African American Short Stories: Racial Justice, healing and escapism

A photo of Zora Neale Hurston From Carl Van Vechten Photographs collection of the Library of Congress.
From Carl Van Vechten Photographs collection of the Library of Congress.

May was national short story month. I was going to publish a short story that I wrote, but I decided against it because it wasn’t ready. Therefore, I am sharing some short story recommendations by African American authors. All of this work is very timely, given the current state of racial injustice that we are facing. If you feel like escaping from reality for a while or understanding the history of Black people in America and around the world a bit better or pondering about the future of Black people, I recommend these stories.

  • How Long Till’ Black Future Month by NK Jemisin: This is a collection of short stories about black life that is mostly set in the future. Some of the short stories seem to have a theme of climate change. I am currently trying to explore the science fiction genre more. I am reading Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. I recommend this book to anyone who wants a different take on African American literature. My 2020 book list mentioned this book.
  • What It Means When A Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah: This is a compilation of short stories about Black people. The theme of motherhood is prevalent throughout the book. My favorite short story in the book is called “Windfalls.” It’s somewhat comical, but sad at the same time. It involves a mother who is constantly looking for quick, easy, and sometimes manipulative ways to make money. She involves her daughter in many schemes. In the end, one of her schemes backfires.
  • Great Short Stories by African American Writers: This is a compilation of classic African American short stories by authors, such as Paul Laurence Dunbar, Jessie Fauset and Zora Neale Hurston

Life for African Americans in the Roaring Twenties

Here we are in the 20s again, not the roaring 20s, but the 2020s. Have you ever wondered how life was different for African Americans in the 1920s?

If you were an African-American in the 1920s, you might have ridden on the back of the bus and in the colored car of the train, but you also might have danced to the Charleston, listened to poets like Langston Hughes in Harlem or heard Bessie Smith sing at a Speakeasy.

Three African American Harlem Women Dressed in the 1920s fashion. Photo credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Three_Harlem_Women,_ca._1925.png

The 1920s:

  1. Politics:
    • Jim Crow laws kept African Americans segregated from other Americans. These laws were largely enforced throughout the south and in some border states, such as Maryland and even in some western states. Learn more here and here.
    • The 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote was passed on August 18, 1920. African American men technically were given the right to vote through the 15th amendment, but, both black men and black women were routinely denied the right to vote throughout the south through policies that were designed to suppress the black vote. The KKK and other racial terror groups sometimes threatened African Americans who tried to register to vote.
    • In 1927, advocates argued against a policy in Texas, which aimed to keep African Americans from voting in the primary elections. This case became known as Nixon v. Herndon and was struck down by the supreme court.
    • Even though Black women, like Ida Wells, had demonstrated leadership in the suffrage movement, many African American women did not benefit from the passage of the 19th amendment in the same way as white women. Learn more here.A map of the great migration patterns of African Americans from 1910 to 1940 and 1940 to 1970. The map shows city populations in the North increasing during this time. Photo credit: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1c/GreatMigration1910to1970-UrbanPopulation.png
    • The Great Migration: After WWI, African Americans faced an upsurge in racial violence and terror. Many African American WWI veterans faced harassment and, in some cases, lynch mobs. This violence spurred many African Americans to begin to move to the Northern states where they could escape the Jim Crow segregationist policies of the south and begin life anew. This time period from 1920 to 1940 became known as the First Wave of the Great Migration. Learn more here.
    • African Americans and white allies advocated for an end to the lynching in the south and in 1922, the US House of Representatives passed an anti-lynching bill, but the bill failed in the senate. President Harding condemned the lynching of African Americans in the south in 1920. Learn more here.
    • In 1923, a Senator from Mississippi worked with the United Daughters of the Confederacy to commission a statue of a black “Mammy,” figure which would sit on the National Mall. While African Americans were dying in the South from lynching mobs, the fictional Mammy was being promoted in Washington, DC. Thankfully, this statue did not come to fruition.
  • Food and Drink: African American cuisine is influenced by Western and Central African, American and European cuisine. African American cuisine is often referred to as soul food. Foods such as beans, yams, poultry, black-eyed peas, fish and seafood, greens, seasonings, peanuts, and seeds were commonly eaten in western and central African cultures.
    • During the middle passage, some African Americans brought their culinary traditions with them and some even snuck seeds or beans (like black-eyed peas) aboard the slave ships. African American dishes like gumbo and black-eyed peas originate in western and central African cuisine. During the 1920s when African Americans traveled to the North, they often brought their traditional southern foods with them on their journey. These dishes, which had largely been consumed in the south became more widespread. Learn more here and here.
  • Prohibition: During the 1920s, alcohol was illegal. Like many other Americans, African Americans attended speakeasies, dances, and clubs that secretly sold alcohol. In cities like Harlem, speakeasies often included entertainment from African American jazz artists, dancers, and poets. Learn more here and here.
  • Entertainers

Bessie Smith

Ma Rainey

Josephine Baker

Louis Armstrong

Paul Robeson

African American Flappers

  1. Culture:
  • Carter G Woodson publicized the first Negro History week in 1926. This was a precursor to Black History Month.
  • Quicksand, which tells the story of a mixed-race Black woman was published by Nella Larsen.
  • In 1926, Langston Hughes’s book of poetry, The Weary Blues was published.
  • The Charleston music and dance was popularized by the African American composer James P Johnson and often played in the clubs of Harlem and speakeasies across the country.
  • “Shuffle Along,” which was created by Eubie Blake and Noble Sissy was shown on Broadway in 1921.
  • The movie “Hallelujah,” starring Nina Mae Mckinney debuted.

The real miracle of the 1920s was that despite the terror that African Americans faced, they continued to build a culture through the arts, culinary traditions and to advance justice for everyone. Learn more about African Americans in the 1920s here and here.

More References:

#NationalPoetryMonth: Jessie R. Fauset

A photo of a poem by Jessie Fauset, title is "There is confusion" Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/02/Thereisconfusioncropped.jpg

April is National Poetry Month. April is almost over, but better late than never. I thought that I’d share a poem by Jessie Redmond Fauset.

Harlem Renaissance writer, Jessie Redmond Fauset was a journalist, novelist, poet and civil rights advocate. She worked for the Crisis, which was an NAACP paper (founded by Dubois). The focus of many of her works was changing the perception of Black professionals. She brought the Black middle class into the limelight through her work during a time when Black people were routinely portrayed through a stereotypical lens. She pushed the Uncle Tom, Mammy and Aunt Jemima stereotypes aside and brought a more realistic, diverse portrayal of the Black middle class to life.

It makes sense that Fauset aimed to portray Black people in a more diverse, dignified light when you consider her background. Fauset was born April 27, 1882, in New Jersey and attended Philadelphia Highschool for Girls. She graduated as a valedictorian, possibly the first Black valedictorian. When she got older, she wanted to attend Bryn Mawr College, but they were so against accepting African-Americans that they were willing to pay for Fauset to attend another school of her choice. She chose to attend Cornell and graduated in 1905 with a degree in Classical Languages. Later, she earned her Masters in French from the University of Pennsylvania.

She became a teacher in the segregated Dunbar school in Washington, DC, where she taught French/Latin. Fauset also spoke and taught French in Washington, DC and New York City and spent her summers studying at the renowned La Sorbonne in France.

She wrote four novels, represented the NAACP at the Pan African conference and co-authored the Black children’s literary magazine, The Brownies Book. 

She mentored Langston Hughes, the famous African-American Harlem poet and may have taught James Baldwin.

She was an honorary member of Delta Sigma Theta.

Fauset married to Herbert Harris, at the age of 47, and died on April 30, 1961.

