shot.

I enjoyed witnessing the elements of nature conspiring to push us toward certain awakening.

I read Nikki Giovanni’s poem, “BLK History Month,” earlier today, and I realized how often we use trees to underscore the importance of Black history and presence. And since the final #ThursdayTreeLove of the month falls on the last day of Black History Month (BHM) this year,  I’m ending with Giovanni’s poem, which uses a tree [?] analogy to challenge the argument that BHM is not needed.

“BLK History Month”
If Black History Month is not
viable then wind does not
carry the seeds and drop them
on fertile ground
rain does not
dampen the land
and encourage the seeds
to root
sun does not
warm the earth
and kiss the seedlings
and tell them plain:
You’re As Good As Anybody Else
You’ve Got A Place Here, Too
Nikki Giovanni, from Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea

I am joining Parul Thakur for #ThursdayTreeLove every second and fourth Thursday of the month. If you would like to play along, post a picture of a tree on your blog and link it back to her latest #treelove post.

Walk with Truth

Children, who made your skin white? Was it not God? Who made mine black? Was it not the same God? Am I to blame, therefore, because my skin is black? …. Does not God love colored children as well as white children? And did not the same Savior die to save the one as well as the other? –Sojourner Truth

I chuckled to myself when I realized the reason for today’s Google Doodle. Initially, I wondered why Sojourner Truth. Did the google gods discover today is her birthday? Then, it occurred to me today is the first day of Black History Month (BHM).

Why the chuckle? Because it’s predictable.

Sojourner Truth–like Martin Luther King, Jr., Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Tubman–is almost always brought up when discussing anything related to Black history.

Do I mind? Not really.

I like Sojourner Truth. I like her moxie. I love how she stood up for herself when the odds were most certainly against her. There are a lot of amazing lessons in her life.

Today, I opened class by talking briefly with my first-year students about not allowing themselves to  be so focused on the mountain in the distance that they render themselves incapable of taking the tiny day-to-day steps that make conquering the mountain achievable.

I wish I’d thought to weave some of Sojourner Truth’s life into that brief talk.

Sojourner Truth didn’t look at the mountains in front of her and freeze with fear or run in the opposite direction. She didn’t see the obstacles of her skin color, her gender, or her status as enslaved person as barriers to conquering the insurmountable. As a result, among many other “unlikely” accomplishments, she won a lawsuit against her former “owner” who sold her son into slavery after the State of New York had declared slavery illegal. And while we haven’t quite figured out whether Sojourner Truth said “Ain’t I a woman?” or “Ar’n’t I a woman?” in her famous speech at the 1851 Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, the reality is even if she never said a single word, the fact that she showed up to a party she wasn’t invited to and insisted on her Black presence and humanity says enough for me.

She literally walked the path to freedom in her own truth and with a righteous insistence on her own humanness. As long as she held on to the essential value of her personhood, no racial or gender mountain could stand in the way of her truth.


The art above is part of the “Celebrating Women” banners that were on display at The Lower Eastside Girls Club’s Celebrate Cafe in New York City when I visited several years ago. If I remember correctly, each piece of art added to the banner was created by a young woman who was involved in the Club.

If you want to know more about Sojourner Truth, click any of the links above, particularly the Google link.

Lessons in Art and Piano

Pure exhaustion made me miss my “Focus on Black” post last Friday, so I’m posting this morning to avoid the same mistake this week.

Today, I’m using children’s art to “introduce” African American artist Romare Bearden.  Even though Bearden is far from an “unknown” artist, few people know who I’m talking about when I reference his work:

Considered one of the most important American artists of the 20th century, Romare Bearden’s artwork depicted the African-American culture and experience in creative and thought provoking ways. Born in North Carolina in 1912, Bearden spent much of his career in New York City. Virtually self-taught, his early works were realistic images, often with religious themes. He later transitioned to abstract and Cubist style paintings in oil and watercolor. He is best known for his photomontage compositions made from torn images of popular magazines and assembled into visually powerful statements on African-American life.  -from Biography.com

Last year, my favorite (now retired) second grade teacher, Mrs. Crarey, introduced her students to Bearden’s work. They studied his art, noted his interest in jazz music–which influenced some of his art–learned about his collage technique and then created their own Bearden-esque masterpieces. [Click an image for a closer look]

The children used rulers, pencils, Sharpies, crayons, and markers to imitate Bearden’s collage style. As you can see, they used piano keys patterns for their borders.

I pretty much love everything Bearden created.  The Piano Lesson: Homage to Mary Lou is my favorite, probably because it was the masterpiece that inspired African American playwright August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson, one of my favorite plays.

The piece was inspired by jazz pianist Mary Lou Williams who collaborated with Bearden’s wife, Nannette, on a musical and dance composition.  If you are familiar with Henri Matisse’s The Piano Lesson and The Music Lesson, you will see his influence on the work as well.

There are two versions of the work–the original:

Romare Bearden’s  “The Piano Lesson: Homage to Mary Lou” (popularly known as “The Piano Lesson”). Watercolor, acrylic, graphite and printed paper collage on paper.

And a signed lithograph:

Romare Bearden, “The Piano Lesson,” Lithograph

For more about Bearden’s life and influences, click the links below:

The Bearden Foundation’s page features more resources such as a timeline and an impressive collection of Romare Bearden’s artwork.

Until next time…