Black History Fun Fact Friday – Capturing the Good in Harlem

 

Yes indeed, twins make history again. Meet Marvin and Morgan Smith, painters who focused on capturing the positive side of Harlem during the decline of the Harlem Renaissance and the birth of The Great Depression.

“During the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s, Harlem spread itself before the cameras of Morgan and Marvin Smith like a great tablecloth, and eagerly they went about devouring what it had to offer.”

– Gordon Parks Sr.

We often discuss the writers of the movement and the musicians while the artists are often left out. Names like Kwame Brathwaite, Aaron Douglass, Lois Jones, and Morgan and Marvin Smith, are not as well known.

Morgan (right) and Marvin (left) Smith were born on February 16, 1910 in Nicholasville, Kentucky. The boys found a talent for art but wouldn’t pursue it much until the sharecropping family moved to Lexington in the late 1920s. Here Morgan and Marvin attended Dunbar High School, the only Black High School in Lexington at the time, and developed further their artistic abilities. They worked with oil paintings and sculptors until eventually, cameras.

In 1933, Morgan and Marvin graduated High School and pursued their art full time. However, Kentucky at the time provided little to no support for the young men and as I imagine, they could not grow in the way that they wished. They moved to Cincinnati with hope of a better future but not finding opportunities there, decided to move on to New York.

Marvin and Morgan

When they arrived to Harlem the twins did manual labor for the WPA or Works Progress Administration and took art lessons from Augusta Savage (another sculptor of the Harlem Renaissance) at her studio. Through Savage the twins became connected with the 306 Group, a collective of African American artists who worked and socialized together in Harlem, New York in the 1930s. The name of the group came from the address of a studio space, 306 W. 141st Street, used by two of the artists, Charles Alston and Henry Bannarn.

Marvin and Morgan became acquainted with prominent figures through Savage but it wasn’t until 1937 when the twins really came into the public’s eye when Morgan won an award for his photo of a boy playing.

Awwue!

After 1937, the twins decided to focus their attention on the  community of Harlem overall. Their interest was in capturing the good instead of the bad. With the stock market crash of 1929 and The Great Depression smacked down in the middle, there was plenty to complain about, I am sure, and much of the glitter and glam of the Harlem Renaissance had begun to fade. People weren’t as interested in Black culture and art during these tough times which brings Marvin and Morgan into focus.

They look more alike as old men than they did when they were younger…or is it just me??

Over the next 40 years with their paint brushes and cameras, the brothers would record what remained, refusing to document anything negative. What’s cute is that the brother’s married identical twin sisters on the same day and three years later both divorced on the same day. They would die exactly ten years apart, Morgan smith at 83 and Marvin at 93. I am happy to see that they both lived full lives.

The 306 Group

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The artists of the 306 W. 141st Street WPA Art Center. Back row, left to right: Add Bates; unidentified; James Yeargans; Vertis Hayes; Charles Alston; Sollace Glenn; unidentified; Elba Lightfoot; Selma Day; Ronald Joseph; Georgette Seabrooke; ——— Reid. Front row, left to right: Gwendolyn Knight; unidentified; Francisco Lord; unidentified; unidentified.
© Morgan and Marvin Smith. Reproduction from the Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundation, http://iraas.columbia.edu/wpa/introartists.html

Indie Shine – Yecheilyah Ysrayl

I am on Lisa’s Blog today. Come on over! Thank you Lisa for having me.

Rebirth of Lisa

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In this edition of Indie Shine, a place for rebirthoflisa to “Shine” the spotlight on indie artists, we welcome author Yecheilyah Ysrayl.

EC 1 ©Yecheilyah Ysrayl used with permission

Bio:

Yecheilyah Ysrayl is the author of Young Adult, Black American Literature, and Poetry. The author of eight books (most notably, The Stella Trilogy), Yecheilyah is currently working on her next book series “The Nora White Story”. Renaissance: The Nora White Story Book One is due for release July 15, 2017. Revelation: The Nora White Story Book Two is due for release December of this year. Yecheilyah is also a Blogger and Book Reviewer. Originally from Chicago, IL, she now resides in Shreveport, LA with her husband where she writes full time.

