Happy Birthday Michael Jackson! May you continue to live in our memories. And here is the teaser that was released for his album, History, which I have (actually, it’s my mom’s CDs, shhhh). This teaser is kind of giving off a dictator vibe, but it is cinematically appealing.
My first day of classes is cancelled for today because the MTA is still trying to recover from Hurricane Irene. Speaking of public transportation and since yesterday was the anniversary of the March on Washington and Emmett Till’s murder, the same murder that sparked the modern Civil Rights movement, I would like to give a small history of women who resisted unfair treatment while riding. Many people probably think that it started with Rosa Parks, who purposely planned to resist giving up her seat, but there were people before her who had similar experiences as Cedric the Entertainer said in Barbershop (sorry, he had a point):
1) Elizabeth Jennings Graham: She was a black schoolteacher from New York City who was involved in an important civil rights case in the 1850s, Jennings vs. Third Avenue Railroad. The main public transportation at that time was the horse-drawn streetcars on rails and they were privately-owned, which meant drivers or owners could refuse anyone. On July 16, 1854, Jennings was running late for church where she was the organist and decided to get on the Third Avenue streetcar. The conductor ordered her to get off, but she refused and police officer subsequently removed her from the car.
In the New York Tribune, a writer commented on the incident: “She got upon one of the Company’s cars last summer, on the Sabbath, to ride to church. The conductor undertook to get her off, first alleging the car was full; when that was shown to be false, he pretended the other passengers were displeased at her presence; but (when) she insisted on her rights, he took hold of her by force to expel her. She resisted. The conductor got her down on the platform, jammed her bonnet, soiled her dress and injured her person. Quite a crowd gathered, but she effectually resisted. Finally, after the car had gone on further, with the aid of a policeman they succeeded in removing her.”
Jennings refused to accept the maltreatment she received and took part in organizing a movement, which received national attention. She filed a lawsuit against the conductor and the company and Chester A. Arthur, future president of the United States, was her lawyer. In 1855, she received a verdict in her favor and was awarded damages. Also, the Third Avenue Railroad cars were desegregated. A month later, a similar incident happened to a black man on the Eight Avenue Railroad and the case was also in his favor. By 1861, New York’s public transit was fully desegregated.
2) Irene Morgan: It is a coincidence that her name is the same as the hurricane we had in New York, but she is another woman to cause a storm in movement for equal rights on public transit. In 1944, she refused to give up her seat on a Greyhound bus to a white person and was arrested and jailed. Allegedly while the sheriff was trying to arrest her, she tore up the arrest warrant, kicked him in the groin and fought with the deputy who dragged her off the bus. Her case, Irene Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia, went to the Supreme COurt in 1946. Thurgood Marshall argued the case and it resulted in a landmark ruling in which it stated that states could not enforce segregation on interstate transportation. Marshall had used to Commerce clause of the Constitution to win the case.
In 1947, her case inspired the Journey of Reconciliation in which 16 activist from Chicago’s Congress of Racial Equality rode on interstate buses to test the enforcement of the ruling. The rides were peaceful until they reached North Carolina where they encountered violence and arrests. Famous Civil Rights activist, Bayard Rustin was arrested and put on the chain gang for 22 days. This ride later inspired the Freedom Rides in 1961 after the ruling was extended to interstate bus terminals in the Boynton v. Virginia case. Still, many southern states still rejected and arrested Black passengers.
3) Claudette Colvin: On March 2, 1955 in Montgomery Alabama, the 15-year-old decided to go against the rules of the bus. Black people had to pay their fare, then get off and get back on in the back where they could only sit starting from the fifth row and back. If a White person did not have somewhere to sit, a black person in the fifth row had to get up and move farther back. Colvin had just wrote a paper at Booker T. Washington high school about discrimination against Black people in department stores and was fed up. Bus driver, Robert Cleere ordered her to move back and she refused. Although she said it was her constitutional right to sit there, she was handcuffed and arrested. The NAACP stepped in and were willing to do her case, but she became pregnant (she said she was raped) and at that time, it would not have been good publicity.
4) Mary Louise Smith: Half a year later, 18-year-old Mary Louise Smith, a Civil Rights protester in Montgomery, Alabama, returning home on the city line bus was ordered to give up her seat to a white female and she refused. She was arrested and jailed. Civil Rights activists wanted to use her as a test case to fight segregation laws, but later chose not to because her father was supposedly an alcoholic.
The list goes on as there were several others, and if you want to know more about people who stood up to discrimination on public transportation, I suggest Professor Blair L.M. Kelley’s book “Right to Ride.” Have safe travels everyone!
