ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
The literature of Black Memphians offers many examples of individuals
who refused to be defeated by obstacles such as racism, sexism and classism
Books by Miriam DeCosta-Willis
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An Anthology of Black Memphis Writers and Artists
Miriam DeCosta-Willis & Fannie Mitchell Delk, Editors
Philip Dotson, Art Editor
Funded by The Memphis Black Writers’ Workshop
LeMoyne-Owen College / Memphis, Tennessee / 1989
Preface by Fannie Mitchel Delk
The Memphis Black Writers’ Workshop was founded nearly a decade ago. Born in 1980 at LeMoyne-Owen College, the Workshop was the brainchild of a group of writers who longed for opportunities to develop their craft; who knew that others in the Memphis community needed kindred souls with whom to share the pleasures of literature; who longed to experience the joy of breathing life into a poem or a story or a painting or a photograph; who needed to record the sagas of their foreparents, so that the deeds of these strong men and women would live forever in the minds and hearts of the young.
The guiding philosophy of this organization of writers and painters and musicians and preachers and photographers and philosophers is that the literary arts are important to the cultural vitality of a people and of a place. Thus, the Memphis Black Writers’ Workshop aims to foster, to promote and to support creative writing in the community.
To help writers develop their craft, to encourage an appreciation of literature, to offer activities that underscore the significance of writing, and to enhance the creative and intellectual environment of Memphis–these are the objectives of the organization. To achieve these objectives, the MBWW has offered to the community, in general, and to Workshop members, in particular, poetry festivals and symposia where Dudley Randall, Sonia Sanchez, Lance Jeffers, and John Oliver Killens read from their works and conducted writing workshops. Workshop members have written vignettes on famous Black Memphians for “Lest We Forget,” a Black History Month video presentation of WHBQ television, Channel 13, and have also completed research projects on local history.
During Tennessee Homecoming ’86, the group presented “Homespun Images,” a series of programs which examined the importance of community, of home, in a writer’s work. Offered were sessions on fiction, poetry and nonfiction led by writers Arthur Flowers, Paula Giddings, and Nikki Giovanni. Fittingly, this celebration was the idea, the seed, for Homespun Images: An Anthology of Black Writers and Artists.
In rich soil, the seed was planted. Out went the call for manuscripts. In came contributions from 85 Memphians. The Editorial Review Board selected the works of 53 writers for inclusion. In rich soil, the seed grew to be a young plant, nurtured by authors and artists, examined by reviewers, proofreaders, and editors. And so, the plant that started from the seed of a homecoming celebration came to be called Homespun Images, a year-long project that is the single most ambitious project of the organization. It is at once the raison d’etre of the Memphian Black Writers’ Workshop.
Acknowledgements go to the members of the Editorial Review Board: levi Frazier, Jr., co-founder, Blues City Cultural Center; Bee Jay Freeman, MBWW member, and professor of English, Shelby State Community College; Mose Yvone Hooks, Assistant Dean of career Studies, Shelby State Community College; Rhynette Hurd, Assistant Professor of English, Memphis State University; Reginald Martin, Associate Professor of Composition, Memphis State University; and Yvonne Robinson-Jones, Associate Professor of English, Shelby State Community College. The Workshop members are also grateful to proofreaders Vera Clark and Mae Fitzgerald, both active members of the group, and Noah Bond, the immediate past chairperson of the Memphis Writers’ Workshop.
“Down Beale Street and into the Heart of Memphis”
Images of Home in the Works of Black Memphis Writers
By Miriam DeCosta-Willis
we took the train into Memphis. From this point on the panorama of the unfolding of this vivid and virile river town has been a part of my daily observation. Fred Hutchins
there came the lynching in Memphis which changed the whole course of my life. Ida B. Wells
The big passenger boat turns the bend and the Oldcity looms up on the bluff an overgrown rivertown. Home. The Oldcity and mudrich delta land that it guards is one of our strongholds. We are plentiful here. Here we are strong. A.R. Flowers
Memphis. A rivertown nestled in the bend of the Mississippi River. Steamboats, ferry boats, and cotton barges ply the dark treacherous waters before unloading their cargo on the cobblestone landing at the foot of Beale.
