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Poem: Why did God make me Black? by RuNell Ni Ebo

Lord, Lord
Why did You make me Black?
Why did You make someone
the world wants to hold back?

Black is the color of dirty clothes,
the color of grimy hands and feet.
Black is the color of darkness,
the color of tire-beaten streets.

Why did You give me thick lips,
a broad nose and kinky hair?
Why did You make someone
who receives the hatred stare?

Black is the color of the bruised eye
when someone gets hurt.
Black is the color of darkness,
Black is the color of dirt.

How come my bone structure’s so thick,
my hips and cheeks are high?
How come my eyes are brown
and not the color of daylight sky?

Why do people think I’m useless?
How come I feel so used?
Why do some people see my skin
and think I should be abused?

Lord I just don’t understand.
What is it about my skin?
Why do some people want to hate me
and not know the person within?

Black is what people are “listed”
when others want to keep them away.
Black is the color of shadows cast.
Black is the end of day.

Lord you know my own people mistreat me
and I know this just ain’t right.
They don’t like my hair.
They say I’m too dark or too light.

Lord, don’t You think it’s time for You
to make a change?
Why don’t You re-do creation and
make everyone the same?

God answered:

Why did I make you Black?
Why did I make you Black?
Get off your knees and look around
Tell me, what do you see?
I didn’t make you in the image of darkness,
I made you in likeness of ME!

I made you the color of coal from which
beautiful diamonds are formed.
I made you the color of oil,
the black gold that keeps people warm.

I made you from the rich, dark earth that can
grow the food you need.
You color’s the same as the black stallion,
a majestic animal is he.
I didn’t make you in the image of darkness.
I made you in likeness of ME!

All the colors of the heavenly rainbow can be
found throughout every nation.
But when all of those colors were blended,
you became my greatest creation.

Your hair is the texture of lamb’s wool.
Such a humble little creature is he.
I am the Sheperd who watches them.
I am the One who will watch over thee.

You are the color of midnight sky.
I put the star’s glitter in your eyes.
There is a smile hidden behind your pain.
That’s why your cheeks are so high.

You are the color of dark clouds formed,
when I send My strongest weather.
I made your lips full so when you kiss
the one that you love, they will remember.

Your stature is strong, your bone structure thick
to withstand the burdens of time.
The reflection you see in the mirror…
The image that looks back is MINE.

– RuNell Ni Ebo

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Jesse Williams: Freedom Now

On Sunday, June 26, Jesse Williams received the 2016 BET Humanitarian Award. He gave a powerful acceptance speech that is an on-point statement highlighting racial inequality in America today. It’s ironic that it was given in a room full of entertainers, one of which was posturing with a thick gold chain while pointing to the brand on his shirt right before Jesse called out the culture of selling ourselves for brands after praying and working for centuries to escape being branded.

“This award is not for me. This is for the real organizers across the country: the activists, the civil rights attorneys, the struggling parents, the families, the teachers, the students that are realizing that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do. Right? It’s kind of basic mathematics. The more we learn about who we are and how we got here, the more we will mobilize.”

“There has been no war that we have not fought and died on the front lines of. There’s no job we haven’t done. There’s no tax they haven’t levied against us. And we’ve paid all of them. But freedom is somehow always conditional here. You’re free – they keep telling us. But… she…she would have been alive had she not acted so… free. Freedom is always coming in the hereafter. But, you know what though? The hereafter is a hustle. We want it now.”

“The burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander. That’s not our job. Stop with all that. If you have a critique for the resistance… for our resistance, then you better have an established record of critique of our oppression. If you have no interest in equal rights for Black people, then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down.”

“The thing is though, just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real.”

~ Jesse Williams

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Fight for Freedom: The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment

To Colored Men. 54 Regiment
Boston: J. E. Farwell & Co, [1863?]
Recruitment poster for the Massachusetts 54th Regiment, the first regiment to enlist Black men as soldiers for the Union Army during the Civil War. Source: http://www.masshist.org/database/viewer.php?item_id=49&pid=15

Overview

The Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment was the first military unit consisting of black soldiers to be raised in the North during the Civil War. Prior to 1863, no concerted effort was made to recruit black troops as Union soldiers. The adoption of the Emancipation Proclamation in December of 1862 provided the impetus for the use of free black men as soldiers and, at a time when state governors were responsible for the raising of regiments for federal service, Massachusetts was the first to respond with the formation of the Fifty-fourth Regiment.

The formation of the regiment was a matter of controversy and public attention from its inception. Questions were raised as to the black man’s ability to fight in the “white man’s war.” Although Massachusetts governor John A. Andrew believed that black men were capable of leadership, others felt that commissioning blacks as officers was simply too controversial; Andrew needed all the support he could get. The commissioned officers, then, were white and the enlisted men black. Any black officers up to the rank of lieutenant were non-commissioned and reached their positions by moving up through the ranks. On 28 May 1863, upon the presentation of the unit’s colors by the governor and a parade through the streets of Boston, spectators lined the streets with the hopes of viewing this experimental unit. The regiment then departed Boston on the transport De Molay for the coast of South Carolina.

Selected Portraits

Recruiting and Enlisting Soldiers

   TOP

Fort Wagner

http://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/black-civil-war-soldiers

http://www.masshist.org/online/54thregiment/essay.php?entry_id=528

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2015 Emmys: A Trifecta of Strong Black Women

“‘In my mind, I see a line, and over that line I see green fields, and lovely flowers, and beautiful white women with their arms stretched out to me over that line… but I can’t seem to get there no-how. I can’seem to get over that line.’ That was Harriet Tubman in the 1800’s. And let me tell you something, the only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”

~ Viola Davis on accepting her first Emmy for Leading Actress

Orange is the New Black
American Crime
How to Get Away With Murder

The intention of this post is not to focus on the fact that crime and violence are at the center of each of the shows Uzo Aduba, Regina King and Viola Davis won Emmys for during the 67th Emmy Awards on  Sunday, September 20, 2015… which happens to be the first Emmy program I’ve watched in full since… I don’t know when…. I’ll save that analysis for another post.

The intention of this post is to bask in the glory of black womanhood – in all her collective complexity, grace, humility, gratitude, strength, perseverance, life-giving, life-building forthrightness and beauty.

Source: http://www.awesomelyluvvie.com/2015/09/regina-uzo-viola-black-2015-emmy-awards.html
Source: http://www.awesomelyluvvie.com/2015/09/regina-uzo-viola-black-2015-emmy-awards.html

Three black women won Emmys – the highest industry award for their craft – in one night. I was happy for Uzo Aduba – though I only gotten through the first eight episodes or so of the first season of Orange is the New Black. Her character, Crazy Eyes, left an impression for sure. When Uzo Aduba accepted her Emmy, her gratitude was inspiring and beautiful witness.

“Hi. I really just want to say ‘Thank you’ a thousand times! If I could say ‘thank you’ a thousand times, it would not be enough to cover the amount of thanks that I feel for you, Jenji Kohan. I love you so much! I appreciate you for putting belief back in my heart. I love you. Thank you for making this show, for creating this space – for making a platform…. I love you most for your kindness! Thank you…. Thank you everybody! [I want to say thank you to my team] I love you most…mostly.. because you let me be me!”

~ Uzo Aduba on accepting her second consecutive Emmy for the same character, Crazy Eyes on Orange is the New Black, Netflix

Like many other black women of my generation, I’ve grown, aged and matured watching Regina King in countless roles on the small and big screens beginning with 227 in the late 1980’s. Her speech warmed my heart. She’s been a working actress for over twenty years, well-known and acclaimed and during her speech she put motherhood front and center as her greatest accomplishment. That warmed my heart and gave me hope.

“I was not expecting this, so I am just going to listen to God and just give gratitude for all the love that surrounds me. Thank you [to many]…. My amazing mother and grandmother who have taught me the power and the blessing of being a woman…. And this is absolutely amazing… My son Ian [sigh], the fact that I get to share this night with you, the best date in the house… ah, man… you make being a mother my greatest accomplishment. I love you! Cheers!  

Regina King on accepting her first Emmy, for Best Supporting Actress in Limited Series or Movie, American Crime, ABC

I can’t tell you the first time I saw Viola Davis on screen. I don’t know what her first role was or if I saw it in real time. But I can say that I have known her – and women like her – most of my life: her rawness, her emotional honesty and power, her determination to allow her presence to be seen and experienced as equally noteworthy talent no matter her role or amount of screen time. Watching Viola evolve into a Hollywood powerhouse and a dynamic voice has been a distinctly awesome experience.

“‘In my mind, I see a line, and over that line I see green fields, and lovely flowers, and beautiful white women with their arms stretched out to me over that line… but I can’t seem to get there no-how. I can’seem to get over that line.’ That was Harriet Tubman in the 1800’s. And let me tell you something, the only thing that separates women of color from anyone else, is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there. So here’s to all the writers, the awesome people… people who have redefined what it means to be beautiful, to be sexy, to be a leading woman. To be Black! And to the Taraji P. Hensons, Kerry Washingtons, the Halle Berrys, the Nicole Beharies, the Megan Goods, to Gabrielle Union: Thank you for taking us over that line! Thank you… to the Television Academy.”

~ Viola Davis on accepting her first Emmy for Leading Actress in a Drama Series, How to Get Away With Murder, ABC 

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Poem: SYMPATHY by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Sympathy

BY PAUL LAURENCE DUNBAR

I know what the caged bird feels, alas!
    When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;
When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,
And the river flows like a stream of glass;
    When the first bird sings and the first bud opes,
And the faint perfume from its chalice steals—
I know what the caged bird feels!
I know why the caged bird beats his wing
    Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;
For he must fly back to his perch and cling
When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;
    And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars
And they pulse again with a keener sting—
I know why he beats his wing!
I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
    When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,—
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
    But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings—
I know why the caged bird sings!

Source: Twentieth-Century American Poetry (2004)

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The 54th Massachusetts Regiment: We Fought for Freedom!

Reposted from www.History.com and www.Masshist.org.

THE 54TH MASSACHUSETTS

Early in February 1863, the abolitionist Governor John A. Andrew of Massachusetts issued the Civil War’s first official call for black soldiers. More than 1,000 men responded. They formed the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, the first black regiment to be raised in the North. Many of the 54th soldiers did not even come from Massachusetts: one-quarter came from slave states, and some came from as far away as Canada and the Caribbean. To lead the 54th Massachusetts, Governor Andrew chose a young white officer named Robert Gould Shaw.

On July 18, 1863, the 54th Massachusetts stormed Fort Wagner, which guarded the Port of Charleston, in South Carolina. It was the first time in the Civil War that black troops led an infantry attack. Unfortunately, the 600 men of the 54th were outgunned and outnumbered: 1,700 Confederate soldiers waited inside the fort, ready for battle. Almost half of the charging Union soldiers, including Colonel Shaw, were killed.

Black soldiers and their officers were also in grave danger if they were captured in battle. Confederate President Jefferson Davis called the Emancipation Proclamation “the most execrable measure in the history of guilty man” and promised that black prisoners of war would be enslaved or executed on the spot. (Their white commanders would likewise be punished—even executed—for what the Confederates called “inciting servile insurrection.”) Threats of Union reprisal against Confederate prisoners forced Southern officials to treat black soldiers who had been free before the war somewhat better than they treated black soldiers who were former slaves—but in neither case was the treatment particularly good. Union officials tried to keep their troops out of harm’s way as much as possible by keeping most black soldiers away from the front lines.

Even as they fought to end slavery in the Confederacy, African-American Union soldiers were fighting against another injustice as well. The U.S. Army paid black soldiers $10 a week (minus a clothing allowance, in some cases), while white soldiers got $3 more (plus a clothing allowance, in some cases). Congress passed a bill authorizing equal pay for black and white soldiers in 1864.

By the time the war ended in 1865, about 180,000 black men had served as soldiers in the U.S. Army. This was about 10 percent of the total Union fighting force. Most—about 90,000—were former (or “contraband”) slaves from the Confederate states. About half of the rest were from the loyal border states, and the rest were free blacks from the North. Forty thousand black soldiers died in the war: 10,000 in battle and 30,000 from illness or infection.


Sources:

http://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/black-civil-war-soldiers

http://www.masshist.org/online/54thregiment/essay.php?entry_id=528#sources

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/54th_Massachusetts_Infantry_Regiment

Book: ARMY LIFE IN A BLACK REGIMENT by Thomas Wentworth Higginson, (1823-1911)

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Rev. Josiah Henson: Truth Stranger than Fiction

The original “Uncle Tom”, Josiah Henson (June 15, 1789 – May 5, 1883) was an author, abolitionist, and minister. Born into slavery in Charles County, Maryland, he escaped to Upper Canada (now Ontario) in 1830, and founded a settlement and laborer’s school for other fugitive slaves at Dawn, near Dresden in Kent County. Henson’s autobiography, The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself (1849), is widely believed to have inspired the character of the fugitive slave, George Harris, in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), who returned to Kentucky for his wife and escaped across the Ohio River, eventually to Canada. Following the success of Stowe’s novel, Henson issued an expanded version of his memoir in 1858, Truth Stranger Than Fiction. Father Henson’s Story of His Own Life (published Boston: John P. Jewett & Company, 1858). Interest in his life continued, and nearly two decades later, his life story was updated and published as Uncle Tom’s Story of His Life: An Autobiography of the Rev. Josiah Henson (1876).

Josiah Henson (1789-1883) and his second wife Nancy, Ontario, Canada, 1877

Josiah Henson (1789-1883) and his second wife Nancy, Ontario, Canada, 1877

Josiah Henson was born on a farm near Port Tobacco in Charles County, Maryland. When he was a boy, his father was punished for standing up to a slave owner, receiving one hundred lashes and having his right ear nailed to the whipping-post, and then cut off. His father was later sold to someone in Alabama. Following his family’s master’s death, young Josiah was separated from his mother, brothers, and sisters.His mother pleaded with her new owner Isaac Riley, Riley agreed to buy back Henson so she could at least have her youngest child with her; on condition he would work in the fields. Riley would not regret his decision, for Henson rose in his owners’ esteem, and was eventually entrusted as the supervisor of his master’s farm, located in Montgomery County, Maryland (in what is now North Bethesda). In 1825, Mr. Riley fell onto economic hardship and was sued by a brother in law. Desperate, he begged Henson (with tears in his eyes) to promise to help him. Duty bound, Henson agreed. Mr. R then told him that he needed to take his 18 slaves to his brother in Kentucky by foot. They arrived in Daviess County Kentucky in the middle of April 1825 at the plantation of Mr. Amos Riley. In September 1828 Henson returned to Maryland in an attempt to buy his freedom from Issac Riley.

He tried to buy his freedom by giving his master $350 which he had saved up, and a note promising a further $100. Originally Henson only needed to pay the extra $100 by note, Mr. Riley however, added an extra zero to the paper and changed the fee to $1000. Cheated of his money, Henson returned to Kentucky and then escaped to Kent County, U.C., in 1830, after learning he might be sold again. There he founded a settlement and laborer’s school for other fugitive slaves at Dawn, Upper Canada. Henson crossed into Upper Canada via the Niagara River, with his wife Nancy and their four children. Upper Canada had become a refuge for slaves from the United States after 1793, when Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe passed “An Act to prevent further introduction of Slaves, and to limit the Term of Contracts for Servitude within this Province”. The legislation did not immediately end slavery in the colony, but it did prevent the importation of slaves, meaning that any U.S. slave who set foot in what would eventually become Ontario, was free. By the time Henson arrived, others had already made Upper Canada home, including Black Loyalists from the American Revolution, and refugees from the War of 1812.

Rev HensonHenson first worked farms near Fort Erie, then Waterloo, moving with friends to Colchester by 1834 to set up a Black settlement on rented land. Through contacts and financial assistance there, he was able to purchase 200 acres (0.81 km2) in Dawn Township, in next-door Kent County, to realize his vision of a self-sufficient community. The Dawn Settlement eventually prospered, reaching a population of 500 at its height, and exporting black walnut lumber to the United States and Britain. Henson purchased an additional 200 acres (0.81 km2) next to the Settlement, where his family lived. Henson also became an active Methodist preacher, and spoke as an abolitionist on routes between Tennessee and Ontario. He also served in the Canadian army as a military officer, having led a Black militia unit in the Rebellion of 1837. Though many residents of the Dawn Settlement returned to the United States after slavery was abolished there, Henson and his wife continued to live in Dawn for the rest of their lives. Henson died at the age of 93 in Dresden, on May 5, 1883.


Additional information:

“Uncle Tom’s Story of His Life.” An Autobiography of the Rev. Josiah Henson

http://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/henson58/menu.html

Rev. Josiah Henson’s Autobiography

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Fyodor Fyodorovich Tomas “The Black Russian”

Fyodor Fyodorovich Tomas The Black Russian
Frederick Bruce Thomas, c. 1896, Paris

Who was this “Fyodor Fyodorovich Tomas” and where did he come from? Why did he go to Russia? How did he prosper there to the extent of being famous and owning property? How did Russians react to his being black? How did he wind up in Constantinople? And why had he been forgotten?

This man’s real name was Frederick Bruce Thomas, and he was born in 1872 to former slaves in Coahoma County, Mississippi. It is clear that he got his wings from his parents, who were remarkable people, and whose life was marked by extraordinary achievements. The first was that they acquired a two-hundred acre farm in 1869, at a time when most of the land in this part of the South belonged to a handful of white families and the vast majority of black people, who constituted three-quarters of the population, owned nothing.

Thomas’s parents stood out as well because in 1879 they donated land to establish one of the first African Methodist Episcopal churches in the region. This is where Thomas began to acquire the rudiments of an education—also an exceptional experience at a time when most black people were illiterate.

However, since the Thomas family lived in the Delta—which has been called the most Southern place on earth—their prominence was also the cause of their ruin. In 1886, a rich white planter who resented their success tried to steal their land. Initially, the Thomases fought back in court, which was a very brave and very uncharacteristic thing for black people to do. Even more unusual is that the Thomases won the first round. But when the planter appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court in 1890, the Thomases decided it would be prudent to get out of harm’s way and moved to Memphis. There, a second tragedy struck: Frederick’s father was brutally murdered and the family disintegrated.

Every step that Frederick Thomas took after this was exceptional for a black American. Several decades before the Great Migration began, he left the South and went to Chicago and then Brooklyn, which had miniscule black populations at the end of the nineteenth century. Seeking even greater freedom, he went to Europe in 1894, several decades before some black Americans began to seek a haven in Paris. And in 1899, after crisscrossing the Continent, mastering French, and honing his skills as a waiter and a valet, he signed on to accompany a nobleman to Russia. In Moscow, before the Revolution, there were probably no more than a dozen permanent black residents out of a population of over a million.

Thomas’s career in Moscow proved to be more successful than he, or anyone else, could ever have imagined. He found no “color line” there, as he put it, and in a decade went from being a waiter, to a maître d’hôtel, to a senior assistant to the owner of the swankiest restaurant in the city—the famous “Yar,” a favorite of millionaires, grand dukes, and Gregory Rasputin, imperial Russia’s extraordinary evil genius. Thomas was so good at his job and made so much money from munificent tips that in 1911, together with two Russian partners, he rented a large entertainment garden called “Aquarium” near the city center that had recently failed. Within a year, “Thomas and Co.” transformed it into one of the most successful venues for popular theatrical entertainment in Moscow, a status that it kept until the Revolution. In 1912, Thomas reinvested his profits in a variety theater in the center that he named “Maxim” and that also immediately became a favorite of Moscow’s night owls. Occasional American tourists who passed through Russia on their European tours would report their astonishment back home at having encountered a “prosperous” and “diamond bedecked” black American in such an unexpected setting.

Publicity photograph, giving his name in Old Orthography Russian, as
Publicity photograph, giving his name in Old Orthography Russian, as “F. F. Tomas”; published on the eve of his opening Maxim.

Were it not for the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, Frederick Thomas would have happily spent the rest of his life in his adopted country. He married twice, acquired a mistress who became his third wife, and fathered five children. He also took Russian citizenship, and was quite possibly the first black American ever to do so. When the Great War began and prohibition was announced, Thomas, like American bootleggers a half-dozen years later, cashed in. He made so much money that he was able to buy a handsome villa in Odessa and a block of investment properties in Moscow. But when the Bolsheviks seized power, the American immigrant from the Mississippi Delta suddenly discovered that he was on the wrong side of history. His past oppression as a black man in the United States was trumped by his having become rich, and nothing could mitigate this class “sin.”

To save himself, Thomas fled from Soviet Russia. In 1919, after surviving hair-raising perils, he managed to reach Constantinople with most of his family. Although he had lost all his wealth, within three months of arriving he opened an entertainment garden on the city’s outskirts. At first, debts almost sank him, but through perseverance, imagination, and guile he managed to prevail and quickly emerged as the city’s preeminent nightclub owner. He was also the first to import jazz to Turkey, and its popularity among the city’s natives and swarms of well-heeled tourists consolidated his success and made him rich once again.

Frederick Thomas shortly after his marriage on January 5, 1913, to his second wife “Valli,” together with his children by his first wife—Irma, 4 years old, Olga, 11, and Mikhail, 6 ½. The men with Frederick are unidentified; on the left may be a relative of Valli’s; on the right, Frederick’s business partner, M. P. Tsarev.
Frederick Thomas shortly after his marriage on January 5, 1913, to his second wife “Valli,” together with his children by his first wife—Irma, 4 years old, Olga, 11, and Mikhail, 6 ½. The men with Frederick are unidentified; on the left may be a relative of Valli’s; on the right, Frederick’s business partner, M. P. Tsarev.

However, after escaping from Russia, Thomas was never again free of the burden of race, and it would be his undoing. To the Turks his skin color was of no concern; the Ottoman Empire was racially heterogeneous and did not parse the world the way white America did. But Thomas could not avoid dealing with the diplomats in the American Consulate General in Constantinople, or with their racist superiors in the State Department. When he most needed their help, they refused to recognize him as an American and to give him legal protection. Abandoned by the United States, and caught between the xenophobia of the new Turkish Republic and his own extravagance, he fell on hard times, was thrown into debtor’s prison, and died in Constantinople in 1928.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, white America had no interest in celebrating black achievement. This is the primary reason why Frederick Bruce Thomas is now virtually forgotten. Very few American newspapers noticed his passing. One that did was The New York Times, and on July 8, 1928, in an article about Constantinople referred to him as the city’s late “Sultan of Jazz.”


Source: African American Historical Photo Archive


Interview with Vladimir Alexandrov, author of “The Black Russian” a biography of Frederick Bruce Thomas.

An African-American’s trip to Russia in 1899

Additional reading:

Author/Book Page: http://www.pushkinhouse.org/events-archive/vladimir-alexandrovs-the-black-russian

Photos: http://www.valexandrov.com/images-for-the-black-russian/

Turkish Blog: http://www.haberturk.com/yazarlar/murat-bardakci/854535-taksimi-sehrin-eglence-mekani-yapan-amerikali-zencinin-bilinmeyen-oykusu

http://www.dogstarnyc.com/2013/10/the-black-russian.html