The D is Silent – Django Unchained

By Linda Tarrant-Reid

I went to see Quentin Tarantino’s latest film Django Unchained with some trepidation.  I had no idea what kind of movie-going experience I was in for.

Christoph Waltz and Jamie Foxx stars of Django Unchained

Christoph Waltz and Jamie Foxx stars of Django Unchained

I heard about the slavery – the whippings, the killings and the overall brutality.  I also heard about the liberal use of the n-word which always gets my back up.  I saw Spike Lee’s declaration on YouTube when asked about the film, he said “I can’t speak on it because I’m not gonna see it…It would be disrespectful to my ancestors to see that film…I can’t disrespect my ancestors.”  For those who are not familiar with the story, it is quintessential Quentin!  The film has lots of blood and gore against a backdrop of cheeky dialogue, pop culture idioms and a slammin’ soundtrack.

Django Unchained which is executive produced by Black producer/director Reginald Hudlin and stars Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson and Kerry Washington, has characters that are larger than life and some may say, a story larger than history.

Samuel L. Jackson, Tarantino, Foxx and Waltz

Samuel L. Jackson, Tarantino, Foxx and Waltz

Extrapolated from or inspired by the1966 spaghetti western Django starring Franco Nero (who has a small role in the film), which had nothing to do with slavery, Director Tarantino has re-imagined the storyline into a love story between a recently freed enslaved man searching for his enslaved wife set in the pre-Civil War South.

It’s a movie that has everyone talking about slavery and the love story between Foxx and Washington.

Jamie Foxx and Kerry Washington, husband and wife in Django Unchained.

Jamie Foxx and Kerry Washington, husband and wife, in Django Unchained.

At its core Django is an old fashion western complete with two strangers, Christoph Waltz as Dr. King Schultz and Jamie Foxx as Django, who ride into town and cause mayhem during their brief visit as they search for the beautiful Broomhilda (Kerry Washington).   The twist is that Dr. Schultz, a bounty hunter, purchases Django to help him find some murderers who have a bounty on their heads in exchange for his freedom.

In a contentious January 10 interview on Britain’s Channel 4 with journalist Krishnan Guru-Murthy, Tarantino addressed the questions of why slavery and why a western.  He responded by saying that he wanted to make a movie to “give Black American Males a western hero, a cool folkloric hero that could actually be empowering.”

Directors Quentin Tarantino and Spike Lee

Directors Quentin Tarantino and Spike Lee

When pressed about the controversy over the film, Quentin went on to say that he loves the discourse and that the film is “creating a nice debate…there is actually a dialogue going on about slavery right now that hasn’t been happening, at all…and now because of this movie people aren’t afraid to talk about it [slavery].”  The interviewer attempted to box Tarantino into a corner by asking him about all the violence in his movies including Django.  His response was that his movie dealt with the holocaustic aspects of the institution of slavery in America and that had never been done before.  And slavery was a violent institution and in his film the agenda was payback, blood for blood.

Make no mistake, Django Unchained is a movie, an epic movie.  It is entertainment, not a historic depiction of the horrific institution of slavery.

Leonardo DiCaprio as the vile Calvin Candie.

Leonardo DiCaprio as the vile Calvin Candie.

There is no way on earth that a nearly 3-hour film could capture the anguish, pain, brutality and the dislocation, degradation and destruction of the millions of Africans who were transported to North America from Africa during the 17th and 18th century.

Starting a dialogue is important and necessary to forge an understanding between races of folks.  By putting slavery on the silver screen, a subject that has been hidden away, swept under the rug and distorted by storytellers, Django has started a conversation about a period of our history that has been taboo for far too long.

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Discovering Black America Selected as One of “The Best Children’s Books of 2012”

Kirkus Reviews, a respected publishing industry book review magazine, has announced the selection of Discovering Black America: From the Age of Exploration to the Twenty-First Century as one of “The Best Children’s Books of 2012.”

Discovering Black America - From the Age of Exploration to the Twenty-First Century

Discovering Black America – From the Age of Exploration to the Twenty-First Century

The author, Linda Tarrant-Reid, has written and edited several books on African American history.  Ms. Tarrant-Reid spent six (6) years researching and writing the 244-page volume geared for middle grade readers and adults, and has received starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly.  The beautifully designed pages and layout contain over 100 archival images, historical documents, maps, as well as first-person narratives that span more than 400 years of African American history set against a background of American and global events.

