The Warmth of Other Suns ~ Isabelle Wilkerson

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Been reading this wonderful book about the great migration.  I can’t say enough about it. Though I am not finished yet, there are some things I would love to share about it.

I’ve heard of the Great Migration here and there.  But never thought about it in terms of the gravity and significance of detail.

Here are some interesting, Did You Knows:

During an 8 year period, 8 million people of African descent moved North and Westward from the South. Can you imagine 8 million people per year?  Most without any assurance of what would await them.  It created such a labor crisis in Southern states, that the in some cases, white police officers would literally rip the bus or train tickets out of potential travelers hands so they couldn’t leave.  Many had to sneak out as if it were the Underground Railroad, though it was during the 1900’s.  People were lynched for plotting to leave.   Many packed themselves up in wooden boxes and had themselves shipped like cargo on trains. In spite of starting from the bottom, they were the least to use welfare and public assistance than any Caucasian immigrants coming from Europe.

Prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, (and in many cases afterwards) if you were traveling by train from the South to the North or vice verse, a person of color would have to ride the Jim Crow train car in Southern states.  It was an intricate process.  For instance, if you were traveling from Boston to South Carolina, in Boston you would board an integrated train.  You could sit where you wanted with whom you wanted.  When you got to DC however, the train would stop and the conductors would disconnect the integrated cars and attach Jim Crow segregated cars.  The passengers with melanin would have to get off their previous train car and then enter the Jim Crow cars before they crossed into Virginia. The opposite would happen if the train was coming from Virginia to Boston or New York.  Train arrives in DC, the Jim Crow cars would be disconnected and the integrated cars attached.

The two worlds (North and South) were so vastly different, that when Southern migrants came North, it was impossible to hide.  The differences were so magnified compared to a second generation “Northerner” that there was for many blacks, a reticence and resistance of the incoming black population.  They were reminded of where they came from and what they quickly tried to forget and separate from.  There were programs and classes to teach Southerners ‘how to live in the North.’  For instance, the were told not to wear head scarfs in public.  Don’t hang out your windows yelling.  Don’t walk barefoot.  It made you stand out looking beneath the race.  The migrants didn’t know any better.  Their way of living and resources was all they had.

This book interweaves these stories around 3 individuals, Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, George Swanson Starling and Robert Joseph Pershing Foster.  But most all of the historical figures we know of, from James Baldwin, Duke Ellington, Malcolm X, Adam Clayton Powell, they all are the fruits of The Great Migration. New York, Newark, (Newark was heavily populated because many Blacks heard of New York, intended to go to New York, but when the train stopped and said, “You’ve arrived in Newark,” many thought to themselves, Newark… I guess that’s it!  They thought it was New York.

It literally is the ULTIMATE American story.  I highly suggest reading this book.  The Great Migration is something that every American child should learn about in school.  It’s possibly the most Unsung story of American history.  I’ve couldn’t begin to cover the intricate and painstaking details the author put forth in giving this gift of historic significance.

For more details about the author and information on the numerous awards and acclimation this work has received, click on the link.

Message to Black Lives Matters Critics … who happen to be Black

Black folk are not monolithic.   I know that there are some in America who believe we are.  But we didn’t all agree in Africa before we were sold into slavery.  We didn’t all agree while in the state of slavery.  We didn’t all agree upon emancipation.  We didn’t all agree during Jim Crow, during the civil rights movement, even about having civil rights.  Like any other group of humans, our views differ from liberal, conservative, ambivalent, apathetic.  We are engaged, passionate and absent.  And just as we don’t agree about who is the best MC, the best basketball player of all time, or whether peanut butter is better than chocolate, we don’t all view the Black Lives Matter movement as it relates to police brutality, systematic racism and so called Black on Black crime within our neighborhoods.