Blitz the Ambassador– Emmett Still
Today is the 47th anniversary of the March on Washington in which Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I Have A Dream” speech. Sadly, it is also the 56th anniversary of the lynching of Emmett Till in Mississippi and 56 years later, it still resonates. On June 26th in Jackson, Mississippi, a group of white teens purposely drove to a predominantly black area of town to “go fuck with some niggers” and the first person they found was 49-year-old James Craig Anderson near his car in a parking lot. Deryl Dedmon, Jr. led the group in severely beating and taunting Anderson with racial slurs. After they returned to their vehicles, Anderson struggled to walk away to get help and Dedmon proceeded in running Anderson over with his Ford, killing him instantly. Fortunately, all of this was caught on tape and now Dedmon is charged with murder. It is not shocking but it is sad to think that to this day, people still have that much hatred towards a person, especially someone they have never met, only because of the person’s physical appearance.
Bob Dylan- Emmett Till
This is the tenth anniversary of Aaliyah leaving us and I still miss her. Very few Hip-Hop/R&B singers today can compare to how cool she was as a singer, dancer and budding actress. To this day, I still listen to all three of her albums that she made before she passed and wonder how far she would have gone if she were still alive. Above is her cover of Soul legend, Marvin Gaye, “Gotta Give It Up” and below is her cover of the Isley Brother’s “At Your Best (You Are Love).” We miss you, Aaliyah!
“The Rise of Planet of the Apes” came out in theaters this month. Entertainment is never just entertainment; it is always feeding into the zeitgeist of the time. So, I started to think about the use of monkeys and apes in media, especially film, and their social and even racial symbolism. Is it a coincidence that as revolts and revolutions are taking place that producers decided to release this film? Colored people, especially Black people, have often been portrayed as apes or monkeys (which is funny because they have straight hair and thin lips, only the nose would be comparable). Looking back in film history, these types of films often were popular during times of major social unrest, especially racial tension in the country.
For example, one of the first was the 1933 “King Kong” film. This film was released during the Great Depression, during the height of the second formation of the Klu Klux Klan and during the Scottsboro Boys case. Often during times of economic hardship, people tend to scapegoat those who are considered “the other” in a society. Moreover, this was not a long time after WWI (and their scramble for Africa), abolition of slavery and reconstruction, the start of Jim Crow laws, and the migration of Black people to major cities in the US. Hence, the reasons why this movie came out during that time.
Within the film, there are racial undertones and several racial references. It starts out with a film crew going to an exotic land, Skull Island (exploration?) and they come across a tribe of black people dressed in gorilla arms (black people are like apes), whose king is a big black ape (hmmm). King Kong (whose name is similar to Congo) wants a bride (but not a female ape, a female human) and ends up wanting Ann, the white woman on the film crew (aka black man wants white woman meme). After he runs off with Ann, he is eventually captured, put in chains, taken to the ship and taken to New York City. In the city, he is put on display on stage, still in chains (kind of like an auction block), and becomes angry enough that he breaks free and escapes into the city (runaways, abolition, migration to the city). He goes looking for Ann and takes her away (once again, the fear of white men that black men will take their white women). King Kong ends up going up the Empire State building (the tallest building of the world at that time, represented the height of America’s power and a phallic symbol aka Kong has a big one) with Ann and is then shot down by airplanes (police and military attacks on colored people). Supposedly at the end of the film at the premiere was a sign that said Kill King Kong, the initials of which are KKK.
This use of apes, gorillas and monkeys to suggest that certain people are primal and barbaric was not knew either (and often plays on the “Beauty and the Beast” tale). H.R. Hopps 1917 poster, “Destroy This Mad Brute, Enlist U.S. Army,” was used during World War I to get young men to enlist by instilling a fear of foreign nations, such as Germany. This is the description of it on this website: “In this recruiting poster, a King Kong-type gorilla wears a German World War I helmet and holds a bloody club with the word “Kultur” inscribed on its shaft. The ape carries a fainting young maiden in its arms as it steps onto the American shore. The ruins of Europe in the background suggest that the same fate awaits the United States if no action is taken. This dehumanized figure left a lasting impression on the German public. The ape image would reappear later in a Nazi poster as a symbol of Allied intolerance.” And this image continues to today, such as with the Vogue cover with Lebron James and Gisele Bundchen in April 2008.
After King Kong, there was 1949’s “Mighty Joe Young,” which came out after World War II, when Blacks began to demand their rights after coming home from war. The film was made by the same people who did King Kong. However, this was not as popular as 1968’s “The Planet of the Apes,” which came out during the Civil Rights Movement and the beginning of the Black Power movement. An astronaut crew lands on a strange planet (exploration theme again) and they come across a land of apes who evolved to have human-like characteristics (like the tribe on Skull Island) and have dominated over the humans on the planet (fear of “the others” taking over).
