Harlem Renaissance in the American West

The study, The Harlem Renaissance in the American West, shifted the focus of the Harlem Renaissance away from New York City’s Harlem to the cities and states of the American West, and away from literature to the full range of the creative arts.It is inspired by the broadened view of the early twentieth century African American literary and artistic movement that has established that while the Renaissance was centered in New York, it was a national phenomenon.The traditional view held that while few of the participants in the Harlem Renaissance were from Harlem, all spent considerable time there.  We determined that while most of the writers and artists associated with the movement spent significant time in Harlem, and most considered themselves part of the Renaissance, many also spent long periods of their careers away from Harlem, and some spent most or all of their creative careers outside of New York.The black experience in the West clearly establishes that not only did many participants in the Harlem Renaissance have western roots or western connections but in communities across the West African Americans were involved in black art, literature, and music both as consumers and as artists themselves.In her 2008 book, From Greenwich Village to Taos: Primitivism and Place at Mabel Dodge Luhan's, Flannery Burke observed that the term Harlem Renaissance "is a misnomer that fails to acknowledge the cultural activities of African Americans prior to the 1920s and in areas outside New York City." Our volume pursues Burke's comment by investigating the West.  Given the relatively small African American population in the West, a disproportionate number of black writers and artists had roots in the West before they came to Harlem.

Black Pain on Stage

In Relevance, a play by JC Lee, black feminist author Msemaji Ukweli, who wrote a book about her sexual assault, explains why she changed her name from Tiffany Hall, and omitted from her biography any mention of her education at an expensive boarding school: Opportunity for African Americans, the character says to a white literary agent, “does not happen without indulging the white predisposition for black pain. It’s the toll you demand for our success, because it confirms both your superiority and our worth should we overcome it.”Black pain, as it happens, is the subject of a surprising number of recent plays in New York. Sometimes the pain is expressed only in passing, in a scene or an anecdote.But in other current works on stage, it is a central theme, most often chronicling violence against African Americans—seldom in easy or expected ways.To Harry Lennix, the expression of such pain in the past too often has taken the form of what he calls “suffering porn.”As he told me , “frequently I find the stories about black people’s servitude and pain are a little indulgent, or masochistic, and exploitative.” Lennix, a well-known actor, is making his New York directorial debut in a play by LeKethia Dalcoe entitled A Small Oak Tree Runs Red, which is running at the  through 4 March 2018.It is inspired by a true story that occurred in Valdosta, Georgia, in 1918, when at least a dozen African Americans were lynched within a few days of one another, and focuses on one of the victims, Mary Turner, who was twenty years old and eight months pregnant. She was lynched for speaking out against the lynching of her husband the day before.

Cheikh Anta Diop: The Pharaoh of Knowledge

Cheikh Anta Dip was born in 1923 in a small village in Senegal, Caytou. Africa is under European colonial rule which took over the Atlantic slave trade begun in the 16th century. The violence to which Africa is subjected is not of an exclusively military, political and economic nature. Theoricians ( Voltaire, Hume, Hegel, Gobineau, Lévy Bruhl, etc.) and European institutions (the Institute of Ethnology of France created in 1925 by L. Levy Bruhl, for example), apply to legitimize on the moral and philosophical level the decreed intellectual inferiority of the Negro. The vision of an ahistorical and timeless Africa, whose inhabitants, the Negroes, have never been responsible, by definition, for a single fact of civilization, is now imposed in the writings and anchored in the consciences. Egypt is thus arbitrarily attached to the East and the Mediterranean world geographically, anthropologically and culturally.It is therefore in a particularly hostile and obscurantist context that Cheikh Anta Diop is led to question, by a methodical scientific investigation, the very foundations of Western culture relating to the genesis of humanity and civilization. The rebirth of Africa, which involves the restoration of historical consciousness, appears to him as an unavoidable task to which he will devote his life.

New Orleans: The Second Line Culture

 By Rashid Booker The name 'Second Line' is an urban social tradition for the African-American youth of New Orleans. Being a “Second Liner” is something that the youth look forward to. It is full of energy and you’re right behind the band as they strut down the narrow streets.Strutting and dancing with your umbrella in hand to the beat of “Street Parade.” Just name any African-American so-called jazz “ great,” who came out of the great music city, and he/she has paid their dues to the Second Line."The Second Line is a symbol of New Orleans,” said Zohar Israel, who’s a native, “its excitement and tradition. African Americans affliction, a gift to New Orleans."To understand the Second Line, you must research the historical background of the so-called Jazz Funeral. The term Jazz Funeral can be very confusing; it's a contradiction. How can anyone experience the excitement of this great art form and at the same time lay your loved one to rest?Realizing the term is foreign and can be difficult to understand, but, nevertheless The Second Line is part of New Orleans' rich culture. American heritage came from New Orleans, Louisiana, by way of the African Americans who immigrated to our country in chains.

Destinations for African American Heritage in Philadelphia

From Colonial times, to the struggle for freedom and civil rights to the present, Philadelphia has served as home to African  American abolitionists, activists, artists, music legends and religious and cultural institutions which helped fashion Philadelphia and the nation.

Resurgence in America’s Roots Region: Towards A Cultural Foundation of Activism and Engagement

“If theatre means anything anywhere, it should certainly mean something here,” Dr. Doris Derby  the night the Free Southern Theater (FST) was born.Founded in 1963, the FST filled a vast cultural and activist void in the deepest Southern states. Dr. Derby, John O’Neal, and Gilbert Moses, organizers with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), theorized that civic organizing necessitated an authentic cultural undergirding.Their vision brought forth a theatre that was as unique to the Southern African-American experience as blues or jazz—a theatre for free thought, aesthetic beauty, and protest.FST engaged with churches, developed a linguistic style that aimed to complement grassroots political action with rural culture, and—perhaps most importantly—committed to communities through creative dialogue.“The Free Southern Theater was a tool, a creative tool, to teach the people that we performed for about what…they are expected to have as American citizens and were being denied in some way,” said FST actor Seret Scott who was interviewed by Michael Lueger for HowlRound’s Theatre History  in 2017.In the ’80s, the FST was reorganized into , a still-active and interrogative company in New Orleans named after a popular and populist, FST storytelling character, Junebug Jabbo Jones, who had been performed by O’Neal.The New Orleans-based poet-educator-actor-activist Michael “Quess?” Moore, in his published on this site, credits the legacy of the FST, Junebug, and John O’Neal with introducing him to  “an alternate world of sorts, where activism met acting” and inspiring his work.But despite FST’s legacy of inspiring artists and their impact in subsequent iterations, they were struggling to survive as a theatre in an economically oppressed region.In an interview from 1987 in the Tulane Drama Review, Thomas Dent, who took over as artistic director of FST in 1966, addressed the financial limits the FST faced at the time.In addition to financial pressure, in ‘66 some of the FST actors and organizers had become philosophically disillusioned, as evidenced in Gilbert Moses’s , and a  from Thomas Dent to the FST board of directors in which Dent calls out ongoing and longstanding conflict in the theatre.   Time for a New Southern TheatreI went down [South] in January of 1969. I was a young, young person and just out of school…these young girls were standing there looking at me and talking to me, because to many of them I looked much the same as they did in terms of how old I was.And they were talking to me about New York and about Washington, DC, which is where I'm originally from. …I mentioned I had been at the university in New York and that I had left to come down to work with the group and to work with people like them. And there was a silence and one young girl said, ‘You left a college to come down here and be with us to do this?’—Actor Seret Scott. 

William Leo Hansberry: Architect Of African Studies In America

Historian and anthropologist, William Leo Hansberry began his college education at Atlanta University, but (at the urging of W.E.B. DuBois) he transferred to Harvard in 1917. Based on his reading of classical texts and his study of archeological evidence, Hansberry became convinced as an undergraduate that sophisticated civilizations had existed in Africa–especially in Ethiopia–for centuries prior to the rise of the Greeks and Romans in Europe.He pursued that premise for the rest of his life.A circular letter announcing his desire to develop courses in African civilization landed him a temporary job at Howard University in Washington D.C., following his graduation from Harvard in 1921.There he quickly built his new program into one of the most popular undergraduate majors on the campus, and he hosted international conferences to stimulate the study of ancient and medieval African societies.

Photo: Museum of the City of New York.

 Black Manhattan's Long-Gone San Juan Hill

In the early 20th century, Lincoln Square’s streetscapes hugged the ground with rows of tenements and brownstones, punctuated by warehouses and industrial lofts. Its residents were mostly working classand poor, with a notable contingent of artists and bohemians. On its eastern fringe stood a variety of theaters and music halls. Squeezed into the middle, roughly from 59th to 65th Streets between Amsterdam Avenue and the 11th Avenue railroad tracks, was San Juan Hill, one of the largest black neighborhoods in Manhattan before the rise of Harlem.Historian Marcy Sacks, author of “Before Harlem: The Black Experience in New York City before WorldWar I” (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006). As I stand outside two of the neighborhood’s last old houses, 242-244 West 61st Street, with new construction looming beside them.San Juan Hill’s “tall,monotonous tenements” were “the worst type which the city affords.” Up to 5,000 people lived jammed into a single block; beds were often used in shifts, shared by boarders. Neighborhood was named to honor the United States Army’s black 10th Cavalry, which fought at the battle of San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War in 1898.

Journalist And Historian Drusilla Dunjee Houston"To Die Is To Gain"

Much has been written about New York's Harlem Renaissance, and its black literary and visual artists. The reality: the black renaissance occurred throughout the country, including Oklahoma City. Drusilla Houston, journalist and historian, held her own in a world that included other public intellectuals like Joel A. Rogers ("Sex and Race, Vols. I-III", "Nature Knows No Color Line", "100 Amazing Facts About the Negro" and a column on Negro History in the Pittsburgh Courier).Houston was born at Harper's Ferry, Virginia in 1876. In 1892, her family moved to Oklahoma. Both parents were religious and politically active, passing on their traits to the children. They also encouraged education and entrepreneurship.

The Black Arts Movement II:Theory and Practice

Part II: Theory and Practice The two hallmarks of Black Arts activity were the development of Black theater groups and Black poetry performances and journals, and both had close ties to community organizations and issues. Black theaters served as the focus of poetry, dance, and music performances in addition to formal and ritual drama.Black theaters were also venues for community meetings, lectures, study groups, and film screenings. The summer of 1968 issue of Drama Review, a special on Black theater edited by Ed Bullins, literally became a Black Arts textbook that featured essays and plays by most of the major movers: Larry Neal, Ben Caldwell, LeRoi Jones, Jimmy Garrett, John O'Neal, Sonia Sanchez, Marvin X, Ron Milner, Woodie King, Jr., Bill Gunn, Ed Bullins, and Adam David Miller.Black Arts theater proudly emphasized its activist roots and orientations in distinct, and often antagonistic, contradiction to traditional theaters, both Black and white, which were either commercial or strictly artistic in focus.By 1970 Black Arts theaters and cultural centers were active throughout America. The New Lafayette Theatre (Bob Macbeth, executive director, and Ed Bullins, writer in residence) and Barbara Ann Teer's National Black Theatre led the way in New York, Baraka's Spirit House Movers held forth in Newark and traveled up and down the East Coast.The Organization of Black American Culture (OBAC) and Val Grey Ward's Kuumba Theatre Company were leading forces in Chicago, from where emerged a host of writers, artists, and musicians including the OBAC visual artist collective whose "Wall of Respect" inspired the national community-based public murals movement and led to the formation of Afri-Cobra (the African Commune of Bad, Revolutionary Artists). 

Cultural Fabric: The Maasai's Shuka

 by Nellie Haung | G Adventures Even if you’ve never heard of cloth, there’s a high chance you’ve seen it in pictures. Often red with black stripes, cloth is affectionately known as the “African blanket” and is worn by the Maasai people of East Africa.To give you some brief background knowledge, the Maasai are a semi-nomadic people from East Africa who are known for their unique way of life, as well as their cultural traditions and customs.Living across the arid lands along the Great Rift Valley in Tanzania and , the Maasai population is currently at around 1.5 million, with the majority of them living on the Masai Mara National Reserve of Kenya. They are known to be formidable, strong warriors who hunt for food in the wild savannah and live closely with wild animals.The Maasai identity is often defined by colourful beaded necklaces, an iron rod (as a weapon) and of course, red cloth. While red is the most common colour, the Maasai also use blue, striped, and checkered cloth to wrap around their bodies. It’s known to be durable, strong, and thick — protecting the Maasai from the harsh weather and terrain of the savannah. Shuka’s originsSo how did this traditional clothing come about?The word “traditional” must be taken with a grain of salt. Before the colonialization of Africa, the Maasai wore leather garments. They only began to replace calf hides and sheep skin with commercial cotton cloth in the 1960s.But how and why they chose shuka cloth is still unclear today. There are a few schools of thought. One of them is traced back through centuries — fabrics were used as a means of payment during the slave trade and landed in East Africa, while black, blue, and red natural dyes were obtained from Madagascar. There were actually records of red-and-blue checked “guinea cloth” becoming very popular in West Africa during the 18th century.

