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Illustration: Paul Blow/The Guardian.

Summer is coming, and all over America, kids will be seeking out basketball hoops for pickup games or organized sports. Today we know that the recognized stars of the game are often Black, but apparently, that wasn’t always the case.

Frederic J. Frommer explains at the Washington Post why Edwin Bancroft Henderson is “known as the ‘father of Black basketball’ (or sometimes the ‘grandfather’). The first Black certified instructor of physical education in the United States, [he] brought the White-dominated sport to Black America. …

“ ‘Henderson and his contemporaries envisioned basketball — and sports in general — as providing a rare opportunity to combat Jim Crow,’ wrote Bob Kuska in Hot Potato: How Washington and New York Gave Birth to Black Basketball and Changed America’s Game Forever.

“[Henderson] learned basketball while studying physical education at Harvard University’s Dudley Sargent School of Physical Training. The school was affiliated with the International YMCA Training School in Springfield, Mass., where James Naismith had invented the sport just a decade earlier. When Henderson returned to Washington, he organized a basketball league for Black players, in a city where only Whites had access to basketball courts or clubs.

“ ‘What’s sad is that more people don’t know the story of E.B. Henderson, who was a pioneer, a trailblazer, someone who was a direct protégé of Dr. Naismith,’ said John Thompson III, the former head men’s basketball coach at Georgetown University, now vice president of player engagement at Monumental Basketball.

“Today, community leaders are taking steps to raise Henderson’s profile. In February, the University of the District of Columbia renamed its athletic complex the Dr. Edwin Bancroft Henderson Sports Complex. The school also launched the Dr. Edwin Bancroft Henderson Memorial Fund, which will help pay for the renaming, a scholarship endowment and the creation of a permanent Henderson memorial on campus. …

“On April 1, the Wizards named forward Anthony Gillthe inaugural winner of the team’s E.B. Henderson Award, which recognizes the Wizards player most philanthropically active in the D.C. community.

“And last year, Virginia honored Henderson with a state historical marker in Falls Church, where he lived from 1910 to 1965 and helped organize the NAACP’s first rural branch. Henderson also served as president of the Virginia NAACP.

After completing his studies at Harvard, Henderson tried to attend a basketball game at a Whites-only YMCA in D.C. in 1907 along with his future brother-in-law, but they were shown the door by the athletic director.

“Undeterred, Henderson started the D.C.-based Basket Ball League, where his 12th Street YMCA team went undefeated in 1909-10 in competition with local rivals and teams from other cities and won the unofficial title of Colored Basketball World Champions.

“His playing days came to an end in 1910 when he was 27 [but] Henderson’s work continued off the court, as he formed the Public Schools Athletic League, the country’s first public school sports league for Black students, which included basketball, track and field, soccer and baseball.

“In 1912, Henderson moved to Falls Church, and soon he was taking on racial discrimination there, helping to challenge a local ordinance that restricted where Black residents could live. After a court ruled the ordinance unconstitutional, the Town Council rescinded it.

“Henderson continued to challenge discriminatory treatment of African Americans, often through the many newspaper articles and letters to the editor he wrote over the years. In a September 1936 letter to the Post titled ‘The Negro in Sports,’ for example, he touted the success of Black athletes such as track star Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin.

“ ‘Right here in Washington, it ought to be possible for a Jesse Owens, or a city-wide marble champion, or a Joe Louis to come up through the lists and tournaments,’ he wrote. ‘When will the Capital of the Nation meet this challenge?’

“In 1939, he wrote a book with the same title, The Negro in Sports, which he updated in 1950. In the intervening decade, Jackie Robinson had broken baseball’s color barrier, and Black players had returned to the NFL after being shut out of the league for a dozen years.

“ ‘Henderson resists what might have been the high temptation to gloat at the sensational success of the Negro boys when finally they got their chance to play in the big leagues,’ Shirley Povich wrote in a Washington Post review of the revised edition. ‘Instead, he pays tribute to the American sportsmanship that sufficed, finally, to provide equal opportunity.’ …

“ ‘I never consciously did anything to be first. I just happened to be on the spot and lived in those days when few people were doing the things I was doing,’ Henderson said a few years before his death in 1977, at the age of 93. ‘But sports was my vehicle. I always claimed sports ranked with music and the theater as a medium for recognition of the colored people, as we termed ourselves in my day. I think the most encouraging thing, living down here in Alabama, is to see how the Black athlete has been integrated in the South.’

“Henderson was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013, following a campaign waged by his grandson, Edwin B. Henderson II, a retired educator and local historian.”

More at the Post, here.

Photo: University of the District of Columbia.
Edwin Bancroft Henderson, the “Father of Black Basketball.”

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Photo: Wikipedia.

The problem with crossword puzzles is like the problem with academic entrance exams: they assume a cultural knowledge common to the creators’ identity groups. An older woman who doesn’t read Harry Potter books is not going to know what a young crossword creator is hinting about owls. Recent Latin American immigrants may never have heard of John Paul, George, and Ringo. And it may depend on your family life if you know anything about Marian Anderson, W. E. B. Du Bois, or Bayard Rustin.

Read what African American crossword puzzle creator Portia Lundie has to say about that at the Washington Post.

“I’m a Black woman who creates crossword puzzles. That’s rare, but it shouldn’t be. … Margaret Farrar, who became the founding puzzle editor of the New York Times in 1942, is credited with popularizing daily crosswords. But despite the impressive distinction, she only published the work of a handful of women.

“That’s perhaps unsurprising in a world dominated by White men; when I published my debut 15-by-15 crossword in the New York Times during Black History Month last year, I didn’t know of any crosswords constructed by Black women in America’s crossword gold standard.

“Before last year, I’d made dozens of 9-by-9 grids, or ‘midis,’ for the New York Times crossword app. I knew that my pop culture-themed puzzles were among the most popular on that platform, but I didn’t know what publishing my first crossword on a major newspaper site would be like — that it would open me up to a wave of subculture criticism.

“When it was announced that the Times would feature a week of Black constructors for Black History Month, there were myriad opinions on popular crossword blogs: ‘I prefer puzzles to be fun, not dry activist treatises that promote political ideology,’ wrote one commenter in response to the word ‘REPARATIONS’ in a puzzle by Erik Agard. …

“Yet, finally, I found some relief. ‘Must admit to knowing very little about Marcus Garvey. … Thanks to crosswords … for leading me there,’ one enthusiast said. When it came to learning the name of a horse racing champion or their jockey, I was more like this last commenter — excited that a puzzle introduced me to something new. This attitude, while seemingly compatible with a love for testing your trivial knowledge, is actually rare in the world of crossword critics.

“The experience came with other revelations. My dad worked for his uncle’s newspaper in Guyana when he was a teen, reading submissions and judging the crossword competition. But he didn’t tell me about his experience with crosswords until after mine was published in the Times. He revealed he was ’embarrassed’ that he wasn’t as good at crosswords when he immigrated to America. Turns out, I was robbed of a chance to learn about crosswords at a young age in part because crossword culture does not encourage learning — rather, it rewards already knowing.