Locally speaking, since Michael Brown, many of my friends have been on the forefront of protest, civil disobedience or spreading the word via social media regarding police brutality as it relates to the St. Louis Metropolitan area.  They have fought hard through the midst of resistance from many of their White counterparts, White police unions, and administrations resistant to give up the power of their privilege.  Equally true is that St. Louis is enduring a sickening amount of shootings and murders this year.  There are many reasoning and debates for the escalations of violent crimes, from lack of policing in certain North Side areas, to a mindset among Black youth that they just don’t give a damn about taking a life.  As mentioned in the first sentence, we don’t share all of the same views, therefore we don’t share the same passions.  But unfortunately, instead of respecting one another’s passions for a common goal of bettering the community as best as we can, some of us are at odds in direct conflict against the other.  Specifically, some who are righteously frustrated with the crime being committed against one another, are upset at protesters of police brutality and Black Lives Matter.  The video below from Ferguson resident Peggy Hubbard is an example.

Hubbard isn’t the only one who has expressed these sentiments.  Many of my African-American friends on social media have asked after a murder, “Where are all the protesters now? Why aren’t they protesting or holding a rally for this?”  These are similar to some of my White counterparts who refuse to acknowledge or even justify their lack of interest and subsequent support of police brutality because there are Black criminals; as if there aren’t criminals within their own group.  The difference is that White folk generally aren’t shot, chocked, tased, or mysteriously found dead while in police custody.  I’ve had those conversations with my White friends.  I’ve explained to them, that there are differences in community concern about criminal behavior vs state sponsored oppression and brutality.  My neighbor is a citizen, my police, prosecutors and judges are compensated with tax dollars that I participate in contributing towards.  These have taken an oath to protect and serve righteously for all of it’s citizens.  Contrary to popular belief, we can actually care about both equally.  Not to mention if there is a murder or a robbery in my neighborhood, more times than not we are looking to those same police to solve those crimes and remove those criminals from among us.  Some of us believe these crimes aren’t as vigorously investigated in our neighborhoods as they would in a White neighborhood; thus the cycle continues.

What is missed however, is that there are and have been activities standing up for victims of violent crimes.  They may not be as prevalent or publicly covered as those against police brutality.   But they are there.

http://http://http://www.wsiltv.com/home/top-story/Hundreds-March-to-Stop-the-Violence-in-St-Louis-321964351.html

http://http://fox2now.com/2014/06/01/prayer-vigil-held-to-stop-the-violence-in-st-louis/

http://http://fox2now.com/2015/07/29/funeral-directors-and-morticians-to-hold-stop-the-violence-rally-this-sunday/

Thus my message isn’t to my White counterparts who are anti-Black Lives Matter or anti-police brutality against people of color; though they can get some too if they like.  But specifically to those who like Ms. Hubbard, single mother with a son who is incarcerated, to my Black friends who poo poo the folk fighting the system of government oppression because they think these protesters should protest all things Black struggle, is get off your asses and do it yourself!  If there aren’t enough black protest and rallies against crime in your view, then dammit start one.  Gather like minded individuals, organize and get your asses out in these streets.  Why  be in conflict with your brothers and sisters who are fighting for your right to be equally valued lawfully in the system in which we all rely to a certain extent.  If I am in danger and I can’t solve the issue, I’m calling the police.  I have police who are good friends of mine.  But that prevent me from having a passion against police who are out to kill me.  There is no conflict for me to love my police friends while jamming Fuck The Police in my ride simultaneously.  It seems to me that the folk who DO have the problem are sitting at their computers or making videos or posting empty challenges to folk who are doing something, because they aren’t doing a damn thing.

I have given three examples of people who are making a difference in partaking in efforts that are related to our community, though not the same exact focus.  Hell I’ll throw in a fourth just for good measure.

http://http://fox2now.com/2015/04/29/homicide-in-north-st-louis-highlights-we-must-stop-killing-each-other-campaign/

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The point is, even if you are not a good organizer, there are some people doing some things in the area of crime in Black neighborhoods.  Join them.  It’s just plain ignorant and unproductive to ask those who are focused on police brutality to do your damn passion too.  Get off the sidelines, and do something and make us all stronger.  If not, then by all means stay in your lane and STFU!