Memphis. A city high on the bluff, where Chickasaw Indians built towns overlooking the water and Hernando DeSoto made boats to cross the river and fur traders erected forts along the shore. A frontier town, rough and wild in those early days. Someone once called it “a primitive and Pestilential little mudhold,” but by the 1900s it was known as the Murder Capital of the World.
Memphis. The first stop on the journey north from Natchez to Chicago. Thousands poured into the city: escaped slaves came on foot in the 1860s; the sharecroppers arrived in mule-drawn wagons at the turn of the century; the more affluent drove to town in Model T Fords after World War One; and the dispossessed crowded into segregated trains during the Depression.
Memphis became home to uprooted Mississippians–country folk who brought their guitars and banjos, their colorful language and tall tales, their folk tunes and blues rhythms to the big city. Memphis became home to writers whose words and images evoked the awesome beauty of the southern landscape and the terrible quick violence of its people.
Ida B. Wells came north from Holly Springs, Mississippi in the the 1880s to teach, but she later became a journalist, describing in her diary the social events of the community–the church fairs, school programs, and literary meetings–while exposing the naked underside of the city in a series of scathing editorials, like this one in the Inter-Ocean:
. . . . three respectable colored men were lynched in cold blood in Memphis, Tenn., March 9th, 1892 . . . [As] a direct result of the Commercial Leader and the actions of the leading citizens of Memphis, May 25, 1892, my newspaper business was destroyed, my business manager run out of town, and myself threatened with death should I ever return. . . .
Fred Hutchins viewed the city somewhat differently. In the 1890s, he left Michigan City, Mississippi in a wagon and took a train to Memphis. Almost seventy years later, he wrote a book which captured the legends and anecdotes of Memphis at the turn of the century, and recorded stories about Boss Crump, W.C. Handy, Casey Jones, and the woman who predicted the fall of the city on March 5, 1906.
Hutchins was one of many Blacks who migrated from southern plantations to northern cities (although his journey was only 60 miles north to Memphis), and he conveys in his work some of the wonder and excitement (like the breathless excitement of Savannah-born Erma Calderon: “I was like Alice in Wonderland. I had never seen such beautiful scenery in all my life–all lit up. All of these people–all of these hundreds of thousands of people walking up and down the sidewalk. Well, my God!”) that the Big City as an image evoked in the imagination of country folk–an important theme in Afro-American literature of the period.
In 1900, T.O. Fuller moved to Memphis from a small town in North Carolina. A prolific writer, he presents in his autobiography a different view of the city,
The multiplicity of churches was a very interesting feature of Memphis. Forty colored Baptist churches for one city seemed a marvel. Spectacular funerals were new to me also.
A few years later, Sutton E. Griggs, who became one of the citys most prominent ministers, moved to Memphis from Texas. Griggs wrote more than nine books between 1899 and 1929, including novels which he published and promoted himself. During the same period, Miles V. Lynk, editor of an anthology and author of a play, an autobiography, and a history of the Spanish-American War, moved to Memphis from Jackson, Tennessee.
Just before the First World War, George W. Lee deserted the small sharecroppers shack on a plantation near Heathman, Mississippi and headed north to Memphis, where he became a nationally-acclaimed novelist and folklorist. Several years later, a young man, soon to be recognized as one of the most outstanding writers of the twentieth century, arrived in the Bluff City. Richard Wright recalled in his autobiography
I arrived Memphis on a cold November morning, in 1925, and lugged my suitcase down quiet,empty sidewalks through winter sunshine. I found Beale Street, the street that I had been told was filled with danger I walked down Beale Street and into the heart of Memphis, my body was thin, my overcoat shabby, and each gust of wind chilled my blood.
