Wednesday, February 28, 2007

7:27 PM

I SIT IN THE Philadelphia International Airport en route to my childhood home in Milwaukee to share in what will likely be my father’s last days. The call came day before yesterday while I was driving home from Portland.

“As we suspected,” Gina said, “it’s not good news. He has pancreatic cancer. It’s already spread to his liver.” My sister’s voice was calm, even, deep. In the well of it, I could hear the anguish, despite her attempt to shield it from me.

This was what I had suspected when I lay in bed last week troubled by a pain that knifed through my abdomen, around my right side, and up my back. Lifted me right out of bed into a state of catatonia. Yes, I’ve had my own (resolved) issues in the last two years with mysterious GI tract disorders (all my relatives on my birth mother’s side have had mystery illnesses throughout their lives), but this was something else. Sure enough, the next day, I spoke to my father and he had been writhing in pain the night before as well.

How connected we are—have always been—needs no proof.

Gina said he was gaunt, frail. Unable to eat much more than Cream of Wheat or grits for the last two months, he’d already lost twenty pounds and had hardly any energy to talk. Over the phone on Sunday night, his voice was weak, shrill. Still, he seemed as excited as I that Jennifer Hudson had nabbed an Academy Award for her film debut in Dreamgirls, even though he’d been too sick to see it.

I hope he gets a chance to see it. He loves music more than life itself.

Sad as it was, the diagnosis also brought relief. Now at least Daddy could get the pain medication that would help him sleep at night in order to have the energy to laugh with the caravan of friends and family that descended upon the house in the two days since the doctor revealed the results of the MRI to a loving family braced for just such news.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Black History Month: Honoring Hazelle Hickman

MY JENNIFER HUDSON celebrations were tempered by the solemn news that, save a miracle, my father's days in this here life are numbered. A Tuskegee Airman, my father is a strong man who taught me how to care for others, especially when they are sick. I will honor him today by excerpting the Book of Hazelle from Fumbling Toward Divinity. I love you, Daddy, and I'll see you in Milwaukee very soon.

AND IT CAME TO PASS in those days that Hitler committed suicide in his Berlin bunker. One week later, during the second week of May in the nineteen hundred and forty-fifth year, Nazi Germany surrendered unconditionally and the war in Europe ended.

In the first weeks of August, the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki and Hiroshima and the Soviet Union declared war on Japan and invaded Manchuria. On the fourteenth day of the month, Japan announced its surrender—so long as it could keep its emperor—and World War II, a most devastating war in terms of material destruction, global scale, and lives lost, ended.

Hazelle returned from the Philippines, where he had been stationed since the nineteen hundred and forty-second year, and found that the country he’d left behind wasn’t too kind to Negro servicemen returning from war.

Hazelle came back through California with a few of the others he’d attended Tuskegee with in the nineteen hundred and thirty-ninth year. After hanging out in the Arizona desert, he returned to Tennessee, to the city of Beale Street and barbeque, basement slow dances and jazz, three years before Elvis moved in from Tupelo, Mississippi.

Still, Hazelle couldn’t find work. And so it was on the fifteenth day of January in the nineteen hundred and forty-sixth year that he went up from Memphis, Tennessee, to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on a Greyhound bus. “Mighty nice day for a bus ride,” said Hazelle looking up at the driver from the curb. “What’s your name, sir?”

“Frankie,” the driver responded.

“My name is Hazelle, but you can call me Mister Charlie.” His tone was respectful with a hint of sarcasm. Hazelle tipped his hat to Frankie, flashed his gold tooth and moved to the back of the bus. And so he went up on a Greyhound Bus to the beer capital of America where his one-and-only brother Willie Lee said it was easier for a Negro man to find work.

Hazelle the second son was born by a midwife to Lee and Emma Ball Hickman in Inverness, Mississippi, sometime in the second month of the year.

Apparently, on the day he was born, no one glanced at the calendar. If someone had, they failed to record what day it was.

It wouldn’t become clear until the nineteen eighties exactly when Hazelle was born (and even then, his wife would ferociously debate the date or attempt to conceal the obvious), but throughout most of his life, Hazelle observed his birth on the twentieth day of February, in the nineteen hundred and twenty-fourth year.

Whenever he was born, one thing was clear without refute—Hazelle was jazz’s fraternal twin. Hazelle may not have been born in New Orleans, but he and jazz grew up together in the nineteen twenties, matured in the thirties, and took to the world in the forties. Hazelle claimed to have met Bessie Smith, heard Louis Armstrong play live, and auditioned for one of Billie Holiday’s back-up singers in Harlem—all before entering the service at the age of sixteen.

Believing himself sixteen-years-old in nineteen hundred and forty, he had to lie to gain entrance into the service, which only admitted young men of eighteen. Hazelle was blessed with a full head of gray hair at the ripe age of twelve (or sixteen, as the case may be). The service had no difficulty believing him to be nineteen.

And so it was that Hazelle entered the Army Air Force and concerned himself with the taking off and landing of airplanes. During the Second World War, he became a plotter. When he got to Milwaukee, Hazelle pursued his desire to work at a civilian airport.

Dressed up sharp, Army Air Force papers in hand, Hazelle took the long trolley ride from Sixth and Vine streets, where he lived with his brother, through the south side to General Mitchell Field, Milwaukee’s municipal airport.

He had called ahead for the interview, and over the phone, the hiring manager thought that Hazelle’s military plotting experience made him a very good candidate for the job of air traffic controller.

“Hazelle Hickman to see Mister Black about the plotter job.”

The eyes of the bifocaled receptionist with the fire-engine pompadour and pale, freckled skin scanned his tweed pants, his matching jacket, his rust and brown tie with the gold slanted stripes, his silver hair, and his colored skin and replied, “You can have a seat there and he’ll be right with you.”

Hazelle did what he was told, as he had for at least the last six years. Outside the window, he could see the two-engine prop planes rising and landing. Even though an emergency crash landing he’d endured during the war rendered him unwilling and unable to ever get inside those winged steel vessels again, airplanes would always deserve his wonder with their miraculous ability to defy the maw of gravity and take flight.

More than a dozen planes had come and gone while Hazelle waited patiently for Mister Black to be right with him. Finally, the pale-skinned woman emerged from behind a windowed door on the other side of the waiting area. “I’m so sorry that you’ve waited so long and that no one was able to call you before you came all this way. I’m so sorry, really I am. I wish I was able to help you, but the position was filled just today.” Her face flushed red as her mountain of hair. “You know what? Maybe I can help,” she continued, raising the pitch of her voice as though she’d made a remarkable discovery. “Consider this your lucky day. If you check downstairs in personnel, I know for a fact that there are several openings for second- and third-shift janitors.”

“Thank you, ma’am. You tell Mister Black there that I sure hope God blesses him.” He tipped his hat as he walked out the door. “You have yourself a real nice afternoon, ya hear?”

And so Hazelle became an interior decorator, a waiter, a cook, a chef, a house painter, and even pondered a career as a nightclub singer and a recording artist—oh, how that tenor voice could croon!—before he began his thirty-plus year tenure in office services at the Pabst Blue Ribbon Company. But before he met Pabst, he met the woman with whom he’d spend the rest of his life.

“I met her almost as soon as I got to Milwaukee. It was forty-six and I couldna been here for more than a month. I went to a USO dance at the Pfister Hotel. They had these events for veterans every so often. They were social gatherings where all the beautiful young ladies might come and give us handsome gentlemen a bit of their time and attention. It was one of the few events back in the day where black and white folk could mingle. They even had a big band. Live. You better believe couples were cuttin a rug, jitterbuggin all over the dance floor.

“I hadn’t yet picked out any beauties to test my toe and get my heart a-jumpin. Then my buddy, Smitty, stopped in the middle of our conversation and raised his eyebrows. He motioned for me to turn and look at the little bit of heaven standin just behind me with a smile on her face bright as a Mississippi morning. I walked right over to her.

“‘Well, hello sunshine,’ I kinda half sung in my best Nat King Cole impersonation. If a colored girl could blush, her face woulda glowed hot as the Arizona desert.

“I reached for her hand. ‘Before you try kissing it,’ she said, pulling her hand gently away from the path to my lips, ‘why don’t you take me on the dance floor and introduce yourself properly.’

“How can a man with a heartbeat resist that? They say it only happens in fairy tales. At the first sight of her, the very first sight, I knew it was love. So I guess you could say our fairy tale started on the dance floor that very night.”

Monday, February 26, 2007

Academy Award Winner Jennifer Hudson

Best Supporting Actress

HOW EXCITED I am to be able to type those words. I backed off from my Jennifer Hudson obsession in recent weeks, so as not to contribute to the hype and exposure, which Jennifer (deservedly) received plenty of. But now that she's an Academy Award winner, I'll resume my part in highlighting this great performer with a great story that has taken the globe by storm. (Jennifer even won the BAFTA award, the British version of the Oscars, which was a true surprise.)

Before the ceremony on the red carpet, Ryan Seacrest asked Cate Blanchett, a 2005 Oscar winner for her portrayal of Katherine Hepburn in The Aviator, if Jennifer Hudson was, indeed, a good actress. After conceding that she would be outright shocked if she won again, Cate said, "Jennifer gave a complete, brilliant performance in Dreamgirls. Adriana Barazza and Rinko Kikuchi did great work as well, but the night belongs to Jennifer Hudson."

And so it was.

One more time, why don't we? We're gonna always love you...

The Dreamgirls Reunion at the Oscars

Yahoo Vidoes on Jennifer's Big Night

The Others

Best Actor, Forest Whitaker

Best Actress, Helen Mirren

Best Supporting Actor, Alan Arkin

Friday, February 23, 2007

Black History Month: Honoring Bessie Smith

BESSIE SMITH (1894? - 1937) - The eighth child of a poor black family in Chattanooga, Bessie began singing on street corners for pennies when she was less than 10 years old. A local club operator heard her; offered her $8.00 a week to sing at his tavern and so her career began.

But this is not the forum to explore her professional life as a singer and entertainer, although her story makes fascinating reading. What I want to discuss is how her death was exploited for greed and to further a political agenda.

In the years following Bessie Smith’s death there were conflicting accounts of how she actually died. What is known is that after a late night performance somewhere in Mississippi, probably Natchez, Bessie headed for Memphis in a car driven by her boyfriend, Richard Morgan. In 1937 there were no expressways and Route 61 was a typical poorly lit, winding two-lane road. Near the outskirts of Clarksdale, in the early morning hours of that September day, their car, being driven at a high rate of speed, crashed into the back of a truck stopped on the side of the road.

Several rumors began circulating regarding the cause of her death: she was killed upon impact, she was taken to a hotel where she died; she died in an ambulance en route to a hospital, and she was taken to a white hospital that refused to treat her because she was black and so she died as the ambulance tried to locate a black hospital.

Record company executive, John Hammond, had a recording contract with Bessie (more about that later) and was also her producer at the time of her death. Hammond published an article in Downbeat magazine stating, as a fact, that Bessie died because she was refused treatment at a white hospital in Mississippi. He then had her recordings reissued knowing that there would be a demand for them created by her untimely death and the racially tinged circumstances surrounding it.

Years later, as we entered the 1960s, the civil rights movement was taking on more momentum and the entertainment industry was churning out depictions of victimized minorities. Film and TV scriptwriters as well as playwrights like Edward Albee were searching for material for dramas portraying racial discrimination. Albee knew he had hit pay dirt when he came across Hammond’s account of Bessie Smith’s death. It had all the ingredients he was looking for; the unnecessary death of a critically injured black woman caused by the bigotry of heartless white Southerners.

In 1960, Albee’s one act play "The Death of Bessie Smith" premiered in New York. Albee painted Bessie as the ultimate victim trying to survive in the segregated South. In the final scene Bessie’s distraught lover stands in the admissions department of a white hospital begging to have her admitted. A spiteful white nurse, speaking with an exaggerated Southern accent as demanded by the stage director, refuses to admit Bessie because she is a Negro. So Bessie dies and audiences probably left the theater feeling outrage against white Southerners.

Luckily the facts surrounding Bessie Smith’s death were investigated while participants and witnesses were still alive. Here, as Paul Harvey would say, is the rest of the story.

Immediately after Bessie’s car crashed into the back of the truck, another car, coming from the opposite direction, arrived on the scene. The driver was Dr. Hugh Smith, a white physician en route to join friends for an early morning hunting trip. Dr. Smith found Bessie in an extreme state of shock, bleeding profusely, one arm nearly severed and several ribs broken. He dispatched Richard Morgan to get an ambulance while he tried to stem the loss of blood and stabilize her condition.

While Dr. Smith was attending Bessie, another car crashed into the back of his parked car. Dr. Smith could see that the occupants of the wrecked car, a white couple, were slumped over and splattered with blood. But he continued his ministrations to Bessie until he and the ambulance team had gingerly placed her into the ambulance. Then the frantic doctor turned his attention to the injured white couple.

Albee and others wanted the nation to think, that, after being refused treatment at a white hospital, Bessie died while her ambulance raced across the State of Mississippi desperately trying to find a black hospital. But Clarksdale’s black hospital was less than a mile away from the white hospital. And there would have been practically no traffic at that early morning hour so the trip could have been made in a matter of minutes.

But Bessie Smith was never taken to a white hospital. In the segregated South of that time no ambulance driver would have taken a black patient to a white facility. And, according to testimony from the doctor and bystanders, the ambulance headed directly to the black hospital rather than the white one. In all probability, Bessie died from shock and loss of blood before she reached the hospital.

To his credit, John Hammond withdrew his claim that Bessie was refused treatment at a white hospital. He admitted that this was just one of several rumors floating around and he knew nothing about the actual facts surrounding Bessie’s death. Edward Albee knew that Hammond had changed his story but he also realized that the first version would make better theater. Playwrights are entitled to a certain amount of artistic license but Albee shouldn’t have deliberately scripted an untrue version of Bessie’s death.

