Playing with Race in the Early Republic: Mr. Potter, the Ventriloquist

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, United States on 2016-06-26 22:00Z by Steven

Playing with Race in the Early Republic: Mr. Potter, the Ventriloquist

The New England Quarterly
June 2016, Volume 89, Number 2
pages 257-285
DOI: 10.1162/TNEQ_a_00530

Paul E. Johnson, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History
University of South Carolina

The first American-born stage magician and ventriloquist was an African American named Richard Potter. Potter’s stage career (1811–1835) coincided with the transition from an entertainment culture grounded in a metropolitan Atlantic world to an American show business that was nationalist and racist. This essay traces Potter’s strategies and experiences within that transformation.

Read or purchase the article here.

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A New Movie About Bob Kaufman, a Jewish African-American Street Poet Shrouded in Myth

Posted in Articles, Arts, Biography, Media Archive, United States on 2016-06-26 19:51Z by Steven

A New Movie About Bob Kaufman, a Jewish African-American Street Poet Shrouded in Myth

Tablet
2016-06-24

Jake Marmer

And When I Die, I Won’t Stay Dead does little to dispel the mystery surrounding the artist, which is why it works.

Bob Kaufman Alley, in San Francisco’s neighborhood of North Beach, is tiny—narrow and hardly a block in length. Only a smattering of locals and dedicated poetry aficionados around the world remember whom it is named after—the eccentric street poet-prophet, whose personal history remains a mystery to this day. Kaufman’s improvised street performances, his 30 (or more) arrests, Jewish and Caribbean roots, involuntary shock treatment, and decade-long vow of silence are touched on in Billy Woodberry’s And When I Die, I Won’t Stay Dead, a new documentary that honors the poet’s work and life.

Though cleaned up, these streets still bear witness to the pulse of hipness and desperation that inspired Kaufman’s “Heavy Water Blues:”

Consolidated Edison is threatening to cut off my brain,
The postman keeps putting sex in my mailbox,
My mirror died, and & can’t tell if I still reflect,
I put my eyes on a diet, my tears are gaining too much weight

Here, a classic blues-styled litany of troubles meets urban imagery, surrealism, wit, playfulness, and puns. Though self-“reflection” is one of poetry’s trademark functions, this poet is no longer so sure he’s capable of reflecting, and in any case, his mirror stares back with Picasso-like enmeshment of the body and polis, violence, humor, and sorrow…

Read the entire article here. Watch the trailer here.

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Chan

Posted in Biography, Books, Media Archive, Poetry, United Kingdom on 2016-06-23 18:09Z by Steven

Chan

Bloodaxe Books
2016-06-23
72 pages
234 x 156 mm
Paperback ISBN: 9781780372839
E-book ISBN: 9781780372846

Hannah Lowe

Chan is a mercurial name, representing the travellers and shape-shifters of the poems in this collection. It is one of the many nicknames of Hannah Lowe’s Chinese-Jamaican father, borrowed from the Polish émigré card magician Chan Canasta. It is also a name from China, where her grandfather’s story begins. Alongside these figures, there’s Joe Harriott, the Jamaican alto saxophonist, shaking up 1960s London; a cast of other long-lost family; and a ship full of dreamers sailing from Kingston to Liverpool in 1947 on the SS Ormonde.

Hannah Lowe’s second collection follows her widely acclaimed debut, Chick, which took readers on a journey round her father, a gambler who disappeared at night to play cards or dice in London’s old East End to support his family.

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Fanny Eaton: The Black Pre-Raphaelite Muse that Time Forgot

Posted in Articles, Arts, Biography, History, Media Archive, United Kingdom, Women on 2016-06-22 16:05Z by Steven

Fanny Eaton: The Black Pre-Raphaelite Muse that Time Forgot

AnOther
2016-03-07

Shola von Reynolds


Walter Fryer Stocks, British, 1842–1915: Mrs. Fanny Eaton, ca. 1859 / Black, red, and white chalk on cream wove paper / 43.2 × 34.9 cm (17 × 13 3/4 in.) / Museum purchase, Surdna Fund / 2016-1 / Princeton University Art Museum

The enigmatic model made her way to London from Jamaica in the early 19th century to sit for the Pre-Raphaelites, and her legacy lives on in their impactful work

Who? Lizzie Siddal has long reigned supreme in the minds of historians, artists and writers as the embodiment of the artist’s muse. Her fellow Pre-Raphaelite models, such as Marie Spartali, Jane Morris or Maria Zambaco are less well known, but renewed attention has given many of these women a rightful place in art history beyond the typically limited conception of “the muse”. If you haven’t heard of Fanny Eaton, however, there would be meagre cause for surprise, though surprise there should be: little exists in the way of information about her, and until recent years all that remained was the series of paintings and drawings she sat for.

Fanny Eaton was a black Victorian Londoner and, for some time, painter’s model. Born in Jamaica in 1835, Eaton was the daughter of an ex-slave and, it is suspected, a white slave owner. She came to London in the 1840s and began modelling in her twenties. It has been discovered that she was working as a regular portrait model at the Royal Academy, which is potentially where she caught the attention of the many renowned painters of the era she sat for…

Read the etnire article here.

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Florence Nightingale supporters in row over black rival’s new statue, claiming she is venerated based on ‘false achievements’

Posted in Articles, Biography, Europe, History, Media Archive, United Kingdom, Women on 2016-06-22 15:39Z by Steven

Florence Nightingale supporters in row over black rival’s new statue, claiming she is venerated based on ‘false achievements’

The Daily Mail
2016-06-20

Martin Robinson, UK Chief Reporter

Plans to give Britain’s most famous black nurse a statue have today been blasted by Florence Nightingale fans, who say it is a ‘history hoax’ because all she did was ‘sell wine and sandwiches’ in Crimea.

Mary Seacole is set to have a £500,000 bronze unveiled in her honour at St Thomas’ Hospital in London this month – the first public memorial to celebrate the ‘black pioneer nurse’.

It will be taller than Florence Nightingale’s statue in Pall Mall and Edith Cavell’s off Trafalgar Square.

And it will be unveiled this month at St Thomas Hospital where Nightingale founded her nursing school, and Seacole has no connection to whatsoever, critics say…

…Mary Seacole is regarded as our greatest black Briton, a woman who did more to advance the cause of nursing – and race relations – than almost any other individual.

On the bloody battlefields of the Crimea, she is said to have saved the lives of countless wounded soldiers, and nursed them back to health in a clinic she paid for out of her own pocket.

But some historians have long complained that she has become almost as famous as that other nursing heroine, Florence Nightingale…

…Born in Jamaica in 1805, she was the daughter of a white Scottish officer called Grant, and a Creole woman, from whom Mary learned her ‘nursing skills’. In her early 20s, Seacole married a Jamaican merchant called Edwin Seacole and travelled with him around the Caribbean, Central America and England until his death in 1844.

Seacole then set up a ‘hotel’ in the town of Cruces in Panama, where she is reputed to have treated cholera victims.

With the outbreak of the Crimean War later that year, Seacole was determined to offer her nursing services to the British, and, when she was turned down by the authorities, she paid her way to the peninsula out of her own pocket…

Read the entire article here.

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Michelle Cliff, Who Wrote of Colonialism and Racism, Dies at 69

Posted in Articles, Biography, Caribbean/Latin America, Gay & Lesbian, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2016-06-20 20:33Z by Steven

Michelle Cliff, Who Wrote of Colonialism and Racism, Dies at 69

The New York Times
2016-06-18

William Grimes


Michelle Cliff sometime in the 1980s. In 1975, she met the poet Adrienne Rich, who became her partner and died in 2012.

Michelle Cliff, a Jamaican-American writer whose novels, stories and nonfiction essays drew on her multicultural identity to probe the psychic disruptions and historical distortions wrought by colonialism and racism, died on June 12 at her home in Santa Cruz, Calif. She was 69.

The cause was liver failure, according to the Adrienne Rich Literary Trust. Ms. Cliff and Ms. Rich, the poet, were longtime partners.

Ms. Cliff’s entire creative life was a quest to give voice to suppressed histories, starting with her own. Her first essay, “Notes on Speechlessness,” written for a women’s writing group in 1978, can be read as the keynote for her subsequent work, which navigated the complexities of her life situation — she was a light-skinned black lesbian raised partly in Jamaica and partly in New York, and educated in Britain — against the broader background of the Caribbean experience…

…In her first novel, “Abeng” (1984), she introduced Clare Savage, a light-skinned 12-year-old Jamaican girl who befriends the dark-skinned Zoe, whose family squats on Clare’s grandmother’s farm. It is an idyllic relationship that cannot survive the harsh realities of race and class.

“Emotionally, the book is an autobiography,” Ms. Cliff told the reference work Contemporary Authors in 1986. “I was a girl similar to Clare and have spent most of my life and most of my work exploring my identity as a light-skinned Jamaican, the privilege and the damage that comes from that identity.”

Clare returns to Jamaica as an adult in the novel “No Telephone to Heaven” (1987), which, in a series of flashbacks, tells of her life in New York and London and her struggles to come to terms with who she is…

Read the entire obituary here.

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The Black Prince of Florence: The Spectacular Life and Treacherous World of Alessandro de’ Medici

Posted in Biography, Books, Europe, Forthcoming Media, Monographs on 2016-06-19 23:43Z by Steven

The Black Prince of Florence: The Spectacular Life and Treacherous World of Alessandro de’ Medici

Oxford University Press
2016-09-01
336 pages
6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
Hardcover ISBN-13: 9780190612726

Catherine Fletcher, Historian, Author, AHRC/BBC New Generation Thinker 2015

  • The first-ever biography of Alessandro de’ Medici, arguably the first black head of state
  • Draws on extensive archival research of first-hand sources
  • An accessible and dramatic retelling of Renaissance politics and rivalry

Ruler of Florence for seven bloody years, 1531 to 1537, Alessandro de’ Medici was arguably the first person of color to serve as a head of state in the Western world. Born out of wedlock to a dark-skinned maid and Lorenzo de’ Medici, he was the last legitimate heir to the line of Lorenzo the Magnificent. When Alessandro’s noble father died of syphilis, the family looked to him. Groomed for power, he carved a path through the backstabbing world of Italian politics in a time when cardinals, popes, and princes vied for wealth and advantage. By the age of nineteen, he was prince of Florence, inheritor of the legacy of the grandest dynasty of the Italian Renaissance.

Alessandro faced down family rivalry and enormous resistance from Florence’s oligarchs, who called him a womanizer-which he undoubtedly was—and a tyrant. Yet this real-life counterpart to Machiavelli’s Prince kept his grip on power until he was assassinated at the age of 26 during a late-night tryst arranged by his scheming cousins. After his death, his brief but colorful reign was criticized by those who had murdered him in a failed attempt to restore the Florentine republic. For the first time, the true story is told in The Black Prince of Florence.

Catherine Fletcher tells the riveting tale of Alessandro’s unexpected rise and spectacular fall, unraveling centuries-old mysteries, exposing forgeries, and bringing to life the epic personalities of the Medicis, Borgias, and others as they waged sordid campaigns to rise to the top. Drawing on new research and first-hand sources, this biography of a most intriguing Renaissance figure combines archival scholarship with discussions of race and class that are still relevant today.

Table of Contents

  • Family tree
  • Glossary of names
  • Timeline
  • Maps
  • A note on money
  • Prologue
  • Book One: The Bastard Son
  • Book Two: The Obedient Nephew
  • Book Three: The Prince Alone
  • Afterword: Alessandro’s Ethnicity
  • Acknowledgements
  • Bibliography
  • Notes
  • Index
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Pat Cleveland: Early Supermodel and Author With Many Tales

Posted in Articles, Arts, Biography, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2016-06-19 04:16Z by Steven

Pat Cleveland: Early Supermodel and Author With Many Tales

The New York Times
2016-06-15

Guy Trebay, Chief Menswear Critic


The fashion model Pat Cleveland in her home studio in New Jersey. Credit Chad Batka for The New York Times

WILLINGBORO, N.J. — The peacocks were rooting around in the bushes, strutting and pecking and ruffling their trains. Occasionally, one — Boy or Big Boy, say, or Snow White — struck a pose, tipping its beak up to emit a banshee shriek.

“They’re just a bunch of drama queens, honey,” said Pat Cleveland, as she sat in the backyard of her house in a rural part of New Jersey, sipping on a sinister-looking juice drink the color and texture of algae. Drama queens, as it happens, is a topic on which Ms. Cleveland has some stories to tell.

This she does in “Walking with the Muses,” a picaresque new memoir about a tall, skinny mixed-race girl (“not black enough to be black or white enough to be white”) hailing from a section of East Harlem that she terms the Golden Edge.

In her 1950s childhood, Ms. Cleveland writes, that neighborhood was still representative of a now largely bygone city, a place where “the Jews, the blacks, the Irish and the Puerto Ricans all had a corner of their own.”…

…American fashion, in particular, during the era when Ms. Cleveland first appeared, was also more porous and racially diverse than it would be in the subsequent decades. Success in the business was measured in those days not by social media metrics but by an ability to bewitch the cognoscenti, to make yours a name they whispered about.

And seemingly Ms. Cleveland has been an object of fascination for those around her almost from the time she was born 65 years ago to a white Swedish saxophonist and an African-American artist from the South. Soon after, Ms. Cleveland’s father, Johnny Johnston, returned to Sweden, leaving her mother, Lady Bird Cleveland, to raise her freckle-faced young daughter alone.

“If you’re a single black woman and have a Swedish lover, life is never going to be easy, and Lady Bird didn’t have the opportunities in life,” Ms. Cleveland said. “But her lesson to me was always, whatever your circumstances are, it’s up to you to create your own world.”…

…At the height of her powers, that same skinny girl from Harlem was transformed into a star on the evening of Nov. 28, 1973, when she — one of 30 black models chosen to participate in a benefit runway show held at the Palace of Versailles outside Paris — took to the stage in front of 800 guests, many of them prominent or titled, and, spinning and twirling, left little doubt in the minds of observers that the immediate future of fashion belonged not to the Old World but to the New…

Read the entire article here.

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Words of Obama’s Father Still Waiting to Be Read by His Son

Posted in Africa, Articles, Barack Obama, Biography, Media Archive, United States on 2016-06-19 00:16Z by Steven

Words of Obama’s Father Still Waiting to Be Read by His Son

The New York Times
2016-06-18

Rachel L. Swarns


Family portraits, including one of President Barack Obama’s father, center, hang in his family’s house in Kogelo, western Kenya, in 2008. Credit Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Letters written long ago by Barack Obama Sr. shed new light on a young Kenyan whose ambitions helped change the course of U.S. history. But for the president, they may also revive old pain.

The archivist stumbled across the file in a stack of boxes on the second floor of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem. The yellowing letters inside dated back more than half a century, chronicling the dreams and struggles of a young man in Kenya.

He was ambitious and impetuous, a 22-year-old clerk who could type 75 words a minute and translate English into Swahili. But he had no money for college. So he pounded away on a typewriter in Nairobi, pleading for financial aid from universities and foundations across the Atlantic.

His letters would help change the course of American history.

“It has been my long cherished ambition to further my studies in America,” he wrote in 1958. His name was Barack Hussein Obama, and his dispatches helped unleash a stream of scholarship money that carried him from Kenya to the United States. There, he fathered the child who would become the nation’s first black president, only to vanish from his son’s life a few years after his birth…

Read the entire article here.

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The Strange Career of William Ellis: The Texas Slave Who Became a Mexican Millionaire

Posted in Biography, Books, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Mexico, Monographs, Passing, Slavery, United States on 2016-06-17 20:31Z by Steven

The Strange Career of William Ellis: The Texas Slave Who Became a Mexican Millionaire

W. W. Norton & Company
2016-06-14
368 pages
6.1 × 9.3 in
Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-393-23925-6

Karl Jacoby, Professor of History
Columbia University, New York, New York

A prize-winning historian tells a new story of the black experience in America through the life of a mysterious entrepreneur.

A black child born in the twilight of slavery, William Henry Ellis inhabited a world of fraught, ambiguous racial categories on the anarchic border between the United States and Mexico. He adopted the name Guillermo Enrique Eliseo and passed as a Mexican: traveling as Hispanic in first-class train berths, staying in the finest hotels, and eating in leading restaurants. A shrewd businessman, he became fabulously wealthy and found himself involved in scandalous trials, unexpected disappearances, and diplomatic controversies. Constantly switching identities, Eliseo was a genius at identifying and exploiting the porousness of the color line and the border line.

Through Ellis’s picaresque biography, Karl Jacoby presents an intriguing narrative set in a secret and ever-changing world. The Strange Career of William Ellis reinterprets the borderlands, showing how U.S. and Mexican histories intertwined during Reconstruction, and he offers new insight into the arbitrary and evolving definitions of race in America.

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