Without further ado, enjoy this poem by Jessie Fauset-

La Vie C’est la Vie

On summer afternoons, I sit

Quiescent by you in the park,

And idly watch the sunbeams gild

And tint the ash-trees' bark

Or else I watch the squirrels frisk

And chaffer in the grassy lane;

And all the while I mark you voice

Breaking with love and pain.

I know a woman who would give

Her chance of heaven to take my place;

To see the love-light in your eyes,

The love-glow on your face!

And there's a man whose lightest word

Can set my chilly blood afire;

Fulfillment of his least behest

Defines my life's desire.

But he will none of me,

Nor I Of you.

Nor you of her.

'Tis said

The world is full of jests like these.

I wish that I were dead.

To me, this poem speaks of love desired, but not realized. Perhaps the woman is giving all of herself and bargaining for love. Others look at her love in envy, but she wants to die. How do you interpret this poem. Am I not thinking deeply enough?

Notable Novels by Fauset:

  • There is Confusion
  • Plum Bun
  • The Chinaberry Tree

Source

Source 2

Stop Mindless Internet Use

A photo of a Black woman, a white man and a white woman all staring at their phones and not interacting.

Someone once said that time is one of the most precious assets in life. Everyone’s time is limited, and I shudder to think about how much time I’ve wasted mindlessly on the internet.

Don’t get me wrong, the internet has allowed me to connect with individuals who I wouldn’t have known otherwise, it’s allowed me to take online classes and read some great blogs. Many people rely on the internet to generate an income. The internet is not all bad, but when used mindlessly, it can certainly suck up your time and your life.

I am making a conscious effort this year to be more mindful about my internet use.

For the past decade, I’ve spent essentially half of my life on the internet. As a result, I’ve developed a pain in my neck, poorer eye sight, disrupted sleep patterns, poorer habits and increased stress.

I’ve spent less time with my family, been short with them because I was too deeply involved in the happenings of the internet world, instead of the offline world, which is more real. I’ve neglected my hobbies, including writing and ironically blogging.  Although I’m slowly picking up blogging again, I’ve been away from the blog for a while. Yet, I haven’t been away from the internet.

Mindless internet use may mean something different to everyone, but generally this is what I consider mindless internet use: 

  • Endless hours on social media, checking status updates
  • Online shopping and browsing without a purpose
  • Searching random things online
  • Watching junk, trashy reality shows on streaming websites
  • Anything that doesn’t enrich the mind or add value to your life
  • Anything that doesn’t have a purpose or end in sight
  • Going on free online dating websites with the hope of meeting a quality mate (lol!)
  • Anything that is not beneficial to overall well being (for some people this may include watching destructive, racist YouTube videos, unknowingly reading false news stories or conspiracy websites, watching violent/degrading pornography or casual sex websites)

Can you relate to any of these mindless internet time wasters? I certainly can.

I don’t want to live my life and think back on how I spent it mostly on the internet doing nothing and neglecting the things that really matter in life. Yet, most people need the internet for work or to take online classes, to view cooking or instructional videos etc. Sometimes the internet can be a good tool for connecting with friends who live a distance away.

Initially, I attempted to go cold turkey and cut out internet for a while, but this backfired because I couldn’t benefit from useful resources, like educational documentaries, online classes etc.

So now, I’ve set a goal to develop a mindful/ digitally minimalist internet mindset. To aid my journey, I will be reading the book Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport.

I’ve set the following goals for myself:

  1. Spend more time with my family
  2. Indulge my hobbies, like the arts, crafting, writing, playing the piano
  3. Get out into the world and enjoy nature
  4. Develop real intimacy with real people
  5. Give my eyes and neck a break
  6. When I go onto the internet, have a purpose, such as to watch an educational documentary or a wholesome movie, take an online class, do professional tasks or connect with friends/family
  7. Set time limits on non-essential social media use

My start up plan:

  • I’ve already set up my phone and computer to give me downtime for 30 minutes before bed.
  • I’ve blocked certain non-beneficial/ addicting websites.
  • I’ve started reading before going to bed, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
  • I will be reading Digital Minimalism.
  •  I will schedule time where I just focus on my non-internet hobbies.
  • I will develop guidelines/ a schedule for internet use.