Arturo Alfonso Schomburg:Afro-Puerto Rican Writer, Historian, Activist

Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, writer, activist, collector, and important figure of the Harlem Renaissance was born in Saturce, Puerto Rico. His mother, a black woman, was originally from St. Croix, Danish Virgin Islands (now the U.S. Virgin Islands), and his father was a Puerto Rican of German ancestry. Schomburg migrated to New York City, New York in 1891.Very active in the liberation movements of Puerto Rico and Cuba, he founded Las dos Antillas, a cultural and political group that worked for the islands’ independence.After the collapse of the Cuban revolutionary struggle, and the cession of Puerto-Rico to the U.S., Schomburg, disillusioned, turned his attention to the African American community.In 1911, as its Master, he renamed El Sol de Cuba #38, a lodge of Cuban and Puerto Rican immigrants, as Prince Hall Lodge in honor of the first black freemason in the country.

Queen Sophia Charlotte: First Black Queen of England (Great Britain and Ireland)

Princess Sophie Charlotte was born on this date in 1744. She was the first Black Queen of England. Charlotte was the eighth child of the Prince of Mirow, Germany, Charles Louis Frederick, and his wife, Elisabeth Albertina of Saxe-Hildburghausen.In 1752, when she was eight years old, Sophie Charlotte's father died. As princess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Sophie Charlotte was descended directly from an African branch of the Portuguese Royal House, Margarita de Castro y Sousa.Six different lines can be traced from Princess Sophie Charlotte back to Margarita de Castro y Sousa. She married George III of England on September 8, 1761, at the Chapel Royal in St James’s Palace, London, at the age of 17 years of age becoming the Queen of England and Ireland.The conditions of the marriage contract were, ‘The young princess, join the Anglican church and be married according to Anglican rites, and never ever involve herself in politics’.Although the Queen had an interest in what was happening in the world, especially the war in America, she fulfilled her marital agreement. The Royal couple had fifteen children, thirteen of whom survived to adulthood. Their fourth eldest son was Edward Augustus, Duke of Kent, later fathered Queen Victoria.

Black Travel Books to Add toYour Must Read List 

Destinations, Historic Landmarks and Travel Trails First in a three-part series, NoirGuides has curated a listing of 30 African American travel books focused on important U.S. Destinations, Historic Landmarks, and Travel Trails. Written primarily by Black authors, our selection is based on readings which offer historic context essential to understanding the rich legacy and contributions of African Americans. For travel planning as well as interested readers.  

The Black Arts Movement I:History and Context 

Part I: History and Context​ Both inherently and overtly political in content, the Black Arts movement was the only American literary movement to advance “social engagement” as a sine qua non of its aesthetic.The movement broke from the immediate past of protest and petition (civil rights) literature and dashed forward toward an alternative that initially seemed unthinkable and unobtainable: Black Power.In a 1968 essay, “The Black Arts Movement,” Larry Neal proclaimed Black Arts the “aesthetic and spiritual sister of the Black Power concept.” As a political phrase, Black Power had earlier been used by Richard Wright to describe the mid-1950s emergence of independent African nations.The 1960s’ use of the term originated in 1966 with Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee civil rights workers Stokely Carmichael and Willie Ricks.Quickly adopted in the North, Black Power was associated with a militant advocacy of armed self-defense, separation from “racist American domination,” and pride in and assertion of the goodness and beauty of Blackness.Although often criticized as sexist, homophobic, and racially exclusive (i.e., reverse racist), Black Arts was much broader than any of its limitations. Ishmael Reed, who is considered neither a movement apologist nor advocate (“I wasn’t invited to participate because I was considered an integrationist”), notes in a 1995 interview,"I think what Black Arts did was inspire a whole lot of Black people to write. Moreover, there would be no multiculturalism movement without Black Arts. Latinos, Asian Americans, and others all say they began writing as a result of the example of the 1960s." 

