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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.

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 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.

The African Company: An 1821 Black Shakespearean Theater Co.

William Henry Brown was a Black man born in the West Indies.   He resided in New York City in the early 1800s and served as a steward on ships that travelled between England, New York and the Caribbean.  He was a “free” man.  Slavery ended in New York in the late 1820s but “free Blacks” were still brutalized and terrorized by whites, and Blacks were still prohibited from attending public schools, voting, traveling freely between states, etc.  In part, as a result of this, Blacks established their own businesses and institutions.

In 1816 Brown resigned from his job on a Liverpool liner and bought a house in Manhattan on Thompson Street.  He started holding soirees in his tea garden backyard where he provided various forms of entertainment (music ensembles, singers, poetry readings or dramatic works) and food and drink as well.  These events were such a big hit that people traveled from all over NY to attend. A theater company grew out these tea garden performances.

Brown moved to a larger home on Mercer Street in 1821 and built a 300-seat theater on the second floor of his home.  Brown hired Blacks to perform mostly Shakespearean plays for Black audiences.  “Richard III” and “Othello” were the most popular.  James Hewett and Ira Aldridge who was a teen at the time, were the principal actors.  The latter went on to achieve international acclaim after moving to Europe where he was a stage actor for more than 40 years.  I’ believe the group was originally The African Grove Company and at some point became The African Company.

Brown wrote “King Shotaway,” a drama about the 1796 Black Carib War against English and French settlers.  It was performed in 1823.  It’s believed to be the first Black play written and produced in America.

The African Company productions were also attended by whites although they were restricted to sitting in the back of the theater.  The more popular the company became, the greater a threat it posed to the larger white theaters.  As a result of its success and racial tensions in general, the Black company was forced to move to new locations more than a few times.

The white owner of the Park Theater (Stephen Price) had hired a famous British actor to star in Shakespeare’s “Richard III.” Around the same time it was scheduled to open, Brown rented a hall next door to mount The African Company’s production of that same play and it opened on the same night as the Park Theater’s production. Stephen Price paid whites to stage a riot during The African Company’s performance and the police shut them down.

Although it’s not conclusively known why the company folded, some reports say it may have been due to Brown declaring bankruptcy and others says the company folded because the last theater that housed the company mysteriously burned down in 1926. There are no records about this company after 1923.

Dr. Carter G. Woodson Father of Black History

Dear Subscribers,

I will add a new blog post on Monday, Feb 4.  I decided not to do a part II to my post on rappers because the lyrics and misogyny are too punishing to my soul. Next week I will devote a post to the extraordinary Paul Robeson.

Dr. Carter G. Woodson, “Father of Black History,” is the son of former slaves, Anna Elizabeth and James Henry Woodson.  Woodson was born in 1875 in New Canton, Virginia and started working on a farm at an early age to help his father support their large family.  His schooling suffered for many years because of this, but he was determined to get an education so at age 20 he entered high school in Huntington, West Virginia.  He earned his diploma in less than two years and then five years later he returned to Douglass High School and became the principal.

Dr. Woodson later received a bachelor’s degree in literature from Berea College in Kentucky.  He studied at the Sorbonne in Paris, France  and in 1908 received a M.A. from the University of Chicago.  In 1912 he received a Ph.D. in history from Harvard University.

In 1915 Dr. Woodson and a group of friends founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History.  It was an organization established to recognize and preserve Black contributions to America.  ASNLH was initially housed in Chicago and a year later gave birth to the “Journal of Negro History.”   In February of 1926 Dr. Woodson established Negro History Week.  He selected February because it’s the month of Abe Lincoln and Frederick Douglass’ birth.  Dr. Woodson hoped a time would come when Negro history would be included in American history and that there wouldn’t be a need for Negro History Week.

Dr. Carter G. Woodson,  was a scholar, journalist, historian, etc. who wrote several books about Black history. Here are some of the titles:

The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861: A History of the Education of the Colored People of the US from the Beginning of Slavery to the Civil War. Published 1915

The Mis-Education of the Negro.  1933

A Century of Negro Migration.  1918

The Rural Negro.  1930

Negro Makers of History.   1928

Negro Orators and their Orations.   1926

Free Negro Heads of Families the US in 1830:  Together with Brief Treatment of the Free Negro.   1925

The History of the Negro Church.   1921