The 2001 remake of “Planet of the Apes” did make several racial references, too, such as to Rodney King. Now we come to the remake of “King Kong” in 2005, which is during the War on Terrorism and the War in Iraq. This is when fear of Muslims, illegal immigrants and other brown-skinned people received more coverage in the media. Fear of “the exotic other” gained attention and expanded to other people of color, culminating into the release of “The Rise of the Planet of the Apes” this month at a time where most of the revolutions that are gaining media attention are in Africa and Middle East. Although, there are many complaints about how lackluster this film is, it probably still has some of the same undertones that other ape and monkey films have had in the past. As you have read, the art that connects the most with people is often grounded in what is going on at that time and what is going on at the time often cannot be avoided.
“It began with the beat of the drum. With the beat, came a voice for those without one. From this voice, came a movement. Overcoming the odds, the originators of hip hop took their music from block parties of New York City streets to world wide radio waves. During the early years, the music and message reached new heights by exploring humanity, politics, and street life, while keeping it real and having fun. But what ever happened to hip hop? Currently the most pervasive music worldwide, its roots have been forgotten, its message perverted. With hip hop in the spotlight, it’s time to put it back on track. This documentary presents views from hip hop founders, contributors, and artists in an attempt to return its audience to the four principles: Peace, Love, Unity, and Having Fun”
Produced by Sonali Aggarwal, the documentary, which features interviews from KRS-One, Afrika Bambaattaa, MC Lyte, Slick Rick, Nikki Giovanni, Jean Grae and several others, covers the evolution of Hip-Hop from its local origins to the global and commercialized phenomenon it is now. Why has Hip-Hop become globally popular? What is the difference between Hip-Hop and Rap? What are Afrika Bambaatta’s four principles and four elements (and later nine elements) of Hip-Hop? How have mainstream music industry and corporations limited the number of voices in Hip-Hop and influenced audiences’ musical tastes? How the Jazz era connect to Hip-Hop generation? Should today’s Hip-Hop be called Hip-Pop? Has Hip-Hop been on a decline and what does the future of Hip-Hop look like? All are discussed in this film. Enjoy!
Revolution: From the latin words, re + volvere, volgere, which means to roll back, turn back around or return.
Everyday I pass by this work of art when I am going in and out of my room. This is one of my favorite prints that I have on my wall not only because it is a beautiful piece of art, but also because of the history behind it. Painted by French artist, Sabbio, “La Mulatresse Solitude” is her depiction of a legendary enslaved woman from Guadeloupe named Solitude.
Solitude was born in 1772, the daughter of an African woman and French sailor. In 1794, slavery was abolished in Guadeloupe and she was able to live freely until 1802, when Napoleon restored slavery in the French colonies. After that, Solitude became a maroon and joined other revolters like Louis Delgres. Solitude was known as a fierce fighter, swinging a machete at French General Richepance and his troops. She was injured in an explosion that killed Delgres and his other comrades, and was later captured. At the time she was pregnant, so she was not immediately put to death. Instead, the French decided to execute her the day after she gave birth, which was Nov. 29, 1802. No one knows what happened to her child.
Solitude’s story has inspired many, including author Andre Schwarz-Bart, who wrote the book, “A Woman Named Solitude” in 1972. In 1999, a sculpture in remembrance of Solitude and the abolition of slavery was installed at the De La Croix roundabout intersection on the Boulevard des Heroes in Abymes, Guadeloupe.
During the recent London riots, David Starkey, a British historian (oh, the irony), had quite a few disparaging comments to say about the rioters and Black people, including that the “Whites have become Black.” Nabil Abdul Rashid, a British comedian, decided to do a rebuttal, giving Mr. Starkey another side to the story. Ouch!
This will be a new segment in my blog where I highlight artists, musicians, filmmakers, etc. who blend together influences from the past and present to create new, even futuristic, stories. The first post is of the South African rock band, Blk Jks (pronounced Black Jacks). Besides performing with Alicia Keys at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, they were also labeled the “African TV on the Radio.” These guys do have a lot of potential. This band’s sound defies definition because of their fusion of several styles – rock, traditional South African music (ex. kwaito), reggae, ska, jazz, blues and much more. Also, the band’s album title for its 2009 release, “After Robots,” adds to its afro-futuristic and somewhat alienish character (not mention the album was released a few weeks after the controversial sci-fi movie District 9 came to theaters).
Check out their blog, “What If You Were 40,000 Years Old?” and listen to some of their songs below: