A Thought for the Old and New Year

By Leslye Joy Allen                                                                                                     Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, Ph.D. Candidate

Copyright © 2014 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

One of the first things that came to mind shortly after Christmas and before the New Year was how much my Mom and Dad would have been thrilled and proud that a great film like 12 Years a Slave received great reviews and had enjoyed large viewing audiences.  I would have heard a litany of what they remembered about their childhoods and how far we Black folks have come.  And if they were still alive they would surely have warned me not to hyperventilate about whether or not Santa Claus was Black or some of the foolish and racist slips of the tongue that seem to dominate our current news cycles on most days.

Strangely, my mind goes back to that one scene in the film 12 Years a Slave where after a slave has literally dropped dead from exhaustion while laboring in the fields, you see the slaves standing around a gravesite that they have prepared for their fallen comrade.  Suddenly, a slave woman begins singing the old Negro spiritual “Roll, Jordan, Roll.”  Then all of the slaves joined in and they sang with a joyous abandon.  At this moment in the movie theater, I completely lost my composure.  I wept so loudly that I had to place my hand over my mouth to muffle the sound.  For days, I wondered why that scene—and not one of the other more horrible scenes where someone was beaten or tortured—caused me to cry like a two-year-old toddler.  Then it came to me.  This was a gift.  The gift was not simply my ancestors’ songs, but their decision that they had a right to sing their songs.

Their gift feels as familiar as a book of black poetry or history or the first time my parents took me to a Jazz concert or to see the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre or to a Broadway play.  Afterwards, they would always inform me that I must never forget that it was my people that had created the artistry and creative offerings that I had just witnessed.  The lesson was simple—I could perpetually cry about what white folks had done to my people or I could fight for and celebrate what my people had done for themselves and for me, all of which is a balancing act.  Yes, one must call out and fight against racism.  Yet, one cannot allow it too much space in one’s head, lest one descend into perpetual victimhood.  “How much of your energy are you gonna’ give THEM,” Daddy would ask without blinking?

I wept in the dark of that movie theatre, as the slaves on the screen sang with abandon and rejoicing.  It is difficult to count one’s blessings when the world and everyone in it seems to be your enemy.  Yet, that is exactly what the slaves did.  My slave ancestors did not sing with joy because they were happy and content, but rather because the singing allowed them to reclaim their humanity, to reclaim their right to joy.  No degree of inhumane treatment routinely meted out to them by white slave masters could make them surrender their own humanity, or their very human need for joyousness and a belief in the future even when that future was uncertain.  Their gift is still a gift that keeps on giving if you are willing to claim it.  This is what I hope to remember now, and in the New Year.

Peace.

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

Copyright © 2014 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.
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 and visibly stated as the author.

Ms. Allen’s U. S. History 2110: Songs of Social Consciousness and Protest, 1960s to 1980

By Leslye Joy Allen                                                                                                     Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, Ph.D. Candidate

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

One of the fun things about teaching history is not only helping young people discover new ideas, but also having them help you, the instructor, re-discover some of those ideas.  One of the things we did as a class this semester was revisit some of the music of the early 1960s up to 1980 that had socially conscious and/or protest lyrics.  Many of the songs on the following list were songs that I personally remembered and contributed.  Yet, many of the songs were discovered by several of my students, along with a few suggestions by a few friends.  My students and I had a good laugh about how some people upload music to YouTube in violation of copyright law.  Yet, we all agreed that when one video or recording of a song was removed, another video would take its place.  So, if any of the hyperlinks below have become inactive, I can only encourage you to do a quick search for the title of the song and/or artist.

My musical repertoire dates back to before Ragtime, thanks to my late birth to parents who were much older than the average age for first-time parents, and who were late born babies themselves.  I was tempted to create a mammoth song list that touched on every possible social or political concern for the last hundred years. This list is hardly comprehensive or even representative of all the music that I know of that can be counted as having lyrical content that speaks about some social or political issue.  Yet, it remains a great list when one considers that the music represented here is much, much older than the majority of my history students and that these songs still have relevance and meaning.  Also, a comprehensive list would be too long to be useful.  The idea of this assignment was to get students to look up and listen to music and access other art forms and discover that all of these art forms are important cultural markers which help tell so many stories and contribute to the history of any given era.

Many of my students have commented that too much of the music today seems empty of meaningful content.   I agree.  So, below is the list in date, rather than alphabetical, order. I hope you enjoy what my students discovered; and I hope you will make your own lists of songs of social consciousness and protest and then introduce those songs, musicians, songwriters, and messages to some young person that you know.  You may even learn something new in the process.  Peace.

(1962) “The Death of Emmitt Till” by Bob Dylan: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVKTx9YlKls

(1963) “Masters of War” by Bob Dylan: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mvr72uTd7kc

(early 1960s**) “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round” by Sweet Honey in the Rock: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5Z1trynEHs  (**Many singers have sung “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round.”  It remains a Traditional Negro Folk Song, adapted by the SNCC Freedom Singers, who began singing it at rallies in the early 1960s.  Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, who founded the vocal group “Sweet Honey in the Rock” was an original member of the Freedom Singers.  The version above is a more recent version that she and the members of Sweet Honey in the Rock recorded for a PBS Series titled “Soundtrack for a Revolution.”)

(1963**) “Cotton Fields” by Odetta: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tXQDgqXnaT8 (**Odetta recorded this song live with Lawrence Mohr in 1954.  Yet, she released this studio-recorded version in 1963)

(1964) “Mississippi, Goddamn” by Nina Simone: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fVQjGGJVSXc

(1965) “I Ain’t Marching Anymore” by Phil Ochs: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gv1KEF8Uw2k

(1965) “Draft Dodger Rag” by Phil Ochs: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFFOUkipI4U (This song has some very humorous lyrics.  It quickly became one of the anthems of the Anti-Vietnam Movement).

(1965) “People Get Ready” by The Impressions (featuring Curtis Mayfield): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l04yM7-BWbg

(1966) “Love Me, I’m A Liberal” by Phil Ochs: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u52Oz-54VYw

(1967) “We’re a Winner (Movin’ on Up)” by The Impressions (featuring Curtis Mayfield): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uLMRzDFMvEo

(1968) “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” by James Brown: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j0A_N-wmiMo

(1968) “Why? (The King of Love is Dead)” by Nina Simone: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wh6R0BRzjW4

(1968) “Revolution” by The Beatles: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u2LKMogdjm8

(1969) “Freedom” by Richie Havens: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rynxqdNMry4

(1969) “Choice of Colors” by The Impressions (featuring Curtis Mayfield): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SNV1Y01xNk8

(1970) “Young, Gifted and Black” by Nina Simone: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PEMOxRxcJpo 

(1970) “War” by Edwin Starr: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQHUAJTZqF0

(1970) “Ball of Confusion” by The Temptations: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JWtIvoub6XU 

(1970) “If There’s Hell Below, We’re All Gonna Go” by Curtis Mayfield: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l2cTc7DofrA&list=PL1AE86EA721372D55

(1970) “Heaven Help Us All” by Stevie Wonder : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_gOLnLz9KjY

(1971) “Bring the Boys Home” by Freda Payne: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=–fFhunuUJM

(1971) “People Make the World Go Round” by The Stylistics: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8EDUBOGTVv0  (One of my students was amazed by the remarkably high falsetto voice of the lead singer.  His name is Russell Thompkins.)

(1971) “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Hollar)” by Marvin Gaye: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X1uelY2SGmw

(1971) “What’s Going On?” by Marvin Gaye: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H-kA3UtBj4M

(1971) “Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology)” by Marvin Gaye: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EMuWmU1iNJo

(1972) “King Heroin” by James Brown: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NoLrrnXiRCk

(1972) “I’m Just Another Soldier” by The Staple Singers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BdoPI3fjwMI

(1972) “I’ll Take You There” by The Staple Singers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xO0Q3192Jrs

(1973) “We Were all Wounded at Wounded Knee” by Redbone: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2VB2LdOU6vo  (This song was only released in Europe in 1973.  It was released much later in the USA on a compilation.  Redbone was the only Native American Soul/Pop group to have a hit record during the 1970s.  That hit song was released in 1974 and titled “Come and Get Your Love.”)

(1973) “I Can’t Write Left-Handed” by Bill Withers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6qhfY-aLnk (This song was recorded live at Carnegie Hall in 1972 and released in 1973 on the album Bill Withers at Carnegie Hall.)

(1973) “Someday We’ll All Be Free” by Donny Hathaway: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mDHmhBjl70o

(1973) “Fish Ain’t Bitin’” Lamont Dozier: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXnv71BRXU0

(1973) “If You’re Ready” by The Staple Singers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HanwLunJau0

(1975) “I Am Woman” by Helen Reddy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zu4xpDuf84A

(1975) “Wake Up Everybody” by Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes (featuring Teddy Pendergrass on lead vocals): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-TDfPgd3Kyc

(1977) “A Real Mother For Ya'” by Johnny Guitar Watson: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IdTgyyUcAYQ

(1980) “At Peace With Woman” by The Jones Girls: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hGa8dK9GILk

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

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

My First Five Favorite Facts about Early Black Atlanta Theatre

By Leslye Joy Allen                                                                                                     Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, Ph.D. Candidate

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

One of the best things about research is that no matter how long you do it, you always find something new.  As a historian, and particularly one that focuses on theatre, I am always amazed at the rich theatrical heritage of my own native city Atlanta, Georgia and the tremendous role our Historically Black Colleges have played in nurturing that heritage.  There are certainly more facts about this facet of the city than appear on this list, but below are my first five favorite facts:

1. The founder of Atlanta Life Insurance Company, the former slave Alonzo Herndon, had a wife that taught Drama and Speech to one of the first academic theatre groups at a historically Black college in the United States.  An amazing thespian, Adrienne Elizabeth McNeill Herndon enjoyed a stellar reputation as an interpreter of Shakespeare.  Married to Alonzo Herndon, she devoted much of her expertise to the students of *Atlanta University (then an undergraduate institution) in the late 19th century, helping to develop and found the Atlanta University Players (not to be confused with the Atlanta University Summer Theatre) and coaching it into an amazing group of actors that made its debut in 1895.  However, Mrs. Herndon was a very fair complexioned woman.  African American scholar Dr. W. E. B. DuBois had the best and most humorous story about her.  Because of her acting abilities (and the fact that she was not always easily identifiable as Black), Thomas Dixon, a white racist playwright offered Mrs. Herndon a part in his play “The Klansman.”  Writing in the NAACP’s Crisis magazine in 1927, W. E. B. DuBois noted that Dixon offered her a role in his play in “blissful ignorance of” her race.

2. The Atlanta University Summer Theatre gave its first performance in the summer of 1934 and ran continually until 1977 making it the longest running Summer Stock Theatre in the United States.  The Atlanta University Summer Theatre was made up of student and faculty actors & professors, visiting professors (and some local Atlanta actors) from *Atlanta University, Spelman College (all female), Morehouse College (all male), and later performers from *Clark College, and Morris Brown College.  The Atlanta University Summer Theatre actors and directors performed five full-length plays over a six-week period, during June and July of each summer from 1934 through 1941 alone.  The five-play, six week schedule was not completely abandoned until 1970 when the summer schedule was trimmed to three plays.  (*Founded in 1865 Atlanta University was an undergraduate institution as was *Clark College, founded in 1869.  During the school year 1929-1930, Atlanta University exclusively became a graduate school.  In 1988, however, Atlanta University and Clark College merged and became Clark Atlanta University.)

3. One of the great scientific minds of our time was Morehouse College alumnus Dr. Samuel Nabrit, who earned a Ph.D. in Biology from Brown University in 1932.  An accomplished Marine Biologist*, he taught at both Morehouse College and Atlanta University.  In 1956, President Eisenhower appointed him to the National Board of the National Science Foundation and he served as Special Ambassador to Niger under President John F. Kennedy. (A biography and obituary on Dr. Samuel Nabrit in the New York Times.)  Less well known is that Nabrit was a regular actor performing with the Atlanta University Summer Theatre when he taught at Morehouse College and Atlanta University during the 1930s.  (Sidebar: *Marine Biology was the original academic major of actor Samuel L. Jackson, when he was a student at Morehouse College.)

4. A few weeks before her nineteenth birthday, Black Theatre legend (and then Howard University student) Shauneille Perry spent her summer in Atlanta and appeared as the character “Anias” in Alexander Dumas’ “Camille” during the 15th season (1948) of the Atlanta University Summer Theatre, directed by Owen Dodson.  Shauneille Perry is one of the first Black women to direct an Off-Broadway play and has a long list of credits for both the stage and the screen.  The United States Congress honored Perry in 2011 for her lengthy and prolific career as an actor, playwright and screenwriter.

5. The amazing and rather colorful director-actor-lighting and technical designer Dr. John McLinn Ross, both acted in plays and directed for the Atlanta University Summer Theatre during the 1930s.  Like his colleagues who managed and directed the Atlanta University Summer Theatre (the principle director during the 1930s was Anne M. Cooke, a Spelman professor, along with Owen Dodson), he studied at Yale University’s School of Drama.  Yet, Ross has the distinction of being the first Black person to receive the Master of Fine Arts degree in Acting, Directing, and Technical Directing from the Yale School of Drama in 1935, only four years after Yale graduated the first MFA graduates in Drama.  Atlanta-based photographer & cultural chronicler Susan Ross is the great niece of Dr. John McLinn Ross.

Peace…To be continued…

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

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

What I Learned About Creativity from My Worst Subject

By Leslye Joy Allen

Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, Doctoral Student

May in the Park, No. 24
Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen

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

I do not typically write about Education per se.  Two of my favorite bloggers ModernDayChris and Matt Wilson of Everything Needs to Change do the best writing about the subject, particularly the education of children in our public school systems from Kindergarten to 12th Grade.  This essay is not so much a critique as it is a reminder about something often forgotten when conversations and analyses take place about what is wrong or right or that needs fixing in American education overall.

First, let us be honest.  Not all American public education is flawed; it is often unequal based on race and/or socioeconomic factors.  It can also suffer from certain regional economic problems, which are beyond the scope of this essay.  The quality of American higher education runs the gamut from mediocre to the best in the world.  Yet, there are certain actions and habits that can help any student regardless of the quality of that education.  Of course, the best education nurtures these habits.  So here goes…

For the record, I was possibly the world’s worst Biology student.  After routinely making grades of “A” in subjects like History and English, I nearly flunked Biology in high school.  I will not bore you with the stories about my nausea and headaches when I had to dissect some dead animal preserved in formaldehyde—That is a whole other essay by itself.  When I had to take Biology in college, I determined that I needed to not only study, but also come up with some creative ways to study.  After getting a lousy two out of twenty identifications correct on a Biology Lab Practical Exam, I arranged a meeting with my professor.  (For those of you who have forgotten what a lab practical is, it is simply a test where you identify bacteria, amoebas, and other items physically located in a biology lab, many of which are under a microscope.)

My professor informed me that he typically set up everything in the lab on Saturdays.  I asked if I could come by on Saturdays.  He said that I could, and that I could stay as long as I wished so that I could examine and take notes about all of the items in the lab.  Off to campus on Saturday I went carrying my notebooks and an assortment of colored markers so that I could literally draw what I was examining so that I could study it at home, over and over again.  On nearly ten consecutive Saturdays, I also got a chance to talk at length with my Biology professor.

I joked with him that a historian’s brain dealt with a lot, and it did not have much room for Biology.  My professor admitted that he had never been a good student of History.  We both took note of the fact that History typically tells a story; and it also typically argues a thesis, which is why you can find so many different History books about the same event that argue entirely different positions about why that event happened.  This is why Law students typically have to have some academic background in History—History teaches you to see more than one side of an argument.  Biology, however, is another matter.  That amoeba cell that you just examined under that microscope is going to remain an amoeba cell.  You can either recognize it or you cannot!

During these Saturday sessions, I had the opportunity to ask my professor numerous questions about everything in that lab.  I swiftly took notes of everything he said.  When both he and I were taking breaks from the subject matter, we discussed History, Politics, Performance Arts, and whatever was happening in the news.  He quickly discovered that while I would never be a great biologist, I was a good student in History, and a burgeoning intellectual.  So, what is my point?

The point here is I listen to students and some educators talk about subjects they describe as not preparing students for the kind of work they will be doing as adults.  “Why do I have to take Biology if I am never going to use it?”  That is a fair question.  Yet, my experience with taking a subject I might not have to use or need to use taught me several important lessons about the intrinsic value of a good education beyond the mere mastery of any particular subject matter.

First, when I made a solid “B” as my final grade for Biology, I knew I had earned it.  No one—and I certainly did not—really wants to go back to school on Saturdays.  I went back and stayed long hours and it paid off.  Second, because I was often the only student in the lab on those Saturdays I was free to speak with my professor without interruption.  Technically, I got free tutoring lessons simply by showing up and availing myself of his expertise.  Third, my professor witnessed me making an extra effort in a difficult subject.  While professors do not grade for “effort” (nor should they), it does not hurt for an instructor to see a student put in extra time in order to master a difficult subject.  Fourth, I learned that I could conquer that which was difficult.

I also finally understood lessons that my mom and my uncle, both educators, often emphasized throughout my childhood and adolescence:  Education is as much about endurance as it is anything else.  And as my mom often stated: You cannot expect a student to become the next Einstein if he or she cannot get along with other students (teamwork) and also willingly and creatively work on difficult subject matter.  Importantly, both Mom and my uncle insisted that one of the keys to a good education was the “social” skill of learning how to navigate difficulties and put in extra time without resorting to short cuts or cheating or other forms of skulduggery.  Tackling a subject that one is not good at forces a certain level of creativity—that is creativity often born of unorthodox or unconventional ways to retain and master the subject matter, and pass the class.

It is right about now that the folks that know me well would assume that I would go into one of my soapbox sessions about the necessity of arts education in schools, and how the arts make students more creative and help with spatial reasoning and a host of other skills, including enhanced skills in Mathematics and Sciences.  Well, I am not going to do that, exactly.

Exposure to the arts certainly enriches and develops creativity; and I have never met an artist that was not creative at something.  Yet, creativity is not the exclusive domain of the arts or artists.  I have met many individuals who did not have an artistic bone in their bodies, but who were highly creative people.  If students are to develop into productive individuals who can think their way through and out of complex problems, regardless of academic discipline, then education needs to not only expose students to the arts, but it should also advocate that creativity—artistic or otherwise—is an essential skill for all academic disciplines.  Furthermore, arts education advocacy need not exist on, nor should it lay sole claim to, some creative island minus its other academic counterparts.  Perhaps, this is where the real debate about education needs to begin.  More to come later…

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.