Thorough Good Thurgood

by Leslye Joy Allen

Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate, Doctoral Student

Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

What could “Thoroughgood” ask for

when he did not dig his birth name?

I like “Thurgood, much better,” he said.

But what else do you do when your classmates at

Lincoln

Wrote stories and poetry as in Langston,

Sang and danced as in Cab,

Redeemed the Gold Coast into a new Ghana as in Kwame?

You did what all of us could do now, IF

We paid that much attention to each other.

We would do what you did:

You built on what you knew;

Rejoiced in what you knew;

and created a New World.

– Leslye Joy Allen, Copyright © 2013

**The late U. S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Thurgood Marshall was born on July 2, 1908 with the birth name “Thoroughgood” and he attended the HBCU Lincoln University with poet and writer Langston Hughes, entertainer and musician Cab Calloway and with the future President of the newly independent nation Ghana (formerly the Gold Coast) named Kwame Nkrumah.  Marshall died January 24, 1993.

Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

Leslye Joy Allen is proud to support the good work of Clean Green Nation.  Visit the website to learn more about it: Gregory at Clean Green Nation!

Creative Commons License This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.  Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author.

“Syble’s Poem” by Charles Reese (guest blog)

My friend Charles Reese wrote this poem in honor of my late mother Syble Allen Williams (March 1, 1921 – February 9, 2013).  Thanks Charles for this rare gift; it makes her passing a little bit easier to bear.  — Leslye Joy Allen

Syble Allen Williams in 2007 at age 86.  (Copyright © 2007-2013 by Leslye Joy Allen)

Syble Allen Williams in 2007 at age 86.
(Copyright © 2007-2013 by Leslye Joy Allen)

Syble’s Poem

by Charles Reese

Today feels like a poem for Syble

Syble’s poem is moving

Syble’s poem is taking action

Syble’s poem is moving toward something unknown to man or woman

Syble’s poem is moving beyond the limits of state apparatuses, struggling to control freedom outside its natural formation

Where poems are her songs

Holding us up

Keeping us together

Walking in the Spirit

Shouting

Hallelujah

We are moved

We are changed

Because today feels like a poem for our newest Ancestor…

Queen Syble Allen Williams.

Welcome to the fold.

And so it is.

Ashé.  Amen.

(Charles Reese is an Audelco Award-nominated Actor, Writer, Curator & Founder of The James Baldwin Project; and original actor & editor of the late Howard B. Simon’s Stage Play James Baldwin: A Soul on Fire, published by Glover Lane Press.)

Charles Reese: James Baldwin

Copyright © 2013 by Charles Reese.  All Rights Reserved.  No portion of this poem may be reprinted without permission from the author.

Creative Commons License

This Guest Blog by Charles Reese featured by Leslye Joy Allen is protected under U. S. Copyright Law and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.  Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Charles Reese clearly stated as the author and Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the owner of this blog.

Leslye Joy Allen and http://leslyejoyallen.com is proud to support the good work of Clean Green Nation.  Visit the website to learn more about it: Gregory at Clean Green Nation!

The Persistence of Old Models / Old Beliefs

by Leslye Joy Allen                                                                                                      Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, Doctoral Student

Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Last month, I had the good fortune to sit down with, break bread with, and drink good wine a couple of times with award-winning playwright, Black Theatre expert, and educator Paul Carter Harrison.  I have to thank fellow scholar R. Candy Tate for turning what was supposed to be our first meeting (to trade academic notes and talk shop) into a meeting where we added yet another spirited scholar to the mix.  This was one of those rare opportunities we graduate students receive where we can converse with someone who is, arguably, one of the first artists to seriously study Black Theatre and create a scholarly canon that tells us what Black Theatre is and what it is not.

However, I deliberately did not ask Paul about his many books (The Drama of Nommo or Black Theatre: Ritual Performance in the African Diaspora).  Among the many things we discussed was his frustration and anger about what he considered to be some younger playwrights, actors, and directors’ pandering to the tastes of White audiences; and an unfortunate dumbing-down of theatre, television and film in an effort to appeal to audiences of all races for the sole benefit of entertainment just for entertainment’s sake.  He was not ambiguous at all; he was livid.  He saw a disturbing trend where some Black performers decided to cater to what White producers and audiences—even well-meaning White folks—wanted them to appear to be on stage.  No more martyred Black folks, he said.  Exactly how many times must everything WE do be a response to some other group of people?  Exactly how many times must we be characterized as long-suffering and stoic or, for that matter, be the super baadaass Black man who always manages to rush in and save the day?  He made his point.

He saw this pandering as something that, while it might be quite commercially satisfying,  stifled Black creativity and stunted artistic risk-taking while it simultaneously applauded and rewarded the mundane, the ordinary.  He noted that this lack of vision, this lack of adventurousness, would eventually cause a lot of artists to hit a commercial brick wall.  He did not bite his tongue about the fact that certain Black stereotypes and certain Black archetypes had become the norm in film, on TV, and on the stage.  While Paul is a part of my larger ongoing research, which will not be discussed here, he did make me think about not only why artistic and scholarly risk-taking is necessary for growth, but also why stereotypes are particularly dangerous.

After our two marathon conversations, I thought about how people on both sides of the political and racial aisle, so to speak, hold onto and cling to certain images and ideas about Black people.  I have to honestly wonder whether, WE Black folks have any real friends who actually know US; that is, friends outside of our own racial/ethnic group.  I am not kidding; I mean this.  Aside from the racist who assumes that at any given moment I will be spitting out watermelon seeds or that I have bred babies like rabbits, there are also those White folks that go to other extremes.  They are so hell bent on proving that they are not racist that they see beauty and goodness in everything and everybody that is Black—and that is a fallacy as well.  Blackness and Black people become a fetish.  One of the first things that makes us, Black folks, human is our ability to be great or weak, right or wrong, smart or dumb, honest or dishonest.  Any belief, sentiment, or romanticism that strips us of the full range of human expression denies us our humanity, no matter how flattering those beliefs and sentiments might be.  It is dangerous to hold onto those kinds of extremes and expectations.

Only a few days after my meeting and hanging out with Paul, one of my History students, a young White male, told me about this funny video he saw.  According to this student, someone filmed security personnel in a department store.  In the video, all of the security personnel were following all the Black customers assuming that the Black customers would be the customers who would shoplift.  However, while security was following all the Black customers, White shoplifters were stealing everything they could get their hands on.  Both my student and I laughed, but the humor quickly faded when we began to consider what really happens when someone makes assumptions based solely and purely on race, or I should say, on racism.  Now, anyone with half a brain knows that people of all races and ethnicities steal for a variety of reasons.  Nevertheless, this video—that I have never seen, by the way—said something else about misconceptions based solely on race.

When people buy into any stereotype it does something more than degrade and devalue the victim of the stereotype, it tells everyone else exactly who they need to victimize or who they need to “not look like” or “not behave like” in order to get away with whatever they are attempting to get away with.  I am not going to say anything about Trayvon Martin, this time.  However, for all of those frightened and paranoid White folks (and Black folks) who live in gated communities in Florida and elsewhere, I have only one thing to say:  Beware of respectable looking young White males who may be walking through your neighborhoods.

While I am sure most of these young White men will not be planning to commit any crime or do anyone any harm, one of them might have decided that since he did not look a certain way that he could get away with certain things.  When you buy into and believe those old models and old beliefs, eventually, someone figures out that all they have to do is make sure they do not fit the model.  After that, they can get away with anything!  And for those folks who might be feeling guilty for believing the worst stereotypes about Black people,  the last thing you need to do is stop for some poor Black guy on the side of the road at midnight, just to prove a point.

The majority of us Black people work hard, pay our bills, take care of our homes and lawns, and never ever hurt anyone, but that does not mean that all Black people are saints.  If we could just let these old models and old beliefs go, we could proceed in this world based just on facts rather than assumptions.  Now, I have a Black elder statesman of Theatre and a young White male student to thank for raising the level of the discussion.

Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Leslye Joy Allen is proud to support Clean Green Nation.  Visit the website to learn more about it: Gregory at Clean Green Nation!

Creative Commons License This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.  Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author.

James Baldwin’s Soul is Still on Fire!

by Leslye “Joy” Allen                                                                                                         Historian, Educator, Theatre & Jazz Advocate, Doctoral Student

Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

On Thursday, May 23, 1963, writer and activist James Baldwin met privately with Robert F. Kennedy at Kennedy’s home in McLean, Virginia. Baldwin was infuriated by the virulence meted out on peaceful civil rights protestors by Birmingham, Alabama police.  Robert Kennedy got an earful.

A second meeting was hastily held the next day, this time at Robert Kennedy’s New York City apartment.  However, on that Friday, May 24, Baldwin brought along a group that can best be described as a “civil rights arsenal”!

Harry Belafonte, Lena Horne, playwright Lorraine Hansberry, Rip Torn, Dr. Kenneth Clark, freedom rider Jerome Smith, attorney Clarence B. Jones, Edwin C. Berry of Chicago’s Urban League, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s former Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morganthau arrived at this meeting at Baldwin’s request.

Baldwin’s group came to discuss and complain to Robert Kennedy and Burke Marshall (head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights wing) about President John F. Kennedy’s failure to use the power of the presidency to stem the police violence that continued to plague peaceful civil rights protesters.

The meeting of this group of individuals was not particularly successful. Yet, Baldwin’s outspokenness, audacity, and literary genius was—and remains—a source of both political and artistic inspiration.

My good friend, actor-writer-curator-activist, and now editor, Charles Reese is but one of many keepers of Baldwin’s legacy.

Reese—who stays in Southwest Atlanta whenever he is in town—is pulling double duty in the legacy preservation department.  I learned about his plans when he and I had one of our long breakfast sessions at “The Beautiful Restaurant” on Cascade Road.

Back in the year 2000, Reese, a Morehouse College alumnus, had a daunting task.  He had to figure out a way to preserve, protect, and promote the work of his good friend, fellow Morehouse alumnus and playwright Howard B. Simon who died that year of complications brought on by streptococcus meningitis—He was only 37 years old.  Even more tragic, Simon never got a chance to read the great reviews theatre critics wrote about his seminal play James Baldwin: A Soul on Fire.

A Soul on Fire is not an account of what happened in Bobby Kennedy’s apartment that Friday in 1963.  It is, rather, Simon’s vision of what Baldwin did, said, and imagined the day before.

Via the dramatic genius of Simon and the bravura performance of Reese in the title role, the play captured the essence of Baldwin and the spirit of the 1960s.  With both Simon and Baldwin gone, Reese has not waivered in his determination to preserve the legacies of both men.

With a lot of tenacity (and a little help from his friends), Charles Reese has edited and published the play James Baldwin: A Soul on Fire by Howard B. Simon.*

Reese kicked off a book/play-signing tour on January 29, 2012 in Los Angeles with plans to go from city to city hosting book signings and reading salons, inviting the public to take part in the drama and the discussion.

I urge you to join the celebration of James Baldwin and Morehouse alums Howard B. Simon and Charles Reese.  The play James Baldwin: A Soul on Fire is available at: Amazon.com.

For more information about hosting a book-signing and play-reading event; and to keep up with Charles Reese’s many multimedia projects (The James Baldwin Project, the Howard B. Simon Literary Canon and The Charles Reese Experience), go to: The Charles Reese Experience.

For additional historical information about James Baldwin and Howard B. Simon; and to keep up with the plans to develop a film version of the play, visit: James Baldwin: A Soul on Fire.

*Finishing the last edits and details in late December 2011, Charles Reese chose 2012 as the target year to promote the publication of Simon’s play because this year marks the 25th anniversary of Baldwin’s death.  Baldwin’s body departed us on December 1, 1987 in Saint-Paul-De-Vence, France.  His Soul, however, is Still On Fire!  Peace.

Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Leslye Joy Allen is proud to support the good work of Clean Green Nation.  Visit the website to learn more about it: Gregory at Clean Green Nation!

Creative Commons License This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.  Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author..