Guide My Feet…

by Leslye Joy Allen

“Guide My Feet”
(Traditional Negro Spiritual)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

I am grateful that my late Mama and Daddy taught me our old African tradition of ancestor worship.   That worship was as much a part of my childhood as was the old Western Judeo-Christian tradition…Now, for those who know me well, you know that I can be the most severe critic of ministers and organized religion(s) that too often fail to act in the best interests of the flocks they claim to serve, lead and protect.  Yet, that is another blog.  Save your breath.  I am only responding to the message(s) sent to me…

I occasionally re-read the poem that my friend actor-poet-writer Charles Reese wrote immediately following the death of my nearly 92-year-old mother in early 2013.  In homage to her, he referred to my Mama as “a Queen,” but he also referred to her as “our newest ancestor.” — Nothing in “Syble’s Poem” struck me as much as that line about her becoming an ancestor.  For people who know my late Mama, they know that certain songs remained in her repertoire right up to the very end of her days here on earth.

I do not need to recount the tragedies that have happened to Black folk in the last few weeks or even over the last year.  Yet, for the last couple of days I have been unable to get the old Negro Spiritual “Guide My Feet” out of my head.  Composed and sung in the caldron of American chattel slavery and passed down from generation-to-generation by my people, I have been singing it and humming it off-and-on for the last couple of months.  At first, I thought I was going crazy.  I must confess that I had a similar experience with “You Gotta to Move,” a Gospel/Blues song composed by Mississippi Fred McDowell.  A few months earlier in the year, I was singing “You Gotta Move” in an impromptu singing session that followed a gathering of my Sistahs that was a combination of good coffee, prayer, testimony, and truth-talking with each other at Dream Café…A few days after that meeting, I ran into a brother in a wheelchair who was singing the same song on a corner in downtown Atlanta.  That had to mean something, I thought…

When I went to my cousin Dexter’s graduation from Morehouse College this past May 2015, the class Valedictorian and Summa Cum Laude graduate Jerek Sharrod Brown burst into “Guide My Feet” before he began his inspirational and spellbinding Valedictory address.   His voice in song was an unexpected, but welcome and perfectly poetic pleasure.  I felt something inside of me shift and move when Brown sang and when he spoke.  I felt something shift again when my cousin Dexter’s name was called as a new graduate of Morehouse College. After all, I remembered when I first held him in my arms when he was still an infant…

Today I decided to see whether the lyrics to “Guide My Feet” would come up in a general search on Google.  It did.  Now, usually when something comes up in an internet search, I typically download it and then email it to myself just to make sure that I have a couple of copies of my research findings in two different places.  Yet, something strange and beautiful happened after I performed my usual ritual…

When I clicked the email button to send my Google search findings to myself, the email did not pull up my personal email address.  Instead, it opened my late Mama’s email address which was and remains a secondary email account affiliated with my own primary account…Sometimes the Creator knows that you need a little help.  Sometimes the ancestors are talking to you…

There are moments when no matter how bad things are or may seem, you simply do not worry and you no longer expend energy on people who do not work in your and your own people’s best interests.   I have reached that moment. More than we know or acknowledge, the ancestors speak to us in small but important ways if WE only listen, if WE only listen…So, Thank You Mama and Daddy and all the known and unknown ancestors and saints…Thank You Goddess…Thank You God…Peace and Blessings.  Àṣé…

Guide my Feet,

while I run this race.

Guide my Feet,

while I run this race.

Guide my feet,

while I run this race,

For I don’t want to run this race in vain.

 

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

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. All Rights Reserved.

 

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Why We Fail: Forgetting Malcolm and Martin’s Internationalism

Weary Self-Portrait 2

“Weary Self-Portrait 2” (Copyright © 2014 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.)

by Leslye Joy Allen

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

 

 

 

As bad as things are in the USA—in particular, the killing of a young Black man named Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri—what we Black Americans are enduring is “a cakewalk” by comparison to some of the tragedies that are currently taking place in India, parts of Africa, Iraq, Israel, and so many other places around the world.  Yet, our current Black leadership has been conspicuously silent on so many of these international matters, including the excessive policies of Israel against an already displaced Palestinian people.  Yet, Arab, Jewish, African, and African American women found enough of a unified voice to write a statement of solidarity with the Palestinian people.  I wonder why they could do it, but not our elected officials.  These women understand an important component of previous human rights struggles—including the Civil Rights and Freedom struggles that took place during the 1950s well into the 1970s in the United States—the international component.

Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X always placed Black American freedom struggles in an international context.  If you do not believe me, then read or listen to Malcolm X’s “Message to the Grass Roots” and listen to him rattle off the names of those nations and peoples that too many of us frequently ignore.  Listen to King speak poetically and prophetically against the Vietnam War.  These are only a few examples, often scary examples.  Yet, there are many others.

What happened to Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri is going to resonate with other people in other parts of the world.  When we lost Trayvon Martin, you found people across the globe putting on “hoodies” in solidarity.  And, if it were not for the women of Nigeria taking full advantage of social media, most of us would never have known anything about the kidnapping of the Nigerian girls, who have still not been returned to their families.  Yet, when was the last time you saw a massive movement of Black Americans speaking out against and lending assistance to anyone outside of the USA.  Arguably, there has been no massive international activity on OUR part, at least not since the zenith of an internationally led movement that demanded that colleges and businesses divest from South Africa in protest of the country’s brutal and virulent social system known as apartheid, and that was in the late 1970s into the 1980s.

The question is when are we going to get our international legs back, and stop looking at what and who we are as if we are isolated in one country called the United States.  Does it not matter that two teenage Indian girls were gang-raped, and then lynched just a few months ago in Bengal, India?  Does it not matter that several hundred Nigerian girls were kidnapped and—sorry to say this—will probably never return to their families?  Does it not matter that former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown has stayed on top of the problem in Nigeria and spoken out about this problem of female trafficking in Nigeria and elsewhere, and more often than many Black American politicians and self-appointed pundits?  You are damned right it matters.

I can count on one of my former English professors to regularly post articles and his own occasional eloquent outbursts on his page on Facebook about many of the atrocities that happen to women worldwide and, also what happens to Black Americans—He, however, was born in Pakistan.  The Executive Director of Greenpeace International was born and raised in South Africa, and spent his teenage years in the anti-Apartheid movement.  He regularly articulates how women’s oppression, the problems with the environment and human rights struggles are tied together.  I knew something had become completely out-of-whack when the only men I could count on—with any real regularity—to lend their voices and support against sexism were men of color who were also NON-American.  The difference is, they can and do connect the dots and see environmental problems, discrimination and the persecution of women, and battles to end racism and/or ethnic violence as connected problems in ways that so many Americans simply do not.  Yet, a few Black Americans do connect the dots, but they are not part of what is traditional Black leadership, which is a good thing.

Ron Davis, the father of Jordan Davis—the Black teenage boy that was killed in Florida when a man shot into his vehicle over a quarrel about loud music—took his complaint about the senseless murders and expendability of young Black men to Geneva, Switzerland at the 85th annual meeting of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.  The talks in Geneva run from August 11 through August 29, 2014. This was a bold move by Mr. Davis, but proof positive that he was paying attention in the sixties and seventies when international opinion about the United States government’s slow response to discrimination and racial virulence damaged the USA’s image abroad.  Both Mr. Davis and the women of all colors and nations who signed that Solidarity Pledge fully understand what Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. tried to teach.  We can hope that some citizens in Ferguson, Missouri are paying attention.

Now, thinking internationally or being concerned with tragedies or the well-being of people outside of the United States will not stop police officers from killing unarmed Black male teenagers.  My interest and sadness over the senseless gang rape and lynching of two teenage girls in India several months ago will not stop the rape and abuse of women anywhere, neither will my continued anguish over the kidnapping of girls in Nigeria.  Yet, to be a Black woman born and raised in the American South is to understand that racism and sexism come from all quarters of the country of my birth, and indeed all quarters of the world itself.

To fail to see the connections I have with peoples who may or may not speak my language or belong to the same racial and/or ethnic and/or gender group is to forget the real lessons of the Civil Rights Movement—that WE are not alone if WE will simply acknowledge that WE need allies, and international allies at that.  Yet, WE will be alone if WE operate from the position that people in other parts of the world do not have anything to teach us.  WE cannot afford to function from the position that because WE dwell in the United States that no one else’s problems or persecution matters as much as ours matter.  If WE do, WE will have missed Martin and Malcolm’s most important lesson, namely that if WE labor alone, WE, and everybody else, will lose.