Of Michael Sam, Black Folk and the Deity Factor

When I was at Webster University I took a class called Religion and Political Conflict.  It was one of my favorite classes, as it inspired critical thinking. Our professor, Chris Parr assigned us a paper asking the question: Why do people threaten violence and wage war in the name of religion?  I titled my response paper, “The Deity Factor.’

The basic premise is that a person will do most anything no matter how heinous if they believe the orders are from their highest power.  As much good that is done in this world for the sake of the deity factor, there are just as many if not more evil done against mankind. This could range from feeding the poor, evangelism, or strapping a pack of C4 on their bodies and killing innocent people. Logic and self analysis fall to the deity.  This is because the follower believes his/her eternal state depends on pleasing the deity.  Frankly, when dogmatic belief is serious enough, one would do anything to satisfy that longing to be approved of by his god.

What is interesting about the deity factor, is that it’s easy for those to believe their own illogical ideologies, while thinking others are ridiculous.  For instance, I can’t understand how radical Muslim extremist believe that the reward for martyrdom is 72 virgins in the great by and by.  I mean, you blew your body to pieces, and dead people can’t have physical sex.  And what does that say about a female martyr?  She can’t have 72  fresh penises because the sexism that rules on earth carries over to heaven or paradise. Sounds like a raw deal for the sisters to me!

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Unnamed female Islamic radical

There is a segment of the White Christians who inherently believe that they are superior to all others based on their color.  They have used their interpretations of the bible to justify slavery then, and status now.

As silly as that martyr/virgin sounds to most, many Christians, don’t see the similarities or hypocrisy they display when they openly discriminate against the gays and lesbians.  This seems especially true of the Black Christian community.  I’ve had a plethora of discussions with my Black  Christian socially conservative friends.  I am amazed at how they hand select scriptures that supports their discriminative beliefs, but turn an unapologetic blind eye to other scriptures that would make their own lives uncomfortable.  Many are otherwise intelligent and thoughtful people.  But once the dogma of the deity come into play, they turn into blind nincompoops.

I wasn’t always as passionate about supporting the LGBT community as I have been in recent years.  I had never been an all out bigoted idiot, but I certainly wasn’t a friend.  There are some elements within the gay community that still rub me the wrong way.  I still typically frown on what I view as an overly effeminate male who acts more girlish than the most girly girl I know.  I agreed with a former gay male friend of mine when he told me, “I’m gay, but I can’t stand a sissy!”  That’s on me and I’ve been working on growing above that judgment.

A more appropriate critique that I do challenge them on is wanting to be equal without embracing the ability to take a joke. I hate racism but I am able to critique black folk,  laugh at myself and my people.  No group can truly prosper and be taken seriously if its members take themselves too seriously. Some of my gay friends haven’t gotten there yet.

In a most recent conversation on social media, some black folks were asking the question, “Why does Michael Sam have to announce that he’s gay?  What is the big deal?  He’s gay…. I’m straight.  So what?”  I explained why Michal Sam made his announcement.  (As if it wasn’t obvious)  I further explained that these same people who resent Sam for making his ‘announcement,’ don’t bat an eye when a ball player is interviewed after a victory and they say, “I want to thank my lord and savior Jesus Christ who gave us the victory.”  When Kurt Warner played for the Rams, St. Louisans heard this every week.  (Unless the Rams lost and Kurt sucked)  When Tim Tebow talked about his faith 24-7, it never occurred to Christians who supported his rhetoric, that Jesus never threw a pass, never threw a block, made a devastating tackle or sacked the other team’s quarterback.  Public figures give credit to their deity thereby ‘announcing’ their religious beliefs every day.