The recording contract that Hammond negotiated with Bessie was, to put it mildly, unusual. Obviously, Bessie Smith was not well versed in financial transactions and was happy to be signed to a record company. But her strange contract contained a "no royalties" clause. Bessie was paid $30 for each recording she made and all the royalties were paid to John Hammond. It is estimated that Hammond earned over $60,000 on the sale of Bessie Smith’s recordings. In today’s dollars this amount would be about five times as great.

Bessie Smith is still an icon for feminists because of her struggle against a patriarchal and discriminatory society. Lesbian groups consider Bessie a heroine because of the bisexuality that she made no attempt to hide. These organizations continue to mythologize Bessie and spread Albee’s version of her death.

But those who have taken time to research the matter have repudiated Edward Albee. Chris Albertson’s fine biography "Bessie" is a factual account of the singer’s life and death. Also, in Frank Kofsky series Black Music, White Business the truth about Bessie is covered in a section called "Why let a little thing like death interfere with exploitation?"

This is just one of many incidents during the last few decades where the usual scapegoats, white Southerners, were falsely maligned in order to further a political agenda. The unethical exploitation of both Bessie Smith and white Southerners proved to be highly profitable for John Hammond and provided Edward Albee with a powerful political stratagem.

"The Death of Bessie Smith" was making headlines at a time when Congress was discussing legislation to combat discrimination. I maintain that Albee’s play as well as other similar politicized dramatizations not only influenced the political climate of the early 1960s but also helped shape legislators’ votes. It was in this political environment that Congress passed the far-reaching Civil Rights Act of 1964. In this bill Congress focussed on short-term benefits, ignored long-range consequences, and included sections that applied only to Southern states.

In the 1970s, rock singer Janis Joplin was shocked to learn that Bessie Smith was buried in an unmarked grave. A campaign to raise money for a proper memorial was undertaken and requests for donations were sent to all those who had been associated with this greatest of all blues singers. John Hammond contributed $50.

(Above text taken from Lew

Her Music

Bessie Smith earned the title of "Empress of the Blues" by virtue of her forceful vocal delivery and command of the genre. Her singing displayed a soulfully phrased, boldly delivered and nearly definitive grasp of the blues. In addition, she was an all-around entertainer who danced, acted and performed comedy routines with her touring company. She was the highest-paid black performer of her day and arguably reached a level of success greater than that of any African-American entertainer before her.

Smith was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 1894. Like many of her generation, she dreamed of escaping a life of poverty by way of show business. As a teenager she joined a traveling minstrel show, the Moss Stokes Company. Her brother Clarence was a comedian with the troupe, and Smith befriended another member, Gertrude "Ma" Rainey (a.k.a. the "Mother of the Blues"), who served as something of a blues mentor. After a decade's seasoning on the stage, Smith was signed to Columbia Records in 1923. Her first recording - "Down Hearted Blues" b/w "Gulf Coast Blues" - sold an estimated 800,000 copies, firmly establishing her as a major figure in the black record market. Smith sang raw, uncut country blues inspired by life in the South, in which everyday experiences were related in plainspoken language - not unlike the rap music that would emerge more than half a century later. She was ahead of her time in another sense as well. In the words of biographer Chris Albertson, "Bessie had a wonderful way of turning adversity into triumph, and many of her songs are the tales of liberated women."

Some of her better-known sides from the Twenties include "Backwater Blues," "Taint Nobody's Bizness If I Do," "St. Louis Blues" (recorded with Louis Armstrong), and "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out." The Depression dealt her career a blow, but Smith changed with the times by adapting a more up-to-date look and revised repertoire that incorporated Tin Pan Alley tunes like "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes." On the verge of the Swing Era, Smith died from injuries sustained in an automobile accident outside Clarksdale, Mississippi, in September 1937. She left behind a rich, influential legacy of 160 recordings cut between 1923 and 1933. Some of the great vocal divas who owe a debt to Smith include Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan, Aretha Franklin and Janis Joplin. In Joplin's own words of tribute, "She showed me the air and taught me how to fill it."

(Above text taken from Rock and Roll Hall of Fame)

Click here for her complete discography

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Black History Month: Honoring P.B.S. Pinchback

“I AM GROPING ABOUT through this American forest of prejudice and proscription, determined to find some form of civilization where all men will be accepted for what they are worth.”

Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback (May 10, 1837 – December 21, 1921) was the first African-American to become governor of a U.S. State. Pinchback, a Republican, served as the governor of Louisiana from December 9, 1872, to January 13, 1873.

Early life
Pinchback was born in Macon, Georgia (Bibb County), to a white planter (William Pinchback) and his former slave, Eliza Stewart. Known as P.B.S. he was educated at the Gilmore High School in Cincinnati. After his father died in 1848, he left Cincinnati because he feared that his paternal relatives would force him back into slavery. He hence worked as a hotel porter and barber in Terre Haute, Indiana.

In 1860, Pinchback married the former Nina Emily Hawthorne. They had four sons and two daughters.

Political career
During the Civil War, Pinchback traveled to Louisiana and became the only African-American captain in the Union-controlled 1st Louisiana Native Guards.

After the war, he became active in the Republican Party and participated in Reconstruction state conventions. In 1868, Pinchback organized the Fourth Ward Republican Club in New Orleans. That same year, he was elected as a Louisiana state senator, where he became the state Senate president pro tempore. He became acting lieutenant governor upon the death of Oscar Dunn, the first elected African-American lieutenant governor of a U.S. state. Pinchback was elevated to the Louisiana governorship upon the impeachment and removal from office of his predecessor, Republican governor Henry Clay Warmoth, for political corruption and for allegedly “stealing” the governor’s office from the Democrat John McEnery.

Later life
After his brief governorship, Pinchback remained active in politics and public service. He was elected to both the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate, but his elections were contested, and his Democratic opponents were instead seat. Pinchback served on the Louisiana State Board of Education and was instrumental in establishing the predominantly black Southern University in Baton Rouge in 1879. He was a member of the Southern board of trustees.

In 1882, Republican President Chester Alan Arthur named Pinchback as surveyor of customs in New Orleans. In 1885, he studied law at Straight University (closed 1934) in New Orleans. He was admitted to the bar in 1886. Thereafter, he moved to New York City, where he was a federal marshal, and to Washington, D.C., where he practiced law.

Pinchback died in Washington, D.C. and was interred in Metairie Cemetery in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Not until 1990 did L. Douglas Wilder of Virginia became the second African-American to serve as a state governor (and the first to be elected to the office). Deval Patrick of Massachusetts became the third when he took office last month. Both Wilder and Patrick were elected as Democrats.

Pinchback was the maternal grandfather of Harlem Renaissance author Jean Toomer.

The African-American Almanac, sixth edition, edited by Kenneth Estell, Gale, 1994, pp. 596-97.
Black Reconstructionists, edited by Emma Lou Thornbrough, Prentice Hall, 1972, pp. 143-45, 176.
Current, Richard Nelson, Those Terrible Carpetbaggers: A Reinterpretation, Oxford University Press, 1988, pp. 251, 254, 255, 276-81.
Dann, Martin E., The Black Press: 1827-1890: The Quest for National Identity, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1971, pp. 27-8.
Dictionary of American Negro Biography, edited by Rayford Logan and Michael Winston, W. W. Norton & Co., 1982, p. 493.
Haskins, James, Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback, Macmillan, 1973.

(All text from

Monday, February 19, 2007

Black History Month: Honoring Nella Larsen

NELLA LARSEN (1891-1964) - Larsen’s importance as a writer is based upon her two novels; she was unable to complete a third one. She spent her last thirty years as a supervising nurse at a Brooklyn hospital. Both Quicksand and Passing are admired for their use of irony and symbolism dealing in themes of identity, passing, marginality, race consciousness, sexuality, and class distinction. Her novels place her as one of the best fiction writers of the 1920s. Nella Larsen’s celebrity has followed an unusual trajectory. She was one of the most celebrated black novelists during the Harlem Renaissance, and received several major awards for her writing. She and her husband were also notable members of the Harlem social scene, and she was a friend to most of the prominent Harlem writers of her time. After a public accusation of plagiarism and an equally public divorce, however, Larsen removed herself from the public eye, and was effectively forgotten by both acquaintances and audiences until after her death. But renewed interest in both the Harlem Renaissance and black women writers has brought her back to prominence, and Larsen is again celebrated as a key figure in the African American literary tradition.

She was born in Chicago in 1891 to a Danish mother, Mary Hanson Walker, and an African-American father, Peter Walker. Her parents separated shortly after her birth and her mother married the white Peter Larson. Larsen grew up in Chicago and attended the public schools there before she was enrolled in Fisk University’s Normal School in 1907, alienating her permanently from her birth family. Between 1912 and 1915, Larsen trained as a nurse in New York and, upon her graduation, went down to Tuskegee Institute in Alabama to work as head nurse at John Andrew Memorial Hospital and Nurse Training School. But while she had come to feel most comfortable in all-black environments, she was still unhappy in the South, and in 1916 she returned to New York. Soon she returned to New York and took a nursing post there. There she met Elmer Imes, a physicist, whom she married in 1919.

Encouraged by writers and artists around her, especially black writer Walter White and white patron Carl Van Vechten, in 1926 she began writing full-time. Her first publications were two articles about Danish games, published in the Brownies’ Book, a children’s magazine. In 1921 Larsen left her nursing position and took a job at the New York Public Library’s 135th Street branch in Harlem and attended library school at Columbia University. She continued at the NYPL until 1926 and furthered her writing skills, writing several pieces of short fiction, which she published, some under the pseudonym Allen Semi (her married name reversed). She was also at work on her first novel, Quicksand.

Larsen’s two novels, Quicksand and Passing, were published by the mainstream publisher Alfred A. Knopf in 1928 and 1929. Both novels deal with upper-class, mixed-race black women protagonists, reflecting the world Larsen found herself in, but they go beyond simply painting that world. Instead, they are complicated explorations of the ways in which race, gender, class, and sexuality all constrict the women’s lives to varying degrees. In Quicksand the main character is a biracial Danish and black woman, like Larsen, who finds that she is not entirely at home in either Danish or African American society but who cannot find an alternative. And in Passing, the protagonists are two childhood friends who meet as adults and find that while one has settled into a safe life in the black bourgeoisie, the other has chosen to pass as white. That novel’s tensions rise as the women find themselves drawn to one another, yet jealous of one another’s lives.

Shortly after the publication of Larsen’s second and last novel, she published the story “Sanctuary” which concerns a man who, after shooting someone, seeks refuge in the home of a friend’s mother, not realizing that it is the friend who he has shot and killed. In 1930, Larsen won a Guggenheim Fellowship (the first African-American woman to receive this award) and traveled to Europe to work on her next novel. This was followed by the humiliation of her 1933 divorce, which stemmed from her husband’s alleged affair with a white woman. Newspapers covering the story accused Larsen of being too preoccupied with her writing to be a good wife, and claimed that she had tried to commit suicide over the affair; and while Larsen did not literally kill herself, she did close herself off from all contact with her former life. Spreading a rumor that she was moving to South America, she moved instead to New York’s Lower East Side, where she lived alone and worked quietly as a nurse for the next thirty years. Larsen was found dead in her apartment in 1964.

But despite the obscurity of the end of her life, Larsen’s reputation and writings have been resurrected. Contemporary critics now regard her as one of the most sophisticated and modern novelists to emerge from the Harlem Renaissance, and her two books are regarded as landmark examples of black women’s attempts to explain their complex identities - and the complicated forces circumscribing them - in fiction.

Reuben, Paul P. "Chapter 9: Harlem Renaissance - Nella Larsen " PAL: Perspectives in American Literature- A Research and Reference Guide.

(Above text taken from Prose of the Harlem Renaissance)

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Links II

Mad Professah Lectures - California Governor to veto marriage equality bill. Includes a hellish photograph.
Modern Fabulousity - Friday Hot Guy Blogging: Sebastián Rulli. A heavenly montage.
Search and Reunion - Insufficient Address. Reunited Dan explores the need to fit into his birth family and feeling pulled in different directions by his three families. And then comes the revelation that you might have nothing in common with your birth relatives besides DNA.
Peterson Toscano's A Musing - Birthdays! Happy birthday to him.
Republic of T - On Blogging, Religion & Anger. Nuff said.
Film Experience - Oscar Symposium. Nate and a panel of cinephiles discuss all things Oscar. And speaking of the Oscars...
Life Magazine - Dream Girl. Jennifer Hudson: From Idol to Oscar. J-Hud gets the cover of Life. Happy as I am for all her success, I hope all this exposure doesn't sour the voters.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Black History Month: Honoring Frank Yerby

FRANK YERBY (1916-1991) rose to fame as a writer of popular fiction tinged with a distinctive southern flavor. He was the first African American to write a best-selling novel and to have a book purchased by a Hollywood studio for a film adaptation. During his prolific career, Yerby wrote thirty-three novels and sold more than fifty-five million hardback and paperback books worldwide.

Frank Garvin Yerby was born in Augusta on September 5, 1916, to Wilhemenia and Rufus Yerby. His mother was Scots-Irish and his father African American. He graduated from Haines Institute (1933) and Paine College (1937), both located in Augusta. Yerby continued his education at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, where he received an M.A. degree in 1938, and at the University of Chicago, where he began studies toward a doctorate in 1939. For a brief period, Yerby worked as an instructor of English at Florida A&M College (later University) and at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He later migrated north, first to Dearborn, Michigan, where he worked as a technician at Ford Motor Company, and soon thereafter to Jamaica, New York, where he was employed as an inspector at Ranger Aircraft.

Yerby’s first literary success came in 1944, when he received the O. Henry Memorial Award for his short story “Health Card,” which focuses on the racial inequities faced by an African American soldier and his wife. Prior to this story, Yerby had written a protest novel about racial inequities in the South, but publishers had rejected it. Perhaps in part as a result, he began to write historical novels centering most often on white protagonists. It is from these novels that his literary reputation was built. The Foxes of Harrow (1946), in particular, laid the foundation for his career as a popular novelist by becoming the first best-selling novel by an African American author and earning him the title “king of the costume novel.” Many of his novels are set in the antebellum South and feature dashing white male protagonists who experience adventures of romance, mystery, and intrigue.