“I ended up being introduced to crosswords in my early 20s while dating a constructor. Of course, I had attempted them before, but no one ever walked me through the rules. [For example] studying words that are used much more in crosswords than real life — words like ‘ESTOP’ and ‘STE’ and ‘ERE,’ which are usually used for their vowel placements. …

“I ultimately used practice, dictionary obsession and occasional cheating to get better. Constructing and cluing my own crosswords made me even better at recognizing the patterns — not to mention, it allowed me to assert my particular voice and trivial knowledge of 1990s cartoon characters.

“But most crosswords, I’ve found, still reflect the majority of creators. Like so many other hallmarks of culture, crosswords as we know them were standardized by a profound woman, yet the authority on language still seems to be in the hands of a few White men. In my opinion, there’s no such thing as a view from nowhere, and I’m glad to play a small role in giving crossword enthusiasts a view from someone who isn’t White, and isn’t a man.”

More at the Post, here.

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Photo: David Levene/The Guardian.
Francis Kéré, outside his Serpentine pavilion in London, is the most recent recipient of the prestigious Pritzker Prize for architecture.

There’s a 7-year-old girl in my family who has been designing buildings this week, complete with elevators, staircases, rooftop playgrounds, and two kinds of dining rooms. With flowers. I can’t help wondering if this is the kind of childhood interest that leads to a career like the one in today’s story.

Oliver Wainwright reports at the Guardian, “Few architects have experienced such a meteoric rise, against such odds, as Francis Kéré. Born in a remote village in Burkina Faso without running water or electricity, he began his career by building a mud-brick school for his community, before being selected to design the country’s national parliament less than 15 years later. Now he continues his unparalleled trajectory, named as the winner of the 2022 Pritzker prize, architecture’s highest international accolade.

“ ‘It is unbelievable,” said Kéré, speaking from his office in Berlin. “I don’t know how this all happened. First of all I am happy and overwhelmed, but the prize also brings a great sense of responsibility. My life is not going to be easier.’

“He is the first black architect to be recognized in the [award’s] 43-year history, reflecting the profession’s overwhelmingly white, male, middle-class bias. …

“ ‘I don’t want to talk about racism directly,’ he said, ‘but this is a field where you need a lot of resources. You really need to be strong and be lucky, as competitions are not always so open. I hope that young people in Africa will see me and know that this is a possible path for them too.’

“Kéré has made a name for himself with a series of schools and medical facilities in Africa that appear grown out of their context, built by local communities with the bare minimum of resources. Often featuring walls of clay-earth bricks, shaded by large, overhanging corrugated metal roofs, his buildings are elegantly tuned to their arid climate – whether in Mali, Togo, Kenya, Mozambique or Sudan – using natural cooling to avoid the need for air conditioning.

” ‘Francis Kéré’s entire body of work shows us the power of materiality rooted in place,’ said the Pritzker jury, chaired this year by Chilean activist-architect Alejandro Aravena. ‘His buildings, for and with communities, are directly of those communities – in their making, their materials, their programmes and their unique characters. They have presence without pretence and an impact shaped by grace.’

“Born in Gando in 1965, Kéré was … the first in his community to attend school, sent away at the age of seven, after which he won a scholarship to study woodwork in Germany. He saw slim prospects for a career in carpentry in a country that had little wood, so he switched to study architecture at the Technical University of Berlin. For his final project he designed a primary school for his home village – and set about fundraising and mobilising friends and family to see it built. It was realized in 2001, for about [$26,000]. …

“Kéré’s Gando primary school set out the basic principles that would go on to define his work, using earth bricks made on site, topped with a perforated ceiling crowned by a thin ‘flying roof.’ …

“Kéré suspended his metal canopy above the classrooms to encourage stack ventilation, drawing cool air in through the building’s side windows and releasing hot air through the holes in the ceiling. The whole village was involved in construction: children gathered stones for the foundations while women brought water for the brick production, beginning a collaborative model of practice that he has continued ever since. The school won an Aga Khan award in 2004, catapulting Kéré to international fame and prompting him to found his practice in Berlin the following year. …

“International commissions including the Serpentine pavilion in 2017, and an installation for the Coachella music festival in 2019, have continued to help him raise funds and awareness of his work in Africa. …

“His biggest project so far, for the national assembly of Benin, is currently under construction, rising out of the ground in the capital, Porto-Novo, in the form of a majestic palaver tree. ‘The site is next to a botanic garden,’ he said, ‘so we proposed to extend the garden and place the biggest tree in the centre, with a debate hall beneath the figurative tree canopy – reflecting how democracy has always been conducted in west Africa.’

“His equivalent project back home, for the national assembly of Burkina Faso in Ouagadougou, is now hanging in the balance, after the president was removed by a military coup in January. Kéré was commissioned in 2015, following a national uprising when the parliament was torched and the then-president hounded out of the country. …

“ ‘I want the people to take ownership over the parliament building,’ he said, ‘so that, one day, when the next revolution comes, they will protect it as their own.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: Kim Hairston/ The Baltimore Sun.
From left, Lynnette Dodson, co-owner of Cuples Tea House, talks with Nicole Foster, co-owner of Cajou Creamery, inside the creamery. “They are among five Black-owned businesses in the 400 block of N. Howard St. that will help to revitalize this long neglected area,” says the Baltimore Sun.

Yesterday I wrote about people pulling together to help Ukraine. There is strength in numbers, as Pete Seeger said in the line that I often quote: “One and two and 50 make a million.”

Another aspect of pulling together is seen in the “solidarity” movement described by Lisa Elaine Held at the Washington Post.

“On a [2021] fall morning, despite the chill in the air, workers at Taharka Brothers Ice Cream were packing a freezer truck and a van with pints of honey graham, peanut butter cup and pistachio. In the office, business metrics on retail performance, catering and home delivery moved across a screen on the wall. ‘It’s a really busy day,’ said Detric McCoy. ‘Even right now, I don’t think I could run it by myself.’

“He doesn’t have to. In December 2020, Taharka officially became a worker-owned cooperative, and McCoy shares responsibilities that would typically fall on one person’s shoulders. …

“In November 2020, popular pizzeria Joe Squared reopened after a covid-19 hiatus with 13 new worker-owners. This fall, the plant-based dessert shop Cajou Creamery also became a cooperative. And in early December, Union Craft Brewing announced it had added six longtime employees as owners and in the future would offer ownership to all employees after five years with the company. …

“Historically, restaurants have been places where power imbalances — between the front and back of the house, star chefs and kitchen staff, servers and customers — were tolerated. The industry also disproportionately depends on the labor of people from marginalized groups — including people of color and undocumented immigrants. …

“ ‘Co-ops have always emerged and scaled during crises,’ said Tori Kuper, the operations coordinator at the New Economy Coalition who is also on the board of the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives. After the 2008 recession, Kuper said, the number of coops in the U.S. skyrocketed, and the spirit of mutual aid that arises during an economic downturn can also lead to interest in what the coalition calls ‘the solidarity economy.’ …

“Baltimore has been tending the fire of its solidarity economy for years, and many look to it as a model, Kuper said. …

Much of the story can be traced back to 2004 and Red Emma’s, a vegan cafe and bookstore that grew out of an anarchist bookstore called Black Planet Books.

“The seven founders set out to create a space for the city’s radical left and thought adding food and coffee to the bookstore would bring in more people, said Kate Khatib, who was one of those originals and is still a worker-owner.