From Mississippi, Texas, North Carolina, and West Tennessee they camethat first generation of writers, who walked down Beale Street and into the heart of Memphis. Proud men and women, they described their extraordinary lives in a series of memorable diaries and autobiographies, while they recorded the accomplishments of the race in their biographies, histories, and prose narratives. Their works were didactic and polemical because, like most educated Blacks born in the perilous years following the Civil War, they were committed to racial uplift in their professional and community activities, as well as in their intellectual and creative efforts.
They were doctors, ministers, teachers, and missionaries, who also happened to write. Only onethe pistol packing Idawas able to sustain herself, however precariously, by her writing. She notes in her diary that the Detroit Plaindealer paid her $2.00 per article and one editor paid her expenses to a press convention, but the editor of the Indianapolis World paid her with a two-year subscription (Cheeky that, she remarked, refusing to write for that paper again).
Many writers, like Fuller, Lynk, and Griggs, printed their own novels and histories because American publishing houses refused the works of Afro-Americans except for works, like Paul Lawrence Dunbars dialect verse, which reinforced negative stereotypes. As Richard Barksdale notes, Dunbars portraits of dancing, contented Black people, living a rural life of free of hunger, illness, and privation, comforted white America and eased its guilty conscience.
Social realities shape the work of Black Memphis writers whose themes often reflect an ambivalence toward their native city. On the one hand, they write nostalgically of a warm and embracing community of relatives, friends, and neighbors who evoke an image of home; while, on the other hand, they describe a city where attitudes and lifestyles reflect a history characterized by segregated public facilities, lynchings and an infamous assassination.
The positive images, however, prevail. In the 1980s, for example, A.R. Flowers, who left Memphis for the brighter lights of New York City, looked back nostalgically to the Memphis of his youth remembering the Oldcity, the rivertown, in the mudrich delta. Like many writersJohn Oliver Killens (his mentor), Ernest Gaines, Sonia Sanchez, and Alice Walkerwho left the South in search of opportunities and resources to support their craft he discovered that his creative roots are grounded in Black southern culture with its distinctive language, music, legends, and folk types (conjure women, blues singers, and witch doctors).
The Memphis of his novel is the city of his childhood, of his growing up yearsRiverside Park before the expressway and Beale Street urban renewal, a Beale Street of music, legend and poetry:
Wailing the blues
Dancing the shoes done left me
Moaning, longing to belong but
This street, as well as the people and places associated with itPee Wees, W. C. Handy, the Midnight Ramble, Rufus and Carla Thomaslooms large in the imaginations of composers and poets who view it as a symbol of Black urban life. Many early writers like G. P. Hamilton and George W. Lee describe in their works a golden age when Beale Street was the political, educational, business and cultural center of Memphis Black community; some contemporary writers, however, criticize the virtual destruction of the street by developers who neither understand nor appreciate the historical significance of Beale Street.
This disillusionment with urban life is a major theme in contemporary literature, but many Memphis writers prefer to describe the city of their youth, particularly in their personal narratives. Lula Reed, for example, depicts the Sunday morning services and Christmas celebrations of the North Memphis neighborhood where she grew up seventy years ago, while Vera Clark juxtaposes her Shannon Street of the thirties against the infamous street recently described by the press, noting that events would have been different
if they [the men who died] could have gone with us in spring to a creek baptizing, in summer to a front-porch wedding, in fall to a hogkilling or just one Saturday night, watched in awe, while Daddy wrung a chickens neck for Sundays supper
And Gloria Wade-Gayles remembers the housing project where she grew up in the forties as a place where neighbors nurtured children with ghost stories and sweet potato pies, and where families supported each other against the incursions of Main Street (like Peabody Hotel, a symbol of White privilege and authority in Black writing).
Nostalgia for the past is a recurring theme in literature, but it is much more than a literary convention at the hands of Black writers whose memories of the past underscore the deracination of uprooting of their community, which ends in isolation, alienation and disaffection. The literary return to the past evokes a racial history, community values, and a cultural heritage that was transmitted by the elders (the ex-slaves of Elma Stuckeys poetry), the grandmothers (the Ginger Nolas of the projects), and the preachers, like the one described by Reuben Green:
Man of God by calling, but often a teacher, healer, carpenter and undertaker by necessity, it was the Black Preacher who took down the mutilated bodies of Black men after the mobs had done their worst.
The preachers and the grandmothers were the culture bearers who celebrated the rites and rituals of the communitythe countless baptisms, weddings, family reunions, and worship servicestold stories that were transmitted from one generation to another, and sang the songs that strengthened the ties that bound people together.
Social realities continue to shape the workthe themes, tone, points of view, and forms of discourseof contemporary Black Memphis writers, who, like their literary predecessors, are concerned with self-identity (as determined by race, gender, and class) and with the cultural legacy of the past, Black Memphians, including those of the present generation, write within the framework of an Afro-American literary tradition which was shaped by history (the African past, slavery, the southern plantation system, the Great Migration); developed out of rural-urban folk culture, emphasized social themes, particularly racial protest; and was expressed primarily in non-fiction, including such genres as the essay, oration, sermon, autobiography, personal memoir, and narrative history.
Non-fiction is now and has been the forte of Black Memphis writers. The autobiographies of Virginia Broughton, Ida B. Wells, Mary Church Terrell and Miles V. Lynk (all born in the mid-nineteenth century) are paralleled by the more recent works of Henry Bunton, W. Herbert Brewster and Terry Whitmore; the biographical sketches of famous Blacks by Roberta Church, Robert Waller, George Hardin, and Sterling Stuckey, have earlier models; the literary anthologies of Hugh Gloster, Beverly Guy-Sheftall, and Miriam DeCosta continue a tradition established by Lynks The Afro-American School Speaker and Gems of Literature; Addie Jones, Mildred Green, and Ron Walter examine local history, as did G.P. Hamilton, T.O. Fuller, and Fred Hutchins; while writers like Gloria Wade-Gayles, C. Eric Lincoln, Reginald Martin and Horace Newsum have produced textbooks, religious works, and books of literary criticism.
Some of these scholar-critics are also imaginative writerspoets, short story writers, novelists, and dramatistswhose fictional works reveal as well as a teacher and scholar, Gloria Wade-Gayles is a poet who also writes works of literary criticism; Horace Newsum writes textbooks and works of socio-political theory, as well as poetry; C. Eric Lincoln is a distinguished scholar who also writes poetry and fiction; and A.R. Flowers, a novelist, publishes essays and book reviews.
The themes of creative writers and of scholar-critics, are often similar. The themes can be grouped into two major categories: those related to personal discovery and self-awareness, and those which examine the community within the context of a broad cultural heritage. The first category includes such themes as childhood memories, self-identity, kinship ties, the search for knowledge, and personal trauma (love betrayed, the death of a parent, and racist or sexist oppression). Childhood memories, for example, inform the personal narratives of Vera Clark and Charlotte R. Bush, as well as the poetry of Elma Stuckey and Cheryl Tate Lambert. Larry Conleys Notes From a Father, and Cornell McNeil-Rudds 1986 continued from 1959 study the complex bonding of parent and child, while other works examine male-female relationships, using erotic images to evoke the physical pleasure of love:
when the candles burn low into
sculptured designs, I purr
to the rhythm of your gentle strokes (Wade-Gayles)
before we ever slept together,
and I knew the luscious mole on your back
and every beige crevice that leads from your curved
Poets, Saville, Knight, Stuckey, and Matthews suggest, sometimes bitterly, sometimes humorously, that relationships between Black men and women are often destroyed by infidelity, insensitivity or opportunism,
Hes a con man from his hear,
I give the devil his due.
If your husband dies dont publicize
Cause hell be after you. (Stuckey)
while playwright Jerry McGlown, in The Laws of Change, examines the fantasies and disillusionments of an interracial couple with different needs and expectations.