 

So, I will be doing some book reviews in the coming weeks and this will include tips and a review about the Digital Minimalism book.

  • Do any of you struggle with mindless internet use? Do any of you have any suggestions for how to curb neck pain from computer/looking down at a screen constantly?
  • Do you ever long for the days before cell phones, WIFI, social media and being constantly wired up?

 

Happy Kwanzaa & Merry Belated Christmas!

white christmas tree at home for blog

Happy Kwanzaa and Merry Christmas!

It’s been a while. As 2018 comes to a close, I wanted to share a poem from the book, A Treasury of African American Christmas Stories, which is a collection of  Christmas stories written by African Americans from the 19th and 20th century. The works of notable African American writers, including WEB Dubois, Langston Hughes, and Alice Moore Dunbar, are included in this book.

Historically, Christmas has not included the experiences or voices of African-Americans, which is partly why Kwanzaa came into being.   A Treasury of African American Christmas stories was compiled and edited by Bettye Collier-Thomas. It is truly a unique book, which I was gifted for Christmas. It’s a wonderful treat for any holiday, including Kwanzaa or a birthday.

The following poem is by Mary Jenness, 1920s:

A Carol of Color

“I may not sleep in Bethlehem,

Your inns would turn me back

Because, said Balthazar, unsmiling,

‘My skin is black.’

‘I may not eat in Bethlehem,

Your inns would frown me down,

Because,’ said Melchior, uncomplaining,

‘My skin is brown.’

‘Alone I ride to Bethlehem,

Alone I there alight,

Because,’ cried Gaspar, all unheeding,

‘My skin is white.’

Not one, nor two, but three they came,

To kneel at Bethlehem,

And there a brown-faced Christ-child, laughing,

Welcomed them.

For me, this poem represents inclusion and God’s unconditional love for people of all colors and backgrounds.

I think it is fitting that the second principle of Kwanzaa, is Kujichagulia, which is about self-determination and defining ourselves. How fitting that this poem defines Christ as brown-skinned and loving as the savior of all.

What does this poem mean to you?

My 2018 Book List

Happy 2018 everyone!

Every year, I try to set reading goals by developing a book list and reading as much as I can. Admittedly, I’m not as disciplined as I could be, I’m easily distracted by the internet and my reading and writing are sporadic, but my goal this year is to develop a writing schedule and reading schedule.

I must do this if I want to improve my writing, so…without further ado, here is what I hope to read in 2018 and  what I read  in 2017:

What Will I Read 2018:

1.) Lays in Summer Lands by John Willis Menard: Published in 1879, this Gilded era book includes poetry about the life and dreams of the first African-American elected to Congress, although he wasn’t seated.

2.) Brown in Baltimore: School Segregation and Limits of Liberalism by Howell S. Baum. This nonfiction work describes how liberal, post-Brown v. Board of Education policies in Baltimore City, which included optional integration, contributed to present day – re-segregation and inequality in Baltimore City public schools.

3.) Brown Girl Dreaming: This work of poems by Jacqueline Woodson shares the experience of Woodson, growing up in the southern and northern United States and chronicles her experience in the Civil Rights and Black Power era of the 1960s/70s.

4.) Pudd’ nhead Wilson by Mark Twain: This short novel by Mark Twain tells the story of a desperate, enslaved woman who makes a fateful decision to spare her mixed-race child from the dangers of enslavement. It takes a look at the complexities of race and society in the 19th century.

5.) Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil: This is a non-fiction book about the use of data and how it fosters social inequality.

6. Cold Running Creek by Zelda Lockhart: This novel, which is set in the Civil War period, tells the story of a young woman from the Choctaw Nation, who must flee persecution and forced relocation. She manages to survive, but her daughter, who is of African-descent must endure racial mistreatment and enslavement.

7.) A Streetcar Named Desire: A play by Tennessee Williams, is the story of Blanche DuBois, who is considered promiscuous, and the influence of her brother-in-law.

