The Black “Dirty Harry”

Those of you old enough may remember movie characters  “Coffin” Ed Johnson and “Gravedigger” Jones in the Blaxploitation flick “Cotton Comes to Harlem” based on a series of books by Chester Himes

Fans of the genre also remember Clint Eastwood as “Dirty Harry”.

Turns out both of those films and roles were likely  based after a black cop in Chicago, nicknamed “Two Gun Pete”, AKA Sylvester Washington.

Chicago cop struck fear into South Side from 1934-51

The legend of “Two-Gun Pete,” the cold-blooded cop who shot at least nine men dead on the South Side, began with a gun battle eight decades ago.

Just six months into his rookie year in April 1934, he caught 27-year-old Ben Harold red-handed during an armed robbery near 51st and State streets. What followed was a shootout that brought several bullets dangerously close to the young stockyard-worker-turned-policeman.

When the smoke cleared, four of the cop’s five shots had hit their mark, tearing through Harold’s torso. He staggered several steps before falling dead in a doorway.

After nearly emptying his six-shooter, Pete started carrying a second handgun for backup. He eventually swapped his .38-caliber revolvers for more powerful .357 Magnums, and his reputation grew.

Though he was one of the deadliest police officers in Chicago history, few people without a longtime South Side connection have ever heard of Two-Gun Pete, or the enigmatic man behind the nickname, Sylvester Washington.

The Tribune set out to bring his story to a wider audience, separating facts from myth. The newspaper examined official records, talked to police veterans who knew him, and interviewed his third wife, who was a DuSable High School student when they secretly wed in the 1960s. The Tribune also found a woman who says she owns one of Washington’s guns.

Two-Gun started as an anonymous bluecoat walking a beat, but he ended up as a ghetto superstar — a flamboyant, crooked, braggadocious, womanizing, hard-drinking, foul-mouthed police detective.

He was tasked with clearing out bad elements from every nightclub, flophouse and pool hall in what was then called Black Metropolis, a South Side community mired in poverty and violence, yet bouncing to a jazzy beat.

Washington spent most of his career working out of the old Wabash Avenue police station at 48th Street and Wabash Avenue. By the mid-1940s, his 5th District, with a population of 200,000, led the city in slayings, robberies and rapes, and was nicknamed the “Bucket of Blood.”

But the mention of Two-Gun Pete’s name could clear a street corner in seconds.

“Everybody knew Sylvester Washington,” said Rudy Nimocks, a former deputy police superintendent. “They knew his car. And the prostitutes would go hide someplace when they saw him. He was something else.”

Facing criticism that police were failing to protect black residents, Chicago’s top brass looked to Washington and other tough black cops to get ahold of crime. But the bosses may have made a pact with the devil, entrusting citizens’ safety to a profoundly violent man.

“He was the meanest, cruelest person that I have ever seen in my entire life,” said his third wife, Roslyn Washington Banks.

Pete augmented his fierce reputation with the tools of his trade: a nightstick and meaty hands that he used to slap grown men to the ground like small children.

And there were his sidearms — pearl-handled .357 Magnum revolvers. One had a long barrel, the other a short barrel. Each pistol was holstered in its own belt around his hips, both pearl handles pointing right for the right-handed gunslinger.

“I seldom miss the mark with them,” Washington bragged to Ebony magazine. “I can put 14 bullseyes into a target out of 15 shots, and have made a marksmanship record of 147 out of a possible 150.”

Police officials told the newspapers that Pete had gunned down nine men by 1945. He later claimed the career total was 11. And even later, he added one more body to the pile, telling a young reporter named Mike Royko: “I kept my own count and I counted 12.”

Depending on which number is accurate, Pete was either the deadliest police officer in Chicago history or tied with Frank Pape, a North Side cop who started on the force three months before Pete and killed nine men… more

“Illegal Immigration”? How the Bengazi Added to Our Cultural Mix Before the Civil Rights Act

One of the biggest lies told you in school is about “America being the land of opportunity for immigrants”. It’s a lie because before 1965 immigration from non-white parts of the world was illegal. Many of the Chinese who came here to work on the Transcontinental Railroad in the 19th Century, were boxed up and shipped back to China as soon as the railroad was finished.

In terms of “non-whiteness” the Irish were only brought here in the 1840′s through 1870′s because they were cheaper than slaves, and made excellent cannon fodder during the Civil War. Black folks and Irish competed, and often worked for and on the same low paying dirty jobs, from digging coal mines, to ditch digging. That competition was sometimes not friendly – as demonstrated in the New York City Draft Riots during the Civil War, and later during the early Labor Union period of the 1900′s. But there is a pretty rich history between the two groups, certainly not all antagonistic.

South Asia was particularly singled out by American Immigration authorities, which is why few South Asians can trace their history in the US back more than 50 years. But some Indians and what would later become Pakistanis did come here nearly 150 years ago. They stayed here, they married, and raised families. A fascinating book (next on my loyal Kindle) uncovers this previously unknown and ignored bit of history…

The Bengazi in Harlem. A group of largely Muslim South Asian immigrants and their African-American and Puerto Rican Wives at a  1952 banquet at New York’s Pakistan League of America.

Bengali Harlem: Author documents a lost history of immigration in America

In the next few weeks, Fatima Shaik, an African-American, Christian woman, will travel “home” from New York to Kolkata, India.

It will be a journey steeped in a history that has remained unknown until the publication last month of a revelatory book by Vivek Bald. And it will be a journey of contemplation as Shaik, 60, meets for the first time ancestors with whom she has little in common.

“I want to go back because I want to find some sort of closure for my family, said Shaik, an author and scholar of the Afro-Creole experience.

That Americans like Shaik, who identify as black, are linked by blood to a people on the Indian subcontinent seems, at first, improbable.

South Asian immigration boomed in this country after the passage of landmark immigration legislation in 1965. But long before that, there were smaller waves of new Americans who hailed from India under the British Empire.

