Introducing Works by Emerson Faculty that Explore the Africana Experience
Set in Greenwich Village and Harlem, James Baldwin’s 1962 novel, Another Country, is a groundbreaking work of sexual, racial and artistic passions — stunning for its emotional intensity and haunting sensuality.
“The book is a sensitive look at the nuances of Baldwin’s novel and its role in McLarin’s coming of age as a writer” — Boston Globe
WLP Associate Professor Kim McLarin explored the themes of male and female relationships, the meaning of creativity, and the ecstasy of love in this historic novel.
Old School Brothers
Source: Courtesy of Glenn Watson
High School Days in Queens, NY, circa 1970s — “The Leather is the Icing on the Cake!”
Photo Gallery - Posted September 2020
Dexter Gordon was a West Coast tenor saxophonist who expressed in jazz the confidence of Black migrants to the western territories. Here is a Bebop rendition of a 1919 waltz that captures the essence of swing “Three O’clock in the Morning.”
Source: Roger House, "Music to Calm Election Jitters -- Remembering Jazz Man Dexter Gordon." The Hill 10/31/20
Black Lives & Black Progress: The Need for a New Approach
The Georgia Imperative – Why True Justice Requires a State of Our Own
The murders of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery by armed vigilantes was a call to action for Black political and cultural leaders across the country. Besides the usual protest for timely prosecutions, however, the vision of the Black community must go further. People need to accept that the race will always be in a position of vulnerability to anti-Black agitation and violence. This has been our reality over 400 years and recent events only underscore the situation.
Moreover, the era of Donald Trump has demonstrated just how easy it is to incite people to animosity and brutality. All it takes is a tweet for people to act out. So, it is time for people to consider the idea of establishing a safe haven in this land. It would mean devising a strategy to create a political power base in a state with a large Black population like Georgia. Other marginalized groups have utilized the strategy of leveraging power in a state like the Mormons in Utah.
True justice for the cases of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery will mean taking seriously the new opportunity to claim Georgia as a majority-minority state. Currently, Blacks comprise about 32 percent of the state population and have a capable political class. Stacey Abrams narrowly loss the 2018 gubernatorial race under the suspicions of election fraud. Today, the political leaders are ready to combat such suspicions and to work with allies to manage a state with a good economy.
Black cultural creators need to devise social media campaigns to accelerate the growth of the voter base. It would require marketing the state’s political and economic prospects to Black college graduates and retirees, among others. The vision of a majority-minority state would not diminish the cause of civil rights and free associations around the country. It would instead provide a place for certain leverage over the major departments, laws, programs, and police forces of the state.
Henry McNeal Turner was a Georgia political leader during the Reconstruction, bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and chancellor of Morris Brown College in Atlanta. He offered sage advice for his generation that is still relevant for today: “Until we have black men in the seat of power, respected, feared, hated, and reverenced, our young men will never rise.”
Source: Roger House, "Racial justice in Georgia requires more than a conviction in Ahmaud Arbery's death." The Hill 5/09/20
Black Economic Emancipation: Common Sense Advice for the Common Folk
In recent years, young advocates have taken to the streets to protest the issue of economic inequality and racism. Many can mistake the act of protest as a strategy for Black economic development. What some may fail to appreciate, however, is that the admirable call to protest can fall short of the mark.
Student advocates might find guidance in the historic approaches to Black economic emancipation. Educator Booker T. Washington’s program in advanced agriculture, skilled trades, and small business creation was a role model for developing regions of the world. His late-19th century program at the Tuskegee Institute inspired later figures like the Jamaican activist Marcus Garvey.
Booker T. Washington's Tuskegee Institute - Class in Printing & Publishing c. 1890s (source: nps.gov)
Garvey, the leader of a Pan-African movement, instituted a program of commercial development for his Universal Negro Improvement Association. Meanwhile, Elijah Poole, a Georgia sharecropper of modest education who changed his named to Elijah Muhammad, doled out financial advice for the folk in “Message to the Blackman in America.” In that vein, Earl Graves, the publisher of “Black Enterprise” magazine, established a steps program to build Black economic standing.
So, what did they say? Here are a few of the financial practices they recommended to the folk: live within your means, save as much as possible, nurture a supportive family life, spend your money among yourselves, support black-owned businesses or non-black businesses that hire your people, and strive to improve one’s health, education, home and community.
The emphasis on self-improvement and commercial development may not confront the problem of economic inequality and race. However, it can give ordinary people some tools with which to help themselves – tools that may offer more chances of rewards than taking to the streets perpetually.
Source: Roger House, "Black Lives and Mass Protest: Why we need a new approach." The Hill, 6/13/20
Reflections on the Free Black Seamen of Massachusetts
Seafaring was an important source of employment for free blacks in the maritime trade of Boston, New Bedford, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket. An estimated 25 percent of the free black population of the United States worked as seamen and dockworkers in the coastal cities, according to pioneer scholars James and Lois Horton in the history, “In Hope of Liberty.”
Dock work was one common means of employment. The work was known for its low-pay, low-skill, and high risk. Employment was often short-term, day labor jobs helping to load supplies or unloaded cargo on merchant and whaling ships, often in hazardous weather conditions.
Many also worked as deck-hands climbing rigging to drop or raise sails, repairing sails, and manning the decks. Others worked on the pilot boats that guided ships to and from the docks.
The black seamen on Massachusetts whaling ships were noted by the novelist Herman Melville in the 1851 classic, “Moby Dick.” As the crew gathered to depart from New Bedford, for example, the novel introduced the character of “Daggoo,” the powerful 6-foot, 5-inch African harpoonist, and “Pip,” the tiny cabin boy from Connecticut who played tambourine to entertain deckhands.
In the whaling industry of New Bedford, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, blacks worked as dock workers, deck hands, and sea captains, among other occupations. In some cases, they intermarried with Native American families and engaged in the maritime trades of the tribal groups. A few readings on the subject are “Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail,” by W. Jeffrey Bolster; “Salts of the Sea: Seafarers of African Descent on British Ships” by Ray Costello; “Whaling Captains of Color: America’s First Meritocracy,” by Skip Finley.
Source: Gravestone of Sea Captain William A. Martin. Courtesy of African American Heritage Trail of Martha's Vineyard.
Source: Roger House, "Reflections on the free black seamen of Martha's Vineyard." Martha's Vineyard Times, 7/07/19
Taking the Measure of African-American Political Power
In fall 2018, Emerson students in the history of the alternative press and in social movement history tracked the transformative midterm elections. The campaigns were a prelude to the vision of Black politics after the Obama Presidency and in the quagmire of “Trumpism.”
Selected stories on the “Midterm Elections” menu page.
Supporters of voting rights for felons marched in Fort Lauderdale [Source: STEVE BOUSQUET – Tampa Bay Times]
Restoration of Ex-Felon Suffrage in Florida
One of the under-reported stories of the midterm election took place in Florida. Voters overwhelmingly supported a state constitutional amendment to immediately restore the voting rights of an estimated 1.4 million ex-felons. The denial of voting rights disproportionately impacted Black men.
Amendment 4 is one the most significant expansions of the franchise in modern times. It was the outcome of a sophisticated statewide campaign conducted by The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. It overturns two decades of rightwing voter suppression activities dating back to the Bush-Gore election.
Florida Activist Roderick Kemp Describes Losing the Right to Vote
Source: The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition
Guideposts to Ancient African History: How an Underground Animated Documentary Restored Ancient Egypt to its African Roots
Pyramid is a PBS animated documentary on the history of Ancient Egypt. It places the civilization in the context of African historical development and renders a compelling image of life along the Nile River.
Pyramid was produced in 1988 during an era of “correctionist” scholarship to reconnect Egypt to its African roots. David Macaulay, writer and illustrator, worked with Egyptologist Zahi Hawass and other historians to explore the building of pyramids and everyday life in the Old Kingdom.
Pyramid is available on DVD from Amazon. The 30th anniversary underground documentary can be seen on Youtube:
The film examines the first Golden Age of Ancient Africa — the Old Kingdom and Middle Kingdom of Ancient Egypt.
The Old Kingdom (2700 to 2200 BC). The Old Kingdom emerged from the consolidation of about 40 or more African kingdoms along the Nile River. The early Nile River settlements date back to 5,000 BC as independent or regional states until the drive to unify about 3,000 BC. The unified Egyptian state — known then as Kemet — stretched from Ethiopia and the Sudan to the Nile Delta. The civilization constructed the Great Pyramids to honor King Kufu and powerful families. The Sphinx of Giza depicted the face of African King Khafre below. This was an age of engineering and architectural marvels.
Statue of King Khafre from 4th Dynasty of Old Kingdom c. 2600 BC Source: , Wikipedia
The Middle Kingdom (2050 – 1700 BC) was a restoration of the Old Kingdom after the break-up of the 40 or so Nile River states. The restoration of the unified Egyptian state ignited a period of renewed economic, social, and artistic achievements. Trade in agricultural products, precious metals, arts and literature traveled the Nile River corridor from current day Uganda to the Delta.
The New Kingdom (1550 – 1100 BC) was the second Golden Age of Ancient Africa. It was a time of recovery from the invasions of Western Asian armies (current day Israel, Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Turkey, Iran). Egypt was Africa’s historic gateway to the world and reached north to current day Turkey. Under the restoration, the Egyptian state incorporated the diverse populations of former invaders and refugees from western Asia, including the Hebrew people. Its awesome wealth drew the attention of waves of invaders and sparked internal unrest. The combination of rebellions and invasions brought about the collapse of African rule in the northern Nile River valley.
There was a brief period of restored Egyptian civilization under the Sudanese Kingdom of Kush from about 800 to 600 BC. This was the last period of African control of the Nile River Valley. From then on, it would fall to various foreign invaders from western Asia and Europe posing as inheritors of the Ancient Egyptian legacy.
The third Golden Age of Africa (700 to 1600 AD). The rise of Ancient Ghana, Mali, and Songhay on the Niger River of West Africa was the final period of medieval Black civilization. A few scholars have suggested that migrants from the fallen Egyptian state may have played a role in forging the Niger River kingdoms.
Among the scholars to recover the history and legend of Ancient Africa were Cheikh Anta Diop, John Henrik Clarke, Chancellor Williams, and Basil Davidson, among others; also the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, and underground films like Pyramid. (Updated 12/1/20)
The Triumph of Lawful Marijuana in the State of Massachusetts
On November 8, 2016, the people of Massachusetts voted to end the long reign of terror over the possession of marijuana. By a convincing margin, they endorsed the Question 4 initiative to end marijuana prohibition in the Commonwealth. They backed the measure despite the concerted opposition of state political elites. Now anyone over the age of 21 can possess, grow, and use marijuana for all lawful purposes.
This spring, students in the history of the alternate press chronicled this historic event in state law & culture. Their stories explore different aspects of the end of marijuana prohibition.
Documented by the Journalism Students of JR364 -- History of the Alternative Press, Spring 2017. Under the direction of Roger House, Associate Professor of American Studies
Cultivating the New Marijuana Workforce of the Commonwealth
Bret Hauff and Laura King review the Northeastern University Institute of Cannabis
Of Medical Marijuana and College Sports Medicine
Tommaso Diblasi and Danny Johnson examine the clash of state marijuana reform, federal law, and college sports.
On Marijuana and Wellness — Two Tales of Navigating Obstacles
Rebecca Szkutak documents the benefits and constraints of using medical marijuana
Katie Burns and Ross Cristantiello report on the complexity of using pot to treat mental health issues
The Commerce of Cannabis
Lily Rugo and Sabrina Petrafesa explore the New England Cannabis Convention
MYSTERY OF THE BLACK MADONNA & CHILD
Since the Middle Ages, Christian faithful in Europe and South America have venerated the image of a Black Madonna and Child. In medieval churches across Europe, there are thousands of paintings and statues of the Madonna and Child with black features dating back to the 12th and 15th centuries.
Among the better known icons are Our Lady of Altötting in Bavaria, Germany; Our Lady of the Hermits in Einsiedeln, Switzerland; Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City; Our Lady of Jasna Gora in Czestochowa, Poland; Our Lady of Montserrat in Spain; Our Lady of Tindari in Sicily, and the Black Madonna and Child of St Anjony, France.
The Black Madonna and Child of St Anjony, France. (c. 1400s) Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/545780048564055012/
Many contemporary Eurocentric scholars have been baffled by this phenomena. They have floated reasons that strained logic in the attempt to explain why their ancestors venerated a black deity. Here are a few of them:
1) The images turned black as a result of physical factors such as years of deterioration of lead-based pigments, or accumulated smoke from the use of candles, or grime built up over the years.
2) The images are the result of a foreign residue with no known explanation.
3) The images are a physical manifestation of a line in the Song of Songs: “I am black but beautiful.”
What the scholars struggled to avoid exploring was the more than probable explanation: The icons were realistic depictions of the early Christian European understanding of the African origin of western religions. In the 1970s, scholars presented new research on the influence of ancient Nile valley kingdoms on western religions. One example was the Egyptian symbol for life – the “ankh” – and the Christian cross. Another was the names of ancient Egyptians gods such as “Amun” — the god of sun and air — and the later Christian affirmation of “Amen.”(Posted 11/16/18)
Crusade Against Hunger in Boston
Boston is one of the most expensive metropolitan regions in the nation. Across the city about 18% of families with children get by on poverty incomes. Meanwhile, poor men, women, and students are left to emergency food programs. Many survive by skipping meals, begging, scavenging, and stealing on the very same streets as our most upscale restaurants and bistros.
On May 1, 2016, an estimated 40,000 people raised awareness to the problem in a citywide “Walk for Hunger.” In line with this cause, Emerson alternative press students chronicled some of the individual, private, and public initiatives to help stave off hunger.
"Hunger in Boston" represents the work of the students of JR364 -- History of the Alternative Press. It was overseen by Roger House, Associate Professor of American Studies in Spring 2016.
“I was there for you, will you be there for me?”
Giuliann Frendak and Maggie Morlath chronicle a food intervention program for homeless vets
“Defeating Hunger with Knowledge”
Rivka Herrera and Lauren Hoyerman profile a culinary class for the poor
“To the Rescue — the Lovin’ Spoonful Program” by Anna Marketti and Emily Theytaz
“A Garden of Their Own?”
Michelle Lavner and Shannon O’Connor spotlight a Berkeley Community Garden in Transition
“On the Rise”
Hunter Reis and Eleanor Romano report on a Cambridge woman’s shelter that provides critical services and emergency food provisions
The Year 2015 represented an important anniversary in the history of African Americans and in the American Experience. It was the 150 year marker of the abolition of slavery with the enactment of the 13th amendment. The milestone went largely unnoticed.
Lest We Forget
150 Years of African American Freedom, 1865-2015
President Obama honors the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
The Meaning of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr
Three days after the Rev. King was gun-downed in Memphis in April 1968, soul singer Nina Simone performed the elegy “Why? (The King of Love is Dead).” She debuted the song at the Westbury Music Festival on Long Island, N.Y. The dedication was written by her bass player Gene Taylor.
Once upon this planet earth Lived a man humble from birth Preaching love and freedom for his fellow man
He was dreaming of the day Peace would come to earth to stay And he spread his message all across the land
Emerson President Lee Pelton Spotlights “Martin Luther King Jr, Barack Hussein Obama II, and the New American Diversity” at the 2016 MLK Breakfast in Cohasset, MA.
“Martin Luther King, Jr. and Barack Hussein Obama II share their father’s name. But they also share a lot more. Both entered, at young and relatively inexperienced ages, national and world scenes beset by deep political divisions and violence.
“In America, the last decade of King’s life was played out against the backdrop of a swiftly changing world. In the middle of this foment stood Dr. King, resolute in his faith in the power of nonviolent action to change society.
“Obama was elected President at a time in which the world economy had collapsed, caused, in large part, by avarice, an irresponsible credit rating system, the transformation of our heretofore value based housing industry to a transactional based industry and the bundling of grossly over valued and, in some cases, worthless mortgages into toxic securities.”
READ A VERSION OF THE ENTIRE SPEECH: Lee Pelton tribute to MLK
On November 2, 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed federal legislation establishing the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday. It is observed on the third Monday of January every year.
Among the figures pictured with President Reagan are from left, Coretta Scott King, widow of Martin Luther King, and Rep. Katie Hall (D-Ind), who sponsored "The King Bill" in the U.S. House of Representatives. Photo Courtesy of the Katie Hall Foundation.
Recovering Lost Voices
A Memorial to Victims of Police Brutality
Documented by the Journalism Students of JR364 -- History of the Alternative Press, Spring 2015. Under the direction of Roger House, Associate Professor of American Studies
“I Gets No Sleep” — The Story of Aiyana Stanley Jones (Detroit, 2010) by Tashanea Whitlow
The Story of the Short Life of Tamir Rice (Cleveland, 2014) by Angela Ferraguto
The Curious Story of Anthony Baez (New York City, 1994) by Frank Olito
The “Freedom Sites” section publishes reviews on people, places, and things relevant to the quest for self-reliance and self-determination. The most recent review is on the
African Burying Ground, Portsmouth, NH
Emerson historian Roger House commemorates the Africans of Colonial Portsmouth, N.H., on the 150th anniversary of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Find review in the tab above. Photo by Tamela Ambush.
April 16 is celebrated as “Emancipation Day” in Washington DC and other African American communities. In 1862, as the Civil War deepened, President Lincoln abolished slavery for blacks in the District. This ended a moral stain on the nation’s capital and set the stage for the eventual end of slavery.
Image Source: www.Dailymail.co.uk