Red Summer: Text and meaning in Claude McKay’s “If We Must Die” (part 1 of 4)

The summer of 2015 marks the 96th anniversary of the publication of Harlem Renaissance poet Claude McKay’s masterful poem, “If We Must Die.” This essay is presented in commemoration of that literary milestone and in remembrance of the extraordinary Red Summer of 1919 that inspired it.

There were many good reasons to believe America had entered––or at least was about to enter––a golden era of post-racialism following the election of Barack Obama in 2008. Among them was the election of the country’s first African-American president itself, an increasingly diverse American population, and a sociopolitical landscape made more democratic (in appearance at least) by the various influences of technological innovation.

Unfortunately, none of those good noble reasons were able to withstand the onslaught of reality as the number of hate groups in the country began to increase almost immediately, even while the Black prison population and Black unemployment rates continued to do the same. In a word, the country was nowhere near “there” yet.

Red Summers of Yesterday and Today

The growing number of cities where protest demonstrations have occurred over the past few years in response to extreme uses of force by policemen against African Americans, and the very oppressive conditions under which many African Americans continue to live, is eerily similar to another riot-filled time in U.S. history. The period which might first come to mind for most people is the 1960s, a decade in which “race riots” flared up every other year in places such as Greensboro, N.C. (1960), Los Angeles (Watts), Calif. (1964), Detroit, Michigan (1967), and Baltimore (1968).

However, the historical moment which possibly resembles the current intense state of racial affairs the most is that of the period leading up to the Red Summer of 1919. As pointed out in Facts on File’s Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance:

To enjoy this complete article by Aberjhani with accompanying video please click below:

Red Summer: Text and meaning in Claude McKay’s “If We Must Die” (part 1 of 4) – National African-American Art | Examiner.com.

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Citizens of Newark Honor City and Historian Clement Alexander Price

Newark's late great official city historian Dr. Clement A. Price standing in the Newark Public Library.
                      Clement Alexander Price (photo by Nick Romanenko and Rutgers Magazine)

The celebration held at Bethany Baptist Church in Newark, NJ, on November 14, 2014, honored the city itself as much as it did the life of historian Clement Alexander Price, who passed on November 5.

“Everything he touched he made better,” said fellow historian Lonnie Bunch.

Political leaders such as Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker (D–N.J.) expressed similar observations about the great educator following his death. So did members of the community at Rutgers University where he taught, fellow associates on President Barack Obama’s Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, administrators at the Smithsonian Institute, and those at the National Endowment for the Humanities.

A Prodigiously Productive Life

Dr. Price’s exhaustive list of accomplishments includes co-founding (with the late Giles R. Wright) the Marion Thompson Wright Lecture Series in 1981, taking on the directorship of the Rutgers Institute on Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience, chairing the New Jersey State Council on the Arts from 1980 to 1983, and authoring some four books on different aspects of American and African-culture, including Freedom Not Far Distant: A Documentary History of Afro-Americans in New Jersey (1980).

Despite his own demanding schedule and prodigious output, as various speakers at his funeral service attested, Price somehow made time to accommodate requests from those who needed some fragment of his genius to lend weightier substance and dignity to their specific projects. Along those lines, he contributed a foreword to Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance (Facts on File), and an essay to the book Small Towns, Black Lives: African American Communities in Southern New Jersey (Noyes Museum of Art), both published in 2003. On behalf of the citizens of his beloved Newark, he accepted the title of City Historian near the beginning of 2014.

In an official entry into the U.S. Senate record, Sen. Booker noted Price’s capacity for giving to others as well as his dedication to Newark:

“…He served not only as our leading historian, but as a powerful spiritual force in our state’s largest city. He was invested in Newark, and – ever generous with his time – was known to arrange tours for visitors that highlighted not only the city’s rich history, but its considerable promise. Clem always recognized the vital truth that charting a brighter course for the future requires a comprehensive understanding of the past.”

NEXT: Citizens of Newark honor city and historian Clement Alexander Price part 2

by Aberjhani
author of ELEMENTAL The Power of Illuminated Love
Founder of Creative Thinkers International

Text and Meaning in Elemental the Power of Illuminated Love (part 2 of 3)

          Video cover image for the music and poem video “Angel of Better Days to Come.”