Discovering Black America was published in September by Abrams Books for Young Readers, known for its award-winning and handsomely produced books.  The new tome on African American history has been widely reviewed and promoted on radio, digital media and on local television.  Ms. Tarrant-Reid was interviewed recently by WNBC-TV reporter Tracie Strahan on the public affairs segment, Positively BlackDiscovering Black America was also included in Essence magazine’s 2012 Holiday Shopping and Web Guide featured in the December issue.  Book events for Discovering Black America have included a book signing at the historic Thomas Paine Cottage Museum in New Rochelle, NY where Academy Award-nominated actress Ruby Dee read an excerpt from the book and a presentation on African Americans who fought in the American Revolution from the Hampton Roads area in Norfolk, VA at the St. Thomas A.M.E.Zion Church.

Discovering Black America is available at book stores, online booksellers and from the publisher, Abrams Books for Young Readers.  For the latest information about Discovering Black America and future book events, visit www.facebook.com/discoveringblackamerica or follow the book on Twitter @discoverblackus.

Kirkus Reviews Best Children’s Books of 2012 – See page 8 http://www.kirkusreviews.com/lists/best-childrens-books-2012/?page=8

Tracie Strahan Interview on WNBC-TV – http://www.nbcnewyork.com/on-air/as-seen-on/Poisitively-Black_-_Discovering-Black-America__New-York.html

Miss Ruby Dee Reads from DBA at Thomas Paine Cottage Museum http://newrochelle.patch.com/announcements/miss-ruby-dee-reads-from-discovering-black-america-at-paine-cottage

Publishers Weekly Starred Review of DBA

http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-8109-7098-4?fb_action_ids=4217024996019&fb_action_types=og.likes&fb_source=other_multiline&action_object_map={%224217024996019%22%3A112215975601787}&action_type_map={%224217024996019%22%3A%22og.likes%22}&action_ref_map=[]

Kirkus Reviews Starred Review of DBA

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/linda-tarrant-reid/discovering-black-america/#review

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Monster Hurricane Sandy, Our October Surprise

By Linda Tarrant-Reid

When the much-touted Frankenstorm Sandy marched up the East Coast at the end of October, we had no idea the devastation the cat 1 hurricane would wrought on the densely populated Northeast Corridor.  TVs blared warnings to New Yorkers, who on most days cast jaundiced eyes at predictions by authoritative prognosticators, to prepare for an apocalyptic weather event.

Hurricane Sandy's Path up the East Coast of the U.S.

Hurricane Sandy’s Path up the East Coast of the U.S.

Even the cantankerous Michael Bloomberg, the Mayor of New York City, took a minute for all the dire predictions of storm surges above 10 feet, historic coastal flooding in low-lying areas from Delaware to Connecticut, wind gusts of 90+ miles per hour and widespread power outages that could affect half of the power customers in the New York, New Jersey, Connecticut Tristate area, to sink in.

The Mayor finally had his “come to Jesus moment” on Sunday and announced the unprecedented closing of the entire Metropolitan Transit System including subways, buses, trains, bridges and tunnels.

NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg announces the mandatory evacuation of Zone A in Lower Manhattan.

NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg announces the mandatory evacuation of  Zone A in Lower Manhattan.

Bloomberg also called for the mandatory evacuation in flood zones in the City’s five boroughs moving 375,000 residents to higher ground.  This was an extraordinary decision, one that had not been made in my lifetime, if ever, with far reaching consequences for the residents of NYC and the infrastructure of this bustling seat of power.

President Barack Obama left the campaign trail to visit the storm-ravaged Jersey Shore with Governor Chris Christie on Wednesday, October 31st, two days after Sandy made landfall south of Atlantic City, NJ.  Governor Christie, who gave the keynote speech at the Republican Convention and was considered a darling of the GOP and whispered to be a contender for the second spot on Romney’s ticket, had his former Republican fans experiencing buyer’s remorse because of his warm reception of the President of the United States during a time of crisis.

US-WEATHER-STORM-SANDY-OBAMA

President Barack Obama comforts Brigantine, NJ resident during his tour of the devastated coastline with NJ Governor Chris Christie.

The President listened intently and with compassion to the residents of Brigantine, a community on the south shore especially hard hit by Sandy.  He reassured them that the Governor’s requests for assistance would be fulfilled by a quick response from the federal government.

On Friday, November 2nd, “President Barack Obama declared Westchester County, a suburb of New York City, a disaster area, making the County eligible for federal aid. FEMA Recovery Teams were dispatched to Westchester to assist residents with losses they suffered during the storm.