Christians love it when famous people do it.  It confirms their own brand of faith.  On the flip side, they merely reject Sam because his gayness doesn’t jive with their brand of religion dogma.  I told my Christian friends that to reject this recognition in light of the original question they posed about Sam’s announcement is being intellectually dishonest.  Of course, neither logic, theory, nor the incredible amount of irony couldn’t crack that steel wall of dogma!

mizzou students sam

Michael Sam’s return to Mizzou Feb 15, 2014

I pointed out that… “the real issue for you wasn’t Sam making an announcement, it was what he announced.  To suggest otherwise when you applaud announcements that support their own beliefs  is hypocrisy and intellectually dishonest.  And while gays are catching hell every day, you lack empathy for their struggle while still getting pissed at white folk who are racist against you and people who look like you.”

Look, the LGBT community has been here since the beginning of civilization.   In 20 years, there may not be a such thing as a closeted gay person.  You won’t be able to pray them away… and they aren’t trying to change your minds about them.  Neither will I.  You are free to hold on to your prejudices.  Just keep in mind the flip side.

Every time you criticize them for asking for what is rightfully their’s, (which is to live and be allowed to live,) you sound just like White folk who say, “I’m tired of your black shit!  Trayvon Martin was a thug and deserved what he got!  And so did Jordan Davis. What are you crying about?  This isn’t 1964 anymore.  Don’t talk to me about disproportionate injustice and  mass incarceration rates.  You have Oprah, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods.  Dammit you have a black president for godsakes.  I never owned slaves.  Shut the hell up about racism already!   

Many Christians I know say that homosexuality and gay rights are being forced down their throats.  And yet this is the same language used in Mississippi, Alabama, and so forth when it came to Black folk as it pertains to equality.

I am certainly not going to suggest that you change your mind about approving of homosexuals.  Just as I am not looking to convince a racist white person to appreciate me for who I am.  But what I am asking you to consider is the same thing I ask of the prejudice:  

You don’t have to love me.  You don’t have to like or approve of me.  But don’t attempt to stop me from prospering.  Don’t kill me advocate or excuse violence against me.  Don’t arrest me for unjust reasons.  Don’t deny me equal opportunities.  Don’t stand in my way as I look to create a decent life for myself and feed my family.  Don’t support legislation that denies me full equal rights that you support for yourself.  Keep your prejudices if you must, but don’t exploit my life and ruin my opportunities because of them.  And dammit don’t support or excuse those who do.

If you can do that, you won’t hear me say another word!

Sports and Politics Intersect Retro Style

I was only an infant when Tommy Smith and John Carlos threw up the black fist in Mexico City; a young pup when Muhammad Ali refused to participate in the Vietnam War.  There was a time when many African-American sports figures and icons took to the streets and spoke out for social justice.  They were not afraid to lend their voices and their fame to give attention to important issues they cared about.  They were courageous enough to risk their careers if necessary to stand up for what they believed was right.

Unfortunately that was a long time ago.  Rarely do we see black superstar athletes stand up for anything having to do with more than their latest contract negotiations.  The money guys like Ali, Smith and Carlos made pales in comparison to the astronomical millions today’s athletes bank above their predecessors.

Our most successful and marketable black athletes too often stray as far away from civic issues as they can.  I will always remember Michael Jordan’s refusal to support a progressive African-American candidate Harvey Gantt for state senate in his native North Carolina.  Not because he agreed more with the politics of the infamously racist Helms, but because, “Republicans by sneakers too.”  Jordan was the symbol and poster child of the New Crossover Negro who believed it far more important to hawk product and filling his own coffers rather than possibly alienating potential buyers with moral controversy.   Tiger Woods has picked up the baton running that race with ease by denying all things black whether it be per his own heritage and identity as well as the women he chooses to marry and fool around with.  Woods is as vanilla as the ice cream in my freezer and as close to anti-black as one could be with deference to Justice Thomas.

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Whether it was the Rodney King beating, presidential races, supreme court decisions or 17 year old children with candy and a drink, sadly Jim Brown, Bill Russell and Arthur Ashe are not walking through these doors.

This is what makes the tweeted photo by LeBron James and his Miami Heat teammates in support of justice for Trayvon Martin an eye opener for me.  The Heat players live in South Florida.  Perhaps they feel the intensity of emotions even deeper than the rest of the country.  Perhaps some of the players have had their own issues with being pulled over for DWB (Driving While Black) with even more emphasis because they drive the finest cars money can buy.  I don’t know.  But I respect James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh for being a part of a symbolic show of solidarity to Trayvon’s family as well as every other young black male in the United States.  I respect them especially because they are the faces of their franchise and the league that so many Americas pays attention to.

Former NBA players Etan Thomas and Craig Hodges were no strangers to standing up for unpopular beliefs.  Hodges so much so that he was literally blackballed from the NBA after presenting former President Bush a list of social issues he thought The President should address when the Chicago Bulls visited The White House.  If Jordan makes that move, it carries more weight and no way is the biggest revenue generating player the league had ever seen pushed out the door.

So big ups to LeBron, Wade, Bosh and the rest of the Heat players.  You didn’t have to march like the old school.  But you did use the most powerful and significant tool given your generation which is social media.  And for me, that speaks volumes!

Miami_Heat_for_Trayvon

Of Parenting, Fatherhood and Grace

It was June 5, 2010.  My son Christian had just graduated from East Paulding High School in Dallas, Georgia.  The ceremony, held outdoors at the athletic field was hot, crowded and awesome.  It seemed like more than a thousand graduates.  Caps and gowns covered nearly the entire field.

 Soon after the festivities, I told my son Alex (one year younger than the older graduate), “Just think, this will be you next year.  And you will be wearing the white robe and sitting in the front where the honor students sit.”  Alex said, “Well dad I don’t know about that.”  I assured him that there would be no doubt. 

 Alex is my fourth of 5th biological children.  And it seemed as each one began to grow up, I became a better father and a better teacher.  I don’t know if I helped my two elder daughters at school much at all, other than to offer encouragement and help with a homework assignment or three.  Not that I wasn’t interested.  I went to parent teacher conferences, showed up at whatever activity they were doing, and followed up on all of their progress.  They were motivated young women in regards to their primary education. 

 Charelle

 Charelle, for instance, was always a “Five-Tool” type of player. (To borrow a sports analogy)  She was excellent in math, science, english, reading, art; you name it.  I recall checking on her progress with her teachers in high school.  One teacher in particular looked at me and said, “You’re Charelle’s father right?  Don’t bother wasting your time.  Nothing I can tell you about this girl.  She’s got it!”  In addition, she was tremendously popular too; something I never was in any level of schooling.

Chrystal, talented in her own right, I recall being especially great at art.  My biggest challenge with her was fighting over what items she created that I could keep for myself after the art exhibits.  I wanted them all.  She was also popular and was able to hang with literally any crowd and thrive.  Something I also could not do at her age.

Back to Christian, he was always a decent student.  But he seemed to thrive more on the creative.  He could get an A in any given class if he wanted to; if he was interested enough.  What was really impressive about the time of his graduation is that his journey was featured in a local newspaper detailing what it took for him to graduate overcoming many obstacles.  Oh and did I mention, he too was very popular among peers.

 Chrystal

By the time I had any clue of what I was doing to help with my kid’s education; since Charelle and Chrystal were already accomplished, my focus was on Alex and Christian during their latter school years.  While I wasn’t sharpest knife in the drawer and half of the work they did was way past my expertise, I focused on what I was good at.  Simplifying the process and helping them to see the big picture of life lessons and personal accountability.  These are what I would offer them: 

  • By the end of the first week of school, you should know exactly what it takes to get an A out of each class you take.  If you don’t know by the end of the first week, ask.

