Sacred Places

By Leslye Joy Allen

Tropical Blue Ocean Water (public domain)

Tropical Blue Ocean Water (public domain)

I was among the people supremely delighted at the decision of the Army Corps of Engineers to halt any further construction of the Dakota Pipeline on Sunday, December 4, 2016 until further study of its environmental impact on the water supply in that area. I am not going to preach about the fact that eventually that pipeline would have negatively affected the water supply. You can read my previous blog “A Time of Drought,” to get an idea.

For environmentalists, like myself, this was an incredible victory because for the first time, in a long time, the environment was front and center.  The many Native American nations, along with military servicemen and women, environmentalists, and peoples from around the globe were involved in this protest. Often protests of this nature compete with news stories about who-wore-what to some awards show or the endless stories that moan and groan about things some people obviously have no intention of doing anything about, else they would not spend so much time moaning and groaning about them in the first place…

This time something as precious as water was at the forefront; and access to clean water is something that everyone can understand, even when they are less informed about other matters related to the environment…

Now, what I am about to say here might stun a few folks…

What a lot of people often fail to recognize is that in almost every instance where the earth or air or water has been disturbed or polluted, whether it is to extract oil or some other resource or to build some structure, there has almost always been some violation of the sacred, some disturbing of something that meant something precious to someone or to some group of people…

For my Atlanta readers, you might know, or might need reminding, that underneath a portion of Interstate 75-South lies an old cemetery filled with the graves of Black folks, our brothers and sisters. Where Interstate 75-South meets Cleveland Avenue lies a marble marker that designates the graves of roughly 1,700 former slaves who were buried in Gilbert Cemetery which had been created as a burial place for slaves in the early 1840s.

Because the area around this grave came to be known as “Plunkett Town” which was still occupied by poor, rural Blacks as late as the 1960s, the graveyard there did not illicit much concern until work crews from the Georgia Department of Transportation discovered the damaged burial grounds while building Interstate 75.  By the time of the discovery, the graves had already been disturbed, and the plans and money to build that highway were already in place.  No one considered the graveyards to be more important than building a much-needed highway.  What has been left there is a marker letting people who bother to look know that they are driving over a graveyard…

This is exactly what we all have been doing to Native Americans’ sacred sites ever since Europeans arrived on these shores, eventually and forcibly transporting millions of Africans here to perform heavy labor as slaves…

This is not a moral judgement, but rather food for thought.  Too often we—and that includes environmentalists as well, and I am just as guilty—do not think of water as anything other than something that will come out of a faucet when we turn that faucet on.  And as long as we can pay our Water Bill, we seem assured that when we turn that knob, water will come out…

But go pour a glass of water.  Look at it!  Say a prayer to it!  Respect it!

The Standing Rock protest that has temporarily halted the Dakota Pipeline might not have converted any new environmentalists; I know too well from experience that a lot of people do not want to be inconvenienced in any way, even if that small inconvenience will help clean up the environment, or at least slow down the toxicity of the natural environment…

Yet, we all need to stay on guard because this battle may come up again as a new president moves into the White House in January 2017.  However, for the time being, recognize what this protest and this small victory has made us all pay attention to: respect for the dead and for the most precious resource on earth: water.  If you are not humbled by this, I do not know what else to tell you except that you will eventually be humbled by this, whether you want to be or not.

Àṣé.”

Copyright © 2016 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 or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

 

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Saying Goodbye to Dr. Kuhn

By Leslye Joy Allen

“Self Portrait” by Copyright © 2015 Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

“Self Portrait” by Copyright © 2015 Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

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

I am writing this tribute now, because I have to mentally recalibrate, take a brief break over the holidays and get back to work on writing my dissertation. Dr. Kuhn would not want anything less than that.   Dr. Clifford Matthew Kuhn, Associate Professor of History at Georgia State University and the first Executive Director of the Oral History Association joined the ancestors the second week of November.  He was 63-years-old…he was also my Dissertation Advisor…

He was…there is that word: was.  You would think that as a historian I would be accustomed to the past tense.  Yet, referring to him as anything other than vibrantly and intellectually alive is difficult. Preparing for the Georgia State University Memorial for Dr. Clifford Matthew Kuhn on December 13, 2015 is harder than I ever could imagine.  I first met him when he was preparing the centennial of the 1906 Atlanta Race Riot back in early 2006…

Dr. Glenn T. Eskew introduced us because he recalled my telling him that my late maternal grandmother, born in 1886, was a 20-year-old student at then Clark Normal School (later Clark College, now Clark Atlanta University) when the campuses of Atlanta’s Historically Black Colleges became the refuge for so many of the Black victims of the Atlanta Race Riot.  Dr. Kuhn was delighted to find a graduate student such as myself that had a personal story that I could tell about this particularly painful moment in Atlanta’s history.  Dr. Clarissa Myrick Harris, who partnered with Dr. Kuhn, interviewed me while filmmaker Ms. Bailey Barash filmed it for posterity.  I was proud and humbled to contribute my grandmother’s story.

Nearly everything I know about Oral History, I learned from Dr. Kuhn: how to get people to talk about their lives; how to make sure they know that they are not obligated to tell their stories; how to make sure that I, the historian and interviewer, did not and will not ever exploit their memories; how to truly listen. I remember everything he taught me.

One of the last things he said to me was that he was so proud of a brief and recent assignment I had in the Georgia State University Library’s Digital Collections where I conducted four interviews for the Planning Atlanta Project. He recommended me for that position and I was glad that I did well and did not let him down…

As I prepare myself, as best I can, to attend Georgia State University’s Memorial Celebration for Dr. Kuhn, I fondly recall a conversation where we discovered that both of us loved Jazz.  Not long after that conversation, there were a few times when we were supposed to be doing something academic, but we drifted into a deep discussion about everyone from Duke Ellington to Nina Simone to Wayne Shorter to Ahmad Jamal.  Yet, that is natural for us historians.  WE have to be aware of everything, so we often look at and listen to everything.  Our conversations were often mixtures of him talking lovingly about his wife Kathie Klein and his two sons Josh and Gabe Klein-Kuhn and History and Jazz.   I will miss that…  

So, below is one for the late, great historian and scholar Dr. Clifford Matthew Kuhn: a video of the great Jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal playing the classic “Poinciana.”  When the percussionists in Jamal’s quartet go into full swing around the time 4:53, I found myself ferociously patting my foot to the infectious rhythms and crying at the same time. Àṣé.

 

 

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.

Ava, Oprah, Moms, Dads, and Cheerleaders!

Leslye Joy Allen @ Spelman College Archives. Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Leslye Joy Allen @ Spelman College Archives. Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

by Leslye Joy Allen

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

This is not a review of the film SELMA. However, I will say I saw it on Christmas Day when it was in limited release and let me put it this way—I had one of the best Christmas’ ever. Brilliantly acted, superbly directed. I dig Sister Ava DuVernay because she is a Black Woman, but also a young woman director who is unafraid to use all of the nuances that come with being a woman.

I also learned very quickly that she has two great parents and I see “Daddy’s Girl” written all over her face. Oprah Winfrey is another Daddy’s Girl. I know one when I see one—I was a Daddy’s Girl too. I love my late Mama to death because we had a lot of fun, but Dad was my playmate for life. I thought about my parents when I watched SELMA in the dark of that packed movie theatre on Christmas Day. They would have been so proud; and my tell-it-like-it-is Father would have been one of Ava’s biggest supporters. I can hear his loud mouth right now talking about how “Ava is one baaaaaad young sister!!”

For the first time we have a feature film about Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Selma March movement, but also a film where women are highly visible, as are so many other long forgotten foot soldiers. Yet, for a filmmaker to press ahead and make the kind of film that truly honors the Black and White women who made so many sacrifices for civil and human rights takes courage.  For a Black woman filmmaker that courage often comes from the fact that in a male-dominated world, when a father approves of his daughter, when he encourages her and believes in her, she never, ever needs another man’s approval.

Mothers are extremely important too, and are always our confidantes and advisors; it is she who helps us navigate in a world full of possibilities and limitations. We watch our mothers make sacrifices and often we later wonder how she managed to make those sacrifices. Yet, our Dads’ support truly matters because sexism is alive and well, no matter how many men that love us try to downplay it. I am a Black woman and because my Dad supported me, I can handle blatant sexism and the occasional lukewarm support I get from some of the men I know and love. Most women know that only a minority of men can be our cheerleaders. Cheerleaders have to perform on the sidelines.

