Message to My Subscribers & Visitors

Dear Subscribers:

I’m on a brief hiatus from my blog because I haven’t had sufficient time to maintain it.  I will continue it later this week. Please check back. Thanks for visiting.

Paul Robeson: An Extraordinary Man Part 1

Paul Robeson was a phenomenal man. His accomplishments seem to defy human possibility in any era, but particularly during a time when the USA was a rabidly racist country.  He was an outstanding scholar, athlete, actor, singer, freedom fighter and international people’s champion.

Robeson was a citizen of the world who not only fought for the rights of Blacks in America, but for the working-class throughout the globe including the Soviet Union and China.  He also forged close alliances with various trade unions, Welsh and Canadian miners and other groups.  The fact that he spoke more than 20 languages, including Russian, Chinese, Arabic, Yiddish, German and several African languages, made him more effective.  Robeson was also very well-versed in world culture.

He was born in Princeton, New Jersey on April 9, 1898. His father was an escaped slave who graduated from college and became a minister, and his mother was a Quaker school teacher who died when he was young.

Robeson was a bright student who entered Rutgers University in 1915.  He was an outstanding athlete, a member of Phi Beta Kappa and in 1919 the class valedictorian.

In 1921 Robeson married Eslanda Goode. That same year he played for the Akron Pros, an integrated NFL team coached by Fritz Pollard, the NFL’s first Black coach. He ended his career in 1922 and a few months later graduated from Columbia University Law School. Sadly, his law career was derailed by racism.

In 1924 he appeared in Eugene O’Neill’s “All God’s Chillin,” a controversial play that paired his character with a white wife who kisses his hand.  The KKK threatened to kill him because of this.  In 1925 Robeson performed in “Showboat” in London.  “Ole Man River” would become his signature song.

In 1930 Robeson performed Shakespeare’s Othello on the London stage and received 20 curtain calls on opening night. He was invited to perform at Buckingham Place.

In addition to being a Broadway star, Robeson was an international celebrity who enjoyed an illustrious film and stage career that spanned decades.  His performances also include: “Shuffle Along,” “The Emperor Jones,” “Song of Freedom,” Oscar Michaeaux’s “Body and Soul,” and “King Solomon’s Mines.”

In 1937 he founded the Council on African Affairs, an organization that supported anti-colonial movements.  During the Spanish Civil War that same year, he brought about a cease-fire for several hours when both sides stopped to listen to him sing from the front lines in Madrid.

Robeson led a Black delegation before the Baseball Commission in 1943 to petition for the removal of racial barriers in pro baseball. This led to the hiring of Jackie Robinson.

In 1946 he and Albert Einstein co-chaired the 100 Day Crusade to End Lynching, and in 1951 Robeson presented a petition to the UN charging the US with Black genocide.

The Movie Barbershop and the Black Image

Last week I wrote about Rosa Parks and some aspects of her activism that many people were probably unaware of.  Although I had planned to write about Paul Robeson that same week, I instead devoted two posts to Mrs. Parks because a stamp was issued in her honor last Monday on what would have been her 100th birthday.

Today I would still like to mention Mrs. Parks, but only briefly, within the context of the film “Barbershop.”  There’s a scene in this movie where about 14 people, including barbers and customers, are in a Black barbershop talking about civil rights. One of the older Black barbers, Eddie, says that Rosa Parks didn’t do anything “but sit her Black ass down” because she was tired. Eddie tells the group that she “dam sure wasn’t special” because a lot of folks had done that prior to her and were also jailed.  He says the thing that sets Rosa apart was the fact she was an NAACP secretary who knew Dr. King.  Eddie tells his listeners that Blacks need to stop lying about Rosa Parks.

Comedy or not, it was disturbing to see this movie carve out time to denigrate and diminish Mrs. Parks, and it was distressing to witness how the film portrayed Black women in general. “Barbershop” devotes considerable time to Black women being angry or strictly sex objects, and scant screen time to men treating them tenderly.  Time is alloted, however, for heterosexual men to interact tenderly with each other. Here are some examples of how Blacks are portrayed:

A Black man (Calvin) starts to leave home.  He does not kiss or even touch his pregnant Black wife (Jennifer) so she motions him over and kisses him.  I believe he briefly touches her face but he mostly keeps his hands at his side although he does smile and kiss her belly. She initiates the physical contact.

A young man gets his hair cut at Calvin’s barbershop and stiffs him, but he returns later to pay his bill.  He tells Calvin he got a job that will allow him to provide for his baby girl.  Calvin refuses to take the money and he touches the young man’s shoulder, lightly punches his chest, straightens the young man’s tie in a fatherly manner and smiles.

Calvin and Jennifer are sitting on the couch and she’s drinking hot tea.  They converse. He neither smiles at her nor touches her and when he exits the house he doesn’t kiss her goodbye.

Calvin bails his friend Ricky out of prison. Calvin smiles at him and they embrace and slap hands.

A white man drives up to the barbershop with his Black girlfriend.  They exit the vehicle, he passionately kisses her goodbye, grabs her butt and lodges his finger in the crack of her rear end.

A shapely Black woman enters the shop to pick up her young son. She bends over and all eyes are on her butt.

Terry goes to the home of her boyfriend Kevin and she discovers a woman under his bed. Terry becomes enraged.

Kevin goes to the shop to talk to Terry.  She breaks up with him.  He tells her she “ain’t even all that fine.  You’re just average.”   He says he was just with her because she was good in bed.  She pushes him in the face a few times and when she turns to leave he attempts to slug her but a man socks him.

A black woman takes a bat to what she thinks is her man’s car and she knocks out all of the windows and bashes his car in.

A man leaves a card and flowers at Terry’s locker.  They talk for about a minute in private.  She tells him the card made her feel “all gentle.”  They exchange smiles but don’t enter into a relationship.

There are at least seven Black women who make an appearance in this film and at least 12 men.  Given those odds, one would think there would be at least one decent Black love relationship where the couple affectionately interact.  Too many screenwriters employ a Black-male Black-female issue formula and a Black bro-mance formula. This film is no exception.

New Post Info

I didn’t have time to write a second post on Friday and I started taking weekends off. Pls look for my new post later today. Thanks.

Another Side of Rosa Parks Part 2

I posted Part 2 late Thursday or early Friday so it has a Friday date.  I will be submitting a second post later tonight on Feb 8.  Also, I made a slight change to Part 1 beginning with the words “In 1944….”

Mrs. Parks, Nixon and other activists formed the Alabama Committee for Equal Justice for Mrs. Recy Taylor.  The Chicago Defender called this the strongest campaign mounted for equal justice in ten years.  The Recy Taylor case  was national news and activists and the Black press throughout the country were involved.

The outcome of the first trial was a forgone conclusion since none of the rapists were ever arrested and there was a racist all-white male jury.  The case was dismissed.  Shortly afterwards Mrs. Taylor received death threats and then white supremacists firebombed her home.  Mrs. Taylor, her husband and child went to live with Mrs. Taylor’s father and her siblings.

After much pressure from the Black community at-large, the case went before a second all white male Grand Jury.   Some of the assailants admitted they raped Mrs. Taylor but none were indicted and the case was dismissed.

The Black community was shocked and outraged a second time.  Although the outcome was devastating, this campaign was so well-organized it helped launch future successful civil rights efforts.  The Montgomery Bus Boycott being one of them, thanks in large part to Mrs. Parks.

Rosa Parks passed away on October 24, 2005 at her home in Detroit, Michigan. She was the first woman to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda, the first American non-government official and the second Black person to have this honor bestowed on her since its inception in 1852.

Another Side of Rosa Parks Part 1

I heard a group of Black teenagers talking about Rosa Parks one day.  Most of the teens said they wouldn’t have put up with sitting in the back of the bus. They didn’t understand the racist climate of the times and that Mrs. Parks’ act of defiance could have resulted in her being brutally beat or even killed.  The teens weren’t aware that bus drivers had police powers and that they carried guns and/or black jacks and that drivers were known to brutally assault and even murder Blacks who violated Jim Crow laws or were seen as “troublemakers.” The teens didn’t fully appreciate just how brave Mrs. Parks had been because on its face she performed a very simple act.

Rosa Parks’ name brings to mind an image of a quiet, be-speckled seamstress who refused to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in 1955.  What many people don’t know about Mrs. Parks, however, is that she had been involved in civil rights for decades before the bus incident.  She was a longtime member of the NAACP at a time when signing up with that organization could get a person fired from their jobs, harassed, brutalized or even killed by whites.

White men had raped Black women regularly and with impunity for hundreds of years in America, particularly in the South, and some of the rapists were policemen.  These crimes were still being committed in the 1940s when Mrs. Parks was working for the NAACP.  She traveled through the South interviewing Black rape victims in the hopes these women might one day receive justice.  It took a lot of courage for her to drive alone to the victims homes, especially because local authorities knew she was retrieving information that could potentially imprison white men.  If Rosa stayed in town too long, authorities would run her out.  She could have been brutalized, raped or killed on any visit.

In 1944, Recy Taylor, a Black wife and mother from Abbeville, Alabama, was kidnapped and brutally gang raped by six white men.  At the time of her abduction, she was walking home from church with her friend Fannie Daniel and Fannie’s teenage son, West. Daniels is the one who initially reported this horrific crime to the police and then Recy came forward.  Both women displayed great courage in an era when whites terrorized and even killed Blacks who reported them to police.  In addition to that, many white police were racist towards Blacks. Ms. Daniels could identify the car and she knew the driver’s name, yet the police refused to arrest the rapists. The Black community was outraged and the Montgomery branch of the NAACP got involved. They told Recy they would send their best investigator, Rosa Parks.

Rosa worked with chapter president E.D. Nixon and others to build a case against the rapists.  Nixon was criticized for a more aggressive approach to securing justice but Rosa was on board.  After all, she grew up watching her grandfather sit in his home with a rifle on his lap to ward off the Klan, and she was the wife of Raymond Parks, a gun-toting activist who helped raise money for the Scottsborro Boys in the 1930s.

Lesser-Known Black History Facts

Harriet Tubman  was still a slave when she married her husband John Tubman, “a free” man, in 1844.  She fled a plantation in Maryland and escaped to Philadelphia via the Underground in 1849.  It was a grueling 90 mile journey.  Harriet said she felt like she was “in Heaven” when she entered Pennsylvania. Despite this feeling, she returned South many times to rescue other slaves from bondage.  Harriet met John Brown in 1958.  When he started recruiting people for the attack on Harper’s Ferry he consulted her.  After Brown was killed she hailed him as a martyr.

Leroy W. Homer, Jr. was a 36-year-old first officer of United Airlines. He was also the co-pilot on Flight 93 on September 11, 2001 when terrorists hijacked this plane that later crashed in a field outside of Shanksville, PA.  The movie “United 93” recreates this tragedy and compounds it by portraying Homer as a white man when in fact Homer was a Black man married to a Black woman and the father of a young girl.

In 1968 Shirley Chisholm became the first Black U.S. Congresswoman.  She represented New York State for seven terms and in 1972 she made a bid for the US presidency.   She survived three assassination attempts while campaigning.  Shirley was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus and a longtime champion of educational opportunities for inner-city children.  In 1972 she visited her rival George Wallace in the hospital after he was shot while campaigning for U. S. president.  Years later when she worked on a domestic worker minimum wage bill, Wallace helped to get enough votes from Southern congressman to push the bill through the House.

Harry Belafonte, actor/singer/producer/longtime human rights activist was awarded an NAACP Image Award last month. In the 1980s he came up with the idea of bringing celebrities together to sing a song to raise funds for famine relief in Africa.  “We Are The World,” written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie, was born and became an international hit that raised more than $20 million for famine relief.  Harry’s activism included serving as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, speaking out against apartheid in South Africa and against U.S. military intervention in Iraq, etc.

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