  • I honestly could give a damn about whether you make an A or a D.  The issue is to never ever cheat yourself.  Never be lazy or content.  If you got an A only because of your ability but did not maximize your efforts in the class, it doesn’t do anything for you in the long run.  But if you got a D and worked your ass off, you can be proud of it.  Only YOU know the difference.  And that’s the person who counts.  Just be excellent and let the results speak for themselves.  This is what being a leader and not a follower is all about.  Be a leader!

  • Some teachers are great, and some suck.  Those that suck still have the pen that you will be graded with.  That grade will follow you.  So you must learn to make the best of those classes as well, if for no other reason than to get your grade and get the hell out.  Teachers are like bosses and co-workers.  Even with the ones that suck, you still have to learn to work with them to be successful in life.

Christian

Thus were the abiding principals I would hammer home regardless of the situation or circumstance.  Every year we would have long conversations revolving around these somehow. I tried to capture their imaginations.  I wanted my sons to envision themselves as adult men in life, not just boys in school.  Most times I couldn’t tell what they thought of it.  And I didn’t spend too much time wondering.  I felt I did my job and gave them what I had.  Ultimately they had to decide for themselves.

Then it happened on May 30th 2011.  I’m back at East Paulding for Alex’s graduation.  The ceremony had just wrapped up. There were several hundred students, parents and family members walking on the field taking pictures and celebrating.  Alex seemed as pleased as I was to soak up this moment.  Then he pulled me to the side and offered this to old dad. 

“Hey!  Remember what you told me last year?  You said that I was going to wear the white robe, sit in the front and be an honors graduate.” 

“Yes I do remember,” I told him.

“You also said no matter what you do, always be excellent. I can’t believe I graduated with honors.  It was hard work man.  But I did.  I always listened to you, though I know most years I didn’t act like it.” 

We both laughed.

That moment for me was one of significance because it dawned on me not only how important it is for fathers to be in their children’s lives, but how important I was to my children.  That through all of the struggles, mistakes, and second guessing I’ve done as a man and a father, my presence and support in my children’s lives makes a difference.  Then I wondered what would have happened if I had not been there.  What if I never taught my sons to be leaders and not followers?  Wow, my job has been important.

I have four adult children from ages 18-24 and they are all in college.  I give them way more credit for making their own breaks and striving for their own goals than anything I’ve done for them.  I give credit to their mothers who were there day in and day out.  I’m very proud of them all.  With each of them as well as the ones still coming up, my focus is always to train them to be adults on their own making their own contributions.  I consider myself very blessed to be a part of their lives and being able to witness their transformations.

Alex

100 Years of Black Film History – From TheRoot.com

   

Celebrating 100 Years of Black Cinema

By: Nsenga Burton Posted: February 3, 2010 at 12:27 PM

From the earliest days of film, black pioneers have imagined a better world for African Americans—a world that was often far ahead of reality.    

As we all know, February marks Black History Month. But this year, February also marks something else: The 100th anniversary of the birth of black cinema. Black cinema was making black history before Carter G. Woodson founded Negro History Week in 1926. And this week, black cinema is making history once again with the nomination of Precious: Based on the Novel Push By Sapphire for Best Picture. It’s the first time in the history of the Academy Awards that a film directed by a black director is nominated for the top award. Director Lee Daniels is following in the footsteps of those who came before him—namely, William D. Foster and Oscar Micheaux.  Oscar Micheaux is often lauded as the father of black filmmakers. But William D. Foster began producing films nearly a decade earlier than Micheaux’s first effort.

In 1910, Foster, a sports writer for the Chicago Defender, formed the Foster Photoplay Company, the first independent African-American film company. (Foster wasn’t a complete stranger to show business; he had also worked as a press agent for vaudeville stars Bert Williams and George Walker.) In 1912, Foster, produced and directed The Railroad Porter. The film paid homage to the Keystone comic chases, while attempting to address the pervasive derogatory stereotypes of blacks in film.  This was three years before D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915), a plantation fantasy credited with establishing negative stereotypes of blacks in film that still exists today. Consider the Reconstruction scene, where barefoot black legislators eat fried chicken, swill whiskey, lust after white women and pass a law that all legislators must wear shoes. Insert a cantankerous mammy, tragic mulatto, murderous buck, black rapists and a lynching, and you’ve got what is shamefully considered to be one of the greatest films of all time. 

In response to The Birth of a Nation, brothers George Perry Johnson and Noble Johnson (a Universal Pictures contract actor), founded the Lincoln Motion Picture Company in 1916, producing middle-class melodramas like The Realization of a Negro’s Ambition (1916) and the Trooper of Troop K (1917) and their most well-known film, The Birth of a Race (1918). The Johnson brothers’ movies featured black soldiers, black families and black heroes, concepts foreign to most mainstream films at that time.  Oscar Micheaux soon followed suit with The Homesteader (1919), becoming one of the most prolific filmmakers of his time. He directed over 40 films, most notably Within Our Gates (1920) and Body and Soul (1925), which featured film star Paul Robeson, and God’s Step Children (1938).

Micheaux’s films explored the issues of the day: passing, lynching, religion and criminal behavior. They were independently produced until he filed bankruptcy in 1928, reorganizing with white investors as the Micheaux Film Company. Some argue that this changed the tone and direction of his films.  Micheaux’s films attracted controversy: Some black film critics criticized his work for its portrayal of blacks, which sometimes perpetuated the same stereotypes found in mainstream films. You didn’t find these stereotypes with the work of Eloise Gist, a black woman filmmaker, who with her husband, James, made religious films. Eloise Gist, a D.C. native, drove around with a camera, shooting footage that used “real” people as actors. Her morality films, Hellbound Train and Verdict: Not Guilty, were released in 1930 and were strongly endorsed by the NAACP.   

Early black filmmakers aimed to show the full humanity of African Americans with story lines and themes that countered prevailing ideologies about blackness. Many of the films are hard to find and have “poor” production values because they were literally making something out of nothing.  

Early black cinema is an important part of American culture because it visually brought our stories to life. Without the black independent film movement, there would be very few black films today. Where would the black film canon be without the Los Angeles School of Black Filmmakers of the 1970s? Haile Gerima, Charles Burnett, Larry Clark, Pamela Jones, Jamaa Fanaka, Julie Dash, Billy Woodberry, Alile Sharon Larkin all came out of UCLA. Their films tied black stories to black political struggles with an intellectual and cultural core.Some say Melvin Van Peebles’ Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971) was revolutionary; others found it to be pornographic. Van Peebles made this cult classic for $500,000; it grossed $10 million. Without Sweet Sweetback, there would have been no space for Gordon Parks Jr., Ossie Davis and others to direct films during the blaxploitation era.

Although controversial, the blaxploitation era gave black actors, filmmakers and musicians an opportunity to make movies—at least in the beginning. During that era, one of the most profound independent films of all time emerged—Ivan Dixon and Sam Greenlee’s The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1973), which gave voice and visuals to the black power ideology that was evolving at that time. It was an unapologetic look at rebellion and literally using the masters’ tools to dismantle the masters’ house.  It wasn’t so long ago that so many people of all races didn’t believe that they would see an African-American president in their lifetime. But what some couldn’t imagine in reality, black filmmakers created in fantasy, reimagining an America where a black man could be president.

In The Man (1972), James Earl Jones stars as Douglass Dilman, a black man who becomes president of the United States after the untimely deaths of the president and speaker of the House. (The vice president was too sick to take over.) Jones brilliantly conveys the struggle over power and identity in this cult classic that shows the complexity of race and class in the Oval Office.  Historically, black cinema has been inextricably linked to social issues in our community. The controversy over Tyler Perry’s and Daniels’ films has a lot to do with class issues, something that Oscar Micheaux also experienced. While black filmmakers have broken many barriers, there is still much work to be done.

For example, Cheryl Boone Isaacs is currently the only African American among the 43 governors of Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. While African-American film directors like Antoine Fuqua and F. Gary Gray are directing films that encompass many different genres including action and suspense, black female directors like Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou) and Euzhan Palcy (A Dry White Season) have not fared as well. Black cinema has always imagined what we could never dream of in reality. Now that reality is catching up with black film, it will be fascinating to see where it goes, particularly on the independent front. Let’s think about how the concept of black cinema is being redefined when a film like Avatar features Zoe Saldana, Laz Alonso and CCH Pounder in starring roles.  

Black cinema is evolving and will continue to evolve. It did not start with Tyler Perry, nor will it end with him. There would be no Denzel Washington without Sidney Poitier and no Sidney Poitier without Paul Robeson. There would be no Halle Berry without Dorothy Dandridge, no Dorothy Dandridge without Lena Horne and Lena Horne without Fredi Washington. There would be no Hughes Brothers without the Johnson Brothers, no Lee Daniels without Spike Lee, no Gina Prince-Bythewood without Darnell Martin. There would be no Tyler Perry Company without New Millenium Studios, no New Millenium Studios without Third World Cinema.   

As in many other industries, African Americans have made their mark in film narratively, stylistically, historically, thematically, economically and aesthetically. What some call poor production values, particularly as it relates to early black films, I call a survival aesthetic—doing the best that we can with what we have. Now that we have 100 years under our belts, we will do better. No matter how much black film changes, the ways in which we interrogate society through our films will not.  

As we embark on a new decade in American society where many believe race will become less of an issue, we often forget how long black film has been around and how it has given voice—and image—to our issues.   

Black cinema is black history—and our future.   

Nsenga K. Burton Ph.D. serves as cultural critic for Creative Loafing. An assistant professor at Goucher College in Baltimore, she is a media scholar and filmmaker who recently finished Four Acts, a documentary on the 2007 public servants strike in South Africa. Follow her on Twitter.

Things I Will Remember Regarding the Inauguration

President Barack Obama told a crowd at the National Mall that America's challenges are real.

* Michelle Obama was CLEAN!  She will definitely be a who’s who of setting a precedence for fashion at an affordable rate.  Her J-Crew outfit she wore the other evening on Letterman for instance says a lot about how a woman can look her finest without spending huge amounts of money.  (Are you paying attention Sarah Palin?)

* Both Rick Warren’s and Joseph Lowery’s prayers were special and timely for different reasons.  They were also heartfelt and sincere.

* Those armored protected Caddy’s were hot!  I would love to ride in one of those!

* The crowd!  OHHHHHH the crowd!  The American people were IN THE HOUSE!  Watching it on TV I could still feel the energy.  It was the most spectacular thing I have ever seen. 

* President Obama’s speech was awesome and truly inspiring.  He optimizes for me having the presence of walk softly while carrying a big stick.  Make no mistake about it he IS the president.  And he made it clear that there is a new direction.  But he did it in a way that embraces our friends, opens the door for new friends, while letting enemies know not to sleep on the United States.  In other words, to quote an old African proverb… “Don’t let the smooth taste fool ya.”

* The Obama girls are beautiful and it will be a pleasure to see them grow up. 

* It is no coincidence that President Obama was the first president to take office the day after Martin Luther King Day. 

* They got to be lying when they said that Dick Cheney hurt his back carrying boxes.  What the heck?  Dick Cheney moves his own boxes?  I just can’t wrap my brain around that.   

* “Air And Simple Gifts” is an awesomely beautiful piece.  And if they managed to actually play it in those temperatures with cold wooden instruments, that’s even more amazing.   Regardless I need a copy of that!

* The whole process of transferring power from one administration to the other is a most majestic thing.  Former President Bush was also a gracious host – it was a first class event and something I will never forget.