Tonight D’Angelo and The Vanguard’s newest album, Black Messiah, was released through iTunes. If you ever needed proof of Divine timing, this is it. Black Messiah is the first album in fourteen years to be released by the R&B and soul singer. Judging by the wide ranging posts on twitter and Instagram under the hashtag #blackmessiah, D’Angelo fans and music lovers in general are more than enthusiastic and pleased with his latest project.
In the wake of all the events that have transpired in these last months of 2014, following the deaths of Michael Brown and Tamir Rice; no indictments for the police officers involved in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, this musical project is everything political, poetical, and sensual that we here on planet Earth need to hear and feel.
Black Messiah is indeed the return, no, awakening, of something great and deep within each of us – love and soul.
I’m not one of those individuals who says don’t celebrate the 4th, as a matter of fact enjoy it, get you a plate or two, spend time with family, live life BUT never, never forget the price that was paid for us to enjoy even these liberties. The first African slaves arrived in this country in 1619; the Declaration of Independence July 4,1776; slavery was not officially abolished (on paper) until 1865… You get it. So on this day I celebrate one of America’s greatest orators and freedom fighters, Frederick Douglass. This is an excerpt from his speech, “The Meaning of the Fourth of July to the American Negro” delivered in Rochester, NY on July 5, 1852 to an audience celebrating Freedom and Independence:
“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy-a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.
Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.
Americans! your republican politics, not less than your republican religion, are flagrantly inconsistent. You boast of your love of liberty, your superior civilization, and your pure Christianity, while the whole political power of the nation (as embodied in the two great political parties) is solemnly pledged to support and perpetuate the enslavement of three millions of your countrymen. You hurl your anathemas at the crowned headed tyrants of Russia and Austria and pride yourselves on your Democratic institutions, while you yourselves consent to be the mere tools and body-guards of the tyrants of Virginia and Carolina. You invite to your shores fugitives of oppression from abroad, honor them with banquets, greet them with ovations, cheer them, toast them, salute them, protect them, and pour out your money to them like water; but the fugitives from oppression in your own land you advertise, hunt, arrest, shoot, and kill.”
Vivian G. Harsh (1890-1960) was an African American librarian who believed that librarians shouldered a “deep responsibility for intellectual and civic leadership in their communities” (Anne Meis Knupfer, 61). In 1924, Vivian Gordon Harsh became the first black librarian to work for the Chicago Public Library system. In 1932, George Cleveland Hall Library opened its doors and was the first black library in Chicago’s Bronzeville community.
As its first director, Harsh’s vision for the library was to become a community gathering space and to provide educational outreach. Harsh would travel throughout the south every summer in search of books written by or about black people with a mission to build the library’s repository. She amassed the “Special Negro Collection,” which gathered the attention from many readers and researchers. As director, and with the assistance of Charlemae Rollins, Harsh organized several community programs including art exhibits, literary forums, black history clubs, drama clubs, a senior citizen’s group, and debates to name a few. Harsh served as director until her retirement in 1958. Under her leadership, the George Cleveland Hall Library became an intellectual and cultural meeting space for African Americans and the Bronzeville community throughout the 1930s and 1940s.
Knupfer, Anne Meis. The Chicago Black Renaissance and Women’s Activisim. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006.
“Storytelling is a wonderful way of breaking down barriers, or getting acquainted with new people, and drawing groups and individuals together.” -Charlemae Rollins
Charlemae Rollins (1897-1979) was a black children’s librarian, author, and storyteller. In 1927, she began working in as a children’s librarian in the Chicago Public Library system. When the George Cleveland Hall Library opened in 1932, where she worked closely with Vivian Harsh to organize the library’s collection. Rollins was appointed head of the children’s literature department and held that title until she retired in 1963. Early on Rollins coordinated a number of public programs serving Bronzeville and nearby neighborhoods including a Negro history club, book fairs, drama and poetry clubs, storytelling sessions, and “appreciation hours” that highlighted the contributions of black people to the arts and letters. Several black writers would spend time at the Hall Library from Richard Wright and Margaret Walker to Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes. Rollins was the first black librarian to serve as president of the Children’s Services Division of the American Library Association from 1957 to 1958. Outside of librarianship, Rollins taught courses at Morgan College (now Morgan State University), Fisk University, and Roosevelt University as well as authoring, co-authoring, and editing several books.
In a previous post, I discussed Melville Herskovits and his contributions to African Diaspora Studies. However, most of his contributions are celebrated within the halls of academia and the field of anthropology. Outside of academia, Julius Rosenwald, a Jewish philanthropist, businessman and former President of Sears & Roebuck, was in his time one of the most influential supporters of African American education and self-sustaining community efforts.