Q & A

What do you do and Why do you do it?
Thank you, Lisa, for having me. I am an Independent Author of Black American Literature, a Poet, Book…

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Who’s Your Favourite Black Author

Do you have a favorite Black Author? You can show them some love by voting for them!

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The African American Literature Book Club, which has featured me and my books in the past (thanks to them for that), has asked me to remind readers and fans in my network about the open poll (yes, remind, because I’ve plugged it before so I hope you’ve already voted. I have!).

The poll is for Your Favourite Black Author of the 21st Century. They noted in their email to me that so far it’s been pretty US-centric (and though I did remind them that we in the Caribbean claim Haitian-American writer Edwidge Dandicat and I think Nigeria would have something to say about America’s claim to Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie), I do think we could mix it up some more. That said, I can’t argue with the names currently in the lead; people like…

Bernice McFadden whom I met and co-facilitated a workshop with at the BIM Lit Fest in 2016

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I’m Still Here

Just so you know, I have not fallen off the face of the Earth. I miss you guys!!

And, I’ve still been reading your blogs, commenting, liking, and sharing on Twitter and all that good stuff. I just have not been blogging but I am in tune. I don’t think I’ve spent this much time away from the blog since I’ve started! What in the world is going on?

A lot actually. Some good and some not so good. I definitley have a lot on my mind but let’s talk about the good.

Let me get you up to speed:

Blog Posts – I have some articles written up and saved in my files so I have still been writing and will have plenty for you soon. We’ll also get back into the usual blog segments, Black History Fun Facts, Throwback Jams, etcetera.

No laptop – You are not going to believe it but I have been traveling and left my laptop in Memphis! Here’s how it happened: While leaving my in-laws, I saw the bag in the trunk of the car  and thought the laptop was in it instead of checking to make sure it was. Long story short, I won’t get it back until next week sometime so all those blog post ideas we just talked about are uhh….stuck in Memphis.

Introduce Yourself – This thing is growing! I think I may put a listing somewhere so you can see what dates are available. Would you like that? Authors? Right now I am booking for August. (Wait, no. There may be one more slot left for July) That’s just how much it’s grown! Because of this, despite my absence, you can look forward to being introduced to a new author and his/her work every Monday. Those are scheduled to go out so even if I am not around you’ll get those. (This feature also introduces established authors as well or authors who are not necessarily new.)

Travels – So, where did I go?? Out the country? Nope. I wish! I went to Chicago and Memphis but I’ll give you the short version.

Ethiopian Diamond

In Chicago, I sat in on a Lecture presentation at the Dusable Museum of African American History, visited some family and ate at the Ethiopian Diamond restaurant downtown for the first time. (Despite growing up in Chicago I’ve never eaten there.) For those of you who have never been or have never had Ethiopian food, the style is like a community where everyone at the table eats with their hands from a large platter of food (see image). While everyone can order their own food, it is all on the same platter and designed to be a sociable experience. I can honestly say there were no looking down at the phones. There were a few of us so we were at different tables and at my table we had three large platters. On the bottom is a flat, round stretchy pancake-like injera bread with the other dishes on top in a circle.

These dishes include a combination of several stews like key wat (beef stew), tibs (lamb, beef or goat cubes which is what I had), ground beef (those beef patties or whatever you call them were delicious), and several types of lentil and split pea and tomato stews. You basically tear off pieces of the bread and use it to scoop up food you want to eat. Don’t just stick your hands in like I did at first lol. All in all, I enjoyed the food, the tangy flavor of the injera, the stews, salads, and of course, the quality family time.

Coffee – Speaking of which, the restaurant let us take home a container of coffee beans! Hubby and I had fun roasting them ourselves the other day. It was easier than I thought. Just brown them in a cast iron skillet (don’t put anything in it) and once they brown to your liking (dark roast, etc) grind them up in a coffee grinder and bam, coffee.

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I thought it would be stronger since we made dark roast but it was flavorful nonetheless.

Black History Fun Fact Friday – Sundown Towns

“Is it true that ‘Anna’ stands for ‘Ain’t No Niggers Allowed’?” I asked at the convenience store in Anna, Illinois, where I had stopped to buy coffee. “Yes,” the clerk replied. “That’s sad, isn’t it,” she added, distancing herself from the policy. And she went on to assure me, “That all happened a long time ago.” “I understand [racial exclusion] is still going on?” I asked. “Yes,” she replied. “That’s sad.”—conversation with clerk, Anna, Illinois, October 2001. James W. Loewen, Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism (Touchstone, 2006),3

Anna, Illinois was named after the daughter of the founder of the town, but got its more derogatory name after the 1909 lynching of a black man in Cairo IL and the mob of angry white citizens who drove out Anna’s 40 or so black families following the lynching. It is at this point that Anna, IL became a sundown town.

A sundown town is a town with an exclusive population of non-whites on purpose. They are towns with overwhelming populations of non-whites and are so deliberately.

Historically, the name Sundown-town comes from Blacks not being allowed in certain towns beyond sunset and the signs that some towns posted within their city limits warning Blacks not to let the sun go down on them in that town (see pics).

Side Note: I wonder if that’s where the parental command to be in the house when the street lights came on, comes from? I’d have to explore that one.

Although signs were posted, forced exclusion was also implemented:

“There were also race riots in which white mobs attacked black neighborhoods, burning, looting, and killing. Across America, at least 50 towns, and probably many more than that, drove out their African American populations violently. At least 16 did so in Illinois alone. In the West, another 50 or more towns drove out their Chinese American populations. Many other sundown towns and suburbs used violence to keep out blacks or, sometimes, other minorities.” – America’s Black Holocaust Museum, James W. Loewen, PhD; Fran Kaplan, EdD; and Robert Smith, PhD

The Beginning

Sundown towns began after Slavery and the Civil War when blacks left the plantations and poured into every city and corner of the country. This was followed by the system we know as Jim Crow, in which black codes and laws were made for the intention of keeping blacks as enslaved as possible despite their free status.

Of course, we are familiar by now with the eyes that had to be kept to the ground, the stepping to the side when whites walked by, the separate restrooms and water fountains, movie theaters and many others. But in addition to all this were sundown towns, all-white neighborhoods where blacks were not allowed to live. Many of these towns existed in the North as the Great Migration brought floods of blacks into Northern Cities.

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These communities feared the blacks pouring into their neighborhoods and established Sundown towns by evicting black residents and not allowing them in.

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This statue of Orville Hubbard which sits outside of the City Hall in Dearborn Michigan, was the cause of much controversy when people started to learn more about his past.

Hubbard was the mayor of the then all-white suburban town outside of Detroit from 1942 to 1978 and in a 1969 speech acquired by the New York Times said that “If whites didn’t want to live with N–they sure didn’t have to.” He went on to say that this was a free country and that this was America.

“City police cars bore the slogan ‘Keep Dearborn Clean,’ which was a catch phrase meaning ‘Keep Dearborn White,’ ” according to David Good, a lifelong resident of the city who is the author of ‘‘Orvie: The Dictator of Dearborn,” a biography of Mayor Hubbard.

“Out here in Dearborn where some real Ku Klux Klans live. I know Dearborn, you know I’m from Detroit, used to live out there in Easten. And you had to go through Dearborn to get to Easten. Just like riding through Mississippi once you got to Dearborn.” -Malcolm X

Over time the name “Sundown-town” faded but Sundown Suburbs still exist. A sundown suburb is a discrete way in which Sundown-towns exist today. It is when large white populations migrate to the suburban part of the city with the express purpose of separating themselves from the minority population.

HBO Releases Full Trailer for ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’

I read the book a couple years ago and wrote a Black History Fun Fact about it (that you can find under the Black History Fun Fact page on the sidebar) I heard then Oprah was making a movie about it. Looks like its about to come out. Thanks Nikki for sharing.

Nikki Skies

HBO wants you to add another must-see film to your list:The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.The film, which is produced by and stars media…

Source: HBO Releases Full Trailer for ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’

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