The first group, to which Shaik’s grandfather, Shaik Mohamed Musa, belonged, consisted of peddlers who came to these shores in the 1890s, according to Bald. They sold embroidered silks and cottons and other “exotic” wares from the East on the boardwalks of Asbury Park and Atlantic City, New Jersey. They eventually made their way south to cities like New Orleans and Atlanta and even farther to Central America.

The second wave came in the 1920s and ‘30s. They were seamen, some merchant marines.

Most were Muslim men from what was then the Indian province of Bengal and in many ways, they were the opposite of the stereotype of today’s well-heeled, highly educated South Asians.

South Asian immigration was illegal then – the 1917 Immigration Act barred all idiots, imbeciles, criminals and people from the “Asiatic Barred Zone.”

The Bengalis got off ships with little to their name. Continue reading

New Database of Slave Cemeterys

Haven’t posted anything on the Blog in a while. A Heart Attack, lawsuit over $1 million the USTDA defaulted on paying my little company for post-earthquake  work done in Haiti (all the crooks in Haiti aren’t Haitian), and my Mother passing ate up much of my time in 2012. I am all back and better now – and hope to get a few Blog Posts in the rest of this year.

Met a guy a few years ago down in Accomack County Virginia who was wandering through the woods on a farm adjoining my property carrying a digital camera and some pretty fancy”sniffer”  detection gear. He was on a mission to discover abandoned graveyards in the region, many of which were slave graveyards. I see now Fordham University has taken up the call.

Fordham has launched a first-of-its kind national database designed to catalog places in the US where slaves are buried. The Burial Database Project of Enslaved African Americans is the brainchild of Fordham’s Sandra Arnold, whose ancestors were slaves, reports the New York Times. The site relies on visitors to submit information about the locations of cemeteries along with those buried there.

“Much of the material culturally associated with slave history has been lost for many reasons; therefore the study of slave cemeteries will provide tangible clues of African cultures and funeral practices. The most important aspect is digging for the slave’s humanity. The preservation of these sacred spaces is to remember the past so that our future contemporaries will have a better understanding of American policies that supported this system of cruelty, but most importantly to remember the resilience of the human spirit.” 

- National Trust for Historic Preservation

“The fact that they lie in these unmarked abandoned sites, it’s almost like that they are kind of vanishing from the American consciousness,” says Arnold. The intent is to build a “historical network of sorts,” says the Root, which interviews Arnold and others involved with the project. Had something like this been in place last year, it might havesaved Walmart some construction headaches in Alabama.

 

Of Melungeons and Other Historical Mysteries

Arch Goins and family, Melungeons from Graysville, Tennessee, c. 1920s

Arch Goins and family, Melungeons from Graysville, Tennessee, c. 1920s

When Dr. Thomas Walker and Daniel Boone first explored what they would name the Cumberland Gap, the pass which allowed western expansion by the colonists in the Mid-Atlantic region in 1750 – they found a group of folks living in the area who were not Native Americans. They spoke English, and by appearances were neither white, black, or Native American. They became known as Melungeons, partially based on an early statement by one of the group that they were “Portugee”.

Theories have abounded as to how thee folks got there, and from where they came from. The most romantic of which claimed that they were descendants of survivors of the “Lost Colony” and Virginia Dare on Roanoke Island near the border of Virginia and North Carolina who mysteriously disappeared in 1586/7. Others have it they were the descendants of Portugese sailors and Turkish slaves who had been shipwrecked along the Barrier Islands protecting the Carolina and Virginia coasts during the 15th or 16th Century. Still another had them as descendents of slaves originating from the first Spanish Colony located on the Virginia/North Carolina Coast founded by Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón in 1526, which was destroyed by a slave revolt.

None of these historical theories was true.

Another long standing mystery is what happened to the initial African slaves brought to Virginia in 1619. Because there were no slave laws in Virgina at that time – they were purchased as Indentured Servants. Serving of a period of years to pay back the cost of their voyage – or “purchase” cost…

After which they became free, along with the hundreds of thousands of white Europeans who had been brought to the Colonies as Indentured Servants typically to pay off their debts. Permanent black slavery wasnt legally institutionalized in Virginia until about 1670, when a number of “Slave Codes” were ratified in response to several slave revolts, and complaints of slave owners about the economic cost of having to free their slaves.  So what happened in the intervening period to these black folks who were brought to America – served as Indentured labor and paid off their debt to be free? The commonly accepted story is that they intermarried with Native Americas – which is only partially true.

Laws against miscegenation between black and white were codified about 1660 in Virginia. The issue was in large part that by treaty (with Native Americans) and law – the status of a couple’s children, slave or free – was based on the status of the Mother. Thus if an African male slave married and had children with a white female Indentured Servant – any resulting children were freedmen. This posed an economic conundrum for Virginia slave holders, and a loss of valuable property in the form of new slaves. Thus we start to see laws being put into place to prevent this.

Unions between black and white was far more common than many historians would have you believe – and not just the result of the slave Master raping their slave women. By some calculations, supported by DNA tests – about 30% of what is now considered the white population of the US, whose families lived in slave states before the Civil War have black Sub-Saharan ancestry. The result of these marriages was the establishment of large bi- and tri- racial communities in Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Louisiana. The groundbreaking work of Professor Paul Heinegg, of the University of Virginia “Free  African American Families of Virginia and North Carolina” and which has been expanded to now include Maryland, Delaware, and other states  - found that the genesis of most Free African American families before the Civil War in Virginia and North Carolina was the result of these unions between black males and white women. If you will recall, Thomas Jefferson kept his offspring from Sally Hemmings in slavery.

Unions between black slaves and white indentured servants were not rare – a situation creating the need (at least from the slave owners viewpoint) for laws prohibiting such unions. Which leaves the question – where did these families, established before the permanent slave laws,  go after finishing their indenture?

Part of my own family were what is called”Atlantic Creoles” (descendants of a white Sea Captain and an “Indian” woman who moved to Montgomery County  from what is now the Norfolk/Newport News area in 1719) whose children migrated from Montgomery County, Virginia on the lower Rappahannock River to an area near the Cumberland Gap on what is now the Virginia – West Virginia border to escape re-enslavement. They would fight a nearly 50 year legal battle in the Courts to retain their freedom. There was already a thriving black (or tri-racial) community there. What they did was to follow the path after the American Revolution of many European-American settlers and move west to the “frontier”, forming stable communities along the Virginia -West Virginia border.

Indeed there is evidence through letters that Confederate troops stayed out of certain counties in Virginia and North Carolina because the majority of the residents were freedmen who took a dim view of Confederates and would shoot any Confederate who wandered into the wrong territory. I have more then anecdotal evidence that being a slave catcher wandering onto some of those counties was a terminal profession. You can track some of that looking at General Sheridan’s campaign in the Shenandoah - looking at where they DIDN’T fight the Rebs.

My Dad, who was a Historian always claimed that the Melungeons of the region were actually the descendants of the first Africans brought to America who had intermarried with white Indentured Servants and had served out their indenture and moved to the remote area to escape persecution.

Turns out he was right. He referred to these folks as “cousins” – although I never figured out why, or have proven any direct family relationship with any of the 40 or so Melungeon families. He was also good friends with one of the Goins family descendants.

Melungeon history researchers at various times have claimed that several famous people were descendants of Melungeons, including Elvis Presley, Ava Gardner, and Abraham Lincoln. That is in all likleyhood wishful thinking – as I have never heard on any evidence to back such claims. The truth of which would be explosive.

Melungeon DNA Study Reveals Ancestry, Upsets ‘A Whole Lot Of People’

For years, varied and sometimes wild claims have been made about the origins of a group of dark-skinned Appalachian residents once known derisively as the Melungeons. Some speculated they were descended from Portuguese explorers, or perhaps from Turkish slaves or Gypsies.

Now a new DNA study in the Journal of Genetic Genealogy attempts to separate truth from oral tradition and wishful thinking. The study found the truth to be somewhat less exotic: Genetic evidence shows that the families historically called Melungeons are the offspring of sub-Saharan African men and white women of northern or central European origin. Continue reading

Musical history of the blues found in juke joints – CBS News

A few of the old Juke Joints still survive. Wynton Marsalis takes on a trip down History Lane finding several Juke Joints still operating.

Musical history of the blues found in juke joints

In a downhome neighborhood on the outskirts of Birmingham, Ala., Rita James bought an abandoned building and built a happy home for the blues. Her tiny, unmarked Red Wolf club invites the entire community.

Just four years old, The Red Wolf is a real juke joint. It’s roots go all the way back to Emancipation. In the old South, poverty made life more extreme. So folks found barns, shacks, anywhere – to play, sing and dance their sorrows away. Over time, these places became known as juke joints. Within their walls the blues were born.

Every Wednesday night, Wilson takes the microphone and gets the people on their feet. But it’s the music that brings them together.

“I just make them feel good,” Wilson said. “That’s just me period. Anywhere. I make the crippled feel good – make them think they can walk again.”

First-timer BJ Miller drove 500 miles from St. Louis for a chance to blow her trombone in a place where spirits are served, and freed.

“It’s not that they just serve alcohol,” Miller said. “It’s that they are serving musicians the opportunity to express themselves – and that’s not everywhere.”

“The blues has good and sad, so it’s for good too,” Wilson said. “And you know I like the blues. I like music period, I like all music, so music cheer me on and make me feel good.”

The blues are good for the soul. Their rhythms are inseparable from the American identity, and they’re not naive. The blues tell us bad things happen all the time, and they do, and we can engage with them. The blues are like a vaccine. If you want to get rid of something, give yourself a little bit of it, and when the real thing comes – you’re ready for it.

If Rita has any say in the matter, they’ll be an integral and constant part of the future. Wilson said her club will stay open, “until I drop.”

Before the Apollo – There Was the Howard Theater

Saw a number of acts here as a kid – From Duke Ellington to Moms Mabley to Nancy Wilson and Pigmeat Markum… Even saw Tina Turner shake a shapely leg there…

During the 60′s this was one of two venues which had black musicians on stage in DC. The other being the Carter Baron Ampithater, and outdoor venue only open during the summer…

Jackie Wilson, Temptations, Booker T and the MGs – every major black act in America played here from the 20′s to the 60′s.

New Howard Theater

The Original Theater Built in 1910

D.C.’s Howard Theatre: What made it an essential sanctuary of black Washington?

Marvin Gaye sang his debut hit “Stubborn Kind of Fellow” when he returned to the Howard Theatre in October 1962 with the first Motown tour. The audience went wild over its hometown son. His mother, who was in the audience, poked everyone around her and told them, “That’s my boy!” The lineup included Marv Johnson, Mary Wells, the Miracles, the Marvelettes and the Vandellas. The Supremes, making their stage debut, were the opening act. Miles Davis had been a headliner the previous week.

Before New York’s Apollo Theater, there was the Howard. Built in 1910, it was the first legitimate theater in the country open to African Americans. The Howard Theatre helped make Washington the early cultural capital of black America. Over 60 years, virtually every top African American entertainer performed on its stage, including Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, the Drifters, Ruth Brown, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Sam Cooke, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and Ike & Tina Turner.

Going to the Howard at Seventh & T in the District’s Shaw neighborhood was a part of growing up for generations of Washingtonians, some of whom went on to achieve fame of their own. Atlantic Recordsfounder Ahmet Ertegun said he got his doctorate in black music there. One of its ragtime musicians taught Billy Taylor to play piano. After Billy Eckstine won several amateur night contests at the Howard, theater manager Shep Allen told the teenager he was a professional, lent him a tuxedo and booked him to do a show. Shirley Horn said a show she saw there made her switch from classical piano to jazz. Pearl Bailey danced in the chorus line while taking voice lessons. And Duke Ellington often won the theater’s band contests with his first quintet, the Duke’s Serenaders.

The Howard closed in 1970, a victim of desegregation, competition from larger venues and the 1968 riots. A 1975 reopening lasted only two weeks. Occasional shows followed, but it wasn’t the same. The theater was a go-go palace when it finally closed in the early ’80s.

With the Howard Theatre set to reopen this week, here’s a look at its legendary past through the eyes of people who were touched by it.

***

Gloria Thomas Gantt, 85, was a cashier at the Howard from 1959 to 1970. She became a manager for shows in the late ’70s.

I worked with Tina Turner, James Brown, B.B. King, Gladys Knight & the Pips. All of the big stars, I got a chance to work with them.

The Temptations had people all up and down the aisle. At that time, they were Number One. They were the star of the show. The women used to go crazy. Throw up their bras and underwear and everything onstage. Then they would write down their phone numbers. The star of the show, David Ruffin, would come down into the audience [when he sang] “My Girl.” If you were sitting there, he would sing to you. He would take the numbers and put them in his pocket and just keep right on singing. He never missed a beat.

Women would call me at the box office. “Could you tell me where so and so in James Brown’s band, where they are stayin’?” I’d say, “Honey, that’s a good question, ’cause I don’t know.” But somehow they would come in and go backstage, and they would find ’em… (More)

Elizabeth Catlett

A Master Artist passed Monday. Mrs Catlett was 96 years old.

My Time With Elizabeth Catlett

By: Harriette Cole

I was a young, wide-eyed magazine editor just starting my career when I had the great fortune to meet the artist Elizabeth Catlett. I was working at Essence magazine in the lifestyle department, and one of my beats was the art world. I would go to art openings all over New York City, learning about and meeting black artists who were presenting their work.

It was a fascinating experience, for so many reasons. Even though I grew up in a household where we appreciated fine art and did have paintings made by local black artists hanging on our walls, I had no idea that there were actual black masters. The only masters I knew about were Van Gogh, Matisse, Manet, Picasso and such. I knew nothing of Romare Bearden or Jacob Lawrence — or Elizabeth Catlett — back then. I had no idea that we had our own masters.

I believe it was the art dealer June Kelly, who has long had a gallery in Manhattan, who introduced me to Catlett. In the early 1980s, Catlett was already an acclaimed artist whose work — clay, wood and stone sculptures as well as woodcuts and linocuts — was housed in museums and galleries across the country and beyond.

What a humble woman she was. Gracious and generous, Catlett took time to talk to me about the work she had created thus far, which uniquely documented the stories of African-American people. I remember being mesmerized by the woodcuts and linocuts that she made.

With her hands and a few special tools, she transformed simple pieces of material into stories of triumph and struggle. The piece that drew me in the most is one of her most famous, the 1952 linocut Sharecropper.This carving represents a strong black woman wearing a full-brim hat and proper coat. Her face exudes the power, strength and inward glance of one who is a survivor.

As I crafted the first of several stories I would write about Catlett, I continued my fascination with her, her work and that piece. In those early years, I would see her at various openings for her work in New York and Los Angeles. The artist Samella Lewis wrote a book about Catlett, The Art of Elizabeth Catlett, and I visited with the two of them in Los Angeles when the book came out.

I feel so fortunate that over the years our paths intersected many times. Once, early on, Catlett was visiting New York City with her husband, the Mexican artist Francisco Mora, whom she fondly called Pancho, and she invited me to visit with them at her apartment in lower Manhattan…(more)

Stupid Deal of the Decade? Magic Johnson Group Buys LA Dodgers for $2 billion…

There are good investments…and bad.  Paying out $2 billion for a Sports Franchise in a sport which is on the way down – is definitely one of those “bad” investment ideas. Seems to me $2 b could be better spent buying a NFL Franchise (Several of which are actually worth $2 B or more) or investing in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), which is about the fastest growing professional sport out there right now. The list of the Top 50 Professional Sports Franchises in the World looks like this.

So… Why but the Dodgers?

I hope Magic hasn’t lost his business “magic”!

Group Led by Magic Johnson Wins Auction to Buy Dodgers for $2.15 Billion

In a quick, dramatic end to the year-long financial crisis of the Los Angeles Dodgers, the team’s owner, Frank McCourt, agreed to sell the team Tuesday night for $2.15 billion to a group headed by Magic Johnson, the Lakers’ Hall of Famer.

The Johnson group’s deal, financed largely by Guggenheim Partners, a Chicago-based financial services firm, includes $2 billion for the team (minus $412 million in debt) and $150 million to create a joint venture with McCourt on the parking lots and land surrounding Dodger Stadium. The deal is valued at $2.3 billion.

If the all-cash deal is approved by the judge overseeing the Dodgers’ bankruptcy, the price will be the most ever paid for a professional sports team.

The most ever paid for a franchise is at least $1.4 billion for Manchester United. The Miami Dolphins were sold for $1.15 billion and the Chicago Cubs were acquired for $845 million. McCourt, who bought the team in 2004 for $421 million, had resisted selling the real estate, preferring to rent the lots for $14 million a year to the team’s new owner. But the Johnson group suggested the joint venture on the land, said a person briefed on the sale but not authorized to speak publicly.

The deal will let McCourt repay a $150 million loan made to the team last year by Major League Baseball and his $130 million divorce settlement to his ex-wife, Jamie.

The winning bid defeated one by Stan Kroenke, the billionaire owner of the St. Louis Rams, Colorado Avalanche and Denver Nuggets, and a second from two other billionaires: Steven A. Cohen, the hedge-fund manager who recently bought a small share of the Mets, and Patrick Soon-Shiong, who made his money in pharmaceuticals.

The final steps in the process came rapidly. McCourt’s investment banker, Blackstone, asked each bidder to raise their offers Monday night.

Baseball owners approved all three bidders Tuesday afternoon and later in the evening McCourt selected on the Johnson group. An announcement was made shortly after 11 p.m. eastern.

In addition to Johnson and Guggenheim Partners, the winning group includes Stan Kasten, the former president of the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals, and Peter Guber, the film producer and head of Mandalay Entertainment.

The agreement to sell the Dodgers to Johnson’s group appears to end an extraordinary year for the team. It filed for bankruptcy last June after Selig blocked a new, long-term billion-dollar cable TV deal between the Dodgers and Fox Sports. Selig had sharply criticized McCourt’s management of the team — in particular his use of team money for his and his ex-wife’s personal use — and installed a monitor to oversee the team’s operations. McCourt called that a hostile takeover.

Church Discovers History in Forgotten Graveyard

Growing up in the area – this community was always referred to as “Hall’s Hill” even though it’s official name was High View Park. It is one of several hills overlooking the city of Washington DC from the Virginia side of the river. It was the first free-black community in Northern Virginia, and today maintains some of that flavor despite folks moving in of different ethnicity.

This is still an area which has black churches, black barbershops, and black beauty parlours. I don’t believe any of the local stores or shops survive, but several turn of the century buildings are still standing. Some of the families still living in this community have roots here which go back to slavery. Those “old” families purchased their land after the Civil War from the Plantation Owner, and set off to build a new community. I’m old enough to remember the “Ice Store” on the main street before it was torn down, which by my time had been converted into a local Mom and Pop grocery store, although locals still referred to it as the “Ice Store”.

Some years ago I met a guy who was uncovering graveyards in rural areas on the Eastern Shore. Seems once the families moved away, often the presence of the graveyard was forgotten. He used some high tech equipment to identify the graves, and sometimes could uncover markers with information on them. It was impossible to determine who was in the graves, sometimes which predated the Civil War.

Calloway Methodist Cemetery

Calloway Cemetery preservation unearths Arlington churchgoers’ roots

When Saundra Green looks over the compact cemetery adjacent to Calloway United Methodist Church in Arlington, she sees a history of her community. The oldest grave contains Margaret Hyson, who died in 1891 and was a slave on the Hall’s Hill plantation before emancipation.

Under another marker is Hesakiah Dorsey, a slave who joined the Union Army during the Civil War and who had 17 children. Green’s great-grandfather, T.W. Hyson, is buried here, too; in 1927, he was a principal at then-segregated Chesterbrook High School in Fairfax County.

And there’s Louise Bolden, who died, according to Green’s family history, on the way to tell relatives about another death in the family. “I also have two uncles buried here who we can’t find: my mother’s brothers Leon and Ernest,” Green said. Burials at Calloway Cemetery ended in 1959, and over time, gravestones fell or slumped. People forgot who rested in unmarked plots; the lawn became bumpy and uneven.

Congregants who gather on the church’s driveway after services have done their best to keep the grass cut and the weeds trimmed.

Now Arlington County is about to designate the tiny plot at 5000 Lee Hwy. as a local historic district, ensuring that it will be protected and that the county will have to review proposed changes. County preservation planner Cynthia Liccese-Torres said members of the church approached officials two years ago about preserving and restoring the cemetery. Liccese-Torres, who has worked for the county for 11 years, began looking at census and historical data. She unearthed a 1985 survey of cemeteries by the Arlington Genealogical Club. She circulated a questionnaire at the church to tease out oral reports of who might be buried there. She found an archaeologist who could gently probe the property and identify between 40 and 50 “lost” graves and uncover markers buried by time and soil. Her best estimate is that about 100 people are buried in the 7,100-square-foot lawn.

She found the project fascinating. One of the most eye-opening moments was when she discovered small crosses on a Virginia Department of Transportation map of Lee Highway. It turned out that when the highway was widened in 1960, 10 bodies were exhumed. The state could not identify the deceased, but there was a record of where they were taken: Coleman Cemetery, in the Alexandria section of southern Fairfax County. Last year, some church members went there to look for the graves but did not find them. “As far as we know, the people who were removed were in unmarked graves, and it’s possible” they are buried together in an unmarked grave at Coleman, ­Liccese-Torres said.

The information, especially the details from old census records, was welcomed by the 156 members of the 145-year-old church. “It gave us so much more family history,” Green said. “It’s a lot . . . that this new generation of us didn’t know. We didn’t know how to find it. For the community, it’s important to know the African American history of Arlington, because it’s very prominent and it goes back more than 140 years.” Calloway United was established in 1866 by freed slaves, some of whom bought land from plantation owners William Marcey and Bazil Hall, for whom they had worked.

Its members formed the stable, close-knit community called Highview Park/Hall’s Hill. The community was self-contained in many ways, including by a notorious eight-foot-tall fence along 17th Road North that separated it from its white neighbors until the 1950s. Black residents built their own businesses — a barber shop, two ice stores, a fire station, a newspaper and a bus company.

Health needs were cared for by a midwife and a physician. A folklorist wrote a book about the neighborhood, drawing on its oral history. In 1959, Calloway’s members were among the four youngsters who integrated all-white Stratford Junior High, the first Arlington County public school to challenge Virginia’s “massive resistance” opposition to desegregation. In the 1960s, the church housed civil rights demonstrators headed to the big marches and protests in the District, while its members worked to desegregate local lunch counters, hospitals and theaters.

In advance of the county’s designation of Calloway Cemetery as historic, church members are making plans. They’d like to put in a fence, clean and raise some of the markers, and level the ground. It’s not yet clear how they will pay for the improvements, but that hasn’t diminished support. “We are thrilled because some members of our church didn’t realize their own grandparents were here,” said Rev. Sonja Oliver, the church pastor, who arrived in June to find research well underway. “This cemetery is extremely significant in the lives of people because it fills a void. It’s a missing piece in so many people’s lives — that sense of heritage and pride.” On a sunny, breezy day, as clouds blew south and several old tree stumps adorned with cheery artificial flowers stood sentinel, Green and Oliver looked pleased. “This is not just about the past,” Oliver said. “It’s the future. A legacy is only as good as its life span.”

Priceless Tubman Artifact Donation to Museum of African American History

This one is simply stunning. Who would believe such priceless artifacts still existed – much less were in private hands?

Black history museum gets special opening gift

Black History Month was marked in a very special way Wednesday. The president and the first lady attended the ground breaking for the National Museum of African-American History and Culture on the National Mall, where Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech still echoes.
CBS News correspondent Chip Reid got a first look at some of the priceless artifacts the museum will hold.

Charles Blockson, 78, has been collecting African and African-American artifacts for more than 50 years. The high point came just last year when he inherited 39 items that belonged to Harriet Tubman. Born into slavery, she escaped, but returned to the South nearly 20 times leading hundreds of others to freedom on what came to be known as the Underground Railroad.

Some of Charles Blockson’s ancestors were rescued by Tubman.

“When I first received (her artifacts), I was surprised, shocked. Nearly every item I picked up I started to cry, the tears just, my emotional armor erupted,” Blockson said.

The items include a silk shawl that was given to Tubman by Queen Victoria, and Tubman’s book of gospel hymns. Blockson, though, says it felt wrong to keep them, calling it “an awesome burden.”

So he donated the Tubman artifacts, most of them too fragile to be handled, to the National Museum of African-American History and Culture…

Billboards – Religious Weapon of Choice

There have been a number of instances in the past few years where one group or another has rented billboards to push their message out to the public. Alveda King, MLK’s daughter, who is the spokesperson for an anti-abortion group  has leased billboards in a number of cities to advance her group’s pro-life message. Even black conservative political groups have used the medium to advance their controversial message – such as Raging Elephants, and the National Black Republican Association‘s “MLK Was a Republican” Boards which appear now each election cycle…

Now the Black Atheists are striking back!

Atheism Billboard Planned For Dallas Sparks Controversy

Members of the Dallas religious community are speaking up about a national organization’s controversial plans to display an Atheist message on a prominent billboard, the Christian Chronicle reports.

The billboard was proposed by the national organization African Americans for Humanism as part of their country-wide Black History Month campaign aimed at encouraging African Americans to look critically at their faith, according to KDAF TV.

The message was scheduled to be posted Monday, but the billboard remains blank as community members continue to voice strong opinions on the plans, some of whom have even sent hate mail to African Americans for Humanism members.

David Lane, the pastor of a church about a mile down the road from the billboard site, told reporters he believes the plans will lead to important discussion in the African American community, where faith has long held a strong place.

“Traditionally African Americans come out of a tradition that is led and motivated by faith. We are where we are and we are who we are primarily because we’ve chosen to believe in a power that’s bigger than ourselves,” Lane told Fox 4 News. “It will create a lot of dialogue. There will be congregations of all kinds in this area who will be challenged by the fact that such a movement is at our door.”

But other members of the religious community have not been so welcoming. After a similar billboard was put up in Chicago, a representative at African American for Humanism’s headquarters therereceived a series of angry letters and e-mails, according to the Dallas Observer.

One such e-mail read:

.WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU.I have looked at your web cite [sic] and your billboards in Dallas. Your black Athiest Organizations make me sick. There is nothing worse than a bunch of blacks supporting Gays and Lesbians.. You are infesting are [sic] cities with your foolish beliefs! What is your reasoning behind your Athiest [sic] beliefs? It is groups like yours that are screwing up lives.

 But supporters of the billboard argue that it’s not meant to threaten religious beliefs, but rather provide a space for thought with people who may be in doubt.

Alix Jules, a member of the Dallas-Forth Worth Coalition of Reason, whose face will appear on the billboard, spoke to the Dallas Observer about the challenges many African Americans face when doubting their faith.

“When you wind up saying you don’t believe, then you’re walking away from a mating pool,” Jules told the paper. “You’re not going to be able to do that because now you’re deemed unfit. And you wind up throwing back into your parent’s face the belief they gave you isn’t good enough for you.”

Un-Hyphenate Me! Some Object to African American Label

One of the major changes brought about by Civil Rights was the right of self determination – the ability to decide what to call yourselves.

Some blacks insist: ‘I’m not African-American’

The labels used to describe Americans of African descent mark the movement of a people from the slave house to the White House. Today, many are resisting this progression by holding on to a name from the past: “black.”

For this group — some descended from U.S. slaves, some immigrants with a separate history — “African-American” is not the sign of progress hailed when the term was popularized in the late 1980s. Instead, it’s a misleading connection to a distant culture.

The debate has waxed and waned since African-American went mainstream, and gained new significance after the son of a black Kenyan and a white American moved into the White House. President Barack Obama’s identity has been contested from all sides, renewing questions that have followed millions of darker Americans:

What are you? Where are you from? And how do you fit into this country?

“I prefer to be called black,” said Shawn Smith, an accountant from Houston. “How I really feel is, I’m American.”

“I don’t like African-American. It denotes something else to me than who I am,” said Smith, whose parents are from Mississippi and North Carolina. “I can’t recall any of them telling me anything about Africa. They told me a whole lot about where they grew up in Macomb County and Shelby, N.C.”

Gibre George, an entrepreneur from Miami, started a Facebook page called “Don’t Call Me African-American” on a whim. It now has about 300 “likes.”

“We respect our African heritage, but that term is not really us,” George said. “We’re several generations down the line. If anyone were to ship us back to Africa, we’d be like fish out of water.”

“It just doesn’t sit well with a younger generation of black people,” continued George, who is 38. “Africa was a long time ago. Are we always going to be tethered to Africa? Spiritually I’m American. When the war starts, I’m fighting for America.”

Joan Morgan, a writer born in Jamaica who moved to New York City as a girl, remembers the first time she publicly corrected someone about the term: at a book signing, when she was introduced as African-American and her family members in the front rows were appalled and hurt.

“That act of calling me African-American completely erased their history and the sacrifice and contributions it took to make me an author,” said Morgan, a longtime U.S. citizen who calls herself Black-Caribbean American. (Some insist Black should be capitalized.)

She said people struggle with the fact that black people have multiple ethnicities because it challenges America’s original black-white classifications. In her view, forcing everyone into a name meant for descendants of American slaves distorts the nature of the contributions of immigrants like her black countrymen Marcus Garvey and Claude McKay.

Morgan acknowledges that her homeland of Jamaica is populated by the descendants of African slaves. “But I am not African, and Africans are not African-American,” she said.

In Latin, a forerunner of the English language, the color black is “niger.” In 1619, the first African captives in America were described as “negars,” which became the epithet still used by some today.

The Spanish word “negro” means black. That was the label applied by white Americans for centuries.

The word black also was given many pejorative connotations — a black mood, a blackened reputation, a black heart. “Colored” seemed better, until the civil rights movement insisted on Negro, with a capital N.

Then, in the 1960s, “black” came back — as an expression of pride, a strategy to defy oppression.

“Every time black had been mentioned since slavery, it was bad,” says Mary Frances Berry, a University of Pennsylvania history professor and former chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Reclaiming the word “was a grass-roots move, and it was oppositional. It was like, `In your face.’”… (more)

 

Luke Weathers, Jr… Tuskegee Airman

A sad note on the very week a long awaited movie about the exploits of th Tuskegee Airmen is released – Ace Pilot Luke Weathers was interned at Arlington Cemetery. During the War, at least 47 Pilots were awarded Purple Hearts for injuries received on combat missions. While most folks equate he Red Tails with the P-51 Mustang Aircraft, the Tuskegee Airmen also flew the Curtis P-40 in North Africa, the Bell P-39 Air Cobra, and the deadly P-47 Thunderbolt – which actually sank a German Destroyer, and was the first plane to get the distinctive “Red Tail” livery.

Luke Weathers Jr., Tuskegee airman, buried at Arlington as ‘Red Tails’ movie released

On the same day that retired Air Force Lt. Col. Luke Weathers Jr. took his resting place among other war and military heroes, his real-life story as a World War II aviator played out on movie screens across the country.

Weathers was buried Friday at Arlington National Cemetery in a service that began with a flyover of four F-16 jets in the Missing Man formation, a special honor reserved for pilots, by the 113th Wing of the D.C. Capital Guardians, the same unit that guards the airspace over the nation’s capital.

Weathers died Oct. 15 in Tucson, Ariz., of pneumonia at age 90. His burial coincided with the official opening in theaters of “Red Tails,” a George Lucas-produced movie retelling the story of the Tuskegee Airmen who debunked widely held beliefs that black pilots were incapable of fighting in combat.

Shortly after the flyover, in which one of the three jets departed from formation, a caisson pulled by six horses carried Weathers’ body to his burial spot amid hundreds of the stark marble tombstones that cover the grounds of the national cemetery. An Air Force band accompanied the wagon, its drummer thumping a solemn beat as family followed on the chilly, overcast Friday morning. Family members wore red ties and scarves, as they had at Weathers’ Memphis funeral, as a nod to the aviators who painted their aircrafts’ tails red to set themselves apart.

Luke Weathers III, 61, said his father and other black Americans who fought in World War II did so to prove they were men, “and then they wanted their country to love them, but that didn’t happen, either.” Friday’s ceremony, however, finally delivered recognition of his father as a national hero, Weathers said.

This kind of attention to the Tuskegee Airmen is what the elder Weathers wanted throughout his life, said his daughter, Trina Weathers Boyce. Weathers was not vain, but he wanted to share the lessons of the airmen’s courage in war, their struggles for equality and their victory over a wartime enemy and over racism, she said.

“He would talk about his hard trials and tribulations to others, to children, because he never wanted us to feel like this (racism) is a reason we couldn’t make it,” Weathers Boyce said in a telephone interview Thursday. “He would tell us nothing good comes easy. He’d say there are going to be barriers … and you can overcome them.”

Before the Tuskegee Airmen were formed in 1941, black men were forbidden to fly for the U.S. military, even though they could be drafted. After years of struggle, the Army Air Corps began to allow African Americans to train for flight, albeit in still-segregated units.

Many of the Tuskegee airmen, which included navigators, mechanics, medical personnel and others in support roles, trained from 1941 to 1949 at the Tuskegee Institute, which was founded by Booker T. Washington and was already home to an aeronautical engineering program.

More than 900 Tuskegee Airmen were U.S. pilots, said Trent Dudley, an Air Force lieutenant colonel who is president of the East Coast Tuskegee Airmen Inc. chapter. An estimated 250 to 300 Tuskegee airmen are still alive. The exact number is not known because some have not registered with chapters.

Zwarte Piet – A “Black” Dutch Problem

Holland was heavily involved in the slave trade, principally supplying ships and shipping, but also through several colonies…

No surprise then, the industry left a mark… I have no idea of historical representations of this caricature, but certainly by American standards even into the 60′s this is pretty mild. “Black Dutch” has quite a different meaning in the US, depending on time and region historically – perhaps influenced by Zwarte Piet?

In Holland, Santa Doesn’t Have Elves. He Has Slaves.

As a newcomer to the Netherlands, I do many things wrong. I forget to bring gifts to dinner parties, I thank people too profusely, and often speak too personally with people I’ve just met. But no slip-up has provoked a more troubled response than when I’ve brought up my concerns about Santa Claus.

Here’s what concerns me: In Holland, Santa, or “Sinterklaas,” as he’s known to the Dutch, doesn’t have reindeer; he has a little helper named Zwarte Piet, literally Black Pete, who charms children with pepernoten cookies and a kooky demeanor while horrifying foreign visitors with his resemblance to Little Black Sambo. Each year, on Dec. 5, the morning before the feast of St. Nicholas, children all over the country wake up excited for gifts and candy while thousands of adults go to their mirrors to apply brown paint and red lips. In their Zwarte Piet costumes, they fill central Amsterdam and small village streets, ushering in the arrival of Sinterklaas who, in the Dutch tradition, rides a flying white horse.

Trying to tell a Dutch person why this image disturbs you will often result in anger and frustration. Otherwise mature and liberal-minded adults may recoil from the topic and offer a rote list of reasons why Zwarte Piet should not offend anybody. “He is not even a black man,” many will tell you. “He is just black because he came down the chimney.” Then, you may reply, why aren’t his clothes dirty?

As the history of Zwarte Piet makes clear, that chimney-soot explanation doesn’t wash. Zwarte Piet—or his immediate ancestor, anyway—was introduced in 1845 in the story “Saint Nicholas and his Servant,” written by an Amsterdam schoolteacher named Jan Schenkman. In the story, Sinterklaas comes from Spain by steamship bringing with him a black helper of African origin. The book was wildly popular and with it began the inclusion of Santa’s helper in Dutch Christmas festivities. (It wasn’t until later in the century that he was given the name Piet.)

At the time, the Dutch empire spread across three continents and included the colonies of Suriname and Indonesia. The Dutch were deeply involved in the slave trade, both transporting African slaves to be sold and using slave labor to work coffee and sugar plantations in their colonies. Minstrel shows were a popular form of entertainment.

Nowadays, Sinterklaas comes to Holland by steamship in mid-November of each year. He is played by a nationally beloved actor, and his arrival is a live televised event that kicks off the holiday season much like the Macy’s Day Parade in the United States. The city bestowed the honor of hosting Sinterklaas’ arrival changes each year…

I  guess the last question is – “Is it racism?”

The only answer I could give from my distinctly 70′s American viewpoint is… “Compared to what?”

 

 

Where is the Love?

The love ballad has seemingly left the scene in terms of black music in America. Every day chances that there will be another Bary White,  Teddy Pendergrass, or Luther seem to get dimmer and dimmer – as the assorted wannabes and no-talent noisemakers flood the scene…

An interesting take on why no more “Love” in R&B.

Where is the love in R&B music?

When I was a teenager trying to figure out what the ladies liked, I would turn on the TV on Saturday afternoons to catch “The hippest trip in America.”

I’d close my bedroom door to make sure my younger brother wasn’t watching, and then I’d imitate the latest dance moves on “Soul Train,” the African-American dance show. Standing in front of a mirror, I’d unleash a series of spasmodic dance moves before embarrassing myself too much to continue.

Soul Train’s dancers never had that problem. As the show’s festive theme song played, wiry dancers in tight double-knit pants shimmied across the dance floor. I loved the huge afros, the lapels that were so wide you could land a small plane on them, and the suave “Soul Train” host, Don Cornelius, who signed off each show by declaring, “We wish you love, peace … and sooooulllll!”

But most of all I loved the music on “Soul Train,” especially the slow jams. They had everything — evocative lyrics, head-bopping grooves, soaring string arrangements and a whole lot of talk about love.

Yet when I listen to R&B today, I ask myself the same question Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway posed in their classic 1972 duet: “Where is the Love?”

Listening to black music today is depressing. Songs on today’s urban radio playlists are drained of romance, tenderness and seduction. And it’s not just about the rise of hardcore hip-hop or rappers who denigrate women.

Black people gave the world Motown, Barry White and “Let’s Get It On.” But we don’t make love songs anymore.

Why?

I asked some of the stars who created the popular R&B classics of the late 1960s, ’70s and early ’80s. Their answer: The music changed because blacks lost something essential — something that all Americans, regardless of race, should regret.

“We had so much harmony”

Some of what we lost, they say, was an appreciation of love itself.

Earth Wind & Fire keyboardist and founding member Larry Dunn says a new generation of black R&B artists is more cynical because more come from broken homes and broken communities.

“How are you going to write about love when you don’t know what it is?” asks Dunn, whose new album “N2 The Journey” contains a remake of one of Earth Wind & Fire’s most famous ballads, “Reasons.”

EWF, which gave us 1970s classics such as “After the Love is Gone,” didn’t create songs just to make hits, Dunn says. They also wanted to change lives. The group was known for songs like “Devotion” and “Shining Star” that celebrated love of self and God.

Those sentiments may sound hokey now, but Dunn says EWF could tell their songs had the intended effect. People played EWF love songs at their proms and weddings, and people still write letters of thanks to the group today.

“We had one guy who came up to us before a show and told us that we had helped him get off heroin,” says Dunn, who is as relentlessly upbeat and warm as EWF’s music.

Kenny Gamble brought the same ambition to his sound. Gamble is the co-founder of Philadelphia International Records, known as the Motown of the ’70s. The record label patented “Philly Soul” — tight, sophisticated arrangements with lush strings that formed the backdrop for classic love songs such as Billy Paul’s “Me and Mrs. Jones” and Teddy Pendergrass’ “Come Go With Me.”

Yet Gamble’s songs were also driven by black pride and self-help. With his co-producer and songwriter Leon Huff, Gamble created social conscience anthems like “Wake Up Everybody” by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes and “Love Train” by The O’Jays.

Both the love songs and those with messages sprang from the same source, the belief that loving one another and your community was important, says Gamble, who still lives in Philadelphia renovating blighted neighborhoods through his nonprofit, Universal Companies.

“We had so much harmony, so much purpose in our music,” he says. “Our whole purpose was the message is in the music, and that message was to love one another and to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Love songs flowered during that era also because black people were more optimistic, music critic Rashod Ollison wrote in an essay on Barry White, the rotund singer with what Ollison described as the “low-as-the-ocean-floor bass voice” who gave us love songs such as “Never Gonna’ Give You Up.”… (more)

In my view the tightest close harmony done in the past 50 years… Ever notice nobody ever tries to cover the old Dells or Harold Melvin songs? That harmony born of 20 or more years singing together is the reason – and you ain’t gettin’ that out of a synthesizer in 15 minutes on the cheap…

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