Ava and Oprah know whom their male and female cheerleaders are; an overwhelming majority of those cheerleaders has a pair of ovaries. I have several male cheerleaders, but every once in a while I hear that disinterest in their voices when the subject of the conversation changes from their problems or their work to a discussion about me and what is going on in my life and work.  They do not mean me any harm.   Yet, when I need to discuss me, I turn to my sister friends. So, in the spirit of that Sisterhood I am going on record as saying I am so very proud of Oprah Winfrey, who never fails to honor all of her people.  I am so very proud of Black woman filmmaker and director Ava DuVernay for the exact same reason!  My late parents loved Oprah…they did not live long enough to witness Ava…but I suspect they are watching from somewhere in the cosmos! Àṣé!

 

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.

Small and Fierce and Woman

by Leslye Joy Allen     Weary Self-Portrait 2

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

When I received the news that actor Ruby Dee had passed on, I immediately grabbed the phone and called my cousin and her good friend director-actor Billie Allen.  These two women made history together and enjoyed over sixty years of friendship.  I fondly remembered standing between them and feeling quite tall, although I barely stand 5 feet 5 inches tall myself…

Both of them are/were quite short—Ms. Dee barely stood 5 feet tall, and Billie is not too much taller. Yet, there was always something so big about both of them. Ruby Dee was one of the biggest women I ever had the pleasure to meet and my cousin Billie remains like a bottomless reservoir of wisdom…and then something hit me about both of them.

When a woman is quite small in physical stature, it is quite easy for folks to underestimate her.  As Billie and I reminisced about Ruby, she reminded me of Ms. Dee’s fighting spirit that she demonstrated on more than one occasion. Ruby Dee was talented, brilliant, warm and loving and she took no mess!

I laughed, trying to imagine Ms. Dee—a waif of a woman who made damned good homemade soup, by the way—getting in anyone’s face. Yet, her entire existence of artistry and activism, coupled with her intellectual, culinary, and maternal gifts demonstrated that there is always a subtle beauty and power in being a woman, but an even greater power in being a small woman…No one really expects you to stand your ground until you do it.  I know.  I have encountered a few bullies (male and female) in my lifetime.

Ruby and Billie’s friendship and tenacity never had anything to do with their height or size, but rather with a spirit, a certain fierceness that defied size and gender.  If that fierceness was unleashed at the right moment, it could either empower you or scare the hell out of you—and in that glorious combination and contradiction of both empowerment and fear is what it really means to be a real woman.  This is a lesson that only a woman can teach you and I am eternally grateful to both of them for that lesson.

Billie Allen and Ruby Dee at “Fences” in 2010.

 

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.

Today, I Speak the Names of…

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.

Today I speak the names of PROFESSIONAL BLACK HISTORIANS (and I do not include amateur “chroniclers of facts” today, this February 28th).  This day is for those individuals who stand, teach, and write only after they have performed extensive study and research.

This day is for those women and men who sit, anywhere from thirty to forty hours a week, wrapped in sweaters in those cold archives going over bits and pieces of paper that contain information until they begin to see a particular pattern or story to that information.  Then they raise the “why” and the “how” questions about that information and they begin to piece together a story.  Then they develop an analysis because history is not and never has been the regurgitation of names and dates and events.  It is not a chronicle of events.  History is the analysis of why and how things happen AND if there is no argument, it is not history! (Thanks for that one, Dr. Glenn T. Eskew.  Okay, so Eskew is not Black, but he is one of the good ones who recognize the seriousness with which we all must advance and promote our profession.)

So on this day, February 28, 2014, the last day of so-called Black History Month (as if every day is not a part of Black History), I salute my classmates, colleagues, and former professors who work like slaves and dogs for very little money.  There are days when you—and you alone—have been the only reason I can get up in the morning and keep moving.

I urge all of you, my colleagues, to remember your worth.  If people need your stories and your opinions and your analyses, then those people can actually do something revolutionary and actually respect your worth and pay you like the professionals you are.  Yet, if they do not want to pay you or acknowledge you, then they can take their lazy a***** to the dozens of libraries and repositories that you have visited.  They can devote the same countless, and thankless months and years of research, research that you have perpetually performed as a matter of professional necessity, routine and courtesy.  They can then experience how much they like doing years of your work without so much as a dollar or a “Thank You.”  Do not settle my friends.  Àṣé, and keep moving.

 

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.