“Worker cooperatives operate in many different ways, and Red Emma’s structure is entirely non-hierarchical. Everyone who is hired starts at the same hourly wage regardless of experience or background and is put on a track to ownership. If all goes well and they pass certain benchmarks over a set period of time, they join a team of worker-owners who share equal decision-making power and profits. Wages increase with time worked, but the highest-paid worker can never make more than twice the lowest. … She said, ‘We really started drilling down into: What does it mean for a business in this sector to be sustainable? And … how do we create jobs that are sustainable?’

“One answer was that they needed capital to buy a space, but traditional banks weren’t set up to lend to a group, and choosing the person with the best credit to take on the loan went against their operating values, since it strengthened the economic power of the most well-resourced owner over others. Red Emma’s began working with other cooperative organizations to fix that issue, which led to a nationwide cooperative lending network and then a local outfit that could provide both funding and technical assistance to worker coops. Today, that organization, the Baltimore Roundtable for Economic Democracy (BRED), connects the city’s growing patchwork of cooperatives.

“Emily Lerman, a project officer at BRED, is also one of the founders of Mera Kitchen Collective, which began as a group of friends hosting pop-up dinners and grew into a catering business that showcases the dishes of chefs from around the world. …

“But even with Lerman’s technical expertise, Mera has struggled to structure its business as a true cooperative. Immigration and visa issues have gotten in the way, as they do for many co-ops, so Lerman and her co-founders have focused on ensuring collective decision-making and on using the expansion to eventually put everyone on the team on salary and start profit-sharing. …

“Nicole Foster and Dwight Campbell of Cajou Creamery started selling ice cream, made from scratch with cashews instead of cows’ milk in such flavors as horchata, baklava and Mexican cacao, out of a new storefront on Howard Street in August. As they got up and running and planned further expansions, they worked with BRED to finalize a cooperative structure with an even more targeted goal: to create opportunity for formerly incarcerated people returning home. …

“Campbell said, ‘We want to give people a chance to show that they are much more than just somebody who served time. We want to give people the ability to dream about a future, to have ownership instead of thinking “I am just a drone. I’m here to work for a paycheck.” ‘ “

More on that at the Post, here.

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Photo: Kirk Brown/via Boston Globe.
Kirk Brown is the founder and CEO of the Black think tank Melanin MeetUps. The group launched The Better Together Project, which is demanding an end to what it calls the glorification of plantation houses, and the use of their grounds for parties and weddings.

In recent years, tourists at plantations in the South and stately homes in the North have started giving more thought to the people who kept the mansions running. There’s so much that wasn’t in our school histories. I, for one, was amazed to learn that when the colonial farmers fought the British at Concord’s North Bridge April 19, 1775, many of the folks minding the farm were slaves. What? In Massachusetts? Yes.

So I was interested in a recent Boston Globe story about a new, more thorough, house tour. Jon Marcus wrote, “After she graduated from Clark University in Worcester, Carolyn Michael-Banks worked as general manager for a tour company in Washington, D.C., where she quickly noticed that certain people and events were being left out of the script.

“ ‘We had absolutely nothing in there about African-American history,’ said Michael-Banks, who is Black. … So she added information about the Black abolitionist and writer Frederick Douglass. About Benjamin Banneker, a Black surveyor who helped lay out the district. About how enslaved people were among the builders of the White House.

“Then the CEO called. ‘His question to me was, “What’s all this Black stuff?” ‘ Michael-Banks remembered.

“Today Michael-Banks runs her own tour company, A Tour of Possibilities, in Memphis, which visits the birthplaces and workplaces of cultural icons including Aretha Franklin and Black investigative journalist Ida B. Wells, landmarks of the civil rights movement and sites of the city’s slave markets and lynchings.

‘History can be uncomfortable but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about it,’ Michael-Banks said. …

“Offerings like these are popping up all over the country, by and about people often excluded from the narratives delivered on those jump-on, jump-off bus and trolley tours.

“There are women’s history tours of Philadelphia, St. Louis, Buffalo, and Detroit, and LGBTQ tours of Charleston, S.C., St. Louis, New York’s West Village, and San Francisco’s Castro district. Native Americans tell their own stories on Navajo Tours USA in New Mexico and Nez Perce Tourism in the Pacific Northwest. The Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience in Seattle offers tours of Chinatown that cover its history and not just its food.

“There are growing numbers of tours focused on Black history and culture, not only in Memphis, but in Austin, Texas; Birmingham, Ala.; Charleston; Chicago; Miami; Savannah, Ga.; Selma, Ala.; and Washington. Atlanta has Black history and civil rights tours and a cycling tour of off-the-beaten-track neighborhoods called Civil Bikes. In Tulsa, Okla., there are now tours of the places where the Tulsa Race Massacre occurred.

“A ‘truth and reconciliation’ tour of Montgomery, Ala., is run by a nonprofit from an office in a building where the words ‘white’ and ‘colored’ are still chiseled in the wall above a water fountain. And Alexandria, Va., last year launched a Black history trail and an Underground Railroad-themed tour. …

“Several house and plantation museums including Monticello and Belle Grove Plantation in Virginia and the Belle Meade Historic Site and Winery near Nashville, have started telling more about the enslaved people who built and worked at them. The state of Nevada last year converted the Stewart Indian School into a museum to illustrate the story of how Native American children were taken there to be assimilated. …

“When historic sites are treated solely as places for entertainment, said Stephanie Rowe, executive director of the National Council on Public History, ‘it becomes easier to focus on the furnishings and the stories of success and riches. But when we approach these sites as places to learn about our pasts, we’re called to broaden the narratives’ to include such things as who did the work, and under what conditions.

“In fact, said Paul Melhus, CEO of ToursByLocals, whose guides increasingly focus on the people who have been left out, ‘the history of America is the history of Black people. And gays are part of American history, and Hispanics. It’s all real, and you don’t really understand anything if all you’re doing is just looking at the pretty houses.’

“Others want to do more than change the script. The Better Together Project is demanding an end to what it calls the glorification of plantation houses, and the use of their grounds for parties and weddings.

“ ‘These were labor homes,’ said Kirk Brown, founder and CEO of the Black think tank Melanin MeetUps, which launched the project. … ‘Why is there this glamorization of these homes? It’s depressing and it’s disrespectful and it prevents us as a country from truly healing.’ …

“ ‘We haven’t been able to express ourselves in a way that’s proud,’ said Stacia Morfin, a member of the Nez Perce, or Niimíipuu, tribe and CEO of Nez Perce Tourism, which she started after finding that none of the tourism-related businesses in her part of Idaho were run by descendants of tribal people. … ‘The marginalized and the indigenous people are taking that power back.’ ”

More at the Globe, here.

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Photo: Prasidha Padmanabhan.
Prasidha Padmanabhan, 16, founded WEAR (Women for Education, Advocacy and Rights), a nonprofit with an executive board made up entirely of students.

The teen in today’s story not only pointed out the absence of women of color in her school’s history curriculum. She influenced a large school system. That takes a special kind of patience.

Theresa Vargas reports at the Washington Post, “If you happen to get into a conversation about American history with Prasidha Padmanabhan, you will have to keep reminding yourself of this: She is only 16. The names of historically overlooked women flow from her in the same way the names of modern-day A-list celebrities flow from other kids her age.

