Let’s Stay in Touch

Hey ya’ll, hey.

With yesterday’s social media shenanigans, I want to drop in to give some tidbits about how to join my author list for those of you who might not be subscribed but thought you were.

First, you should know subscribing to this blog is not the same as subscribing to my author email list.

  • Subscribing to this blog ensures you receive email notifications every time I publish a blog post.

  • Subscribing to my author list means you receive email notifications whenever I have author news to share for myself and other authors. These emails go out about once or twice a month.

“I Thought I was Already Subscribed But I Don’t Get Your Newsletters”

Due to excessive spam emails and inactivity, I deleted all emails from the first list and started over. If you remember my emails, but noticed they have stopped, it means you are not subscribed to the new list.

Because I want to make sure those who signed up want to sign up, I am not re-subscribing people manually. You must click on the link below to add your email back to the list.

When You Subscribe to my Author List:

  • You receive a free ecopy of my award-winning poetry collection, I am Soul.

  • You get first dibs on book reviews and other services I might offer. My review registry is currently closed for 2021, but my email members get the first chance at registering early. I will pick books from authors on my list first.

  • You get an inside look at what’s going on behind the scenes of my work, a summary of any blog posts you might have missed, and links to writing resources I might have discovered since we last connected.

  • If anything happens like yesterday’s outage, you are not left in the dark about what’s going on with me or the services I provide.

Click on the link below to connect with me. You will know you did it right when you receive a welcome email.

Ready???

Click HERE to Join My Community

See you soon!

Black History Fun Fact Friday – The Forgotten Legacy of A.D. King

BLACK HISTORY

On July 20, 1969, the world watched as America walked on the moon. In Black America, something very different was happening. We were in the middle of the Harlem Cultural Festival, a series of music concerts held in Harlem, Manhattan, and New York City during the summer of 1969 to celebrate black music, culture, and black pride.

Also known as Black Woodstock, it is the subject of the Hulu documentary Summer of Soul, appropriately named and highly recommended. Some call it “The Revolution that Could Not Be Televised,” because the footage has been unseen until now.

Why hide film showing a sea of beautiful black people having fun? Nevermind. 

Also, in July of this year, Black America mourned the loss of another Civil Rights Activist. Just fifteen months after the death of Dr. King, we saw the death of his baby brother Rev. A.D. King.

Note:

In this post, I will occasionally refer to Dr. King as Martin to distinguish him from the other King. This informal approach is in no way intended to be disrespectful to either man.

Who Was A.D. King

Alfred Daniel “A.D.” King, the father of Alveda King, was born on July 30, 1930, in Atlanta, Georgia. On June 17, 1950, he married Naomi Barber, with whom he had five children.

Like his brother, A.D. graduated from Morehouse College, but he was less interested in academics. Although he eventually yielded to the calling of a pastor, he initially strongly resisted that as well. A.D.’s grassroots connections would come in handy later in life when he would help to recruit people for Civil Rights Demonstrations.

While Dr. King knew the boardroom and could maneuver his way around intellectuals, A.D. knew the streets (street smart if you will) and was responsible for organizing and strategizing many of the marches King is famous for, becoming known as a master strategist. He had a gift for leading the youth and had his ear to the ground about what the people wanted, and Martin depended on him heavily.

A.D. faced many of the same struggles as Martin and several other civil rights leaders during the 1950s and 60s, including being arrested in an October 1960 lunch counter sit-in in Atlanta. A.D. and his wife also escaped a bombing to their home.*

*Bombings were so often in the black community during that time that Birmingham had been nicknamed Bombmingham. 

Rev. A.D. and Dr. King did not only look alike, but they also sounded alike and were nicknamed “Sons of Thunder” by King. Sr.

Rev A.D. King, younger brother of Martin Luther King (first from left). Photo: Pinterest

A.D.’s personality is said to have been relaxing with a sense of humor.

Cause why he got them glasses on? Brother did not want the spotlight.

Although his activism mirrored Martin’s, A.D. did not like the limelight and had no intentions of usurping that authority from his brother. Friends and family say A.D. King was humble and was not worried about walking in his brother’s shadow. Instead, he played his part and let Martin play his. A.D. supported his brother one-hundred-percent and was in the middle of every movement:

“Not being in the limelight never seemed to affect him, but because he stayed in the background, many people never knew that he was deeply involved, too,” one of his associates was quoted as saying.” (https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/king-alfred-daniel-williams)

When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was murdered on April 4, 1968, it hurt A.D. deeply, and he never recovered, as he felt it was his responsibility to protect his brother, A.D.’s widow, Naomi King, once recalled.

On July 21, 1969, at the age of 38, a year and a half after Martin’s death, A.D. mysteriously drowned in the family swimming pool.

It is a mysterious death because A.D. King was a “very good swimmer,” according to his niece, Bernice King, Martin’s daughter. According to Derek King, A.D. King’s son, emergency workers noted there was no water in his lungs. “Ain’t no water in his lungs,” one of them said, “he was dead before he hit the water.”

You can hear these testimonies in the documentary Brother to the Dreamer on YouTube.

Why is the legacy of little-known Civil Rights icons like A.D. King important?

I am sure you’ve heard the news.

“The Texas Senate has voted to pass a bill that would remove a requirement for public school teachers to teach that the Ku Klux Klan is “morally wrong.”

https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/politics-news/texas-senate-passes-bill-removes-requirement-teach-ku-klux-klan-n1274610 

And also…

“The Texas Senate on Friday passed legislation that would end requirements that public schools include writings on women’s suffrage and the civil rights movement in social studies classes. Among the figures whose works would be dropped: Susan B. Anthony, Cesar Chavez, and Martin Luther King Jr., whose “I Have a Dream” speech and “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” would no longer make the curriculum cut.”

https://news.bloomberglaw.com/social-justice/texas-senate-votes-to-remove-required-lessons-on-civil-rights 

It used to be Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was the only name we knew and were taught in history class. Now they are doing away with him, too, it seems.

As more is revealed about the truth of who Dr. King was beyond the “I Have A Dream” speech (including that when he was born, Martin Luther King Jr.’s name was Michael…read more about that here), it is no surprise to me that systems are now trying to limit the already limited information we have on him.

Thus, it is also no surprise little is known of his brother, although he was so prominently involved in everything Dr. King stood for. Their mother, Alberta King, was also killed.

There is definitely something strange about this.

Family matriarch Alberta Williams King is flanked by her sons, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on her right and Rev. A.D. King on her left. Isaac Newton Farris, the husband of her daughter, Christine, stands behind them. (AJC file photo) Credit: contributed

Now that you know A.D. King existed, the next time you see a photo of Dr. Martin King, also look for Rev. A.D. King. Chances are he was right there, hiding in plain sight.


Click Here to Check Out More Black History Fun Facts!

Black History Fun Fact Friday – Sundown Towns

BLACK HISTORY

“Beginning in about 1890 and continuing until 1968, white Americans established thousands of towns across the United States for whites only. Many towns drove out their black populations, then posted sundown signs.” – James W. Lowen

When I first published this article in 2017, I got much controversy about it. I didn’t take it personally for two reasons. First, very little literature covers sundown towns, and not much is said about it in the limited topics covered during black history month.

The other reason is, although these towns were known as sundown towns, the people of the town did not call it that. It was only a well-known fact that some blacks were not allowed in some towns, and if they visited, they had better leave before the sun sets or risk lynching. Therefore, when I wrote about it, some people thought I was making it up.

IMG-1223
Follow me on Instagram @yecheilyah

This past week, I posted this image to my Instagram, and I was surprised to see how many more people had not heard of this. For this reason, today, we are revisiting our black history fun fact on 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 town’s founder 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.  Sundown towns were also known as “Sunset Towns.”

“A sundown town town is an organized jurisdiction that for decades kept African Americans or other groups from living in it and was thus “all-white” on purpose.”

Side Note: In the black community, black kids are constantly warned to “come in the house when the street lights come on,” so many of us had to be in the house before the sunset. I wonder if Sundown Towns had something to do with this. Not to say black parents are the only ones with this command, but it’s food for thought.

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.

Jim Crow laws were state and local laws that enforced racial segregation in the southern and northern United States to keep blacks in a state of servitude. It included having to look down and step to the side when a white person walked by, drinking from separate water fountains, entering the rear of the bus, sitting in the balcony of the movie theater (which came to be known as “Nigger Heaven,”), attending separate schools, and more.

While Jim Crow and segregation are most notably known as a southern practice (“The Jim Crow South”), it also existed in the north. In fact, many parts of the north were more segregated than the south, and when it comes to Sundown Towns, these communities mainly existed in the north as the Great Migration brought floods of blacks into northern cities. Many suburbs to this day are mostly white because they were either part of redlining -the systematic denial of various services to black residents either explicitly or through the selective raising of prices – or its white residents ran its black residents out of town, and the descendants of those people kept it that way.

White_only_-_Detroit_1943

I’ll use Chicago as an example, still one of the most segregated cities in America. Yes, I said Chicago. Remember, we started this conversation with Anna (“Ain’t No Negroes Allowed”), Illinois.

Screenshot (14)
From Time .com / Bettmann / Getty Images

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visited Chicago in 1966 due to the high poverty rate in black neighborhoods and rented an apartment on the west side. He was there as part of what he would call The Poor People’s Campaign and the Freedom Movement. On August 5, 1966, King led a march through Cicero, an all-white district, and was hit in the head with a rock by members of the angry mob.

Years later (the early 80s), my brother-in-law and his friends would be chased out of this same area, racial slurs hitting their backs as they rode their bikes out of Cicero.

poster_caa060f6d48c41ae8e6e574b5838f5ed_57654824_ver1.0_640_480

This statue below is 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 this was a free country, and 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 live today when large white populations migrate to the suburban part of the city with the express purpose of separating themselves from the minority population. We can see this in our Cicero example.

Black History Fun Fact Friday: 8 Black Communities That Prospered

Originally Published: 9/28/2016

Updated: 1/22/2021


I love entrepreneurship. I talk about it. I live it. I stand behind it. I encourage all people, especially black people, to go on and do it if it is within their means to do so. If you’ve ever had a desire to own your own business, I say to go for it.

Here are some black-owned communities that prospered to get your blood pumping.

Free Blacks of Israel Hill

This community was the inspiration for the backstory of Renaissance: The Nora White StoryNora is a descendent of the free blacks of Israel Hill. It is how her father Gideon inherited five acres of land and why, although Nora’s not very impressed, they’re doing well financially compared to those around them. It was during my trip to New Mexico in 2016 while reading Melvin Patrick Ely’s book Israel on The Appomattox, winner of THE BANCROFT PRIZE, A New York Times Book Review, and Atlantic Monthly Editors’ Choice that the first inklings of the back story emerged.

The community was settled in Prince Edward County, Virginia, in 1810-1811 by ninety formerly enslaved persons. These slaves (now freedmen) received freedom and 350 acres from Judith Randolph under the will of her husband, Richard Randolph. These Israelites and other free Blacks worked as farmers, craftspeople, and Appomattox River boatmen. Some labored alongside whites for equal wages, and the family of early settler Hercules White bought and sold real estate in Farmville. Israel Hill remained a vibrant black community into the twentieth century.

Rosewood

The Rosewood community came back into people’s consciousness when John Singleton made a movie for it starring Ving Rhames in 1997. The quiet town prospered in 1870 when a railway depot was set up to transport the abundant red cedar, from which the town got its name, from Rosewood to a pencil factory in cedar key. By 1900 it was predominantly Black with a school, turpentine mill, baseball team, general store, and sugarcane mill. The community had two dozen plank two-story homes, some other small houses, and several small unoccupied plank structures.

Blackdom

There was much revelation during my New Mexico trip. During that time, I learned of Blackdom, another little-known Black community about 18 miles southwest of Roswell, New Mexico, and was founded by Frank and Ella Boyer. Walking 2,000 miles on foot from Georgia to New Mexico, Boyer left his wife and children behind to cultivate land in the West’s free territory before sending his family some three years later. At this time in history, Blacks had begun migrating from the south in significant numbers in a movement called “The Great Exodus” following the Homestead Act of 1862, particularly in Kansas. Henry was a wagoner in the American-Mexican war when he first set eyes on the New Mexico land. The Artesian Water sprang in abundance as more and more blacks were invited and nourished on the land. Blackdom had its own school and post office.

Mound Bayou, MS

The first all-black town in Mississippi, Mound Bayou was founded by two former slaves, Isaiah Montgomery and his cousin, Benjamin Green. In December of 1886, according to a Cleveland Mississippi article of July 1887, Montgomery and Green bought 840 acres of land from the Louisville-New Orleans & Texas Railroad for $7 an acre. That acreage would serve as the site of Mound Bayou.

The men were successful, reaching a population of 4,000 people (99.6 percent black) by 1907. The community had a train depot, a bank, a post office, numerous thriving industries, various stores and eateries, a newspaper, a telephone exchange, and, eventually, a hospital. Mound Bayou was a flourishing community.

Nicodemus Township in Graham County, Kansas

This town was founded in 1877 by seven members, six of whom were Black along the south fork of the Solomon River. Benjamin “Pap” Singleton, a former slave and Underground Railroad conductor, helped produce the “Kansas Fever” of the late 1870s. Tens of thousands of African Americans left their homes headed for Singleton’s Cherokee County colony or Nicodemus, in Graham County, Kansas.

Promoted as the “Promised Land” throughout the south, founders hosted visits by potential settlers. By 1879 the town’s population stood at about 700.

The All-Black Community of Boley, Oklahoma

The all-black community of Boley, OK, was founded in 1904. With Railroad access and land that helped, Boley became one of at least 20 Black towns in Oklahoma to thrive. By 1907, it had at least 1,000 residents, and twice that many farmers settled outside of town. There were several businesses and an industrial school.

Fort, Mose, Florida

Located just north of St. Augustine, Fort Mose was the first free black settlement in what is now the United States. King Charles II of Spain issued what would become one of the first proclamations that any male slave on an English Plantation who escaped to Spanish Florida would be granted freedom if he joined the Militia and converted to catholicism. We see this a lot throughout history. Whether we are talking Catholicism, Islam, or Christianity, none of these religions had anything to do with the black man, woman, and child’s natural Israelite way of life (Muhammad converted blacks to Islam a thousand years before the Europeans came with Christianity.)

In any event, by 1738, there were hundreds of blacks, mostly runaways from the Carolinas, living in what became Fort Mose. They were skilled workers, blacksmiths, carpenters, cattlemen, boatmen, and farmers. They created a colony of freed people with accompanying women and children that ultimately attracted other fugitive slaves.

Black Wall-Street

There were over twenty black communities in Oklahoma.

Greenwood, a neighborhood in North Tulsa, Oklahoma, was one of the most successful and wealthiest black communities in the United States during the early 20th Century. It was popularly known as America’s “Black Wall Street” due to its financial success that mirrored Wall Street. During the oil boom of the 1910s, which gained the town such titles as “Oil Capital of the World”, the area of northeast Oklahoma around Tulsa flourished, including the Greenwood neighborhood. Home to several prominent Black business people, the community held many multimillionaires.

Greenwood had grocery stores, clothing stores, barbershops, banks, hotels, cafes, movie theaters, two newspapers, and many contemporary homes. The dollar circulated thirty-six to one-hundred times, which means that sometimes it took up to a year before the dollar left the community. To put this in perspective: today, the black dollar leave the black community in fifteen minutes.


Check out more Black History Fun Fact Friday Articles Here

Black History Fun Fact Friday – Beyond Selma: The Civil Rights Movement in Jacksonville, Florida by KE Garland

When you think of the civil rights movement, what cities come to mind? Mobile? Birmingham? Atlanta? some place, Mississippi? How about Jacksonville, Florida? Probably not, but this southern city and its leaders were just as influential as Selma.

I found this out four years ago, when I posted this photo to my blog.

A fellow blogger noticed the background and sent it to her friend, Rodney L. Hurst Sr. Mr. Hurst contacted me about purchasing a copy and explained the meaning of the sign behind the gentlemen’s heads.

That sign is actually a historic site marker commemorating an important civil rights event in Jacksonville called, Ax Handle Saturday.

I was excited to hear about this little-known Black history fact and asked Mr. Hurst to a breakfast interview to understand more.

KG: Can you describe a little bit about what Ax Handle Saturday was and what happened? 

RH: I was president of the Youth Council NAACP and I led the sit-ins at the ripe old age of sixteen. My mentor was a guy named Rutledge Pearson.

KG: A school is named after him?

RH: Yes. One school is named after him. In fact, he and Earl Johnson were inducted into the Civil Rights Hall of Fame earlier this month (2016) in Tallahassee. He taught me eighth-grade American history. When I went to his class, he told me about the textbook and had other class members to talk about the textbook and then he said leave it home.

Mr. Pearson would not teach American history from the slanted and racist viewpoint of white textbook authors and historians. Our study of American history did not revolve around a book that only had the names of Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver. We studied John Hope Franklin, Althea Gibson, and Thurgood Marshall.

The first book report I did was on a guy named Toussaint Louverture, who fast became one of my favorites. He led the only successful slave revolt in this hemisphere, eventually became the Father of Haiti, and because of what he was able to do in Central America in fighting Napoleon, and controlling the shipping routes, Napoleon had to sell Louisiana territory to this country. You will never read his name in an American history book and he is inextricably bound to the history of this country.

In Mr. Pearson’s history class, it was Black history every day in his class. He also said, freedom is not free; if you’re not part of the solution, you are a part of the problem. He encouraged us to join the Youth Council of NAACP. American history teacher in an eighth-grade class encouraging his students to join the Youth Council NAACP?

KG: You would get fired today doing that. 

RH: Sure. And I joined when I was age 11, became president when I was 15, and led the sit-ins when I was 16. The sit-ins in Jacksonville were led by high-school students, which is one of the reasons we did it during the summer, as opposed to college students who were able to do it year-round.

We sat in Woolworth’s, where the federal courthouse is now. We sat in at the lunch counters: Kress, Woolworths, Grants, and McCory’s, which were downtown stores. And every downtown department store had a white lunch counter. Some had colored lunch counters, like Woolworths, which was at the back of the store. Others didn’t have colored lunch counters, but you would go to the end of the white lunch counter to order.

KG: But you couldn’t sit down?

RH: You couldn’t sit down. If the waitresses would come and take your order, then okay. So, we said, “No!” During my senior year we sat in. We sat in for two weeks. Woolworths closed the lunch counter. There were whites who stood behind us yelling, jungle bunny, nigger, go back to Africa ‘cause they couldn’t get their fresh lunches.

Two weeks later on August 27th, we were sitting in at Grants, which was on the corner of Adams and Main Street. And there were other incidents leading up to that. We had a white student, Parker, who joined us from Florida State (University) and the whites who were behind us thought he was the leader. Some white construction workers were standing behind him with big construction tools and these guys picked him up and formed a circle around him and walked him out to safety. All this time there were no police in downtown Jacksonville.

One guy had whittled off the end of his walking cane and would walk behind each of us and stuck all of us in the back with his walking cane. Again, no police. When we were attacked, we were attacked by 200 white men with ax handles and baseball bats. Black downtown was attacked. If you were white and tried to protect those Blacks downtown, you were attacked, too. When the word finally got out, then police came from everywhere.

Mr. Hurst described what happened to Parker, the white FSU student who supported the sit-ins and also Leander Shaw, Florida Supreme Court judge’s role in enacting justice. The details are outlined in his historical memoir It Was Never about a Hot Dog and a Coke! 

But I want to stop here and emphasize a few points about meeting and talking with Mr. Hurst.

Understanding Black history in your city is important. I’m not from Jacksonville, but I’ve lived here for approximately 20 years. Prior to our happenstance meeting, I’d never heard of Rodney L. Hurst Sr. Subsequently, before our conversation, I was ignorant to the role Jacksonville played in the Movement. I’d heard of Rutledge Pearson Elementary School, but I didn’t know the significance of the person for whom it was named. I wonder if the 95% Black student population knows the rich history to which they’re connected?

Living history is important. Ax Handle Saturday occurred August 27, 1960. That’s 60 years ago. Mr. Hurst is old enough to be my father, not my grandfather or great-grandfather, my father. Sometimes, grainy documentaries make racial oppression seem as if it was eons ago. My conversation with Mr. Hurst reminded me that it was not. Luckily for the K-12 and college students he speaks to, he’s able to authenticate a perspective of a time period that is linked to our country’s history.

Teacher autonomy is important. As a former high-school English teacher, I have to highlight the autonomy teachers had in the 60s. Mr. Hurst’s history teacher was able to make an informed decision about his students and what resources they needed in order to be successful, in not only understanding history in America, but also in transforming their communities. Mr. Hurst was directly influenced by Rutledge’s off-script lessons and push to join an organization specifically with their best interests at heart. Hurst possibly would have never been a part of Ax Handle Saturday had Rutledge stuck to a scripted curriculum.

The takeaways from our interview are endless. But if nothing else, I hope these words inspire you to learn more about the influential Black people in your area because, after all, Black history is American history.


Dr. KE Garland

Katherin is a First Place Royal Palms Literary Award winning writer for Creative Nonfiction. Her work has been featured in the South Florida TimesTalking Soup and For Harriet. She typically writes in order to inspire social change. Other examples of her work can be found on her personal blog.
 
Website: kegarland.com
Instagram: kegarland
Twitter: @kegarland

My Memoir Writing Journey

What exactly am I working on now? A lot of things but mostly my memoir. Now that Keep Yourself Full is on its way out, I want to get this done and I will have to deter a lot of projects to do it. At least until I finish the first draft and then I can work on other stuff and just work on the memoir from there. (I will still revise The Stella Trilogy first and release my next collection of poetry).

This is the hardest writing job I’ve ever undertaken. I have deleted everything I ever sent my email list as a sneak peek two years ago (can’t believe I let you in on that *insert eye-ball roll*) and have started over. I am fifty pages and nine chapters into the first draft so it’s not so bad considering starting over. What I don’t want this memoir to be is an autobiography. I’ve always wanted to write an autobiography, but that’s before I learned the difference between the two.

I learned memoirs differ from autobiographies. Memoirs are popular because they center on one theme and read like novels, making them much more interesting than the chronological format of the autobiography.

Theme

One thing I am working on is not making this psychoanalytic if that’s the right word. While I’ve endured much trauma in my life, I don’t want this to be a dark history of my crazy. I don’t want this to be a therapy session. This is difficult because I’m not a sugarcoat type person and neither is my mother. I gotta keep it all the way real. I gotta be honest. How do I do this without going too far?

My title is “I Wasn’t Built to Break,” so my theme is to take all the things that have been obstacles and challenges in my life, that could have broken me physically, mentally, and emotionally, but didn’t. This means that I will not go into every single detail of my life but I will focus on certain significant events, starting with growing up in the Robert Taylor Projects.

Anyone who grew up in any of Chicago’s projects is a survivor in my eyes, a warrior. It meant they not only escaped the drugs, violence, poverty, neglect, and gangs, but they also escaped literal death. Perched above the high-risers of Robert Taylor and Cabrini Green, snipers (aka Gang Members) with high-powered rifles would sit on a top floor (in a vacant apartment) and shoot their rivals. These bullets though, often hit innocent bystanders, mostly children.

I remember my Uncle coming to school to get us early because the buildings were shooting, and we had to run to our building. When I say it was a Warzone, I mean that literally. And none of us project kids ever got counseling or therapy for the things we saw. Not even the classmates of the seven-year-old Dantrell Davis from Cabrini who was shot by a sniper on his way to school in 1992 in front of his mother, teachers, police officers, and classmates.

Historical

Writing a memoir is no easy task so my approach is to research and write this as if I am writing a historical novel. Since I enjoy writing Historical Fiction, I want to incorporate history into my testimony. Instead of focusing on my experiences only, I want to take us back into the politics of some of what was going on in the world I did not have knowledge of as a kid. There’s my world where I can only see what’s in front of me and around me and then there’s the world at large. How did the decisions of others affect me, one of 21,000 children growing up in what became known as one of the poorest urban communities in the United States, a concentration of poverty they called it?

I want to go into how the projects under the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) replaced the Chicago Slums, the discriminatory policies like redlining that kept blacks from purchasing homes in their own neighborhoods, the kitchenettes and one-room basements blacks lived in during the 30s, 40s and 50s, the beacon of hope the projects promised as a replacement, the mixed-community that was there (because whites and blacks both lived in the PJs!), the racial riots that never made the news, and the racist policies that caused many white families to move out of the projects and into the suburbs.

And what about the Plan for Transformation that demolished Public Housing and replaced them with a mixed-income community of condos and townhomes? What did this cultural mix mean for former public housing residents? And who was Robert Taylor? The black man on the board of CHA who opposed building the projects on the same land as the slums? The black man who wanted to spread the buildings out, so they fully integrated blacks throughout Chicago and who, after CHA refused, quit. I hope that if I do this, it will be a much enjoyable read.

I want to incorporate both history and personal testimony with the testimony supporting history. I remember for instance that whole “Homie the Clown” Scare of the early 90s. I remember that because I had nightmares of the clown coming into our apartment and chasing me around the couch. In 1991, rumors surfaced that a man who we called “Homie the Clown” was riding around in a van kidnapping and killing kids.

“Homey the Clown,” was the name of a character played by Damon Wayans on the early 90s sketch-comedy show In Living Color. The character was an angry black ex-con who carried a sock for knocking bad kids upside the head. His catchphrase was “Homey don’t play that.” Our “Homie the Clown” was allegedly dressed as a clown and went around kidnapping kids. Rumors said that he rode in a van and liked to stand next to mailboxes eating bananas.

This sounds silly now, but it was serious back then, just like the recent clown scares. We got let out of school early and children were afraid to walk by mailboxes. It also didn’t help that Stephen King’s IT had also just come out.

Community

It wasn’t all bad though so I want to talk about the close-knit community that existed there too that never made the news. Generations of families grew up together in what is rarely seen today. My mother’s friend, who lived next door, helped her to babysit. People watched one another children, shopped together, stepped up when someone was in need and shared food. We could go next door or downstairs to ask if someone had sugar or flour. We bartered services and passed along information about job openings or what was new at the Aid office and the candy lady was an entrepreneur. She used her food stamps to open a candy store back when you can get one piece of candy for every penny you had, better known as Penny Candy. People threw house parties and sleepovers.

Robert Taylor was not just a concentration of poverty. It was also a thriving community. When things were good, they were really good, and everyone was family. But you didn’t see this on the news. We were not all crack babies. We were not animals.

Black History Fun Fact Friday – Esther Georgia Irving Cooper

Welcome to another Black History Fun Fact Friday. Today, we meet a woman you may not have heard about but who has done tremendous community work for the betterment of education for African Americans.

Esther Georgia Irving Cooper was born on November 28, 1881, in Cleveland, Ohio. While she’s the daughter of former slaves, her mother’s side of the family gained their freedom sometime before the Civil War and came to Ohio from North Carolina in the 1850s. Esther worked for Harry Clay Smith, a black man of the Ohio legislature and editor of the Cleveland Gazette. Esther later moved to Washington D.C. in 1913 as a stenographer in the Forrest Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It was here that she met her husband, George Posea Cooper, a Tennessee native and veteran of the Philippine Insurrection then serving as a technical sergeant in the Quartermaster Corps at Fort Myer in Alexandria County (after 1920 Arlington County). The couple married on September 10, 1913, and had three daughters. The Cooper‘s valued education and Esther worked part-time as a teacher of English, shorthand, and typing at the National Training School for Women and Girls. She also managed business classes in the adult program of the Arlington County Public Schools as part of the Federal Education Rehabilitation Act.

Esther is best known for her Civil Rights Activism in Arlington County. She became an advocate for the improvement of African American education after deciding not to send her children to Arlington’s black schools because of the poor upkeep. She also took part in many community improvement organizations, lobbied on behalf of the Citizens Committee for School Improvement, and helped organize the Jennie Dean Community Center Association, a women’s group that raised money to purchase land for a recreation center open to African Americans.

Esther also served as president of the Kemper School Parent-Teacher Association, fought to establish an accredited junior high school, and organized and led the Arlington County branch of the NAACP. Under her leadership, the Arlington NAACP launched a court case challenging inequalities in the county’s high school facilities. The group’s efforts culminated in Carter v. School Board of Arlington County (1950), in which the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the county’s separate high schools constituted unlawful racial discrimination.

I love shedding light on the Esther’s of the world because they are not the same ten black leaders we’ve heard about and we hear about repeatedly. These unfamiliar faces help us understand just how powerful our contributions have been to the world as there are so many who are unknown and unrecognized, their names left out of the history books, school curricula, and Google searches. The best way to honor those who have put in great work on behalf of bettering our communities is to act. To pick up the mantle and do what we can from our corners of the world. To use whatever skill, whatever talent, whatever gifts we’ve been given to do our part. The best way to honor anyone we feel has contributed anything significant to this world is to do the work needed to move forward and to take the time to appreciate and to honor those individuals who are still alive and who are working. Let’s not wait until their deaths to support fully. Let us do that now, today, while they live, and let us help them in their endeavors in whatever way we can according to the gifts we have been given. Let us give people their flowers now who deserve them. The next day is not promised. Let us not wait.

Esther did the work. May we do the same, in whatever capacity to which we are able.