Yerby was often criticized by blacks for the lack of focus on or stereotypical treatment of African American characters in his books. Thus, ironically, while Yerby held the distinction of being the first best-selling black novelist, he also became one of the most disparaged for his lack of racial consciousness. In response to this criticism, Yerby argued that “the novelist hasn’t any right to inflict on the public his private ideas on politics, race, or religion.” He later amended this stance to a degree, and in the late 1950s and 1960s he wrote novels that touched upon issues of race and southern culture, such as The Serpent and the Staff (1958), The Garfield Honor (1961), Griffin’s Way (1962), and Speak Now (1969), which features his first African American protagonist. In 1963 Yerby completed a protest novel, The Tent of Shem, which was never published. The 1971 publication of his masterpiece, Dahomean, which focuses on the life of an enslaved African chief’s son who is transported to America, serves as the culmination of Yerby’s efforts toward incorporating racial themes into his works.

On November 29, 1991, Yerby died of congestive heart failure. At the time, he was living in Madrid, Spain, his place of residence since his self-imposed exile in 1955. Throughout his career Yerby remained a beloved native son of the South, receiving honorary degrees from Fisk University (1976) and Paine College (1977).

Suggested Reading

Black Writers: A Selection of Sketches from Contemporary Authors (Detroit: Gale, 1989), s.v. “Frank Yerby.”

Contemporary African American Novelists: A Bio-bibliographical Critical Sourcebook (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999), s.v. “Frank Yerby.”

James L. Hill, “The Anti-Heroic Hero in Frank Yerby’s Historical Novels,” Perspectives of Black Popular Culture (Bowling Green, Ohio: Popular Press, 1990).

The Oxford Companion to African American Literature (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), s.v. “Frank Yerby.”

Valerie Frazier, College of Charleston and The Citadel, Charleston, South Carolina

All text taken from the New Georgia Encyclopedia

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Black History Month: Honoring Arthur Ashe

ARTHUR ROBERT ASHE, JR (1943 - 1993)

“I don't want to be remembered for my tennis accomplishments,” he once said. “That's no contribution to society. That [tennis] was purely selfish; that was for me.”

“I have tried to keep on with my striving because this is the only hope I have of ever achieving anything worthwhile and lasting.”

“We must reach out our hand in friendship and dignity both to those who would befriend us and those who would be our enemy.”

Image Hosted by
Click on thumbnails to enlarge.

AS A TENNIS player, Arthur Ashe was one of the most prominent players of his time; an all-out competitor who rarely beat himself. His legacy, however, will be the positive changes he helped bring about and the causes he championed, both within tennis and in society as a whole. Always at his best he was for many the very definition of tennis, yet tennis never defined Arthur Ashe.

As a child growing up in segregated Richmond, Virginia, Arthur’s physical stature did little to indicate his future career as a professional athlete. "Skinny as a straw," Arthur derived countless hours of pleasure reading and listening to music with his mother, Mattie. He also showed a surprising flair for tennis from the first time he picked up a racquet. At the age of six, Mattie passed away suddenly. Though heartbroken, Arthur’s memory of his beloved mother was a source of inspiration throughout his life.

Upon graduation from high school, Arthur was good enough to earn a tennis scholarship to UCLA. It was at UCLA that Arthur earned recognition for his tennis abilities on a national level, culminating with an individual and team NCAA championship in 1965. He was also growing as a person as well, graduating in 1966 with a BA in Business Administration.

Ashe was selected in 1963 to represent the United States in Davis Cup play, an honor in which he took great pride. In doing so, he also became the first African-American to be selected to play for the United States team. In actuality, Arthur Ashe was a trailblazer for African-American males in tennis every time he succeeded on the court, in much the same fashion as Althea Gibson had for African-American females some 10 years earlier. The relevancy of these accomplishments was not lost on Ashe. His determination to succeed despite being an outcast in a historically white sport was put to an even greater test in 1969.

In a year (1969) when he was basking in the international fame he had gained the previous year after winning the US Open and playing a key role on the United States winning Davis Cup team, two separate issues came to the forefront and helped shape Arthur the activist, a role he never ran from throughout his life if he believed in the cause. At a time when tennis’ popularity was growing by leaps and bounds, the amount of prize money being offered to the players, the "drawing cards," was lagging disproportionately behind. Ashe and several other players formed in 1969, what later became known as the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals). It is from this small and visionary beginning that today's top players enjoy the large sums of prize money for which they compete. Later that year, as the #1-ranked American and one of the best players in the world, Arthur applied for a visa to play in the South African Open, a prestigious event. His visa was denied because of the color of his skin. Though Arthur was well aware that this would probably be the case, he decided to take a bold stand. His call for expulsion from South Africa from the tennis tour and Davis Cup play was quickly supported by numerous prominent individuals and organizations, both in and out of the tennis world. In effect, he raised the world’s awareness to the oppressive form of government (apartheid) of South Africa. Buoyed by Arthur Ashe’s initial efforts, blacks in South Africa slowly but surely began to see change come about in their country.

By the mid-1970’s, people began to whisper that perhaps Arthur was spending too much time on his causes and not enough time on his game. It was from this realization that Arthur began to refocus on his game, determined to reach the level of play he once enjoyed. In 1975, at the age of 31, Arthur Ashe enjoyed one of his finest seasons ever and one of the shining moments of his career by winning Wimbledon. He also attained the ultimate ranking of #1 in the world.

Following his retirement in 1980, and unexpected heart surgeries in 1979 and 1983, Arthur began reaping awards and branching off into other professional areas, including journalism, the media and philanthropic endeavors. Included among those were positions as a commentator for HBO Sports and ABC Sports, as a columnist for The Washington Post and Tennis magazine, the publishing of Arthur’s 3-volume body of work, “A Hard Road To Glory,” a stint as captain of the US Davis Cup team, a well-deserved election to the Tennis Hall of Fame in 1985, and the founding of numerous charitable organizations, including the National Junior Tennis League, the ABC Cities Tennis Program, the Athlete-Career Connection, and the Safe Passage Foundation.

Arthur looked to be making a smooth transition into the second-half of his life, even becoming a father in 1986, when his daughter Camera Elizabeth arrived. During a doctor’s exam in 1988, however, the Ashe’s lives were irrevocably changed.

While in the hospital for brain surgery, Arthur received the overwhelming news that he was HIV-Positive. He had contracted the virus through a tainted transfusion during his two heart surgeries, almost certainly the second in 1983. Wishing to maintain his and his family’s privacy, and well-aware of the prejudice and paranoia that was often associated with the disease during its first years of existence, the Ashe’s, with help from close friends and trusted medical advisors, were able to keep the startling information from the public’s awareness. At issue were Arthur and Jeanne’s desire to raise their daughter Camera in as normal an environment as possible, a desire that would have been made impossible with a public disclosure.

Because of pressure from a national newspaper that was indicating they had on good record that he had AIDS, Arthur, rather than let the rumors persist, elected to make his condition known to the world through a scheduled a press conference on the morning of April 8, 1992. The knowledge that his life and the lives of his family members would forever be altered was foremost on Arthur’s mind. After his admission to the world, an outpouring of compassion and support arrived, inspiring Arthur to begin AAFDA. This outpouring can only perhaps be compared to the day Lou Gehrig announced his retirement and contraction of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Arthur Ashe passed away on February 6, 1993, having raised awareness of AIDS to a level where paranoia was no longer the overriding emotion.

For Arthur Ashe, tennis was a means to an end. What began on the public recreation courts in Richmond, Virginia, ultimately became a lucrative, illustrious 10-year career. In between were many honors and awards, including three Grand Slam singles titles and over 800 career victories. But for Arthur, it was always more than personal glory and individual accolades. Rather, it was the knowledge that his status as an elite tennis player afforded him a unique and worldwide platform to speak out about inequities, both in the tennis world and society as a whole. That in and of itself was unique, but not outstanding. Arthur stood out when he chose to utilize his status to bring about change. That is what makes his legacy so unique and important.

Grand Slam Achievements
Austrailian Open Singles Finalist 1966
Austrailian Open Singles Finalist 1967
U.S. Open Singles Champion 1968
Austrailian Open Singles Champion 1970
French Open Doubles Finalist 1970
Austrailian Open Singles Finalist 1971
French Open Doubles Champion (Marty Riessen) 1971
Wimbledon Doubles Finalist 1971
U.S. Open Singles Finalist 1972
Wimbledon Singles Champion 1975
Austrailian Open Doubles Champion (Tony Roche) 1977

Other Tournament Wins
Wins South African Open doubles title with Tom Okker, 1973
U.S. Amateur Title, 1968
U.S. Men's Clay Court Championship, 1967
NCAA singles and doubles champion, 1965
U.S. intercollegiate championships, 1965
U.S. Men's Hard Court Championship, 1963
U.S. Davis Cup Tennis Team, member, beginning 1963
Wins the U.S. Men's Hardcourt championships, 1963
Played in numerous tennis championships, including National Indoor Junior Tennis Championship, 1960 & 1961
Wins the National Interscholastic's, 1960

Awards, Honors, Tributes
• National College Athletic Association (NCAA) All-American, 1963-1965

• Winner of 1964 Johnston Award, prestigious honor awarded annually to the American tennis player who contributes the most to the growth of the sport while exhibiting good sportsmanship and character.

• Named Player of the Year, Association of Tennis Profiles, 1975

• Laurel Wreath Award from Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, 1986

• Inducted into UCLA Sports Hall of Fame, the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame, the Eastern Tennis Association Hall of Fame, and the U.S. Professional Tennis Association Hall of Fame

A Hard Road To Glory, Ashe’s three-volume history of the African-American athlete that chronicles progress made and obstacles overcome from the period 1619-1918, was published in 1988 and soon thereafter adapted for television, ultimately winning an EMMY Award.

• Received honorary doctorates from numerous higher institutions during his lifetime from Dartmouth College, LeMoyne-Owen College, Princeton University, Saint John’s University, Trinity University, Hartford College, and Virginia Union University.

• Named Sport Illustrated Sportsman of the Year in 1992.

• Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipient (1993)

• A tennis club in Manayunk, Pennsylvania, has been named in Ashe's honor.

• Center named the Ashe Athletic Center in Richmond, Virginia.

• Statue erected on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia, 1996.

• Stadium named in his honor in Flushing Meadows, New York, 1997 where the US Open is held.

(All photos and text from the Official Arthur Ashe Website)

Related Articles
New Web Site, Rare Legacy

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Happy Valentine’s Day

I also want to wish my father Happy Birthday. He turns 87 today.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Black History Month: Honoring Audre Lorde

AUDRE LORDE (1934-1992) - Audrey Geraldine Lorde was born on February 18, 1934 in New York City. She decided to drop the y from the end of her name at a young age, setting a precedent in her life of self determination. She was the daughter of Caribbean immigrants who settled in Harlem. She graduated from Columbia University and Hunter College, where she later held the prestigious post of Thomas Hunter Chair of Literature. She was married for eight years in the 1960s, and had two children, Elizabeth and Jonathan.

Lorde was a self-described “Black lesbian, mother, warrior, poet.” However, her life was one that could not be summed up in a phrase.

Audre Lorde the Poet

Lorde collected a host of awards and honors, including the Walt Whitman Citation of Merit, which conferred the mantle of New York State poet for 1991-93. In designating her New York State’s Poet Laureate, the Governor, Mario Cuomo, said: “Her imagination is charged by a sharp sense of racial injustice and cruelty, of sexual prejudice . . . She cries out against it as the voice of indignant humanity. Audre Lorde is the voice of the eloquent outsider who speaks in a language that can reach and touch people everywhere.”

Her first poem was published in Seventeen magazine while she was still in high school. The administration of the high school felt that her work was too romantic for publication in their literary journal. Lorde went on to publish over a dozen books on poetry, and six books of prose.

Audre Lorde the Teacher and Activist

Lorde worked as a librarian while refining her talents as a writer. In 1968, she accepted a teaching position at Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi where the violence that greeted the civil rights movement was close at hand every night. This period cemented the bond between her artistic talents and her dedication to the struggle against injustice.

Lorde went on to provide avenues of expression to future generations of writers by co-founding the Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press. She was at the center of the movement to preserve and celebrate African American culture at a time when the destruction of these institutions was on the rise. Her dedication reached around the world when she formed the Sisterhood in Support of Sisters in South Africa. She was one of the featured speakers at the first national march for gay and lesbian liberation in Washington, D.C. in 1979. In 1989, she helped organize disaster relief efforts for St. Croix in the wake of Hurricane Hugo.

Audre Lorde the Warrior

Late in life, Audre Lorde was given the African name Gamba Adisa, meaning “Warrior: She Who Makes Her Meaning Clear.” It is a name that applies to her whole life. Her struggle against opression on many fronts was expressed with a force and clarity that made her a respected voice for women, African Americans, and the Gay and Lesbian community.

Lorde’s son Jonathan Rollins recalled the warrior spirit that his mother possesed by stating that not fighting was not an option -- “We could lose. But we couldn’t not fight.”

Audre Lorde the Quotable

“The quality of light by which we scrutinize our lives has direct bearing upon the product which we live, and upon the changes which we hope to bring about through those lives.” ( Poetry Is Not A Luxury)

“When I dare to be powerful - to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”

“I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.”

“Your silence will not protect You.”

Audre Lorde the Survivor

Lorde bravely documented her 14-year battle against the cancer in The Cancer Journals and in her book of essays A Burst of Light. In the latter she wrote:

The struggle with cancer now informs all my days, but it is only another face of that continuing battle for self-determination and survival that black women fight daily, often in triumph.

She struggled against disease and a medical establishment that was frequently indifferent to cultural differences and insensitive to women’s health issues. She stood in defiance to societal rules that said that she should hide the fact that she had breast cancer.

Audre Lorde, died in St Croix, Virgin Islands, on November 17, 1992. Her spirit fights on.

Learn more about Audre Lorde

Read her novel/memoir Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, Crossings Press, Trumansburg, NY, 1982.
See the film “A Litany for Survival: The Life and Work of Audre Lorde” by Ada Griffith and Michelle Parkerson, 1994.
Read the award winning book A Burst of Light, Firebrand Books, Ithica, NY, 1989.

(Above text taken from

A Tribute to Audre Lorde
Audre Lorde: New York State Poet Laureate

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Black History Month: Honoring George H. White

GEORGE HENRY WHITE (1852-1918) is a distant cousin of mine as my genealogical research indicated while searching for my birth relatives. He is the first cousin of Samuel Edward Lee White, my great great grandfather (my birth mother’s father’s father’s father). I set out to honor him for Black History Month by including a biography from the book about his life George Henry White: An Even Chance in the Race of Life, by Benjamin R. Justesen.

How timely, then, is the following article from The Wilmington Journal:

The Wilmington Journal
Originally posted 2/5/2007

WASHINGTON, D.C. - On the anniversary of former U.S. Rep. George Henry White’s last speech before Congress, Congressman G. K. Butterfield on Monday offered legislation that would create a postage stamp commemorating White’s life and accomplishments.

“George Henry White fearlessly and consistently stirred the conscience of America to embrace racial justice and equality for all people,” Butterfield said. “It was a life worthy of remembering.”

Butterfield said that he wanted to offer the bill to try to speed the process of honor [sic] White with a stamp produced by the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). Last year, Butterfield sent a written request to the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee (CSAC) asking that White be honored with a stamp as part of the popular Black Heritage stamp series. The request was co-signed by all 42 House members of the Congressional Black Caucus and all but one of North Carolina’s 13 House members. That request is still pending.

Additionally, Butterfield previously succeeded in naming the Tarboro Post Office in White’s honor.

The 15-member CSAC makes recommendations to the U.S. Postmaster General on which stamp proposals merit consideration. The Committee meets four times a year in Washington, D.C. At the meetings, the members review all proposals that have been received since the previous meeting.

Butterfield said that White, one of 22 black members who served in Congress between Reconstruction and 1901, gave a powerful final speech before Congress on January 29, 1901. In his speech, White predicted, “This is perhaps the Negroes’ temporary farewell to the American Congress; but let me say, Phoenix-like he will rise up some day and come again. These parting words are in behalf of an outraged, heart-broken bruised and bleeding, but God-fearing people, faithful, industrious, loyal, rising people - full of potential force.”

Butterfield also has a bill directing the Architect of the Capitol to create exhibits which depict the Congressional careers, accomplishments and contributions of the 22 African-American Members of Congress who served during the Reconstruction Era, beginning with Congressman Joseph H. Rainey of South Carolina and ending with White. Butterfield has a meeting scheduled with the Architect of the Capitol to discuss the bill later this week.

Butterfield said that his strong personal interest in history as well as White’s connection to the district spurred the legislation.

Continue reading

NEEDLESS to say, I was (and am) somewhat in awe that I can call this great man a relative, an ancestor, one of my people. And to think, he might be on a postage stamp someday.

There are a few more prominent Black Americans in my biological family tree that I intend to honor in the coming days as well.

Friday, February 09, 2007


Gay Spirituality & Culture - Stumbling on the Road to Damascus: Ted Haggard Loses out on the Opportunity of a Lifetime
The Mad Professah Lectures - Black Pro-Life MIT Professor Begins Hunger Strike To Protest Tenure Denial
Peterson Toscano's A Musing - Doin' Time with Chuck D (Oh, and Montel Williams)
Modern Fabulousity - Friday Hot Guy Blogging: Dominic Savo's reunion writings - [Search and] Reunion isn't just me doing this

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Black History Month: Honoring Althea Gibson

In 1956, Althea became the first person of her race to win the French Championship by defeating England's Angela Mortimer, 6-3, 11-9.

The world of women's tennis had not seen a player with the athletic ability and stature displayed here by Althea in 1957 at Wimbledon.

Althea is being congratulated by her gracious opponent, Darlene Hard, after defeating her in the Wimbledon finals in 1957.

Receiving the 1957 Wimbledon Singles Championship trophy from England's Queen Elizabeth.

It was quite an honor when Althea was asked to sing at this 1957 Wimbledon ball.

Althea playing the saxophone given to her by her lifelong friend and supporter Sugar Ray Robinson.

After qualifying for the Ladies Professional Golf Association in 1964, Althea played in 171 LPGA Tournaments.

Althea was one of the longest hitters in the game, on occasion, driving the ball 325 yards "if she got a tail wind."

Althea poses for a glamour shot.

Playing here during the State Department Goodwill Tour which took place in 1956.

Althea's parents, Daniel and Annie, look on as Althea is presented with the Medallion of the City by Mayor Wagner after the 1957 ticker tape parade given in recognition for her Wimbledon victory.

Althea Gibson
Born August 25, 1927 in Silver, SC. A right-hander, [she] grew up in Harlem. Her family was poor, but she was fortunate in coming to the attention of Dr. Walter Johnson, a Lynchburg VA physician who was active in the black tennis community. He became her patron as he would later for Arthur Ashe, the black champion at Forest Hills (1968) and Wimbledon (1975). Through Dr. Johnson, Gibson received better instruction and competition, and contacts were set up with the USTA to inject her into the recognized tennis scene.

A trailblazing athlete who become the first African American to win championships at Grand Slam tournaments such as Wimbledon, the French Open, the Australian Doubles and the United States Open in the late 1950s. Gibson had a scintillating amateur career in spite of segregated offerings earlier in the decade.

She won 56 singles and doubles titles during her amateur career in the 1950s before gaining international and national acclaim for her athletic prowess on the professional level in tennis.

Gibson won 11 major titles in the late 1950s, including singles titles at the French Open (1956), Wimbledon (1957, 1958) and the U. S. Open (1957, 1958), as well as three straight doubles crowns at the French Open (1956, 1957, 1958).

In 1957, she was the first black to be voted by the Associated Press as it Female Athlete of the Year. She won the honor again in 1958. After winning her second U.S. Championship, she turned professional. One year she earned a reported $100,000 in conjunction with playing a series of matches before Harlem Globetrotter basketball games.

There was no professional tennis tour in those days, so Gibson turned to the pro golf tour for a few years, but she didn't distinguish herself. She tried playing a few events after open tennis started in 1968, but she was in her 40's and too old to beat her younger opponents. She worked as a tennis teaching pro after she stopped competing.

She became New Jersey State Commissioner of Athletics in 1975, a post she held for 10 years. She then served on the State's Athletics Control Board until 1988 and the Governor's Council on Physical Fitness until 1992. On September 28, 2003 at the age of 76, Althea Gibson died in East Orange General Hospital.

The title of her autobiography, written in 1958, is "I Always Wanted to Be Somebody." To tennis fans, she always will be somebody very special. Though she didn't go looking for the role of pioneer, she was one. "If it hadn't been for her," says Billie Jean King, winner of 12 Grand Slam singles titles, "it wouldn't have been so easy for Arthur (Ashe) or the ones who followed."

Grand Slam Record
1957-1958 Wimbledon Singles Championship
1956-1958 Wimbledon Doubles Championship
1956-1958 Wimbledon Mixed-Doubles Finalist
1957-1958 USLTA Singles Championship
1957 USLTA Mixed-Doubles Championship
1957-1958 USLTA Doubles Finalist
1957-1958 USLTA Singles Championship
1957 Australian Doubles Championship
1957 Australian Singles Finalist
1956 French Singles Championship
1956 French Doubles Championship

Other Key Tournaments
1960 Pepsi Cola World Pro Tennis Singles Championship
1960 Pepsi Cola World Pro Tennis Doubles Championship
1959 Pan-American Singles Championship
1957-1958 U.S. Wightman Cup Team
1957-1958 Caribbean Championship
1957 USLTA Clay Court Championship
1957 USLTA Clay Court Women’s Doubles Championship
1956-1957 Pacific Southwest International Championship
1947-1957 American Tennis Assoc. Women’s Singles Championship
1956 Italian Singles Championship
1956, 1958 71st Pennsylvania Lawn Tennis Championship
1956 Championship of International Tournament of Italy-Palermo
1956 All-India Championship
1956 German Indoor Championship
1956 French Indoor Championship
1956 Surrey Grass Court Championship
1956 West of England Lawn Tennis
1956 International Championship, Lyons, France
1956 International Championship, Cannes, France
1956 International Championship, Monte Carlo, Monaco
1956 Eastern Grass Court Championship
1955 Rose Taubele Memorial Championship
1954-1955 New York State Championship
1953-1954 Red Rose Championship
1951 International Championship, Dortmund, Germany
1951 Frinton-by-the-Sea Championship
1950 Good Neighbor Championship
1950 Eastern Indoor Championship
1950 Caribbean Championship

Selected Awards
International Tennis Hall of Fame
National Lawn Tennis Hall of Fame
International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame
New Jersey Sports Hall of Fame
Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame
International Scholar-Athletes Hall of Fame
Black Athletes Hall of Fame
South Carolina Hall of Fame
Florida Sports Hall of Fame
Associated Press Woman Athlete of the Year (1957-1958)
First Ladies Salute First Women Award
Who’s Who in American Women
Babe Zaharias Outstanding Women Athlete of the Year
NCAA Theodore Roosevelt Award
Sports Illustrated Top 100 Greatest Female Athletes
Florida A&M Athlete of the Century
Florida Women’s Hall of Fame

All photos and text taken from

Monday, February 05, 2007

Matthew Rettenmund Reviews ‘Fumbling Toward Divinity’

MATTHEW Rettenmund, who wrote the critically-acclaimed novel Boy Culture, which will be released as a feature film in March, and pens a blog by the same name has reviewed my memoir, which this blog is named after.

Nothing else is as sensational as the brief [Jeffrey] Dahmer tale, but the book is full of small remembrances by Hickman and his newly discovered family that render it a sort of quilt to be taken in and appreciated both as a whole and part by part.

I used to work as an assistant literary agent and later as an editorial assistant at St. Martin’s Press, so I cringe at memoirs—you would not believe the mundane, artlessly realized, offensive, egolicious manuscripts (back when those existed) that I’ve sifted through. For that, I am gun-shy about memoirs. But Fumbling Toward Divinity, with its sometimes experimental prose, its clear understanding of the implications of Hickman’s story and its intellectual humor (jokes are not told, jokes are documented and preserved as insight into character), more than makes up for some of those misguided efforts.

For a reluctant reader of books like me, it was well worth the fumble with my reading glasses and my limited time for the divine pay-off.

Read entire review.

A Medley of Divas for the Ages

Pure heaven. Thanks to Craig from Los Angeles for sending this to me.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Black History Month: African Americans in Tennis

IN OBSERVANCE of Black History Month, I'll be posting tributes throughout February of Black players who have made their mark in tennis history. Since Black History Month is an American invention (well, there is a Black History Month in October in Britain as well, and who knows how many more in predominantly non-Black nations), my focus will be on Black players from the United States. However, whenever my research warrants it, I'll also pay tribute to Black players from other parts of the world.

This first entry focuses on American players through Arther Ashe. Many are missing, but I hope to fill in the gaps throughout the month.

Ora Mae Washington

American Tennis Association and Women's Basketball., January 23, 1898
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Ora Washington, who won eight ATA women's titles (1929-1937), was undefeated from 1924-1936. Washington was also a top-scoring center and coach for the African-American women's basketball team, the Philadelphia Tribunes.

American Tennis Association

Tennis Association, November 30, 1916
Washington, District of Columbia

The American Tennis Association is one of the oldest African-American sports organizations in the United States. Organized at a meeting held in the Washington, D.C., YMCA, it showcased talented African-American tennis players in the era of segregated tennis and is still an active organization. At its first championship in Baltimore in 1917, Tally Homes won the Men's Singles event and Lucy Slowe the Women's singles.

Oscar Johnson

United States Lawn Tennis Association, 1948
Los Angeles, California

In August 1948, African-American tennis junior, Oscar Johnson, played in the National Junior Public Parks championships in Griffith Park, Los Angeles; in December of the same year he competed in the National Junior Indoor championships in St. Louis.

Dr. Reginald Weir
U.S. Lawn Tennis Association, March 11, 1948
New York City, New York

Reginald Weir was the first African-American man to compete in the U.S. Indoor Lawn Tennis Championship.

Althea Gibson

U.S. Open, United States Lawn Tennis Association, August 28, 1950
Forest Hills, New York

Althea Gibson was the first African American ever to play in the U.S. Open. In 1956, she became the first African American to win a Grand Slam event, the clay surface French Open. She became the first African American to win a women's title at the U.S. Open in 1957 and repeated her victory in 1958. Althea Gibson also was the first African American to win the All-England Lawn Tennis Women's Singles Championship at Wimbledon in 1957 and repeated in 1958. After retiring from tennis, she became the first African-American woman to earn her card in the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA), in 1964.

Reginald Weir and George Stewart
U.S. Open, United States Lawn Tennis Association, August 29, 1952
Forest Hills, New York

Two years after Althea Gibson integrated the U.S. Open for women, African-American men participated. Reginald Weir became the first of the two men to compete in the first round of the Open; George Stewart played the next day.

Arthur Ashe
Davis Cup, United States Professional Tennis Association, August 1, 1963
Richmond, Virginia

Arthur Ashe was the first African-American man to dominate men's professional tennis, even though Jim Crow laws prevented him from playing on the public courts of his native Richmond. After holding championships in the American Tennis Association (the African American tennis league) from the age of 12 onwards, and winning the national intercollegiate championship as a UCLA student, he was named as the first African American to integrate the Davis Cup team. He won the U.S. National Championship and the U.S. Open in 1968, the only tennis player to accomplish this feat. He was the first African-American man to win the Australian Open (1970) and Wimbledon (1975). His three-volume history of African-American athletes, Hard Road to Glory (1988) is one of the most comprehensive studies of this subject.


Related articles
Grand Slam: history of blacks in tennis - Special Section: 1994 Black Enterprise/Pepsi-Cola Golf and Tennis Challenge celebrates Black History Month
Jim Crow tennis