“She can tell you about the lives of Rebecca Lee Crumpler (the first African American woman to become a doctor), Queen Liliuokalani (the first woman and last person to rule Hawaii) and Claudette Colvin (a Black teenager who refused to give up her seat on a bus before Rosa Parks did). …

“She can tell you why, if you know about Paul Revere, you should also know about Sybil Ludington. Ludington was 16 when she rode through the night during the American Revolution to warn militia members of a British attack. …

“The teenager has not only spent the last few years learning about the historic and too-often unseen roles of women, and in particular women of color, but also has worked to make sure students in one of the country’s largest school systems have a chance to learn about them.

“During the pandemic, Prasidha went from seeing people on social media talk about repealing the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, to creating a student-led nonprofit, to working with educators from Fairfax County Public Schools to add more women’s history to curriculum offerings.

“Her collaboration with school officials is ongoing, but so far, she has worked with social studies teachers to create Civil War material made available for sixth-grade U.S. history lessons, and she has written minibooks about Native American women for the school system’s young readers.

“ ‘She like many others noticed that when it comes to the stories we tell about Indigenous people in our K-12 classrooms, too often Native American people do not show up as individual people with lives and interests and contributions,’ says Deborah March, who works for Fairfax schools as a culturally responsive pedagogy specialist, a position that calls for her to support teachers and curriculum writers. ‘She created these short, accessible, image-laden biographies so that our younger elementary school learners can encounter Native American women as full human beings whose lives are worthy of study.’

“Days ago, the U.S. Mint prompted public celebrations and conversations across the country. The Mint announced that coins from the American Women Quarters Program — which honors the remarkable contributions of women — had been shipped. …

“That these women’s names will soon be in our hands and in front of our faces should give us joy. It should also cause us to pause and think about why many people still don’t know their stories and what women we should have learned about but haven’t. …

“Prasidha is a first-generation Indian American and says those comments she saw online in 2020 about taking away women’s right to vote made her think about what she had learned in her history classes about women. She, like most people, had been taught about Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and Susan B. Anthony. But she couldn’t recall learning about what women did during the Civil War or during other notable periods.

“She told her parents she wanted to start an organization that would focus on getting those stories told. From that conversation grew WEAR (Women for Education, Advocacy and Rights), a nonprofit with an executive board made up entirely of students.

One of Prasidha’s first actions through the organization was to create a Change.org petition calling on Fairfax Schools to integrate women’s history into elementary and middle school curriculum. … The petition drew more than 5,000 signatures.

“Prasidha recalls the day she was at home, engaged in virtual learning, and an email caused her to let out an excited yell. She says it was from March saying she wanted to meet and talk about a possible collaboration between the school system and WEAR.

“ ‘I didn’t know what to expect,’ March says of her first encounter with Prasidha, who is a junior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. … ‘It was exciting for me to connect with a student who was on fire for just and equitable access to learning experiences that tell a complete story.’

“March says everyone benefits when educators take seriously the type of questions Prasidha and WEAR are raising: ‘What if we broaden the story? What if we rethink whose lives and contributions are deemed worthy of study in our classrooms and textbooks?’

“ ‘I think students have a better chance of seeing their power to shape our systems and institutions when they encounter lots of different examples of what that can look like, examples of diverse people as the doers and movers of history,’ March says. ‘It would be a shame if students came away from their K-12 education thinking they have to become a president or a general if they want to make a difference in the world.’

“March says she, her colleague Jen Brown and three social studies teachers met with Prasidha weekly at one point to work on the Civil War material that is offered to sixth-grade teachers. Prasidha was also invited in August to speak to educators. Her presentation was titled, ‘Expanding and Transforming Women’s History for K-12.’

“Brown recalls Prasidha telling participants about Susie King Taylor, who was born into slavery and attended school in secret. At 14, she became the first Black teacher to openly educate African Americans in Georgia, and she later served as a nurse for the Union army during the Civil War.

“ ‘I had never heard of Susie King Taylor, before Prasidha introduced me to her, and was so grateful for the opportunity to learn about her and other women who did extraordinary things,’ Brown says.

More at the Post, here.

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Photo: Kirk Siegler/NPR.
Kenesha Lewis, 30, opened a juice and smoothie shop in her hometown of Greenville, Miss. where fresh and healthy food options are hard to find.

Why do valuable communities get forgotten? Because they are rural? Because they are minority? Because they are very small businesses? Well, watch out, World! Remember the Mouse That Roared. In two years of stepping back and taking stock, we are starting to see more people refuse to be sidelined.

Kirk Siegler has a report at National Public Radio (NPR) one one example: Black businesses in rural Mississippi.

“In Greenville, Miss., pop. 27,000, a modern, brightly lit juice bar stands out in the small downtown lined with mostly mom and pop businesses and a few taverns near the town’s riverbank casino. …

“Turning heads is the owner of Kay’s Kute Fruit, 30 year-old Kenesha Lewis.

” ‘I’m really excited for the young people to walk in, and they say, who’s the owner, and they’re like, what? I had somebody do that to me,’ Lewis says laughing.

“Growing up here, she can’t recall any prominent Black-owned businesses like hers (today the town is about 81% Black). She and her husband Jason Lewis opened up this brick and mortar last Spring after a few years of making edible fruit arrangements and smoothies and selling them out of their home on the side of their regular jobs. …

“The Delta is known the world over for its delicious comfort food, but fresh produce and even regular grocery stores are few and far between. At Kay’s the blenders appear to always be running, churning up pineapple or mango smoothies with the popular add-ons of chia seeds or turmeric. …

“Lewis got the idea to start a business after her husband kept getting on her case for eating too much sugar.

” ‘I lost two teeth and he said, “wait a minute now, you’re too young to be losing these teeth,” ‘ she recalls, laughing. [So] we created smoothies together, and I said, okay, this is good for me.’

“And it turns out, it was also good for business. Lewis exceeded her projected annual sales in her first month after opening. Growing up, she says people in her community were good entrepreneurs but they usually worked out of their homes. …

” ‘Our Black people are waking up, they know that they can do this,’ Lewis says. ‘I think that we have helped them to understand that they can do this, they can succeed.’ …

“Hundreds of new Black-owned businesses like Lewis’s are starting to spring up in this region long seen as being dismissed or ‘forgotten’ by outsiders.

“Drive south of Memphis, near the massive river levees, and a lot of small town store fronts are boarded up. … So when Tim Lampkin, 35, moved back to his hometown of Clarksdale after college and a stint working in corporate America, he had an idea.

” ‘When I came back I noticed that a majority of the businesses in [Coahoma County] are white owned,’ Lampkin says. Like in nearby Greenville, more than 80% of Clarksdale’s 15,000 residents are African American.

“In 2016, Lampkin started what he calls an economic justice non-profit. Higher Purpose Co. helped Kenesha Lewis in Greenville from start to finish, applying for a loan, prepping her for meetings with bankers. And they follow up frequently with her today, all things Lampkin says would probably be a given for aspiring white business owners in the area.

” ‘If we’re going to make special exceptions for entrepreneurs because, you know, they’re a white farmer and we know their family, why can’t a Black entrepreneur get the same level of access and understanding and patience when it comes to getting access to capital?’ Lampkin asks.

“A mentorship program Higher Purpose started in late 2019 is now helping some 300 Black entrepreneurs across Mississippi take their business acumen to the next level. The non-profit helps them do things like find grants to cover closing costs or tap into donations and seed money for renting or buying spaces and storefronts. …

“At Delta State University in Cleveland, Miss., Rolando Herts, director of the Delta Center for Culture and Learning, says the region is a microcosm for the country’s broader racial and economic inequality.

” ‘In the consciousness of America, this is considered to be one of, if not the most, racist states in the union,’ Herts says. ‘Everybody’s able to look at Mississippi and say, “at least we’re not Mississippi.” ‘

“Ever since the Delta was plowed up into plantations mostly after the Civil War, Herts says there’s been a permanent Black underclass. Many don’t trust the banks, for good reason, he says, and in turn many banks traditionally haven’t done business in the still segregated Black communities. …

“For Herts, it will take hundreds more groups like Higher Purpose to really right the wrongs of the past. But he does see momentum behind their work, which is driven by mostly young, energetic and social media savvy people.

“And the businesses they’re supporting are filling a need. One of Higher Purpose’s biggest success stories is Dr. Mary Williams in Clarksdale. She opened what was then the town’s first urgent and primary care facility about three years ago. Before then, she says, working people had to drive 45 miles or go to the local ER just to get routine care after hours.

“She soon discovered there were many untreated cases of hypertension, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity in her community. …

” ‘A lot of them … didn’t know their blood pressure was up, they didn’t know they were diabetic,’ Williams says.

“But getting to where she is today, weathering the pandemic with a clinic that now serves some 3,000 patients, wasn’t easy.

“While working as a nurse practitioner at the local hospital, Williams got ‘no’ after ‘no’ from banks when she applied for loans to start her business. One told her she may be a good health care provider, but that didn’t mean she was a good business owner. Another said there was no business like hers in Clarksdale to base her proposal on, so she’d have to put up her house as collateral.

” ‘I mean, the whole idea for this loan was for community development,’ Williams says. ‘Here I am bringing in a clinic to develop the community and improve our health care and I got a hard “no” unless I give them my house.’

“That lit a fire in her: she was going to help her underserved community if it took everything she had.” Read more at NPR, here.

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Photo: Photoquest/Getty Images.
American scientist and educator George Washington Carver (1864 – 1943) was also an artist. Above, he works on his painting “The Yucca.”

It’s reasonable to ask, Why celebrate women or Black Americans only one month a year each? But one advantage is that there’s an incentive for the media to dig out stories about interesting people we either wouldn’t know about at all or wouldn’t know about in detail. For example, most Americans know that a Black scientist called George Washington Carver did research on peanuts that helped farmers in the South. But I, for one, didn’t know anything about his paintings.

Eva Amsen reports at Forbes, “Last month, the Getty Foundation announced the grant recipients for the 2024 exhibit series ‘Pacific Standard Time 2024: Art x Science x LA.’ This event will include different galleries and institutes in California, which will each focus on the theme of science and art. While some of the planned exhibits focus on current and future science, one grant recipient is featuring an artist from science history. The California African American Museum received $120,000 for their exhibit ‘World Without End: The George Washington Carver Project.’

“Although George Washington Carver is best known for his research on new uses for peanuts, he was also an artist. In 1941, two years before his death, Time Magazine featured a piece about Carver in which they mentioned that 71 of his paintings were being shown at Tuskegee at the time.

“Carver spent most of his career as an agricultural researcher at Tuskegee, but he didn’t start his university career in science. When he initially enrolled in college (after searching for a place that would accept Black students in the 19th century) he studied art and piano at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa. He’d always loved plants and particularly excelled at painting them. …

His art teacher, Etta Budd, encouraged him to enter one of his paintings to a local art exhibit, where it was selected as one of the artworks to represent Iowa at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893. Carver’s painting, ‘Yucca and Cactus,’ got an honorable mention at the fair.

“Despite his talents, Budd worried that Carver wouldn’t be able to make a living as an artist, so she suggested that he take his plant illustration skills to the botany department at Iowa State Agricultural College. After receiving his bachelor’s degree here in 1894 and his master’s in 1896, Carver took on a research position at Tuskegee Institute. 

“One of his initial interests was to help farmers increase the yield of their crops. Besides doing research, he invested a lot of time in talking to farmers and explaining the benefits of fertilization and crop rotation to restore nutrients to the soil.

“Partly thanks to Carver, crop production in the South did indeed increase, but this led to a new problem. Now farmers were stuck with an agricultural surplus of crops they had harvested but could not sell. … Carver invented more than a hundred new uses for sweet potatoes and over three hundred different ways to use peanuts. …

“Unsurprisingly, considering his art background, one of the new uses he found for peanuts was to develop paints.  He didn’t just use peanuts to make dyes, but other natural resources as well. Carver even created a line of household paints using pigments from Alabama soil that he envisioned would be more affordable for poor families.

“Carver used some of his self-created paints for his art as well. In the 1941 profile about his art, Time Magazine noted that he used a series of plant-based earth tones created by his assistant A. W. Curtis Jr.”

Using Alabama soil to make dyes caught my attention because I love the work of natural-dye scarf artist Jamie Bourgeois. Sometimes she augments nature to document the polluted waters of Cancer Alley in order to help the Louisiana cleanup efforts. It’s amazing to see how pollution changes the colors. Read about that work here. And support the pollution cleanup here.

More at Forbes on George Washington Carver, here.

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Photo: Mark Humphrey/AP.
National Museum of African American Music, Nashville, Tennessee.

I haven’t headed back to museums yet, but I’m pretty sure I will be allowing myself to go this year. I’ve been interested to read that many museums plan to keep some presentation techniques they’ve used during the pandemic. Meanwhile, other museums are actually just launching.

Kristin M. Hall reports at the Associated Press (AP), “A new museum two decades in the making is telling the interconnected story of Black musical genres through the lens of American history.

“The National Museum of African American Music, which opened with a virtual ribbon-cutting on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, is seated in the heart of Nashville’s musical tourism district. …

“Even as Nashville has long celebrated its role in the history of music, the new museum fills a gap by telling an important and often overlooked story about the roots of American popular music, including gospel, blues, jazz, R&B and hip-hop.

” ‘When we think of the history of African American music and the important part it has played in our country, it was long overdue to honor it in this type of way,’ said gospel great CeCe Winans, who serves as a national chair for the museum.

“The idea for the museum came from two Nashville business and civic leaders, Francis Guess and T.B. Boyd, back in 1998, who wanted a museum dedicated to Black arts and culture. And while there are museums around the country that focus on certain aspects of Black music, this museum bills itself as the first of its kind to be all encompassing. …

“Said H. Beecher Hicks III, the museum’s president and CEO, ‘[It’s]it’s one thing to say that I’m a hip hop fan or I’m a blues fan, but why? What was going on in our country and our lived experience and our political environment that made that music so moving, so inspirational, such the soundtrack for that part of our lives?’

The museum tells a chronological story of Black music starting in the 1600s through present day and framed around major cultural movements including the music and instruments brought by African slaves, the emergence of blues through the Great Migration, the Harlem Renaissance and the civil rights movement.

“When Winans recently took a tour of the museum, she saw her own family of gospel singers, the Winans, represented in the museum’s exhibit on spiritual music alongside the artists that influenced her own musical career.

” ‘You never start out doing what you’re doing to be a part of history or even be a part of a museum,’ said the 12-time Grammy-winning singer. She noted that the museum put gospel music in context with how it inspired social change, especially during the civil rights era. …

“The museum has 1,600 artifacts in their collection, including clothes and a Grammy Award belonging to Ella Fitzgerald, a guitar owned by B.B. King and a trumpet played by Louis Armstrong. To make the best use out of the space, the exhibits are layered with interactive features, including 25 stations that allow visitors to virtually explore the music.

“Visitors can learn choreographed dance moves with a virtual instructor, sing ‘Oh Happy Day’ with a choir led by gospel legend Bobby Jones and make their own hip-hop beats. Visitors can take home their recordings to share via a personal RFID wristband.

“There will be a changing exhibit gallery, with the first topic to be the Fisk Jubilee Singers, an a cappella group originally formed in 1871 to raise money for Fisk University. The group sang slave spirituals at their concerts. The tradition continues today.

“After a year of racial reckoning through the movement of Black Lives Matter, Hicks said the timing couldn’t be more perfect to highlight the contributions of Black music to our shared American experience.

“ ‘[It] is not an accident that we are able to finish and get the museum open in this moment, in this moment where we need to be reminded, perhaps more than others or more than in the recent past that we are brothers and we share more together than we do our differences.’ “

More at AP, here

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Photo: Denis Y Suspitsyn/Anthony Barboza
Members
of the Kamoinge in 1973. The coalition of black photographers gave one another support and advice — and gave their subjects empathy.

A new exhibit at the Whitney in New York City highlights the art of some outstanding black photographers, a group that worked not just in New York but around the world.

Nadja Sayej reports at the Guardian, “In 1973, a group of 14 New York photographers huddled into a photo studio on West 18th Street in Manhattan, posing in front of a Hasselblad camera for a group shot authored by Anthony Barboza, who stands smiling in the picture.

“ ‘I remember arranging the lighting and then my assistant took the photo,’ said Barboza to the Guardian. ‘It’s a photo of a family. That’s what it is. A family photo.’

“It shows the members of the Kamoinge Workshop, a collective of black photographers who formed in 1963 to document black culture in Harlem, and beyond, from live jazz concerts to portraits of Malcolm X, Miles Davis and Grace Jones, as well as the civil rights movement and anti-war protests.

“A selection of over 100 photos by the group are on view in a survey at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York called Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop, which runs until 28 March. …

“The Kamoinge (pronounced kom-wean-yeh) collective all started in 1963, when a group of 14 black New York photographers came together to form a group, to trade skills and offer critiques to one another. They chose ‘Kamoinge,’ as it means ‘a group of people acting together’ in Kenya’s Gikuyu language. They worked to tell black stories by depicting black communities, from local neighbors to superstars, and saw their rise around the same time as the Black Arts Movement. Kamoinge photographer Adger Cowans, who is 84, always believed the group could show the truth of black lives, more so than an outsider. …

“ ‘When I wasn’t shooting commercial work in the studio, I was shooting out in the streets,’ … said Barboza. ‘We all learned from each other. They were my greatest mentors.’ …

” ‘I did a lot of portraits of black artists and musicians in my spare time,’ said Barboza who photographed Michael Jackson at 21, as well as James Baldwin and Gordon Parks. Nine of the 14 original artists are alive today, working and living in New York, including Beuford Smith, Ming Smith and Herb Randall. …

“As one of the group’s members Ray Francis said in 1982: ‘We were a group that stars fell on,’ and credit observational photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Gordon Parks and Dorothea Lange as influences. Another member, Ming Smith, calls it: ‘Making something out of nothing. I think that’s like jazz.’

“The Whitney exhibition is organized into five sections, including one community-focused section, which details the day to day life of people in the city, at work, play and travel. Another section is focused on music, as jazz has been a prime influence in the group. …

“There are also sections devoted to abstraction and surrealism, civil rights, depicting figures in the movement, and one global section, focusing on African diasporic communities, as the photographers traveled to Cuba, Senegal and Jamaica to shoot, as well as the South. …

“Harlem-born photographer, Shawn Walker, one of the group’s founding members, is showing a photo depicting two dapper men in white suits and hats on Easter Sunday in Harlem, dated 1972. ‘I would go to the churches and after everyone came out of mass, I’d go to 125th Street to lurk at everyone hawking off all their new wares,’ he said. …

“ ‘I would hang out around Hotel Theresa, even now if you’re not doing anything and you hang out in that area, you’re bound to come home with some photos. Even if I’m coming home from shopping and I have an extra 30 minutes, I’ll grab a seat and watch people come by and start shooting.’

“It has been a tough year for Walker. ‘I caught the virus and lost a leg, but I’m alive,’ he says. …

“Ming Smith was the group’s first female member. She recently said in an interview: ‘Being a black woman photographer was like being nobody,’ explaining that: ‘It was just my camera and me. I worked to capture black culture, the richness, the love. That was my incentive. It wasn’t like I was going to make money from it, or fame – not even love, because there were no shows.’ …

“As Barboza says, the key to a good portrait is not necessarily technical savviness, but to convey emotion, a feeling. It isn’t about over-thinking anything. .. ‘There’s a quiet, spiritual feeling from the photographs,’ said Barboza. ‘It’s beauty. I call it “the eye dreaming.” ‘ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Image: India Marshall; iStock; Lily illustration
She woke up from a surgery with her hair perfectly braided. Her black male doctor braids his daughters’ hair; the surprise he gave his patient touched her heart.

The Washington Post has a newsletter called the Optimist that I’m really enjoying. This story about a surgeon who understood what a patient’s hair might mean to her is something the newsletter shared recently. Some folks might find the doctor’s act uncomfortably personal, but the point is his patient didn’t.

Soo Youn writes at the Lily, “For the past couple of years, India Marshall has been contemplating getting another surgery to have bone growths in her head removed. She had already undergone one operation when she was about 20 years old.

“Now 29, and working as a manager in a primary care clinic, Marshall was experiencing more growth from her osteomas. While not dangerous, they can be painful. Several had started to grow on her forehead and between her eyes, making it uncomfortable and annoying when she wore her glasses. She met with a few surgeons about getting them removed. …

“Jewel Greywoode, an ear, nose and throat physician who specializes in cosmetic and functional facial plastic surgery [was] the only surgeon who mentioned going though Marshall’s nose so she wouldn’t be left with scars on her face. The other doctors told her she would need an ear-to-ear incision on her head, and hair might not grow back over the scar. Marshall underwent a successful surgery on June 9. …

“For the first couple days after the surgery, she went in and out of consciousness, her head wrapped. But when her mother and husband took off the bandages to clean the incisions, Marshall noticed that she had more braids in her hair. She went in with two loose braids, but woke up with four or five smaller ones.

‘I remember waking up and there were two black nurses helping me get myself together, helping me get my clothes on to go and I just assumed they did it. I was like, “Who else would have known how to braid?” …

” ‘I loved that whoever did it had thought of it because it was very easy to get to the incisions and clean. My hair wasn’t matted or in the way, and it was just easier for the recovery process,’ Marshall said. …

“On Wednesday, she went in for her last post-op appointment. As Greywoode removed her staples, Marshall says he noticed that she had redone her hair with smaller braids and commented, ‘Oh your braids are better than mine. I hope I didn’t do too bad,’ she recounted. …

“Greywoode told her he has two little girls and he braids and twists their hair. That he participates in the maintenance required for his daughters’ natural hair really moved Marshall.

“ ‘Natural hair is a lot of work,’ she said. … ‘To be honest there are not a lot of dads that [can] help with hair. … It was a very nice gesture and it just spoke to my bigger point of having black doctors and them being able to identify with patients.’

“Greywoode also told Marshall that he chose to staple the opening over suturing, because when you remove stitches, you often have to cut the surrounding hair. … ‘That was another part that showed me that he gets it.’ ”

What Marshall wrote on Twitter @IndiaDionna: “thinking about this black man braiding my hair to prepare to cut my head open is hilarious and endearing at the same time. also the fact that he’s that active in helping his wife with their girls, I love it. moral of the story: find black doctors.”

More here.

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Photo: VAN

How’s your Latin? It might help in appreciating this post about 16th century classical music. Then again, you don’t need Latin to understand that a black classical composer from that long ago should not be forgotten. Garrett Schumann reports the story at an online magazine called VAN.

” ‘Only then can his creative genius begin redounding, as it should, to the glory of Black music history,’ writes the musicologist Robert Stevenson in his 1982 article, ‘The First Black Published Composer.’

“Stevenson’s subject was Vicente Lusitano (ca. 1520-ca. 1561), an African-Portuguese priest and musician who enjoyed an international career. Stevenson heralds works like the motet ‘Heu me domine”’ (1551), which exemplifies the composer’s unusual embrace of chromatic counterpoint. …

“Of Lusitano’s compositions, ‘Heu me domine’ has received the most attention from modern scholars and performers, but it is not the only example of his remarkable creativity. In a 1962 essay, Stevenson reproduces a passage from Lusitano’s motet ‘Regina coeli’ to highlight its adventurous chromatic writing, and notes that other works in Lusitano’s 1551 motet collection feature extremely uncommon combinations of accidentals. Musicologist Philippe Canguilheim, in a 2011 essay regarding Lusitano’s unpublished counterpoint treatise, writes that Lusitano is ‘particularly tolerant’ of dissonance, a practice he justifies in the text by citing Pythagoras and Boethius.

“The alluring counterpoint and voice leading of ‘Heu me domine’ connect to improvisation techniques which Lusitano outlines in his counterpoint studies. As Canguilheim notes, these works make pioneering arguments regarding canons and the productive interplay between composition, free improvisation, and structured improvisation.

“ ‘Heu me domine’ is one of just two pieces in Lusitano’s output that 20th-century scholars have transcribed into modern notation — until last month, it was the only piece of his to be recorded. The other work, a 1562 madrigal called ‘All’hor ch’ignuda,’ was recently arranged for woodwind trio and recorded by multi-instrumentalist Misty Theisen. …

“Ironically, Lusitano’s obscurity originates in the most famous episode of his career. In 1551, while in Rome, Lusitano was drawn into an aesthetic dispute by fellow composer Nicola Vicentino (1511-ca.1576), an argument which gained so much attention that a Vatican tribunal convened to issue a verdict. Lusitano won, and Vicentino paid a fine, but, for years afterward, Vicentino published egregiously disingenuous descriptions of the proceedings with the aim of damaging Lusitano’s reputation.

“A 17th-century source in Rome attests that Lusitano’s name was scratched off copies of the widely-published introduction to his counterpoint treatise, and it is plausible he faced other reprisals that went undocumented. These developments likely led to Lusitano’s relocation to Germany sometime after 1553,  where he converted to Protestantism, married, and continued his career until his death. …

“Lusitano’s obscurity also shows the influence of collective action on a composer’s legacy. Vicentino worked hard to distort and erase Lusitano’s achievements, but these efforts only retained their impact because other scholars and artists have — perhaps out of convenience or ignorance — uncritically reproduced Vicentino’s version of the facts.

“Whether any of these developments are related to racial bias is difficult to prove. Nevertheless, composers with historically excluded identities, like Lusitano, have been extraordinarily underserved by institutions of classical music performance and scholarship. Reports from Bachtrack.com analyzing programming from more than 160,000 classical performances around the world between 2014 and 2019 show a population of just 15 white men constitute the 10 most-programmed composers in each of those five performance seasons. Recent research by Philip Ewell exploring the intersection of music theory and critical race theory also compellingly asserts that institutionalized music scholarship is structured in a way that ignores the achievements of women and people of color.”

It’s a long article, but interesting. Read it here.

Hat Tip: Arts Journal.

Douglas Lawrence leads the Australian Chamber Choir at St Martin-in-the-Fields in “Heu me domine” (1551), by Vicente Lusitano, the first published Black classical composer.

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Photo: Evy Mages
Detail from a massive sculpture of a black Last Supper discovered by a demolition crew in the Columbia Heights section of Washington, DC.

Oh, my! Imagine the wonder of the demolition crew that uncovered this artwork in a former church! I wish reporter Andrew Beaujon at the Washingtonian had tracked them down and interviewed them for their immediate thoughts.

Here’s his story.

“Joy Zinoman got an unexpected phone call [in early October]. Demolition had just begun inside a former church in Columbia Heights that she’s turning into the new home of the Studio Acting Conservatory. Now the boss of the the crew working was on the line to tell the Studio Theatre founder about a remarkable discovery his guys made: An enormous frieze of the Last Supper that was hidden behind drywall for more than a decade.

“The building on Holmead Place, Northwest, had been slated to become condos before the conservatory bought it earlier this year. It was built in 1980, city records say, to house New Home Baptist Church, which moved to Landover, Maryland, in the 1990s. After that it became a building for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. A signature on the lower right of the sculpture  leaves no doubt at which point it joined the building’s history: ‘All rights reserved 1982 Akili Ron Anderson.’ …

“New Home trustee board chairman Willie L. Morris told Post reporter Esther Iverem, ‘It was very important to us that we have a black artist. All the other Last Supper pictures we’d seen were always in a white framework.’ …

“Anderson now teaches at Howard University and some of his artwork is easier to see, particularly his work Sankofa at the east and west entrances of the Columbia Heights Metro Station as well as stained glass at Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel and the Prince George’s County Courthouse.

“The fact that the participants in the Last Supper are black reflects a movement among African American artists, beginning in the late 1960s, to make the art in places of worship look like the people inside them. ‘I think it’s important for black children sitting in churches all over this country on Sunday morning to look up at the windows, look up at images and see themselves and believe that they can ascend to heaven, too,’ Anderson told Iverem in 1993.

“It’s not clear when the 232 square feet of religious art was covered by drywall. City records show that an inspector reviewed some ‘Close-in (concealment)-Walls Construction’ in 2003. Anderson says he undertook the artwork when he worked at Duke Ellington School of the Arts and had a coworker who attended New Home. ‘Most of the time I was in there by myself,’ he says.

‘It actually got to be something of a spiritual experience for me.’ …

“When you first view the frieze in person, as I did Friday, you’re likely to gasp: It’s difficult to convey just how large and impressive this sculpture is.

“Acting studios are supposed to be bare, and Zinoman, who likens this piece to the Sistine Chapel, really hopes it won’t end up behind a curtain at her conservatory. … She’s hoping a museum might wish to take it. Removing it from the wall will not be easy and will require a lot of skill and experience (and presumably money) to do properly. ‘All I want is for it to be in a place where people can see it,’ Zinoman says. ‘I think it’s a great work.’ ”

You can tell that a lot of love went into this frieze. If it does end up behind a curtain, at least it will still be available to visitors. If you know of any venue that could afford to move it and make it available to the public, please get in touch with the Studio Acting Conservatory, 202.232.0714.

More at the Washingtonian, here. Lots of great photos.

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800px-Augusta_Savage2C_H-HNE-20-87Augusta Savage, 1892-1962, American sculptor, an important figure in the Harlem Renaissance.

Last night I watched a fascinating documentary about a glamorous movie star who would have preferred to be recognized as the brilliant inventor that she actually was: Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story. And I realized that lately I seem to be learning about many women whose achievements failed to garner the fame of their male contemporaries.

No time like the present to start honoring them. Here is the story of an African-American sculptor of the Harlem Renaissance.

Wikipedia has a good entry. “Augusta Christine Fells was born in Green Cove Springs (near Jacksonville), Florida on February 29, 1892, to Edward Fells, a Methodist minister, and Cornelia Murphy. Augusta began making figures as a child, mostly small animals out of the natural red clay of her hometown, Green Cove Springs Florida.

“Her father was a poor Methodist minister who strongly opposed his daughter’s early interest in art. ‘My father kicked me four or five times a week,’ Savage once recalled. … She persevered, and the principal of her new high school in West Palm Beach, where her family relocated in 1915, encouraged her talent and allowed her to teach a clay modeling class. This began a lifelong commitment to teaching as well as to creating art.

“In 1907 Augusta Fells married John T. Moore. Her only child, Irene Connie Moore, was born the following year. John died shortly thereafter. In 1915, she married James Savage; she kept the name of Savage throughout her life. …

“In 1919 [she] was granted a booth at the Palm Beach County Fair where she was awarded a $25 prize and ribbon for most original exhibit. Following this success, she sought commissions for work in Jacksonville, Florida, before departing for New York City in 1921. She arrived with a letter of recommendation from the Palm Beach County Fair official George Graham Currie for sculptor Solon Borglum and $4.60. Borglum declined to take her as a student, but encouraged her to apply to Cooper Union in New York City where she was admitted in October 1921.

“She was selected before 142 other men on the waiting list. Her talent and ability so impressed the Cooper Union Advisory Council that she was awarded additional funds for room and board when she lost the financial support of her job as an apartment caretaker. …

“In 1923 Savage applied for a Summer art program sponsored by the French government; although being more than qualified, she was turned down by the international judging committee solely because she was a black person. … The incident got press coverage on both sides of the Atlantic, and eventually, the sole supportive committee member sculptor Hermon Atkins MacNeil – who at one time had shared a studio with Henry Ossawa Tanner – invited her to study with him. She later cited him as one of her teachers.

“After completing studies at Cooper Union, Savage worked in Manhattan steam laundries to support herself and her family. … During this time she obtained her first commission for a bust of W. E. B. Du Bois for the Harlem Library. Her outstanding sculpture brought more commissions, including one for a bust of Marcus Garvey. Her bust of William Pickens Sr., a key figure in the NAACP, earned praise for depicting an African American in a more humane, neutral way as opposed to stereotypes of the time. …

“Knowledge of Savage’s talent and struggles became widespread in the African-American community; fundraising parties were held in Harlem and Greenwich Village, and African-American women’s groups and teachers from Florida A&M all sent her money for studies abroad. …

“Savage received a commission from the 1939 New York World’s Fair; she created Lift Every Voice and Sing (also known as ‘The Harp’), inspired by the song by James Weldon and Rosamond Johnson. The 16-foot-tall plaster sculpture was the most popular and most photographed work at the fair; small metal souvenir copies were sold, and many postcards of the piece were purchased. … Savage did not have funds to have it cast in bronze or to move and store it. Like other temporary installations, the sculpture was destroyed at the close of the fair. …

“In 1945 Savage moved to Saugerties, New York. … While she was all but forgotten at the time of her death, Savage is remembered today as a great artist, activist, and arts educator; serving as an inspiration to the many that she taught, helped, and encouraged.”

More at Wikipedia, here. I love all the random details at Wikipedia — like her cultivating a garden at her Saugerties home and selling pigeons, chickens and eggs. Check it out.

Photo: Andrew Herman
Augusta Savage posing with her sculpture
Realization, 1938, created as part of the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project.

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Although black history is not a one-month-a-year-thing, having a dedicated month does seem to turn up stories that might not otherwise be heard. I got this one from the BBC television show Our Classical Century, “a celebration of the most memorable musical moments from 1918 – 2018,” which focused on broadening the audience for classical music.

In this episode, Sir Lenny Henry expressed admiration for forgotten black composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.

“I have been enthralled and captivated by the story of a man from Croydon in south London who died more than 100 years ago and who wrote one of the biggest musical hits of the 20th century. He was a total genius – a bit like Prince, but for late 19th-century London rather than 1980s California – and his name was Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. …

“Young Samuel was brought up by his mother and her extended family in Croydon. He never met his doctor father, Daniel Peter Hughes Taylor, who was originally from Sierra Leone and had come here to study medicine in London. …

“The family clubbed together to pay Samuel’s fees at the Royal College of Music, which he entered at 15 as a violin scholar. But the violin was set to one side and composition took centre stage and he was taken under the wing of the composer and conductor Charles Villiers Stanford. … For two years running, Coleridge-Taylor won the RCM’s Lesley Alexander composition prize and was championed by Edward Elgar, who recommended the talented young composer for a major commission – an orchestral work for the Three Choirs festival, his Ballade in A Minor, opus 33.

“The thing I like about Coleridge-Taylor is that he fought adversity to reach the top. He suffered racial abuse at school – apparently he even had his hair set on fire – but remained dignified. His compositions are dynamic, bold, incredibly melodic and immediately accessible. I was blown away. And I wasn’t the only one. He was known as the ‘African Mahler’ and his success stretched far and wide.

“In the US, he was a household name in his lifetime, and travelled there by invitation of the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Choral Society of Washington DC in 1904, and again in 1906 and 1910. The US marines band were engaged for his first performance and 2,700 people were in the audience, two-thirds of whom were black. He went on to compose Twenty Four Negro Melodies and Five Choral Ballads after that visit. He became interested in interpreting African American melodies, writing: ‘What Brahms has done for the Hungarian folk music, Dvořák for the Bohemian, and Grieg for the Norwegian, I have tried to do for these Negro melodies.’ When success hit, he used it to tell stories about his racial origins in a musical way that might uplift others.

“His best known work, ‘Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, part of the cantata trilogy ‘The Song of Hiawatha,’ premiered in 1898 to huge acclaim, and went on to play, with the other two parts in a semi-staged version, at the Royal Albert Hall for a fortnight in June every year for almost 30 years in the interwar years. …

“But Coleridge-Taylor never got to enjoy his success – he died tragically young, aged 37, of pneumonia in 1912 – illness said to have been brought on by overwork. Nor did his family enjoy the financial fruits of Hiawatha’s success – the composer had sold the publishing rights to it to Ivor Novello’s company for a low flat fee.

“[My family] never went to a concert hall, and I didn’t see any black musicians. When I finally heard a live orchestra as an adult, it hit me like lightning. … Perhaps it’s time for everyone to take a fresh look at classical music and put aside the stereotypes. … This is our music – it’s music for everyone.”

More here.

Photo: Hulton/Getty
The multitalented 19th-century British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was best known for “Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast.”

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