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

CCThis Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen & 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. All Rights Reserved.

The Change Agents: A Thought for February

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

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

Leslye Joy Allen, Copyright © 2013.  All Rights Reserved.  Self-Portrait.

Leslye Joy Allen, Copyright © 2013. All Rights Reserved. Self-Portrait.

Several months ago I heard Black British film director Steve McQueen (not the now-deceased White actor), say that art did not change anything.  I clutched my chest as if I was surely having a massive heart attack at what must be blasphemy.  Later, I figured out what McQueen meant.  Art alters and suspends that space in your head where your creativity and out-of-the-box thinking is located, and then YOU might be able to change yourself or your situation or your mind.  Art is the match or spark, which lights the fire in the potential change agent—YOU!

Now, history has taught us that my brothers and sisters, Black Americans, have, at least since the early twentieth century worked diligently to create art—paintings and sculpture, music and dance, or theatre—that they imbued with the herculean task of changing the way the rest of the world looks at us, and how we look at ourselves.  Too often, the belief is that an artistic representation of us, once seen or experienced, will alter the way others think of us.  This is why so many of my brothers and sisters can hyperventilate until they burst into a sweat (or burst a blood vessel) about a film or television characterization of us that is a pathetic and insulting stereotype or caricature of us that strays far from the truth. Typically, what happens next is a mad search for the most exceptional among us.

This February, 2014, I have been guilty of what WE historians call “chronicling.”  Chronicling is posting basic information about a person or event, often in date order, which we think, or believe to be of “historical significance,” whatever that means.  For Black folks, Black History Month reeks of an unsavory type of history that I, and others, also call “Great Man/Great Woman” history, or “Unsung Man/Unsung Woman” history.  I call it unsavory because it never really satisfies—It is the history of our people whom we see (or have been taught to see), as exceptional, or the exception to the rule.  I am also as guilty of it as anybody else.  Yet, this month, February 2014, in many of my Facebook and Twitter posts, I deliberately focused on Black people that have contributed to or participated in theatre.  I did not do this to simply cast a light on Black folks in the theatre that I think everyone should know about.  It was also designed to cast a light on Black theatre itself, something Black folks, those who were theatre professionals and those who were not, used to participate in on a regular basis as a matter of ritual, as a matter of teaching and learning, as a matter of lifting the spirit.

It did not matter whether the person(s) had talent or not, theatre was what WE did for each other and for ourselves.  In the early days of the twentieth century, theatre had not yet become the rather parochial profession as some folks think of it today, but rather it remained an essential exercise in the communal rituals we always participated in as a people.  After all, nobody said you needed talent to recite an Easter Speech or to memorize and recite a poem, did they?  Mama, Daddy, Grandma and Grandpa all thought you “did good” up there on that stage even if you would never, ever be able to act or sing your way out of a jar, to say nothing of survive an audition.  I say all of this to make a few simple points…

Take one moment and forget about “Great Man/Great Woman History.”  Forget about “Unsung Man/Unsung Woman History,” and begin to look at your mothers, fathers, grandparents and others who belong to so many generations before you as the “multi-talented,” “multi-hat-wearing,” “multi-title-holding,” “multi-I’m-going-to-get-this-done-if-it-kills-me” people that they were.  When you do this, you will begin to measure greatness not by accolades and plaques, but by how well something they did served them, saved them and you, and whether it is or is not possible for you to emulate them.  Then you will find out everything you ever needed to know that never went into a History Book or on the cover of a magazine or in a documentary about our/your people.  You will then find that match or spark that ignites you—the change agent!  Ashé!

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.

Her Name was Cynthia Diane Morris

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

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

Back in August of 2013, I spoke with my friend Erich McMillan-McCall whose theatre organization Project1Voice was preparing to do a live streaming of a staged reading of the Christina Ham play “Four Little Girls” from the Kennedy Center.  September 15, 2013 marked the 50th anniversary of that tragic day in 1963 when a bomb planted by White racist terrorists killed four young Black girls at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.  One of them was a young girl recorded in most articles, essays, and books as “Cynthia Wesley.”  Yet, she was born Cynthia Diane Morris.