Like Herskovits, Rosenwald was the son of Jewish immigrants. By age 16, Rosenwald’s parents had sent him to New York City to work with his uncles as an apprentice in the clothing industry. Rosenwald was smart and innovative in his business dealings, but his timing was also perfect. He moved to Chicago to expand his clothing manufacturing business around the same time that Sears, Roebuck, and Company was looking to expand its portfolio. Rosenwald was instrumental in diversifying the Sears Company by offering other products, earning nearly 50 million in profits initially.
Having acquired that level of financial success during the Progressive Era (1890-1920), he established the Rosenwald Fund in 1917 as a means to contribute his millions to worthy causes and live by his slogan, “Give While You Live.” Although many Americans benefited from Rosenwald’s philanthropic pursuits, African Americans benefited especially from his generosity. In his lifetime and after his death, the Rosenwald Foundation contributed “over $70 million to public schools, colleges and universities, museums, Jewish charities, and black institutions before funds were completely depleted in 1948 (wiki).”
Here are 8 ways that Rosenwald supported philanthropic causes on behalf of African Americans:
Aschenbrenner, Joyce. Katherine Dunham: Dancing A Life. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2002.
Bone, Robert and Richard Courage. The Muse in Bronzeville: African American Creative Expression in Chicago, 1932-1950. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2011.
Boyd, Valerie. Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston. New York: Scribner, 2003.
Knupfer, Anne Meis. The Chicago Black Renaissance and Women’s Activisim. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006.
Melville J. Herskovits was an American Anthropologist whose pioneering research solidified the field of African and African American Studies within American academia. Born in Bellefontaine, Ohio in 1895, Herskovits was the son of Jewish immigrants and grew up in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas. In 1920, he earned his undergraduate degree in history from the University of Chicago. He went on to earn both the M.A. and Ph.D. in Anthropology from Columbia University, where he studied under the direction of Franz Boas, known as the “Father of Anthropology.”
Much of Herskovits’ extensive career as a scholar, anthropologist, and professor focused on the study of people throughout the African Diaspora, particularly the power dynamics in Africa, theories of cultural relativity, and the ways in which African culture and traditions had survived among black people in America. Between 1920 and 1924, he lectured Columbia and in 1925 was appointed Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Howard University. Through his academic and professional circles, he met and befriended several people, including Ralph Bunche and E. Franklin Frazier.
For Herskovits, race was not a biological concept, but a sociological construct. Although he published extensively, his most groundbreaking work was, The Myth of the Negro Past (1941). This text rejected the pervading ideology of the period that black culture was pathological and that black people had lost all aspects of their past when they were taken out of Africa and brought to America. Additionally, he supported Civil Rights and advocated for African independence from European control.
Some of his fieldwork included Ghana, Nigeria, Benin, Haiti, Trinidad, Brazil, and Suriname, co-authoring several articles and two books with his wife, Frances Herskovits. In 1938, he established the first Anthropology Department at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. While at Northwestern, he established the African Studies Program and became its first director in 1948 and in 1961 was appointed Chair of African Studies, the first such position in the United States.
His work was also influential to the academy and he taught or trained several black anthropologists, including Katherine Dunham who was a student at the University of Chicago and conducted fieldwork throughout the Caribbean in the 1930s. The Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies at Northwestern University is considered the largest African diaspora collections in existence.
Influential Jewish Americans Who Influenced Black History
Black librarians, archivists, museum professionals (museum/gallery founders, curators, and collectors), and community members have always played a critical role in documenting and shaping our understanding of black history and culture in America and worldwide. Laboring in love, these individuals were committed to researching, collecting, processing, cataloging, creating finding aids, conserving, interpreting, distributing, and exhibiting the “stuff” of our history. Yes, alladat!
Fortunately, my grad school experiences exposed me to the various dynamics of the historical process, allowing me to experience firsthand the relationship between historians, libraries, and archives. In my own journey, the library and archives are not only a safe haven for thought, but the foundation of the research process. Historians, especially, often rely on libraries and archives for primary source materials. Unfortunately, I realize that many of our historical culture keepers, or griots, are often overshadowed by more prominent figures and movements.
Studying Katherine Dunham and her early years in Chicago, gave me the opportunity to become acquainted with other pioneering women like Vivian G. Harsh, Charlemae Rollins, and Margaret T. Burroughs, among others. However, these core women were actively engaged in research, writing, institution building, documenting and managing collections. In the process, I learned more about myself, but also about black women’s role in community development and in shaping black intellectual culture.
“The American Negro must remake his past in order to make his future…History must restore what slavery took away.” – Arthur Schomburg
Arturo Alfonso Schomburg or Arthur Schomburg (1874-1938) was a Puerto Rican historian, writer, activist, bibliophile, and collector who immigrated to New York in 1891, and settled in Harlem. Although Carter G. Woodson is most often recognized as the “Father of Black History,” in some circles, that reference is also bestowed upon Schomburg, though most of his acclaim is attributed to his extensive collection of books and artifacts.
One of Schomburg’s earliest childhood memories was of a teacher telling him that black people had no history or record of achievements. In the United States, he often experienced the same racial discrimination as African Americans and began referring to himself as “Afroborinqueño” or Afro-Puerto Rican. These events only motivated him to continue documenting and collecting as much as he could about the history of black people worldwide.
In New York, he taught Spanish, supported his family through various positions, and advocated for Cuba and Puerto Rico’s independence from Spain as a member of the Revolutionary Committee for Puerto Rico. It was also during this time that he began to research and write about Caribbean and African American history. In 1911, he co-founded the Negro Society for Historical Research with John Edward Bruce, one of the earliest historical societies to promote African American history. Such an endeavor brought together a cadre of African, West Indian and African American scholars.
Schomburg was an active figure in the Harlem Renaissance movement of the 1920s. Two of his most notable works include A Bibliographical Checklist of American Negro Poetry published in 1916 and his essay “The Negro Digs Up His Past,” first published in the March 1925 issue of the Survey Graphic, which focused on the intellectual life of Harlem. His essay also appeared in Alain Locke’s seminal anthology of essays, fiction, and poetry, The New Negro: An Interpretation (1925).
The energy of the Harlem Renaissance was instrumental in creating opportunities for black professionals and black research collections. Not only was there a demand for books about or written by black writers, there was a demand for professionally trained black librarians and much interest in Schomburg’s personal collection. Schomburg, too, had a joint interest in making his personal collection available to the public, but keeping it in Harlem.
In 1926, the New York Public Library purchased about 5,000 objects from Schomburg’s vast collection of literature, art and cultural materials related to people of African descent. Subsequently, he was appointed curator of the Schomburg Collection of Negro Literature and Art, which was renamed the Arthur Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, in his honor. During the academic year 1931-1932, Schomburg served as Curator of the Negro Collection at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, assisting in their acquisition and development of collection materials. He later traveled to Cuba, where he met Cuban writers and artists, and acquired more materials for his research and collection.
Today, the Schomburg Center continues to be recognized as one of the most important repositories in the United States, wholly devoted to people of African descent worldwide and continues to be an important cultural force within the Harlem community.
Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history. -Carter G. Woodson
Woodson’s lifelong career as historian, author, and journalist demonstrates the ways in which he was committed to reclaiming and reaffirming the African past through research, training, curriculum development, and publications. Woodson was among the first group of black social scientists at the University of Chicago, where he earned his master’s degree in 1908 and was the second African American to receive a doctorate degree from Harvard University in 1912. Thus, his training and career speaks to not only the ways in which he challenged previous historical scholarship by re-educating black people about their past, but the ways in which he professionalized the discipline of black historical studies altogether.
On September 9, 1915, Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Literature and History (now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History) and the Journal of Negro History in 1916 (now Journal of African American History)–both dedicated to the documentation, research, preservation, and dissemination of history about black people throughout the African Diaspora. Woodson would spend much of his time and personal earnings to ensure the successful continuation of the academic journal and organization.
His seminal work, The Mis-Education of the Negro, was published in 1933 and is still widely read today. In 1926, Woodson established Negro History Week, originally to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. It was later extended to Black History Month in 1976 and today is celebrated nationally and internationally.
In 2008, I began performing spoken word, but when I started grad school in 2010 and began working with our Black Studies Program at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville. I soon realized I was a spoken word poet who knew very little about the Black Arts Movement and its writers. I was an extension of a tradition and quite disconnected from it. I knew of Nikki Giovanni, and other poets like Gwendolyn Brooks and Maya Angelou, but not in the revolutionary, black arts renaissance context of the 1960s and 70s.
My prior experience working as grad assistant with Black Studies changed that. This was true poetry in motion. I had the unique experience of witnessing African American poetry and mixed media unfold for students of all ages and backgrounds in creative and intellectually engaging ways.
It was an amazing time. In one year, I went from reading and learning to meeting and dining with my literary and cultural heroes- from Nikki Giovanni, to Sonia Sanchez, to Haki Madhubuti, Eugene B. Redmond. I also had a brief opportunity to meet Amiri Baraka and hear him speak as well at a Kwanzaa celebration in St. Louis.
It may surprise some, but Amiri Baraka’s “Rhythm Blues” was often a favorite among our younger program participants (5th and 6th grades) and today I’m reminded of the indelible legacy that he’s left us in words, rhyme, rhythm, and spirit.
I know your spirit lives on through poem and song.
as your words. your rhymes. your rhythm.
jazz rhythm. funk rhythm. love rhythm. blues rhythm.
you co-wrote the soul of rhythm. blues. people.
you had a blues all your own.
a lifetime expressed over one long bluenote
Architect of the Black Arts Movement
you set pages afire
by a mouthpiece so sinister
still leaves some folks afraid to administer you the title of cultural hero
Name: Danielle N. Hall
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Hometown: Saint Louis, MO
Favorite Book: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Top Five: Nas, Tupac, Jay Z, Andre 3000, Ice Cube