Sandy was a wake-up call for all of us here on the East Coast who experienced the ferocity of this natural disaster.  I remember the devastation and the victims of the Tsunami, earthquake and nuclear disaster in Japan in March 2011; the earthquake in Haiti in January 2010; and Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in August 2005.

Tent City in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti set up after the earthquake in 2010.

Tent City in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti was set up after the earthquake in 2010.

I could not fathom then how these people were going to recover from these horrific events.  Not all of them have, there are still tent cities in Haiti housing the victims of the earthquake; some residents in New Orleans in affected neighborhoods in the low-lying areas have returned to their homes, but many have been displaced permanently; and in northeast Japan where the nuclear power plant melted down, the residents who lived within a 12-mile radius have been evacuated permanently because of the high levels of radiation.

Sandy, the Japanese tsunami, the Haitian earthquake and Hurricane Katrina are seismic weather events that are becoming more frequent and more intense as time goes by.

Global warming is causing the Polar Ice Cap to melt at an alarming rate.

Global warming is causing the Polar Ice Cap to melt at an alarming rate.

Clearly these climactic changes are a result of global warming – the seas are getting warmer and are rising, the polar ice cap in the Artic Ocean is melting at an alarming rate, and we are experiencing more extreme and severe weather, more often.

What can we do to reduce global warming?  We have to decrease the greenhouse gases that eat away at our atmosphere and create global warming.  How do we do that?  Use less energy by driving fuel-efficient or hybrid cars.  Recycle items, instead of throwing them away and cluttering up the landfills.  Plant more trees and gardens and create more green spaces to release more oxygen into the environment.  And most of all, teach our kids the value of a clean, green and healthy community.

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Discovering Black America Available at Bookstores on September 1

Author, journalist and blogger Linda Tarrant-Reid has written a book for middle school readers and up on the history of African Americans.  Published by Abrams Books, Discovering is not just for kids, but for anyone interested in the journey and personal stories of the Africans and African Americans who built America.  Discovering is available at bookstores and at online booksellers including,  www. amazon.com.  For more information on Discovering visit:  http://www.facebook.com/discoveringblackamerica

About the book:

Discovering Black America by Linda Tarrant-Reid offers readers an unprecedented account of more than 400 years of African American history set against a background of American and global events. The book begins with a black sailor aboard the Niña with Christopher Columbus and continues through the colonial period, slavery, the Civil War, Jim Crow, and civil rights to our current president in the White House. Including first-person narratives from diaries and journals, interviews, and archival images, Discovering Black America will give readers an intimate understanding of this extensive history. The book includes an index and bibliography.

Kirkus Reviews – Starred Review

DISCOVERING BLACK AMERICA By Linda Tarrant-Reid

(reviewed on August 15, 2012)

 

This handsome, engaging study of African-American history brings to light many intriguing and tragically underreported stories.

This is a comprehensive approach to African-American history, beginning with accounts of black explorers before the settlement of North America. The straightforward narrative includes major historical events but places emphasis on unusual aspects. For example, during the segment on the American Revolution, there is good discussion about those who fought for both the Patriots and the Loyalists. Another section of distinction is the period following the Civil War and Reconstruction, including blacks in the West and an intriguing look at the differing views of Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois. The societal changes brought on by World War II and the civil rights movement receive their due. Little-known exchanges between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King are the kinds of detail that lift this narrative above the standard history text. Not surprisingly, the story concludes with the election of President Barack Obama and the challenges facing the first black president. This is a well-researched, readable overview with an attractive layout that will engage young readers. There are few pages that are not accompanied by an interesting sidebar or image, many archival.

From attractive page design to an afterword that encourages readers to search for their own history, there has been much attention to detail in this handsome volume. (notes, bibliography, art credits, index) (Nonfiction. 10 & up)


Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-8109-7098-4
Page count: 244pp
Publisher: Abrams
Review Posted Online: Aug. 1st, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2012

From Booklist Online:

Discovering Black America: From the Age of Exploration to the Twenty-first Century.
Tarrant-Reid, Linda (author).
Sept. 2012. 244p. illus. Abrams, hardcover, $29.95 (9780810970984). Grades 7-12. 973.
REVIEW. First published September 1, 2012 (Booklist).

This handsome historical overview begins with the first African explorers and seamen arriving in the New World in the fifteenth century, and it ends with the presidential election of Barack Obama. In between, focused chapters discuss black history in detail, from slavery and the Underground Railroad to how African Americans have advanced through the decades to today. Despite the wide time span covered in this single volume, there is no slick simplification of facts, although there could be more about the daily struggle of ordinary people now. Many teens will be familiar with some of the coverage, such as the discussions of Jim Crow and the Harlem Renaissance, as well as biographies of famous leaders, from Frederick Douglass to Langston Hughes, Rosa Parks, Jacob Lawrence, Angela Davis, and Oprah. The spacious book design will draw readers with plentiful, well-placed paintings, photos, and documents on every spread. The extensive back matter includes meticulous footnotes and a bibliography of recommended books and websites for all those who will be moved to find out more. An excellent title for classroom support.

— Hazel Rochman

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President Obama’s Roots Traced to First Enslaved African

Linda Tarrant-Reid

Ever since Barack Obama became the first African American president in 2008, his first term has been fraught with debate about where he was born, whether or not he’s an American citizen, if he’s Muslim and “so on and so on and scooby, dooby doo-bee, oh sha sha.”  Sorry, got carried away with Sly’s lyrics to “Everyday People” written by Stone in 1969 for inclusion on his “Stand!” album.  Amazingly, the words are still relevant today.

There is a yellow one that won’t accept the black one
That won’t accept the red one that won’t accept the white one
And different strokes for different folks

Sly and The Family Stone’s music reflected society at the time.

Sly and the Family Stone

There was Woodstock, the Vietnam War, student anti-war protests, African American students demanding Black Studies curriculum at universities, and the beginning of computers and the Internet.  Today we have Coachella 2012, the Afghanistan War, the Occupy Movement, Android phones and ancestry.com.

What is so fantastic about technology in the 21st century is that we can all trace our ancestry back to a past that has often eluded us.  By searching databases and documents that have been meticulously uploaded to the Internet by the Provo, Utah-based company ancestry.com and DNA testing, genealogists were able to trace President Obama’s family history back to the first African enslaved person in America, John Punch.

The finding was so profound because the connection between Punch and Obama was not from the President’s father’s side, which is Kenyan, but from his mother’s side, a white woman born in the Midwest.

Stanley Ann Dunham and son, Barack Obama.

Stanley Ann Dunham was married to Barack Obama, Sr. for a brief period.  An anthropologist, Dunham raised her son in Indonesia and Hawaii, far from Hugh Gwyn’s farm in the Virginia Colony where John Punch worked in the17th century.

Punch was an indentured servant who lived in Northampton County in 1640.  Punch and two other servants – Victor, a Dutchman and James Gregory, a Scotsman – ran away to Maryland to escape their servitude.  Slavery did not exist in the colony at the time and the labor was performed by indentured servants – Black and White – who served for a period of time before being freed.  According to the Minutes of the Council and General Court of Virginia on July 9, 1640, the punishment meted out to the runaways was thus:

“the court doth therefore order that the said three  servants shall receive the punishment of whipping and to have thirty stripes apiece one called Victor, a dutchman, the other a Scotchman called James Gregory, shall first serve out their times with their master according to their Indentures, and one whole year apiece after the time of their service is Expired. By their said Indentures in recompense of his Loss sustained by their absence and after that service to their said master is Expired to serve the colony for three whole years apiece, and that the third being a negro named John Punch shall serve his said master or his assigns for the time of his natural Life here or elsewhere.”

The decision by the court to punish the three indentured servants differently, the White runaways received extended terms of their indenture and the Black man John Punch was sentenced to enslavement for the rest of his life, was the beginning of slavery in Colonial Virginia.

An excerpt from the July 9, 1640 proceedings of the General Court of Virginia.

The most interesting point to me of this discovery of President Obama’s implied relationship to John Punch through his mother’s roots is that we are all extremely complicated.  Although, the proof is not definitive in the Obama-Punch connection, the researchers are pretty certain the genetic markers uncovered in their research and the small population of Africans from the sub-Saharan region living in Virginia at the time leads them to conclude that President Obama is most likely a descendant.

As more and more Americans access the databases on ancestry.com, they’ve just uploaded the 1940s U.S. Census records; I have no doubt that many of us will discover our mixed heritage and embrace it.  After all “we got to live together,” no matter what our perceived differences are.

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Stop & Frisk: The App

By Linda Tarrant-Reid

We’ve all heard the stories or know someone, personally, who has been stopped by the po-po, without provocation.  I’m talking about living, walking, and driving while Black and male in America – the Brothers can be stopped, questioned and frisked for no apparent reason, other than the color of their complexion.

Giancarlo Esposito as Gustavo Fring.

Just read recently where actor Giancarlo Esposito was stopped and frisked at gunpoint in the Times Square area by NYC’s Finest while leaving a theater where he was rehearsing for a play.  The Brother, who is known for his role on AMC’s drama series Breaking Bad as the notorious meth kingpin Gustavo Fring was not in character and was dressed in a suit, but the cops had profiled him as the suspect they were chasing who was wearing a “hoodie.”  Sound familiar?

Esposito, who is known for his many bad guy roles and as an ensemble cast member of Spike Lee’s films Do the Right Thing and School Daze, is biracial and the son of an African American mother and Italian father.  He took his ordeal in stride noting that in a recent interview published in “TheWrap,” an online blog:

“I refuse to walk around, carrying that sack of racist crap,” he said. “Luis Buñuel [filmmaker] made great movies. And in all his movies there’s one old guy… who walks through the background with a big pillowcase, a sack of shit.   That’s your stuff. So when I’m healing, I’m healing my stuff.”

I actually think that stop & frisk is all of our stuff.  Although I get where Giancarlo is coming from, but I believe that we are, after all, our Brother’s keeper, especially in New York City where the majority of those individuals who are stopped and frisked are Black or Latino and are innocent of any wrongdoing.

NYC cops Stop & Frisk a man in NYC.

According to data from the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) in the first three months of 2012, New Yorkers were stopped by the police 203,500 times.  Of those stopped, 89% were totally innocent of any crime; 54% were Black and 33% were Latino.  To that specific point, there is a new app out, a Stop & Frisk Watch Android App, that lets anyone record, listen and report an incident with their smartphones, including audio.  The user then uploads the video to the New York Civil Liberties Union.

This new smartphone technology was first developed during the “Occupy Wall Street Movement” by software developer Jason Van Anden, the creator of the “I’m Getting Arrested” app.

The Stop & Frisk App for Android phones.

These apps level the playing field for individuals who are unfairly targeted by police as they go about their business.  They provide an unbiased digital account which offers a degree of protection in a police encounter.  The Stop & Frisk Watch app is currently available as a free download at: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=org.nyclu.stop.and.frisk.watch for Android phones.  An iPhone version is scheduled for release in August.

“Stop and Frisk Watch is about empowering individuals and community groups to confront abusive, discriminatory policing,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said in a statement. “

NYPD’s Stop & Frisk Campaign is not new, this is just another iteration of “show me your pass” which controlled the movements of the enslaved during the 18th and 19th century.  Instead of the police, overseers and other forms of white authority would demand to see the paperwork of the enslaved if they were away from the plantation and traveling on their own without their White master.

After slavery was abolished in the United States in 1863, African Americans were still subject to ridiculous restrictions that limited their movements and their rights as American citizens.  Even in the 21st century, with an African American president, there are communities across America that are considered “sundown towns” which have an unspoken policy of “no Blacks after sundown.”   If an African American is unfortunate enough to be in a sundown town after dark the consequences could be brutal, from arrest without probable cause to physical violence.

The Stop & Frisk Watch app is definitely a step in the right direction for any concerned citizen who witnesses an unlawful stop by the police in New York City, but currently it is only available in NYC.  It would be an extremely useful tool if the American Civil Liberties Unions in cities that are experiencing a rash of stop & frisk activity adopted this new program as well, to stem unlawful detentions and interrogations.  Reverend Al Sharpton, host of MSNBC’s PoliticsNation, and the National Action Network took to the streets of New York City on Father’s Day in a silent march.

Rev. Al Sharpton and members of the Black community marched on Father’s Day 2012 to protest the Stop & Frisk policy of NYPD.

Thousands participated including local politicians, community organizers and representatives from 20 organizations.  The march, which began in Harlem and ended at Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Eastside townhouse, protested stop & frisk policies and was an opportunity to bring these injustices to light.

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Black Studies Doctoral Theses Under Attack – WHAT NEXT?

By Linda Tarrant-Reid

When Naomi Schaefer Riley penned her post “The Most Persuasive Case for Eliminating Black Studies?  Just Read the Dissertations.,” I thought to myself, “what on earth is she thinking?”  In the piece which ran in The Chronicle for Higher Education’s Brainstorm blogon April 30, 2012, Schaefer Riley, who is White and 30-something, breezily dismisses the topics selected by five Black Northwestern University Ph.D. candidates as “a collection of left-wing victimization claptrap.   The best that can be said of these topics is that they’re so irrelevant no one will ever look at them.”

Naomi Schaefer Riley, the former blogger for the The Chronicle of Higher Education, questioned the relevancy of black studies doctoral programs.

Schaefer Riley’s post was in reaction to Stacey Patton’s Chronicle of Higher Education article in an earlier edition, “Black Studies:  Swaggering Into the Future.”  The article discussed the topics and methodology of the 21st century Northwestern University Black Studies scholars who use an interdisciplinary approach for their theses on the history, culture and politics of race.  They are among the first group of Black Studies doctoral candidates in the Northwestern University program which began in 2006.

The Ph.D. candidates’ dissertation topics run the gamut from Black mid-wifery to Black Republicanism to the Black housing crisis.  All of which struck the conservative-leaning Ms. Schaefer Riley as “irrelevant and partisan.”

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor (left) and La TaSha Levy (right) are students in Northwestern U.’s black-studies doctoral program. Their work includes examinations of sexuality, class, religion, and global views of blackness. (Photo: Simone Bonde for The Chronicle)

Black Studies programs were established at colleges and universities in the U.S. in the late 60s in response to the call, in the form of protests, by African American students for courses relevant to the African American experience.  The first Black Studies program began at San Francisco State in 1968 headed by sociologist Nathan Hare.

I was at Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) when the students, like so many across the country, protested.  At Hampton, we demanded student representation on the Administrative Council, the Board of Trustees, and the expansion of the curriculum to include courses on the Black experience.  Our collective voices were heard when we occupied the President’s Office for a few days.

President Barack Obama delivers Commencement Address at Hampton University in May 2010.

After threats of sending in the local police, we vacated the building and the administration closed school and cancelled graduation leaving students scrambling.

The amazing thing about Schaefer Riley’s post was that she admitted that she had only read the titles of the dissertations and blurbs on each, and based her unsubstantiated blog harangue on that little bit of research.  As for her rationale for not delving deeper into the material, and I quote, “it is not my job to read entire dissertations before I write a 500-word piece about them. I read some academic publications (as they relate to other research I do), but there are not enough hours in the day or money in the world to get me to read a dissertation on historical black midwifery.”

The blogosphere lit up with arguments involving respected scholars, annoying  bandwagon jumpers-on, and folks who just like to read their own posts about whether or not Schaefer Riley was a racist, just plain ignorant or exercising her right to scholarly critique.   After a lot of back and forth, the Editor of The Chronicle, who initially invited readers to debate the post, subsequently fired Naomi Schaefer Riley after 6,500 signatures were collected on an Internet petition calling for her dismissal.  The Chronicle stated in an email that Schaefer Riley did “not meet The Chronicle’s basic editorial standards for reporting and fairness in opinion articles.”

The importance of the Naomi Schaefer Riley brouhaha is that it is an indicator of a larger trend that is happening not only in higher education, but in other aspects of our culture, to diminish the African American experience or make it irrelevant.  The campaign to suppress voters’ rights by states is reminiscent of the poll taxes and literacy tests instituted by states to prevent Blacks from voting in the 50s and 60s.

Protest against poll taxes.

The increase in racial profiling incidents, especially in the ‘stop and frisk’ operations by local police, is a reminder of the days when the enslaved were required to carry a pass to leave the plantation unless accompanied by the slave master or overseer.  The abandon with which some media members stir the embers of racial dis-ease by providing a platform for the crazy bigots is an indicator of a revised narrative on the horizon similar to the narrative that was constructed during slavery that labeled African Americans as ignorant, lazy and dangerous.

History does repeat itself, but it doesn’t have to if we remind folks when they start up that road again to injustice, inequality and just plain ignorance, that we have traveled that road before and we have changed that story.  So, we must be vigilant of the Naomis of the world and hold their feet to the fire when they ridicule and question the legitimacy of Black Studies, and by extension our history.  We have to query their credentials and their motives.  But most of all, the Schaefer Rileys need to be held to a higher standard when they put themselves out there as arbiters of critical analysis on any topic.  Shoddy research on a topic that is so important should not be tolerated and because folks were paying attention, it wasn’t tolerated.

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Aberdeen Gardens – Celebrates 75 Years

Aberdeen Gardens – Celebrates 75 Years.

Posted in African American History | 2 Comments

Aberdeen Gardens – Celebrates 75 Years

By Linda Tarrant-Reid

When Franklin Delano Roosevelt became president in 1933, the United States was a divided America – one Black and one White.  The 1896 Supreme Court Decision in the Plessy v. Ferguson Case had effectively outlawed the mixing of the races in public accommodations including restaurants, hotels, libraries, hospitals, public restrooms, buses and trains, water fountains, pools, beaches, and housing.

America was also in the midst of the Great Depression which began with the stock market crash of 1929 and continued into the late 1930s and early 1940s.  Roosevelt’s first act  as president was to initiate a plethora of social programs he branded the New Deal to provide relief for unemployed Americans and farmers, assist in the recovery of businesses, and reform the banking industry.  Roosevelt’s mandate was “to help the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid.”

Aberdeen Gardens, a planned community in Hampton, Virginia, was one of the programs under the New Deal’s Homestead Project.

Aberdeen Gardens, an African American planned community built for African American workers in Virginia, designed by Black architect Hilyard R. Robinson during New Deal.

Hampton Institute (now Hampton University), a historically black university, received a $245,000 grant from the federal government to design and construct housing for African Americans who worked in the  shipyards and dock yards in Newport News, Virginia.  Black architect Hilyard R. Robinson, a graduate of Howard University, also a historically black university, was charged with designing the unique neighborhood and Charles Duke, also a Black architect, held the title of architect-in-charge of the Homestead Project, and managed the construction.

Built “by Negroes for Negroes,” boasts the historic marker on Aberdeen Road and Mercury Boulevard in Hampton, Virginia.  The description, inscribed on the marker, of the first planned community for African Americans reads:

Aberdeen Gardens began in 1934 as the model resettlement community for Negro families. It was the only such community in the United States designed by a Negro architect (Hilyard R. Robinson) and built by Negro contractors and laborers. Aberdeen Gardens is composed of 158 brick houses on large garden lots, a school, and a community store, all within a greenbelt. The streets, excepting Aberdeen Road, are named for prominent Negroes.  Aberdeen Gardens offered home ownership and an improved quality of life in a rural setting. In 1994 this nationally significant neighborhood was listed as a Virginia landmark and in the National Register of Historic Places, through the efforts of former and current residents.

This year is the 75th anniversary of Aberdeen Gardens and the community is still intact!  And second and third generations of the original homeowners occupy these one-family homes today.  According to lifelong resident, Margaret J. Wilson, president of the Aberdeen Gardens Historical Foundation, “The 75thanniversary is a momentous occasion for us.

Family moving into Aberdeen Gardens, Hampton, Virginia in 1937.

We are a close-knit community and are absolutely passionate about Aberdeen Gardens.  Whenever we get together, we always reminisce about the family members who settled the community in the beginning and are no longer with us.”

Mrs. Wilson, 72, has the distinction of being the first grandchild born in the community.  Her grandparents, Charlie and Maggie Jones, were the first family to move into Aberdeen Gardens on November 1, 1937.   Mrs. Wilson’s granddad worked at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company, as did many of the fathers and husbands, who were able to purchase their homes over a 30-year period at 3 percent interest.

The planned community was a program of the Farm Security Administration and the Department of Interior’s Homestead Division which offered struggling families an opportunity to move out of substandard housing.  During the Depression many families lived in cramped housing with “no indoor plumbing, no indoor heat and no access to a garden to grow food” said Mrs. Wilson in a recent interview.   Aberdeen Gardens changed that and “everyone had a garden, indoor plumbing, indoor heat and hardwood floors.”

The 75th anniversary of Aberdeen Gardens kickoffs in June with a Heritage Celebration culminating in October with a formal affair.  The story of Aberdeen Gardens is one of those hidden gems that when discovered gives one hope.  Amidst struggle in the deep Depression of the 1930s, a beautiful, lasting African American community was born and still lives on today.  That’s truly inspiring to me, especially in this economically challenging environment.  Happy 75th, Aberdeen Gardens!

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Gil Noble and Mike Wallace – Two Legendary Journalists

By Linda Tarrant-Reid

Two giants of journalism died recently, days apart, leaving a deep void in the coverage of significant stories that speak to the history of a people and the corruption of the system.  Gil Noble was the producer/host of the iconic, long-running, award-winning public affairs program “Like It Is” which aired on the ABC affiliate, WABC-TV, in New York.

Gil Noble

The weekly program, which ran for 33 years, covered people, places and events that affected the African American community, nationally and internationally, and focused on stories often ignored by mainstream media outlets.  Gil died on April 5 at the age of 80 from complications of a stroke that ended his appearances on “Like It Is” in 2011.

The other journalist who passed away two days after Gil was Mike Wallace, the “60 Minutes” firebrand, who made all of his subjects uncomfortable with his hard charging, confrontational interviews.

Mike Wallace

Wallace, 93, died on April 7 after a long illness.  Wallace, the king of “ambush interviews”, asked the questions others were afraid to ask and in many cases, received answers that no one expected.

Noble and Wallace began working at the TV programs that would define their careers and legacies in 1968, at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, amid student protests against the Vietnam War and political upheaval at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.  That same year, MLK and RFK were assassinated, LBJ had decided not to seek reelection and Richard Nixon (who became known as “Tricky Dick”) would go on to capture the highest office in the land – the presidency.

Noble got his first media job at WLIB-AM, a Black radio station in Harlem in the early 1960s.  A temporary position that was only to last three months, Noble loved his new gig and vowed to learn everything he could in the short time allotted to him by Bill McCreary, the news director.  After three months, Noble was kept on and from his radio perch he came into contact with the “who’s who of African American history and culture.”  Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Martin Luther King, Jr., Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Dizzy Gillespie, Errol Garner and the Black Panthers are just a few of the folks who came through the radio station while Noble was there.

While reporting for WLIB-AM, Gil would encounter reporters from the local TV stations and one day a white reporter from WABC-TV asked if he would be interested in a job as a TV reporter.  Gil was interviewed and given a one week, on-air audition.  His first assignment was covering the Newark Riots right after the assassination of Martin Luther King in April 1968.

Riots broke out in Newark, NJ after the assassination of Martin Luther King in April 1968.

From that assignment, Gil Noble was hired as a street reporter for WABC-TV News and would go on to become a weekend anchor and then the host of “Like It Is.”

“Like It Is” was born as a result of the Kerner Commission’s Report.  President Lyndon Johnson formed an advisory commission after the riots of 1964 and 1967 to find out why the riots had occurred and how to prevent future civil disorders.  The Kerner Report concluded that: “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white – separate and unequal.”  In the media coverage of the race riots, the Kerner Report found, “a significant imbalance between what actually happened in our cities and what the newspaper, radio and television coverage of the riots told us what happened…We found that the disorders, as serious as they were, were less destructive, less widespread, and less a black-white confrontation than most people believed…We are deeply concerned that millions of other Americans, who must rely on the mass media, likewise formed  incorrect impressions and judgments about what went on in many Americans cities last summer.”

The recommendations of the Kerner Report put media bias under a microscope.  After analyzing the coverage of the riots and determining there was inaccurate reporting and inflated damage estimates, the Commission’s position was that media organizations needed to hire African Americans as journalists to report accurately on events in the Black community and Black producers to produce programming that included the African American experience in all aspects of televised presentations.

Gil Noble was a “beneficiary” of the awakening and became the co-host of “Like It Is” with actor Robert Hooks in 1968 and producer Charles Hobson.  In an interview with Harold Hudson Channer in 1998, Noble said “Like It Is” was the only ABC program produced and conceptualized by people of African descent.  In 1969, Bobby Hooks left the show to do the TV series, “NYPD,” and Gil became the sole host and producer.

Robert Hooks in N.Y.P.D. TV series with NYC Mayor John Lindsay.

“Like It Is” became the touchstone of the African American community, locally, nationally and globally.  Gil’s guests included entertainers, politicians, educators, historians and activists who shared their experiences.

Last year, I watched an archival “Like It Is” that originally aired on June 29, 1969 in which Gil interviewed entertainer extraordinaire Sammy Davis, Jr.  First, I want to say, I really never appreciated the genius of Sammy until I watched that interview.  Of course, I’d seen Sammy in the 60s on the variety shows on TV and watched him dance, sing and tell jokes, but he was really “old school” as far as I was concerned.  Not until I heard Davis talk about the racism he experienced as he traveled the Chitlin’ Circuit as a young Black entertainer performing at clubs around the country and how he was discriminated against later when he was one of the Rat Pack with white entertainers Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, and Joey Bishop in the 1960s, did I truly understand what a trailblazer Sammy was.

Gil gently probed Davis about his marriage to the white Mai Britt during the Civil Rights Era, his conversion to Judaism, his conked or straightened hairdo, and his work with white performers.  Davis shared his journey from a child star to mega success, warts and all, and his commitment to the Civil Rights Movement.  This was riveting TV and Gil was the guide.

No one will replace Gil Noble as the journalist guide who brought our stories to a wider audience in a medium that was reluctant to give us a stage.

Malcolm X

His interviews with Muhammad Ali, Louis Farrakhan, Sarah Vaughn, Lena Horne, Nelson Mandela, Aretha Franklin, and his documentary on Malcolm X have given us priceless, first-person historic nuggets that define each of us and our history.  And we thank you for that, Gil.

Gil Noble owned the copyright to all of his “Like It Is” programs that aired on WABC-TV for the past 33 years.  That in itself is amazing, that doesn’t happen today!  So the legacy lives on, donate to the Gil Noble Archives at:  http://gilnoblearchives.com/

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