After recognizing Cynthia’s academic talents, Cynthia’s mother, Mrs. Estelle Morris, allowed her young daughter to live with a childless and affluent Black couple named Claude and Gertrude Wesley in order to give her daughter access to a better school and, perhaps, a more financially stable future.  The Wesley family was well-known throughout Birmingham’s Black community for their generosity, warmth, and a deep love of children.  Yet, the generous and kind-hearted Wesley family, who could not have biological children, never legally adopted Cynthia.  For more information about this, please revisit my previous blog titled “Thoughts on the Eve of the 50th Anniversary of the Sixteenth Street Church Bombing.”  This blog discussed the wonderful tradition in Black communities where people took in and cared for children when they needed assistance. This particular blog also contains a hyperlink to a copy of Cynthia Diane Morris’ amended death record.

Cynthia’s brother Fate Morris wants to set the historical record straight.  The commemorative statues and the U. S. Congressional Gold Medal of Honor awarded in May 2013 posthumously to the four girls who lost their lives in that church bombing all read with the names: Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Denise McNair, and Cynthia Wesley.  Federal, state and city officials in Birmingham and elsewhere have tepidly acknowledged Fate Morris as Cynthia Morris’ brother, yet they have done so with little regard for his feelings about how her name appears in public records.  I need not pontificate about this matter.  However, if you will take the time to review my previous blogs from late August to September 2013 you will know that this is a sensitive subject.  I also encourage you to listen (when you have time to sit at length) to the lengthy Blog Talk conversation I had with host Preston Washington on Lesley Gist’s Radio Show “Gist of Freedom” program back in September.  Once you hear our long conversation, along with the testimony of Fate Morris, you will know why getting the historical record straight is important.  (“Related Material – a Blog Talk Radio Interview and an important new CNN article 9-14-2013”)

The state of Alabama amended his sister’s death records to reflect her real birth name.  Yet, there seems to be a genuine reluctance in some quarters to even acknowledge Mr. Fate Morris and other members of his family as the family members of Cynthia Diane Morris (aka Cynthia Wesley).  Fate Morris was a young boy when he lost his sister.  His present mission does not appear to be an attempt to deny what the Wesley family did for his sister or how much they loved her, but rather to get some peace by making sure that historians, scholars, journalists and the general public know his late sister’s real birth name.  What he needs most is closure and a genuine acknowledgement of his feelings and those of his family members.  Yet, it is hard to get closure or peace when the written records barely acknowledge that Cynthia Morris was your sister.

So, please take a moment to read and sign Mr. Fate Morris’ petition at the hyperlink below: Cynthia Morris – NOT Cynthia Wesley – Issue Proclamation.

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 © 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 and visibly stated as the author.

18 Days Earlier We Marched and then We Lost…

A staged reading of the play "Four Little Girls" streaming live online from the Kennedy Center on September 15, 2013 at 6:00 PM EST.

A staged reading of the play “Four Little Girls” streaming live online from the Kennedy Center on September 15, 2013 at 6:00 PM EST.

…FOUR LITTLE GIRLS

By Leslye Joy Allen

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

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

There were four little Black girls whose lives were snuffed out on Sunday morning, September 15, 1963 when a bomb planted by racist White terrorists exploded in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.  They were, Denise McNair who was the youngest at age 11, Carol Robertson aged 14, Cynthia Wesley** aged 14 (**Real and Birth name is “CYNTHIA MORRIS”), and Addie Mae Collins was aged 14.  When that bomb went off, most Black Birmingham citizens and most Black Americans forgot about the “March on Washington,” held a mere eighteen days earlier on August 28.  Not long after the blast, all hell broke loose.  The New York Times headline on the following day read (click here for article): “Birmingham Bomb Kills 4 Negro Girls in Church; Riots Flare; 2 Boys Slain.

Birmingham, then nicknamed “Bombingham,” had an ugly history it would take decades to live down.  A middle class neighborhood in the city had suffered so many bombings that it was nicknamed “Dynamite Hill,” because angry Whites bombed homes to stop Black people from moving into the area.  Dynamite Hill was the neighborhood that honed and developed future Phi Beta Kappa scholar, radical activist, and author Angela Davis.  Yet, that is a story for another essay.  There are those of us, however, who think the story of what and who we lost on that fateful Sunday morning deserves its place in all the national narratives of American history.  I am one of those people; so is actor and activist Erich McMillan-McCall.

My friend, Erich is the founder of Project1Voice, an organization devoted to preserving Black theatre companies and our important historical legacies.  I should add that not only is he a multitalented performance artist with credits on Broadway, national stages, and television, he is also a visionary.  I say he is a visionary, however, with a very important acknowledgement of the type of communities that both of us grew up in as children.  Black women, he emphasizes, were at the center of these communities.  Yet, in several of our usual marathon-long telephone conversations, he has lamented that he is bothered by how Black women’s voices are not only muted or unacknowledged in the historical narratives, but also on the stage, and in the arts.

Erich and I are products of a time when to be young and Black and living in the American South did not necessarily mean that everywhere you went there was danger; what it tended to mean was the Black community in which you grew up was supportive, filled with a great deal of love and encouragement.  There were threats to our wellbeing, to be sure.  Yet, those threats largely came from outside the neighborhoods where we lived.  As much as some very sympathetic White liberal folks and some younger Black Americans have erroneously assumed otherwise, our Black parents and elders made sure we had normal childhoods with school, church, piano lessons, baseball games, concerts, plays, parties, and family picnics.  They did all of this for us in spite of the racism and the perpetual threat of (and often real) racial violence that characterized much of life for us during the 1960s and 1970s.  Erich understands this type of upbringing.

His proactive approach, that provides greater visibility to financially struggling Black theatre companies while engaging educational, civic, and political organizations in this collective struggle for artistic, political, educational, economic, and historical viability is not exactly a new way of doing things.  The Black community that I grew up in was filled with folks who could sing, dance, act, organize, who taught school, practiced medicine, ran businesses, and helped elect Black people to political office—This is what we were/are.  I loved this Black community, and the activism and the theatre it produced.  I still live in the neighborhood my family moved to when I was around the age of eleven.  It has not entirely lost those same qualities that it had during my childhood.  However, I fear that these types of communities become more rare with each passing decade.  At the same time, I am gratified and encouraged by Erich’s embrace of the old collaborative efforts of our neighborhoods and organizations that we remember about our childhoods; and his insistence that those qualities can be modified and used to great affect in the information age.  I hope this is the beginning of a new trend.

Sunday, September 15, 2013, is the 50th anniversary of one of our worst tragedies.  On this date, Project1Voice, in collaboration with Howard University, African Continuum Theatre Company, the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts will present a reading of the play “Four Little Girls,” written by Christina Ham, directed by Phylicia Rashad.  It will stream live online at 6:00 PM EST via the Kennedy Center’s website.

Targeted toward young audiences, this will be one of those wonderful opportunities to sit down in front of your computer screens with your children and your friends to watch this important piece of theatre and history—Free of Charge.  You should also check for viewing parties around the country.  Additionally, over thirty Black theatre companies around this nation will be presenting “Four Little Girls” simultaneously on the fiftieth anniversary of this national tragedy.

Erich and I both remember neighborhoods where middle class and working class Black families looked out for each other and each other’s children.  These facts, however, are precisely why the slaughter of Denise McNair, Carol Robertson, Cynthia Wesley** (**born as “Cynthia Morris,” but cited in the historiography and in most news reports as “Cynthia Wesley“) and Addie Mae Collins was so devastating to Birmingham’s Black community and other Black communities throughout the nation.  The reading of this play is not only a way to honor these dead children, but to also recall and remember the kind of stable and warm neighborhoods where all of them and us grew up.  Let us honor these little girls by going home again.  Peace.

Please visit: Project1Voice and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for more information about this play; how to access the play via the internet on Sept. 15, 2013 at 6 PM EST; and for information about other great performances and programs.

Leslye Joy Allen is also 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.

** Shortly after this blog was published, I, Leslye Joy Allen, was contacted by Fate Morris, the brother of the young girl commonly known in historical and news records as “Cynthia Wesley.”  Fate Morris insisted that his sister’s real name is “CYNTHIA DIANE MORRIS,” and that authorities recorded her name incorrectly the day of the explosion.  Mr. Morris also informed me that he has decided to accept the Congressional Medal for his sister.  Originally he and Sarah Collins Rudolph (sister of Addie Mae Collins) had declined this medal.  Please read the following article about the survivors of this tragedy: “Survivor of ’63 Bombing Seeks Funds”** 

Please join Project1Voice‘s commemoration of the lives of these four little girls: