Archive for the ‘Black History’ Category

What did you talk about around the table on Thanksgiving?
Predictions were that current elections and the possibility of war would be top topics. After the sumptuous meal, for the fortunate ones, the grown-up table talk increases. 
We were among guests who shared personal experiences, opinions, and concerns. A small group of adults who spanned five generations. Our common characteristics: African American. We were all employed. (The most senior are employed at staying well and alive.) We shared our middle class-ness, regardless of the path to arrive there. Each person speaking from their own generation: spokes in a wheel.
I have been trying to find symbols that represent what was most important, and disturbing. Were I a composer, I think I would make music. A better writer, perhaps a pamphlet of opinion, a summary and possible conclusions. I might save characterization for a future novel. 
But I am primarily a visual artist. One who usually thinks content before making art. I want symbols where there were no cymbals at the table. The words radiated out from the heat off the sun and cooled as they were politely spoken. Drawn childlike. At the center, each of us spoke from the core of hurts, large, small, deep. Too painful to admit. Lava-like flowing on the outside of a hardened inner core. Too painful to go deeply.
Perhaps, a ball of twine wrapped around a stone. Sometimes a ribbon of velvet and silk, sometimes the roughened rope.

Perhaps a basket made by gichee mothers or for Moses. Safe passage except for a tiny hole. 
Perhaps, a fire burned down to ashes and then getting new life, reigniting. How do you express the cycles of history? The collective rebellions shut down by guns? The passiveness of fear? Not telling our children the full extent of the law and its historic significance? Jacob Lawrence painted the tables but could not record the talk around it. Karin Walker’s silhouettes are just eye candy without the words behind them. 
Or, the broken chains. We are left with the comfort meal, some understanding of how we are all connected but no workable solution.

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I visited the Neslson Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City last week.  Guess what I found?  Other posts…….. The Obama Chair House in Kansas City Cool Stuff Outside the Nelson Atkins Museum Connections at The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art…


More memories…

Married a Kansas City guy and not only connected with my grandmother’s youngest sister, Addie Morris, and the rest of my family there. Never in my ‘lives’ in Chicago did I go to the museum of medieval military gear. So when I put the must-dos in K. C.  a priority was to go to the Nelson museum of Art to see the collection there.

It seems strange to say that trip included four children. We wont forget that visit for two reasons. One, the Asian collection  connsisted of the most beautiful and delicate wire weaving and ivory miniatures indescribingly complex. And in the next room, on the walls, were cars smashed and wrecked together.  The contrasts were without logic. What had we become over the years?

The second deep memory was eating in the cafeteria. We got trays for each of us while the children waited at the table. The servers seemed amused by us. They insisted on bringing all of the trays to us while they stared. One gentleman explained, we never see black families come to the museum. We see adults but no children with their parents. We are so proud is why we are helping you. 

We seemed like family after that.


When my in-laws died a few years later, we found ourselves dealing with their estate and the bank. They insisted they would come to the house and assess values prior to a sale. My husband, an only child, was devastated. How could we let strangers pull through and sell his property. I called the Nelson Museum for a reference to get things packed, stored and then shipped to our home in MA. I knew value but not how to assess what to take and what to let go. 

Surprisingly, they made all of the arrangements. Packing each selection with loving care, building wooden crates and finally bringing the valued and sentimental things to our door. I shall never forget the help they gave us.

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Amazing what is online! This website offers research by Leigh Henson, who lived in this small city. He shared not only the town’s ability to adapt to life with the very small number of Black families, but also his own experiences.

Using research of old newspapers, correspondenc and writings, he describes an intimate community of whites who had little exposure to Blacks. There are interviews and emails with classmates who shared how they were exposed to minorities.

In addition, there are photos. Buildings and important intersections which divide the community by class rather than race. And the most fascinating photos of a young woman. In one she is standing close enough to the camera to show only from her waist. Her face is the subject. Behind her, to her right, is a young man in a comic stance. She appears not to be aware of anything but the camera. The man is not identified. Nor is the photographer.

There were early troubles for the citizens. It was a northern town with southern attitudes. There were friendships formed lasting a lifetime. There was the KKK. This website won an award in 2004. I found this to be a wonderful depiction of actual times, actual small town America going about lives in a formative period post Civil War. Blacks describe what they had to do to be safe there and how the church helped them to cope. Good people are identified. The others were not.

Please check this out..

Site a part of the Illinois State Historical Society.


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Open Letter to Kevin,

Your beautiful book just arrived. I cannot wait to read and share it. You took an idea from beginning to book in all the right ways.

You included me in getting involved so that I have followed all the ways you used the media so effectively. Who knew that you would use Kickstarter and get the money needed to publish the book? And will we see more from your publishing company?

It has been my pleasure to meet you through wordpress.com. I wish you further success. It did not pass my keen eye that you included a handwritten note. Thanks to you!


Re: The Vineyard We Knew, A Recollection of Summers on Martha’s Vineyard, by Kevin Parham (Pria Press, Plymouth, MA)

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Ida B. Wells was attending college when the Yellow Fever hit Holly Springs, Mississippi. Her parents and a sibling died leaving her the one to care for the younger children. She left Rust College to teach and placed the children with her aunt. Her life story of achievements and responsibilities is recorded in her journal.

While teaching she began to write under the pen name, IOLA. Later she owned a newspaper in Memphis, TN. This brought her face to face with legal (Jim Crow) discrimination that reversed many of the opportunities afforded Blacks after the Civil War.

Her own experiences included being thrown off a train. She had bought a first class ticket and refused to move from the segregated Ladies car reserved for white women. Ida sued the company and won a judgement. However, this was reversed by the Tennessee Court of Appeals.

She became an advocate for the rights of Blacks after several business men she knew were lynched. She was forced to leave the south but travelled widely for the causes she believed in. She was an early supporter of the Crisis magazine and the NAACP.

Her marriage to F. Barnett, a lawyer, made them a prominent couple and parents of 5 children. There are many named sites recognizing her contributions, including the Ida B. Wells museum in Holly Springs.

Who knew?

The list of her associates is long and includes my grandparents, William H.  and Annie Talbot Strickland. They were students at Rust College at the same time Ida attended. Her attitudes regarding Annie changed when Ida returned to Mississippi to attend my grandparents’ wedding. I learned of this by reading her biography (by) Paula Giddings (Ida:A Sword Among Lions: Ida B. Wells and the Campaign Against Lynching.)


It pays to check your drafts! I did exactly one year to the day. I do have an excuse. I have been busy. Soon to explain my project and its progress.

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Women Series

Iola (Ida B. Wells)
Oil by Bettye W. Harwell

Lynching is the act of hanging an individual by a group.

I may not post this because this is my personal opinion.  I want to write this for my own clarity. Lynching was never something I came into personal contact with. Living in the North with southern-raised relatives, children were protected from scary things. Still there were the conversations in the corners which made us fearful.

As I became an adult, I came to know about the practice of killing Black men for any reason. These were spontaneously organized by groups of men. No judge, no jury. We are familiar with the Ku Klux Clan formed after the Civil War. By wearing a covering of white, each person remained anonymous. Burning crosses, shooting into homes, culminating with hanging spectacles terrorized communities across the country.

Earlier, the Wild West set the template of justice. Those early hangings, viewed by women and children, were public events. The Law and Order of an earlier day was horrible but at least the hangings were equal opportunity. Lynching became racial and intimidation events. Officials were not acting in their authority but were part of the mob.

These unexpected and unsanctioned attacks deprived families of breadwinners, caused loss of property. They were used to ensure that others knew their ‘place.’ It also caused displacement: Blacks fled their homes looking for safe shelter far away from the dangers. (Finding dangers of another kind?)

Long before Emmit Till, part of my family left the south in small  groups. A great uncle, age 20 and looking white, was being chased for talking to a white woman. The sister was separated from her brother. His former slave mother spent her last years without his comfort. The doctor husband remained in a nearby southern state. What resulted from this new normal?

Finally, the practice of lynching was curtailed by federal laws.

But now we have a new version of lawlessness. Our children are killing each other. In this form, it is also an equal opportunity event. Children of color, with guns, kill those closest to themselves. It is the lawlessness of the Wild West and no one is safe.

By my definition the New Lynchings are encouraged by our laws. It is an individual ‘being the MAN’ event. When there is no accountability for taking a life, our children have no expectation of living a long time. The model is ‘give me respect’, or, with my gun, you lose your life. How sad. Parents live in anguish when cast as polite, understanding people; cast into the TV limelight due to the killing of their child. What effort to face the public with the approved image only to curse the dark when alone.

And if you have other children, yours or your neighbors?  What court? What jury? What comfort for their safety? What price for raising good kids? And if not so good, would that make a killing justified?

In the celebration of Black History Month, we look away from the bad past and the bad today. Will we remember that within some of our lifetimes, in Florida, Blacks had a curfew, could not walk on the sidewalk, and could be arrested without a ‘passport.’ Not slavery times, not too long ago. Will we see the signs on water fountains because some people buy into being separate means safety?

Who knew?

I used to say (facetiously) that you had lived a good life if your son did not ring the doorbell and shoot you. (That happened in our town.) Now you may have to live to bury your child. This is my opinion, but it does not change anything today. Perhaps tomorrow.

Painting: Ida Wells became a civil right leader after learning of the lynching  of three Black men in TN.

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Today is the 50th year since the first March on Washington. It had an enormous impact on the country and the world. How could one Black minister stand before a crowd of 250,000, and in a few words move a government and shame a people into positive action?  It was before the internet and social media, before cell phones and cable tv, and before mega-churches. It was an age of proclaimed innocence. (more…)

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