Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White

Posted in Biography, Books, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Louisiana, Media Archive, Monographs, Passing, United States on 2016-12-15 01:20Z by Steven

Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White

HarperCollins
2016-12-06
560 pages
Trimsize: 6 in (w) x 9 in (h) x 1.679 in (d)
Hardcover ISBN: 9780061732997
E-book ISBN: 9780062098054

Michael Tisserand

In the tradition of Schulz and Peanuts, an epic and revelatory biography of Krazy Kat creator George Herriman that explores the turbulent time and place from which he emerged—and the deep secret he explored through his art.

The creator of the greatest comic strip in history finally gets his due—in an eye-opening biography that lays bare the truth about his art, his heritage, and his life on America’s color line. A native of nineteenth-century New Orleans, George Herriman came of age as an illustrator, journalist, and cartoonist in the boomtown of Los Angeles and the wild metropolis of New York. Appearing in the biggest newspapers of the early twentieth century—including those owned by William Randolph Hearst—Herriman’s Krazy Kat cartoons quickly propelled him to fame. Although fitfully popular with readers of the period, his work has been widely credited with elevating cartoons from daily amusements to anarchic art.

Herriman used his work to explore the human condition, creating a modernist fantasia that was inspired by the landscapes he discovered in his travels—from chaotic urban life to the Beckett-like desert vistas of the Southwest. Yet underlying his own life—and often emerging from the contours of his very public art—was a very private secret: known as “the Greek” for his swarthy complexion and curly hair, Herriman was actually African American, born to a prominent Creole family that hid its racial identity in the dangerous days of Reconstruction.

Drawing on exhaustive original research into Herriman’s family history, interviews with surviving friends and family, and deep analysis of the artist’s work and surviving written records, Michael Tisserand brings this little-understood figure to vivid life, paying homage to a visionary artist who helped shape modern culture.

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Secrets and Lies

Posted in Articles, Biography, Louisiana, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2016-12-03 00:14Z by Steven

Secrets and Lies

Ms. Magazine blog
Ms. Magazine
2016-05-17

Gail Lukasik

The following is an excerpt from White Like Her: My Family’s Story of Race and Racial Identity.

In 1995 when I discovered my mother’s black heritage, she made me promise never to tell her secret until she died. I kept her secret for 17 years. Nine months after her death in 2015, I appeared on PBS’s Genealogy Roadshow and revealed to 1.5 million people that my mother had passed for white. Three days later the family she never knew found me. “Secrets and Lies” recounts the stories my mother told me about her life in New Orleans before she came north to marry my father. After I uncovered her racial secret, I realized her stories held clues to her racial identity and the hardships she endured as a mixed race woman in Jim Crow south.

Parma, Ohio

When I was a young girl my mother would tell me about her life in New Orleans before she came north to Ohio to marry my father. Each story so carefully fashioned, so artfully told I never questioned their validity. It was one of the rare times I’d be allowed to sit on my parents’ double bed in the cramped downstairs bedroom that faced the street, its north window inches from the neighbor’s driveway where a dog barked sometimes into the night.

The room was pristine with its satiny floral bedspread, crisscrossed white lacy curtains and fringed shades. Area rugs surrounded the bed like islands of color over the amber shag carpet. A large dresser held my mother’s perfumes neatly arranged on a mirrored tray. An assortment of tiny prayer books rested on a side table beside a rosary. Over the bed was a painting of a street scene that could be Paris or New Orleans, colorful and dreamy. A similar painting hung in the living room.

It wasn’t until I married and left home that my father was banished to the other first floor smaller bedroom, even then he was an interloper in this feminine domain. His clothes were exiled to the front hall closet where he kept his rifle. On story days the room was a mother-daughter cove of confidences where my mother came as close as she ever would to telling me who she was, dropping clues like breadcrumbs that would take me decades to decipher. As I grew older, she confided intimacies of her marital life best shared with a mother or a sister. I was the substitute for the family left behind in New Orleans…

Read the entire excerpt here.

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Review: “Krazy” by Michael Tisserand

Posted in Articles, Biography, Book/Video Reviews, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Louisiana, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2016-12-02 23:44Z by Steven

Review: “Krazy” by Michael Tisserand

Know Louisiana: The Digital Encyclopedia of Louisiana and Home of Louisiana Cultural Vistas
2016-12-02 (Winter 2016)

Lydia Nichols

There is nothing more American than passing, the act of projecting a racial identity other than that assigned. At no other time and place in American history have necessity and opportunity so dramatically conspired to create the possibility for passing as in late 19th century New Orleans. Reconstruction had failed to establish equitable institutions for those whom the Constitution had denied 2/5 of their personhood; and by 1877, the Southern Democrats (former Confederates) had reclaimed political and social dominion over the state. As W.E.B Du Bois writes in Black Reconstruction, Louisiana’s government was to be “a government of white people, made and to be perpetuated for the exclusive political benefit of the white race.” Though identifying as neither white nor black, New Orleans’ Afro-Creoles, who had enjoyed relative mobility prior to the Civil War, were kicked out of schools and churches, cut off from quality education, and pushed to “colored cars.” It became clear that hybridity was no longer acknowledged or welcome. Well-educated, multilingual and able to pass for white, unknown numbers of Creoles left to seek whatever security their ambiguity would allow. Among them was George Joseph Herriman, a ten-year old boy who in time would become a white man and a pioneering cartoonist.

Michael Tisserand provides a painstakingly well-researched analysis of Herriman’s life and work in Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White (HarperCollins, 2016). Herriman, a man of diverse interests and experiences, created comics laden with allusions to classical literature and philosophy; written in immigrant, black and southern vernaculars; and often incorporating foreign languages. The most famous and longest-running of his comics was Krazy Kat, a gender non-conforming, color-changing cat in the southwestern desert who regularly drops philosophical gems in his own dialect of English…

Read the entire review here.

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Krazy racial rules: New biography of cartoonist George Herriman

Posted in Articles, Biography, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Louisiana, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2016-11-25 23:08Z by Steven

Krazy racial rules: New biography of cartoonist George Herriman

The Times-Picayune
New Orleans, Louisiana
2016-11-25

Doug MacCash, Arts and Entertainment Writer


New Orleans-born Krazy Kat cartoonist George Herriman (Photo by Will Connell, courtesy Michael Tisserand)

Krazy: A Life in Black and White,” the biography of Crescent City-born newspaper cartoonist extraordinaire George Herriman (1880-1944) is an absorbing study of a genius with a secret.

Herriman’s equally compelling and confounding “Krazy Kat” cartoon is considered a milestone in modern art. As New Orleans author Michael Tisserand deftly points out in his 549-page volume, the illogic of Herriman’s ink-on-paper drawings mirror the absurdity of the racial divide in early 20th-century America.

After 10 years of scouring microfilm archives, yellowed newspapers and public records, Tisserand has pieced together Herriman’s journey from his humble birth in the Treme neighborhood to heights of fame in Jazz-era New York and Los Angeles. It wasn’t easy.

“I had to teach myself to be an historian,” Tisserand said. “I didn’t anticipate the amount of difficulty it would be finding Herman’s work.”

Like a snake handler, Tisserand uncoils the confusing racial politics of New Orleans in the Jim Crow era, where the descendants of slaves and the descendants of so-called free people of color suffered segregation, discrimination and violence at the hands of the white population.

As Tisserand explains, when Herriman was 10 years old, his parents fled the South for a new beginning in California, where personal reinvention was possible. As Tisserand wrote, “Herriman was a black man born in New Orleans.” But upon reaching the Pacific, Herriman’s parents “had obscured their identity and ‘passed’ for white.”…

Read the entire article here.

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Collecting: My special focus on Louisiana’s Free People of Color.

Posted in Articles, Arts, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States on 2016-11-03 01:06Z by Steven

Collecting: My special focus on Louisiana’s Free People of Color.

Louisiana Historic and Cultural Vistas
2016-10-31

Jeremy K. Simien

It’s been said that collecting is a sickness and that a great collector will never stop collecting. I don’t know why, but I’ve always collected things. It started with fossilized rocks on the gravel playground at school, and it continued with other miscellaneous school yard obsessions, some now too embarrassing to admit. Although I will share that at the age of eleven, I was quite serious about finding rare Beanie Babies. No matter the age, I always enjoyed finding and collecting things…

…My personal desire to find and collect portraits of Free people of African descent/Creoles of color is simple. I feel that these pieces act as a crucial visual cue for a story and a message that must be told. The story of the so-called “Free People of Color” goes well beyond my personal family history and any narcissistic need for ancestral gratification. The desire to share and spread this story comes from my need to present a narrative that offers encouragement to not only people of African descent, but also other marginalized groups and persons. The narrative that I hope to present will hopefully be a message of resistance, persistence, and survival…

Read the entire article here.

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TriPod Mythbusters: Quadroon Balls And Plaçage

Posted in Articles, Audio, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2016-10-25 19:12Z by Steven

TriPod Mythbusters: Quadroon Balls And Plaçage

Tripod
WWNO 89.9 FM
New Orleans, Louisiana
2016-09-22

Laine Kaplan-Levenson, Host

There is a common myth told about 19th-century New Orleans. It goes something like this: Imagine you’re in an elegant dance hall in New Orleans in the early 1800s. Looking around, you see a large group of white men and free women of color, who were at the time called quadroons, meaning they supposedly had ¼ African ancestry. The mothers play matchmakers, and introduce their daughters to these white men, who then ask their hand in a dance.

The ballroom is fancy, and the invited guests look the part. When a match is made, a contract is drawn up. The white man agrees to take care of the young woman and any children she may have with him. This arrangement was called “plaçage.”

Charles Chamberlain teaches history at the University of New Orleans. “Plaçage is defined historically as where a white man would basically have a relationship with a free woman of color where she would be kept, so that he would provide her with a house and some form of income so that she could maintain a lifestyle.”

What Chamberlain is describing is basically a common-law marriage. And those did happen. But the idea of Quadroon Balls is way sexier, which helps explain why they get talked about so much. French Quarter tour guides walk by the Bourbon Orleans hotel and talk about the famous quadroon balls that took place inside. But try to find proof of plaçage Chamberlain says, and it’s not there…

Listen to the story here.

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Jane Doe v. State of Louisiana (1985)

Posted in Law, Louisiana, Media Archive, Statements, United States on 2016-10-08 01:50Z by Steven

Jane Doe v. State of Louisiana (1985)

Justice Ward delivered the opinion of the Court.

This appeal is brought by several members of the Guillory family, children and grandchildren of Simea Fretty and Dominique Guillory, both deceased. Six of the appellants, Marie Bernice Guillory Rougeau, Armet Guillory Fontenot, Lucy Elizabeth Guillory Parker, Suzy Elizabeth Rita Guillory Phipps, Regina Rougeau, and Tex Adam Rougeau, contend that their birth certificates, issued between the years 1919 and 1941, erroneously designate their parents as “colored”, when in fact they were white. These appellants seek a mandamus that would compel the Louisiana Department of Health and Human Resources to correct the alleged error. Two of the appellants, Theresa Guillory Rougeau and Mildred Rougeau, were never issued birth certificates. They seek a mandamus compelling the state to issue delayed birth certificates designating their parents as white. The Trial Court found that the evidence presented by appellants was insufficient to justify a mandamus.

As an alternative to their suit for mandamus, appellants challenged the constitutionality of former La. R.S. 42:267 which provided that a person having one-thirty second or less of Negro blood shall not be described or designated as “colored” by any state official. The Trial Court rejected the constitutional challenge solely on the grounds that 42:267 was held constitutional in State ex rel. Plaia v. Louisiana State Board of Health (1974).

We affirm the Trial Court judgment…

…As to the six appellants who presently have birth certificates, we find that they failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that their parents’ racial designations are incorrect. Expert testimony indicated that the very concept of the racial classification of individuals, as opposed to that of a group, is scientifically insupportable. Individual racial designations are purely social and cultural perceptions, and the evidence conclusively proves those subjective perceptions were correctly recorded at the time appellants’ birth certificates were issued. There is no proof in the record that Simea or Dominique Guillory preferred to be designated as white. They might well have been proud to be described as colored. Indeed, we have no evidence that during their lifetimes they objected to the racial designations in dispute in this case. Accordingly, we hold that the defendant state officers have no legal duty to alter the birth certificates…

Read the entire opinion here.

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The “Birther” Movement: Whites Defining Black

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Slavery, United States, Virginia on 2016-10-08 01:36Z by Steven

The “Birther” Movement: Whites Defining Black

Racism Review
2016-09-18

Dr. Terence Fitzgerald, Clinical Associate Professor
University of Southern California

Hallelujah I say, Hallelujah! Did you hear the news? Did ya? After sending a team of investigators to Hawaii, drawing the attention of the national and international media, and leading an almost six year charge of infesting the mind of those already under the influence of the white racial frame into a catnip type psychological and emotional frenzy; the “benevolent one,” Donald J. Trump, has publically and emphatically acknowledged that our President of the United States of America is—get this, “an American!” Yes it is true. Republican presidential nominee and town jester, Trump on Friday, September 16, 2016 recognized in a public forum for the first time in eight years that President Obama was indeed born in the U.S. After not only leading, but becoming synonymous with what many have described as the “birther movement,” Trump has conceded and given up on furthering the conspiracy theory that our President is not an American citizen.

…One cannot forget the history behind the 1662 Virginia law that in particular focused on the behavior directed toward mixed-race people. The notion of the ‘one drop rule’ was consequently constructed. This legal means for identifying who was Black was judicially upheld as recent as 1985 “when a Louisiana court ruled that a woman with a black great-great-great-great-grandmother could not identify herself as ‘white’ on her passport.” …

Read the entire article here.

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This Movie Was Nearly Lost. Now They’re Fighting to Save It.

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Communications/Media Studies, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, United Kingdom on 2016-09-25 21:44Z by Steven

This Movie Was Nearly Lost. Now They’re Fighting to Save It.

The New York Times
2016-09-23

John Anderson


Richard Romain in the 1982 film “Cane River.”
Credit IndieCollect

When it debuted in 1982, “Cane River” was already a rarity: a drama by an independent black filmmaker, financed by wealthy black patrons and dealing with race issues untouched by mainstream cinema. Richard Pryor had even tried to take it to Hollywood.

But since a negative resurfaced two years ago, it has attained a certain mythic quality, connecting a disparate group of people across the country: New York preservationists dedicated to restoring it; a cultural historian in Louisiana devoting an academic paper to it; an archivist in Los Angeles fascinated with it. And the director’s son, the music journalist and filmmaker Sacha Jenkins, who knew about the film but has never seen it, and who has been left with a question no small number of sons have asked about their fathers.

“Who was this guy?”…

Cane River itself is a historically multicultural area in Natchitoches Parish in Louisiana, and the movie, in addition to being a Romeo-Juliet romance, deals with land swindles perpetrated against people of color, and “colorism”— that is, social hierarchy as dictated by skin tone.

“It’s a common issue, because there was a lot of intermarriage and, of course, slavery,” said Carol Balthazar, who was Horace Jenkins’s partner, and whose family history provided the movie’s historical backdrop…

…Ms. Spann watched a bootleg DVD of “Cane River.” “I can’t think of any film that dealt with colorism in such a serious way,” she said. She is writing a paper on “Cane River” for the Louisiana Historical Society, and said some of the scenes seemed too long. Debra I. Moore, who edited the film in 1980, said there’s a good reason for that…

Read the entire article here.

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A Luminous Brotherhood: Afro-Creole Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans

Posted in Books, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, Monographs, Religion, United States on 2016-09-19 00:06Z by Steven

A Luminous Brotherhood: Afro-Creole Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans

University of North Carolina Press
September 2016
280 pages
6.125 x 9.25, 6 halftones, notes, bibl., index
Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4696-2878-3

Emily Suzanne Clark, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies
Gonzaga University, Spokane, Washington

In the midst of a nineteenth-century boom in spiritual experimentation, the Cercle Harmonique, a remarkable group of African-descended men, practiced Spiritualism in heavily Catholic New Orleans from just before the Civil War to the end of Reconstruction. In this first comprehensive history of the Cercle, Emily Suzanne Clark illuminates how highly diverse religious practices wind in significant ways through American life, culture, and history. Clark shows that the beliefs and practices of Spiritualism helped Afro-Creoles mediate the political and social changes in New Orleans, as free blacks suffered increasingly restrictive laws and then met with violent resistance to suffrage and racial equality.

Drawing on fascinating records of actual séance practices, the lives of the mediums, and larger citywide and national contexts, Clark reveals how the messages that the Cercle received from the spirit world offered its members rich religious experiences as well as a forum for political activism inspired by republican ideals. Messages from departed souls including François Rabelais, Abraham Lincoln, John Brown, Robert E. Lee, Emanuel Swedenborg, and even Confucius discussed government structures, the moral progress of humanity, and equality. The Afro-Creole Spiritualists were encouraged to continue struggling for justice in a new world where “bright” spirits would replace raced bodies.

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