According to writers who matured during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and the Womens Movement of the 1970s, failed relationships often result from Walker and Carolyne Matthews explore the problems and enigmas of women, while scholars like Joyce Young and Beverly Guy-Sheftall probe the complex forces which define women, drawing upon personal experiences and sensibilities to explain herstory. Memories of her mother reveal the source of Black feminism to Guy-Sheftall, who writes reflectively: Though my mother, Ernestine, would certainly not have referred to herself as a feminist, she, like countless other Black mothers, instilled in their daughters a Black feminist sensibility which I believe has been critical to our survival as a race.
Other writers describe female archetypes (church women clapping their white-gloved hands like thunder and sirens with over-sized buttocks in painted-on pants), as well as the rites and rituals of womanhood: sexual coming of age, child-bearing, mothering, the change, and the horror of abortion, painfully exposed by writers such as Alice Walker, Ntozake Shange, Audre Lourde and Memphian Nan Savile:
It is our life
that floats in this jar
torn from me
Immortalized in formaldehyde;
On occasion, sensitive male poets graphically describe the rituals of womanhood. Etheridge Knight, for example, recalls the birth of his son:
When / the blood of your birth / is / screaming
like a fountain from
the white thighs of your mother
As / she issues you / forth on a sunday night,
(on a chilling, raining, sun / day / night)
The men also write of their own pain, sometimes speaking with the plural voice, the we of their collective oppressionThey hunted us like animals, (Harry Bryce) and i see fragments of my dreams hanging imply in pale bloody hands, (Isom W. Jones)or with singular, I, like Ethridge recalling the intimate details of lost love, imprisonment and drug addiction:
I had a ball till the caps ran out
and my habit came down. The night I looked at my
grandmother and split / my guts were screaming for
junk / but I was almost contented / I had almost
caught up with me.
(The next day in Memphis I cracked a croakers crib for a fix).
Pain and suffering often lead to individual growth and maturity, as Thelma Balfour discovers when she examines her mothers death from caner and her own paralyzing fear of the disease. For Balfour and other essayists, the act of writing can be a catharsis, which permits them to convert destructive emotions (fear, anger, hatred) associated with painful past experiences into sources of personal growth, knowledge or action.
The literature of Black Memphians offers many examples of individuals who refused to be defeated by obstacles such as racism, sexism and classismobstacles which made them determined to become strong, independent, and committed. In Reflections, Vasco Smith describes the racial incidents that shaped his social consciousness, which Gloria Wade-Gayles recalls her grandmothers lessonthat racism pushes Black people back into strength. Biographers and historians also tell inspiring stories of Memphians like Sojourner Truth who made outstanding contributions to their communities in spite of the strictures of a rigidly enforced caste system.
Biographers of Robeson and Terrell demonstrate that the literature of Black Memphians frequently moves thematically from the personal to the political, from the individual to the group, because writers understand that, for most Afro-Americans, the individual achieves significance within a larger social context (family, church, community), which in turn must be set within a historical framework. Writing about nineteenth-century Afro-American literature, Stephen Butterfield noted that the self is conceived as a member of an oppressed social group, with ties and responsibilities to the other members. It is a conscious political identify, drawing sustenance from the past experience of the group
The ties and responsibilities may relate to family (however defined: nuclear, extended, grandmother- or mother- headed household, outside and inside children): a geographic neighborhood such as Orange Mound, New Chicago, or Bear Water, which is bounded by railroad tracks, a dead-end street, or a factory; or the Black community. In their works, many writers portray a love-bound family, consisting of grandmothers weaving tales of the African past, mothers who take their children to church on Christmas morning, and fathers yes fathers like Harry Bryces Hue Man
When the Father Man
the meat and potato/Man
the I want you to be like me/Man
The family is often large and extended with a host of uncles, aunts, and cousins several times removed, who gather together, as they do in Starlings poem Family Reunion, to celebrate the present and remember the past.
Reunion is the gentle painful fingering of textures
Made by weavers gone from us
Loved long, revered:
And, the yet raw grief on touching
The bare places made where those cut off too soon
Have left their tracings.
The family is centered in the home. The house, the physical structure in which the family lives, may be very humble: an apartment unit in Memphis public housing project; a little place by the railroad tracks in the Delta where Cornell McNeil-Rudd grew up before her family moved to the house on a red gravel road in North Memphis; or the make-shift flat that Lula Reed remembers:
we rented two of the servants rooms in the tenement house. The dilapidated dwelling was an old slave-time mansion, cut into flats for Black residents.
but home is more than a house; it is the place where the heart is, where all around are reflections: sights, sounds, impressions (Delk); it is a place where all the small daily rituals of family living (plaiting hair, swapping lies, and serving the preacher Sunday dinner) cement relationships. Many of these rituals, particularly the verbal kind like telling tales, swapping lies, gossiping, and playing the dozens, take place on the front porch, which connects the family, physically and symbolically, to the neighborhood.
The front porches were large enough for a few potted plants and three straightback kitchen chairs brought outside on warm summer nights. It was on these front porches that women gathered after sundown to discuss children, husbands, neighbors, teachers, preachers, and, of course, White folks. (Wade-Gayles)
The front porch opens onto the neighborhood, a section of town noted for its schools, churches and businesses (Hyde Park School, Friendship Baptist Church, Wallers Grocery and the Barn Nite Club), and characterized by the people (snowball men, snuff-dipping women, hot tamale vendors, and witch doctors) who live and work there. The Memphis of these poets and novelists is a Memphis of the past, evoked to the underscore the importance of community and a tradition in the preservation of Black culture. Some writers are more cerebral, more sanguine about the urgency of preserving institutions like the independent Black church and the historically Black college.
Reuben Green and George Hardin underscore the importance of the Black minister as an institutional leader in the community; Mildred Green examines the role of Black musiciansperforming artists, as well as music teachers, choral directors, and band leadersin the history of American music; and Carla Thomas discusses the problems in the music industry. C. Eric Lincoln makes an eloquent plea for the survival of the Black college,
When the enormous contributions the Black college has made to the development and the welfare of America are properly assessed, one wonders how this nation avoided declaring it a national treasure
while Mae Fitzgerald underscores the importance of LeMoyne-Owen College to the city.
The themes, symbols and images of Memphis Black writers are echoed in the works of the citys photographers and painters who capture the textures and rhythms of Black life: blues singers from the Mississippi Delta, church sisters dressed up in their Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes, and children pouring over textbooks in a one-room schoolhouse.
Ernest Withers, a photojournalist, has recorded the social, political and business activities of the community for almost forty years, while photographer Robert Jones, who grew up in North Memphis and developed his craft at the Memphis Art Academy, traveled through Mississippi documenting the revivals, fish fries, blue concerts, and folk festivals of the Delta. The singing eye of each photographerLeonard West, George Hardin, Morgan Murrell, and Eddie Joneslooks upon the external world from a different angle: there is irony in Hardins photograph of a Black child fondling a White doll; there is mystery and intrigue in Eddie Joness triple images of a man; and there is a quiet beauty in Sengstackes photograph of a Muslin woman at prayer.
These visual artists are fascinated with Black life in its varied forms, but their images also underscore the unifying elements in African, Caribbean, and Afro American culture: delight in color and rhythm, love of music and dance, master of words, religious expressionism, a bittersweet view of life, and inner strength Philip Dotsons dream visions and Harold Neals Haitian dancer conjure up ancient ancestral spirits; Kenneth Williamsons weatherbeaten barn and Kazi Lawrences impressionist landscape evoke memories of the land (underneath all is the land); while Lawrence Houstons slave ship and Arctick Smiths cottonfields summon up painful memories of Black historycapture in a distant land, the middle passage, enslavement in a foreign land, and economic exploitation.
Painters and photographers look beneath the surface for the forms of things unseenthe hopes of children at play, the fears of old men in the twilight of their lives, and the expectations of a young couple at their wedding celebration. The visual and verbal images are similar: Beale Street after dark, the Mississippi River in the distance; church steeples silhouetted against the sky; ministers leading a march; and silent mourners in front of the Lorraine Motel.
The visual images underscore and undergrid the written word, suggesting that, in spite of differences of tone, technique and mode of expression, there is a thematic thread that runs through the fabric of Black art in this city. It is the theme of Memphis as home with all that the world connotesa place of origin; the physical, emotional and spiritual space that an individual inhabits; and a complex network of personal relationships (family, neighborhood, community) which define the self. Memphis has been home to generations of writers: many were born in the city; some moved to Memphis from other places and stayed; other lived in the area awhile and then moved on in search of greater opportunities.
Writers were deeply affected by the city, its large Black population, distinctive language patterns, rich musical heritage, vibrant folk culture, rural/urban/suburban tensions, southern fundamentalism, racial polarization, and political conservatism. Such diverse elements explain in part the ambivalence that many writers feel toward Memphis, an ambivalence that finds expression in the blues forms, that minute to smile, hour to weep in dichotomy about which Etheridge writes:
You get the blues in twos
when you / be living
Like I / be living
In Memphis Tennessee
Homespun Images Copyright © 1989 by Miriam DeCosta-Willis Wimmer Brothers Memphis, TN
Introduction (Miriam DeCosta-Willis)
Vera Clark Shannon Street–Sunshine and Shadow
Gloria Wade-Gayles Pushed Back into Strength
Carry Conley Notes from a Father
Cornell McNeil-Rudd 1986 . . . Continued from 1959
Lula Reed The Miracle at Claude’s Tree
Vasco Smith Reflections
Thelma Balfour Fears
Ron Walter Memphis Black Pioneers
Black Memphis Leaders
Roberta Church Mary Church Terrell
Frances M. Hassell Linked Lives
Robert L. Waller Now Whatcha Bet?
Miriam DeCosta-Willis Historic Landmarks of Beale Street
Mildred D. Green Selected Black Memphis Musicians
Timothy Lee Matthews An Interview with Carla Thomas
Reuben H. Green The Black Preacher
George E. Hardin A Son of Tennessee
C. Eric Lincoln The Historic Black Colleges
Mae Fitzgerald Sketch of a Memphis College
Sterling Stuckey Paul Robeson’s Early Years
Horace E. Newsum King and the Vietnam War
Beverly Guy Sheftall Remembering Sojourner Truth
Joyce L. Young Black Women as Leaders
Beyond the Canebrakes
Shiftin’ Soil (For Harry A. Bryce)
The Mississippi River Remembered
I have paid my dues Laud Tell me its time to Fly
Trumpet Talk for Handy
Bee Jay Freeman Roots
Elma Stuckey Tenement
Night and Sunshine
These Old Feet
E. Payne Starling Family Reunion
Etheridge Knight A Poem for Myself
The Birth of a Black/Baby/Boy
The Bones of My Father
No Moon Floods the Memory
He Sees Through Stone
Once on a Night in the Delta
a black poet leaps to his death
Circling the Daughter
Cheryl Tate Lambert Mr. Crump
Summer of Sixty-Two
Nan Saville Encounter
The Empress Revealed
Tommie Lee Ray Woman
Reginald Martin What I Think It Is/What It Has Always Been
The Spectre In-Between
Gloria Wade-Gayles ageless love
for my grandmother
a woman’s beatitudes
Daniel W. Durr The Marriage
The Passionate Night
Frank Lamont Phillips for Sandra
Lillie M. Jackson Ambiguity
Irene Thompson The Drum She Say
For a Crystal Butterfly
Yvonne Robinson-Jones Dealings of the Big Top
The Tragedy of the American Hybrid
The Urban(e) Plantation
Charlotte Bush Untitled
Sermon on Sunday, June 3, 1979
Fannie Taylor On Electing a President
I’m Never Embarrassed
Horace E. Newsum A Streetcar Named Desire
William Herbert Brewster The City for Freedom Now
An Ode to the Black Woman
Isom W. Jones explanation in miry clay
burn bright the fire
Joyce M. Winters A Love Song for All Memphis Men
Dessie M. Walker on being a woman
Carolyne Matthews just lying still
Carl E. Brown Hidden Dreams
III. Fiction and Drama
Levi Frazier The Witch Doctor
Reginald Martin Everybody Knows What Time It Is
Violet Leigh Franklin Coleman The Deacon of North Memphis
Joyce L. Dukes How Many Miles to Bethlehem
Frank Lamont Philips Will a Matchbox Hold My Clothes
Cheryl Tate Lambert Tanks
The Beale Street Cat
Reginald Beal Zeus
Charlotte R. Bush Jesus and Nanny
Jerry McGlown The Laws of Change
posted 2 December 2005
Miriam DeCosta-Willis, author and college professor, was born 1 November 1934, in Florence, Alabama. She received her B.A. at Wellesley College in 1956; her M.A. Johns Hopkins in 1960; her Ph.D. Johns Hopkins in 1967 in Romance Languages. In 1967 she joined the faculty of Memphis State University as the first African American member, and while there agitated for more black staff members. When King was assassinated in 1968 she was in the march that erupted into violence and the police used mace on her.
DeCosta-Willis became a professor of Spanish and in 1970 chairperson of the Department of Romance Languages at Howard University. At Howard, she was exposed to Afro-Hispanic authors. In 1975 DeCosta-Willis left Howard and in 1979 returned to teaching at LeMoyne-Owen College. She remained there for ten years before taking a position at George Mason University. Leaving in 1991, DeCosta-Willis took a position with the University of Maryland, where she remained until her retirement in 1999. DeCosta-Willis served for ten years as an associate editor of SAGE: A Scholarly Journal on Black Women. She is co-founder and a former chairperson of the Memphis Black Writers Workshop, and has served on the Memphis Arts Council advisory committee and a review panelist for the National Endowment for the Humanities. DeCosta-Willis has four grown children. She divides her time between Washington, D.C., and Memphis.
Daughters of the Diaspora: Afra-Hispanic Writers (Kingston, Jamaica: Ian Randle Publisher, 2003)
The Memphis Diary of Ida B. Wells (Beacon Press, 1995)
Erotique Noire/Black Erotica (New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1992)
Homespun Images (Memphis, TN: Wimmer Brothers, 1989)
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Notable Black Memphians (Miriam DeCosta-Willis)This biographical and historical study by Miriam DeCosta-Willis (PhD, Johns Hopkins University and the first African American faculty member of Memphis State University) traces the evolution of a major Southern city through the lives of men and women who overcame social and economic barriers to create artistic works, found institutions, and obtain leadership positions that enabled them to shape their community. Documenting the accomplishments of Memphians who were born between 1795 and 1972, it contains photographs and biographical sketches of 223 individuals (as well as brief notes on 122 others), such as musicians Isaac Hayes and Aretha Franklin, activists Ida B. Wells and Benjamin L. Hooks, politicians Harold Ford Sr. and Jr., writers Sutton Griggs and Jerome Eric Dickey, and Bishop Charles Mason and Archbishop James Lykeall of whom were born in Memphis or lived in the city for over a decade. . . .
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For July 1st through August 31st 2011
#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane
#10 – Covenant: A Thriller by Brandon Massey
#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva by Ashley and JaQuavis
#12 – Don’t Ever Tell by Brandon Massey
#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide by Ntozake Shange
#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree
#15 – Homemade Loves by J. California Cooper
#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper
#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber
#18 – Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare
#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King
#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey
#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe
#22 Thug Matrimony by Wahida Clark
#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark
#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber
#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter
#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson
#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History by Ahati N. N. Toure
#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley
#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell
#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore
#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit by RM Johnson
#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins
#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell
#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard
#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris
#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice
#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields
#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class by Lisa B. Thompson
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Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis
Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as “the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field ‘cut their teeth’.”
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By Melissa V. Harris-Perry
According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless Mammys behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own familys needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.
As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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updated 18 October 2007