 Beats, Steps & the Visual Arts in Cuba Today

​Cuba is a melting pot of indigenous, African, European, and Asian influences. It’s a country that experienced periods of war, upheaval, and economic prosperity before its fate was changed dramatically by a revolution that isolated it from much of the world for the last half century. Cuba is truly a unique place. Its culture reflects that.With the opening of relations with the US, and increased interest in the Caribbean nation, today’s Cuban culture is a colourful mix of old and new ready to be explored by visitors A Diversity of RhythmsBorn of Afro-Cuban rhythms, numerous musical forms have developed in Cuba and have gotten the whole continent dancing. Bolero, mambo, and rumba all call the island home. music is a blend of Spanish guitar with African percussion, and is the origin of salsa. In Havana, along with other musical traditions, is alive and well. This style of music is most famously embodied in the Buena Vista Social Club, a members’ club that closed in the 1940s but enjoyed a revival with the with the 1990s band.Several original members still perform individually worldwide, but Compay Segundo’s grandson carries on the salsa tradition on Monday and Wednesday nights at the . Classic pre-revolutionary nightlife can also be experienced at the historic , a world-renowned cabaret extravaganza of Cuban music and folklore.

Faces of Afro-Belizeans

The Garifuna of Belize are a true Afro-Caribbean people, originating over 500 years ago when the indegenous inhabitants of the island of St. Vincent intermarried with enslaved Africans, together resisting slavery and fighting fiercly against the conversion of their lands into slave plantations.British and French colonists vied to control the island, eventually deporting the Garifuna to Central America, where the survivors formed communities along the Caribbean coast in Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Belize (formerly British Hondurus.  Today, Garifuna culture has not only survived but is known worldwide through its music and dance. Garifuna culture is so unique it was proclaimed by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2001.

Phyllis Hyman: The Sophisticated Lady

Deep-voiced and statuesque, Phyllis Hyman sang with a life-affirming energy and emotional intensity found in few other female vocalists. Born in Philadelphia in 1949 (and raised in Pittsburgh), her professional career began in New York City where, during an engagement, she was spotted by producer Norman Connors and contemporaries Jean Carne and Roberta Flack, among others.She was immediately offered a guest appearance on Connors' "You Are My Starship" album (1976), which included her classic rendition of "Betcha By Golly Wow" (previously a hit for The Stylistics in the early 1970s).In 1977 Buddah Records released her self-titled debut LP, which featured the hits "Loving You/Losing You" and "I Don't Wanna Lose You". A year later she was signed to Arista Records.Her premiere album for the label, "Somewhere In My Lifetime", was released in 1978 (it included many tracks that she recorded for a second album at Buddah titled "Sing A Song", which is now available on CD!). The title track for the album--produced by a newcomer named Barry Manilow, a longtime admirer of hers--became Phyllis' first solo radio hit.A cover version of Exile's "Kiss You All Over" was remixed for club play as part of Arista's promotion, showcasing her versatility. The following year, the James Mtume-/Reggie Lucas-produced "You Know How To Love Me" album, also on Arista, hit the record stores, and the title track became one of her biggest dance anthems.

Let Them Speak: It’s Time to See More Works from Women Writers of Color on Stages Across America

A shockingly low number of women writers of color are presented on stages across America. Looking at regional theatres across the country in the last three theatrical seasons, only 3.8% of plays were written by a woman of color according to .Here in Seattle in fall 2016, we saw the tides begin to change as three theatrical organizations produced works by black women playwrights: with Wedding Band: A Love/Hate Story in Black and White (culminating their full summer season celebrating black women playwrights), with A Raisin in the Sun, and our own contribution, with The Wedding Gift.While this is a triumph for Seattle, a great, progressive city, we must continue pushing forward as a nation. Our work will not be done until we allow artists of color the same opportunities to share their thoughts and explorations on any subject within the human experience, not just what we deem them to be through the lens of their race.This freedom to tell stories about the complex whole of humanity is a privilege that has been reserved for the mostly white men who have commandeered our stages for so long.Here’s the thing: it’s hard enough just writing a damn play. But when you’re a white playwright writing about white people, you don’t have to also worry about your socio-political responsibility to white people, whether you’re representing them accurately or in a way that they’ll find acceptable.

Black Dance and Performing Arts Tours You Must See

A listing of Black dance and performing arts companies  and performers now on tour.