One example of ELEMENTAL, The Power of Illuminated Love’s principal themes would be the painting “Christ Listening to Stereo.” It depicts a youth on a bus in New York City. The image reveals how the youth is at once physically part of a larger setting while remaining, via his personal stereo, completely separate from it. Immersed in his interior pleasures, he claims a connection to the creative artist who made the music and who allows him to not only share in the expressed creative passion, but to utilize the same as a kind of soundtrack for his own anticipations, memories, desires, needs, or fears of the moment. 

Similar and yet very different scenes are frequently enacted in such public spaces as parks, malls, back yards, office buildings, clubs, and street corners. They all make the person part of a larger whole even while many individuals continue to exist primarily as isolated fragments of that whole. The following poem published in the book takes its title from the painting:

To continue reading the poem and full post by Aberjhani please click the link:
Text and Meaning in Elemental the Power of Illuminated Love (part 2 of 3) – National African-American Art | Examiner.com.

Text and Meaning in T.J. Reddy’s Poems in One-Part Harmony (part 1 of 4)

Cover of poet-artist T.J. Reddy's classic antiracism volume

T.J. Rdddy’s “Poems in One-Part Harmony”: A rediscovered classic by a hidden treasure of American art and literature.

“And the syndrome goes on;
this is only a poem,
wondering when to our senses
we will come home.”
––T.J. Reddy (from A Poem About A Syndrome)

Most of the more celebrated names among African-American authors, poets, and artists are known to the world because of their association with specific cultural arts movements. The recently-deceased  Amiri Baraka has been identified as a hero of both the late 1950s Beat Movement and the 1960s and 1970s Black Arts Movement. Poets such as Gwendolyn Brooks and Sterling Brown remain renowned for their link to the Harlem Renaissance.

One of the more powerful qualities of such movements is that they often inspire more creative genius than the world takes time to recognize. Or sometimes they produce creative thinkers of a type that “others” tend to fear and consequently attempt to destroy. It is possible both these scenarios may be applied to the poet, visual artist, human rights advocate, and educator known as T.J. Reddy.

A Select Catalog Listing

As a painter, Reddy’s work reflects the traditions of the Harlem Renaissance and the colors of the tropics––blazing reds, yellows, oranges and turquoise––assembled to present absorbing visual narratives on the culture and history of people of African descent. As a poet, he occupies a self-constructed space that bridges the aesthetic qualities and cultural concerns of fellow wordsmiths such as Haki Madhubuti, Etheridge Knight, and Henry Dumas. As an advocate for racial and social equality, he holds the uneasy distinction of having been one of “The Charlotte Three.”

His first book of poems, Less Than a Score But a Point, was published by no less than Random House’s Vintage Books imprint in 1974. That singular event literally placed his name in a select catalog listing beside some of literature’s most noted pens. They included those of: Langston Hughes, W.H. Auden, Albert Camus, William Faulkner, Sylvia Plath, Marcel Proust, Jean Paul Sartre, and Quincy Troupe.

To read the complete powerful story by Aberjhani please click this url:
Text and Meaning in T.J. Reddy’s Poems in One-Part Harmony (part 1 of 4) – National African-American Art | Examiner.com.

Honoring the Life and Legacy of Amiri Baraka

The Great Author Amiri Baraka (photo by Lynda Koolish)

Amiri Baraka with poems and mic in hand. (photo by Lynda Koolish)

This story was first published as part 2 of the article “Two Literary Laureates Celebrated: Herta Muller and Amiri Baraka.” It is presented now to honor the life and legacy of the great African-American literary powerhouse Amiri Baraka (Oct 7, 1934-Jan 9, 2014).

While his was not among the names short-listed for the Nobel Prize in Literature, Amiri Baraka has long been lionized for his tell-tale intellectually precise yet poetic analysis of U.S. culture and his fire-brand style of political truth-telling.

A playwright, novelist, poet, essayist, short-story writer and performance artist all wrapped into one, the Newark-born Baraka attended Rutgers and Howard Universities and is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force. He launched his writing career under the name LeRoi Jones with the 1958 play, A Good Girl is Hard to Find, produced in Montclair, New Jersey. He went on to confirm the promise evident in his early efforts with the 1961 publication of his first major collection of poetry, Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note, and the 1964 Obie-winning play Dutchman, among other published and performed works.

These early years of Baraka’s career are often described as his “Beat” period both for the influence of jazz and blues music upon his writings and because of his literary affiliation with such Beat writers as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, many of whose work he published in a literary magazine called Yugen.

Like Haki R. Madhubuti, Sonia Sanchez, Eugene Redmond, Nikki Giovanni, and a number of other African-American litterateurs still writing today, Baraka became a major voice of the 1960s Black Arts Movement that championed both the re-publication of classic works by Harlem Renaissance authors and the publication of new works by emerging black authors of the era.

To read more of the complete article by Aberjhani please click the link: Two Literary Laureates Celebrated: Herta Müller and Amiri Baraka (Part 2) – National African-American Art | Examiner.com.

New Orleans’ Bayou Maharajah arrives in Savannah (part 2 of 2)

Musical genius James Carroll Booker III at the piano. (photo Wikepedia Creative Commons Share License)
Piano virtuoso James Carroll Booker III. (photo: Wikipedia Creative Commons)

“With my ninth mind I resurrect my first and dance slow to the music of my soul made new.” ––from Visions of a Skylark Dressed in Black

While he lived, James Booker was apparently known by many titles. The tradition in African American music of taking on grand and sometimes outlandish designations stretches at least as far back as the Harlem Renaissance when Bessie Smith became known as “The Empress of the Blues” and Edward Kennedy Ellington gained fame as “The Duke.”

In addition to the name used in the title of the film, Booker has been alternately referred to as: The Piano Prince of New Orleans, The Black Liberace, The Ivory Emperor, The Black Chopin, and Little Booker. He was also known as an off-again on-again drug addict, a non-closeted gay man, and a psychologically complex individual for whom no single definition or description could ever suffice.

Interpretation of a Life

Lily Keber appears, at this point in time, to be one ideal interpreter of who and what Mr. Booker was as a son of New Orleans and as a thoroughly hidden American treasure. Like New Orleans, Keber’s hometown of Savannah in one of the American cities in which the music of jazz has its deepest roots. Her move to New Orleans in 2006 and her labors to pay homage to “The Ivory Emperor” have further extended the jazz kinship between the city and Savannah. She has, in short, added something much more than a footnote to the history of jazz in America. As the director herself put it, “It took growing up in Savannah to prepare me for moving to a city like New Orleans.”

To read the full story by Aberjhani please click the link:
New Orleans’ Bayou Maharajah arrives in Savannah (part 2 of 2) – National African-American Art | Examiner.com.

Text and Meaning in Langston Hughes’ The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain (part 1) – by Aberjhani

Harlem Renaissance author Langston Hughes typing a manuscript at his desk.
(photo credit: Everett Collection)

“We know we are beautiful. And ugly too. The tom-tom cries and the tom-tom laughs.”––Langston Hughes

Among the superstars who recently joined late-night television talk show host Arsenio Hall on the set of his newly-revived program was hip-hop pioneer and mogul Russell Simmons. In addition to expressing enthusiasm over sharing meditation with his children and exploring new film opportunities in Hollywood, Simmons spoke briefly and somewhat reservedly about a recent controversy involving artistic freedom versus social responsibility.

Without going into details about the scandal-plagued “Harriet Tubman Sex Tape” video that he posted on, and then quickly removed from, his All Def Digital YouTube channel, Simmons admitted the backlash it created prompted the only instance where he felt compelled––after being pressured by different civil rights organizations––to withdraw artistic content from public access.

After making a move that he felt demonstrated exceptional sensitivity and social awareness, Simmons was discouraged when those who had criticized the parody video failed to acknowledge his corrective actions. His response to their lack of one illustrated a dilemma with which African-American creative artists have had to grapple ever since the Harlem Renaissance. The quandary is one which forces black artists to confront the question of which is more important: freedom of expression as an artist, or social and political responsibility to one’s community as an African American?

In regard to the hip-hop artists with whom he works, and those he admires, Russell stated this in an interview with Huffington Post’s Brennan Williams:

“I would love for all the rappers to talk about civil rights, animal rights, gay rights. I would love for them all to become progressive voices… But I’ve learned to accept people as they are… I want to nurture them. I’m not going to judge them and be heavy handed. Because it’s a waste of time.”

Chatting with Arsenio Hall, Simmons did not express regret over his choice to remove the ill-conceived Tubman parody. However… 

Please click the link to read the full article by author and poet Aberjhani:

Text and Meaning in Hughes’ The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain (part 1) – National African-American Art | Examiner.com.