8.) You Can’t Touch My Hair and other things I have to explain: A book by Phoebe Robinson tells the story of a Black woman’s experience with prejudice, microaggressions and tokenism.

9.) Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Two lovers flee Nigeria, which is military-ruled and the young woman comes to America, where she must cope with the racism and dynamics of a post 9-11 America.

10.) The parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler:  

This dystopian novel is set in the future and centers around an African-American daughter of a pastor, who must battle to survive the chaos of a failed economy and economic crisis. Quite relevant to our current time.

11.) Rose Madder by Stephen King: This is a horror novel about a woman, who must leave a marriage, which is engulfed in abuse and mistreatment.

12.) Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell: This classic novel is a story, which was originally written as a serial from 1864-65. The story centers around a young woman in England, who is the daughter of a doctor. She falls in love with a man and must contend with a rival.

Extras:

If I can get through the other reads, these are other books I’d like to read.

This Bridge Called My Back

I Am Woman: A Native Perspective on Sociology and Feminism by Lee Maracle

The Cellist of Sarajevo 

How Many Books from my 2016/2017 Book List Did I Read?

Overall, I  read 13 new books, which is pretty good, that’s about a little more than 1 book per month. It’s notable that most of my reading, I did as a full-time graduate student. I would read at least 10-15 pages a night and it added up over time. I am working full time so my 2018 list may not look like this next year, as I do most of my reading on the weekend and I have a short attention span.

  1. From Poor Law to Welfare State: I skimmed this and learned quite a bit and hopefully will be able to use the material for future posts.
  2. Ladivine by Marie Ndiaye 
  3. The Subterraneans
  4. Cutting for Stone 
  5. Go Set a Watchmen
  6. I know Why the Caged Bird Sings
  7. Souls of Black Folk
  8. Citizen by Claudia Rankine 
  9. The Beautiful and the Damned by Fitzgerald
  10. A History of How Love Conquered Marriage
  11. Montford Point Marines by Melton McLaurin
  12. The Book of Night Women by Marlon James
  13. How Porn Hijacked Our Sexuality by Gail Dines

More about the books I’ve read here and here.

I still need to write posts for  The Beautiful and the Damned, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, From Poor Law to Welfare State. My favorite book was a tie between I know Why the Caged Bird  Sings and Book of Night Women. I may do another post on both of these books as well.

 

 

 

 

Black History: A Real Life Little Black American Cinderella!

Sarah Rector was a real life Black American Cinderella. She started as the daughter of ex-slaves and living in a rundown shack, but she would become the richest Black Girl in THE WORLD! 

Here is her story:

Sarah_Rector via creative commons

When people think about the first African-American Female millionaire, they often mention Madame CJ Walker, but there was actually a young Black GIRL who became a millionaire at the age 10 in 1911. Although Walker was the first SELF-MADE millionaire, Rector inherited her millions ACCIDENTALLY when the racist Dawes Severalty Act of 1887 backfired.

Sarah was born in 1902 on Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma. She was the daughter of slaves who had been owned by Creek Indians before the civil war.  In 1887, the Dawes Severalty Act forced  members of the Choctaw, Creek, Cherokee, Seminole and Chickasaw  to divide up their land and farm it in the hopes that by becoming farmers they would become “civilized” like the white man. When Oklahoma became a state, they would be assimilated into white ways. The land was given to both Indian and their former Black slaves.  The best surplus lands that were ideal for farming were given to White people to live on.  In 1906, Sarah Rector was given a small, poor quality subdivision of land that was worth only 566 dollars… in 1911 an oil gusher was discovered to be on Sarah’s land. Sarah’s oil reserve had the potential to bring in $50,000 dollars a month.

White men jumped at the opportunity to scam the young Black girl out of her money! Rector was assigned a white man as her “financial guardian,” who apparently did not care for her properly and scammed her out of much of her money. Sarah, who was worth a million dollars, lived in a shack with her parents, with no schooling, no shoes and only one old dress.

On June 18, 1914, James C. Waters Jr, a special agent for the NAACP, sent a memo to WEB Dubois. Waters had been corresponding with the Indian Affairs Office and the US Children’s Bureau over concerns of the mismanagement of Sarah Rector’s estate. He wrote of her white financial guardian

 “Is it not possible to have her cared for in a decent manner and by people of her own race, instead of by a member of a race which would deny her and her kind the treatment accorded a good yard dog?”

This prompted Dubois to establish a Children’s Department of the NAACP, which would investigate claims of wealthy, white oil tycoons who had been scheming Black Children out of their land and depriving them of their rights as land owners.

In an effort to protect Rector from  “Greedy White Men,” Booker T. Washington arranged for her to receive a quality education at the Children’s School in the Tuskegee institute. Washington wanted her greedy white financial guardian to be fired and replaced by a trustworthy member of her own race, but this never happened. However, Washington got a $1,000 farmhouse for her, nicer clothes and petitioned the Muskogee County Court for Sarah to have more control over her own estate.

At the age of 10 years old, while she was still a student at Tuskegee children’s school, Sarah Rector received hundreds of letters from WHITE MEN who wanted to be a suitor and or marry the girl  once she got older just so they could inherit her land. Some white men from as far as Germany wrote to her.  Booker T. Washington called on “The National Federation of Women’s Clubs,” an organization  which his wife was President of,  and made them aware of the white suitors who were after Sarah’s money. He cautioned them to make sure that Sarah stayed focused on her school and married a suitable man of her own race.

At the age of 20, Rector married Kenneth Campbell, a business man, and settled in Kansas City, Mo where she lived in a mansion. However the Missouri Legislature revised its majority Law and stated that the legal age to be guardian of one’s own property was no longer 18, but 21. A white man named John Collins petitioned to become legal guardian of her estate as she and her parents were “incapable” of handling her own money, but he was denied.

Rector had two children by her husband Kenneth Campbell and they lived a quiet life in Kansas City. Rector was one of the few Black children who inherited land and was not completely swindled out or her money and estate by greedy white men. She was fortunate that she had the support of the NAACP and Booker T. Washington who made sure that she got her rights to her land.

Source: Patton, Stacey. “The Richest Colored girl in the world.” Crisis. 117.2 (2010): 31-34. Web. 20 Oct. 2011.

SEE, BLACK GIRLS HAVE ALWAYS BEEN ROCKIN IT!

Adorable Black Princesses

Recorded Cases of Black Female Lynching Victims 1886-1957: More on Black Women Who Were Lynched (via Henrietta Vinton Davis’s Weblog)

Many people are aware of the horrific treatment black men experienced during the reconstruction and up throughout Jim Crow. Many black men were lynched and killed for various reasons, one of the most ‘popular’ reasons  that white supremacist used was alleged rape of a white woman by a black man.  The song “strange fruit,” was even based off of this barbaric practice of lynching. Many times, the accusations of rape were apocryphal. Many people do not know , however, that there were black women who were lynched as well. There are horrifying stories of black women being mistreated, beaten, raped and in some cases lynched. The reasons for the lynching could be anything, even something as silly as “being a republican” and “stealing a bible.” One of the most horrific cases I read about was that of Mary Turner, a pregnant black woman who was lynched in 1918.

Here is a cross post that details the lynching of black women.

Recorded Cases of Black Female Lynching Victims 1886-1957: More on Black Women Who Were Lynched The following information is from a dissertation entitled “STRANGER FRUIT”: THE LYNCHING OF BLACK WOMEN THE CASES OF ROSA RICHARDSON AND MARIE SCOTT”by MARIA DELONGORIA. It is extracted from Appendix A: Recorded Cases of Black Female Lynching Victims 1886-1957. This list indicates approximately one hundred and fifty four women who were ly … Read More

via Henrietta Vinton Davis’s Weblog