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
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Black History Fun Fact Friday – Twins or Nay?

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I’m not so sure we should call this a fun “Fact” Friday. It’s more like a Black History Fun Mystery Friday. Who wants to play? Get your magnifying glasses out, you’re gonna need them!

What if you were arrested and brought into jail, but upon entering were told that you had already been there? In fact, you were arrested before. “No I wasn’t,” you’d most likely say. The clerk will proceed to show you pictures of yourself. “Wow,” you think. “That’s my picture but I’ve never seen it before.”

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Mug Shot of Will West

That is what happened to Will West and William West. I admit this story is still controversial. Were they twins or not? I cannot say for sure myself. As a twin, naturally this story fascinates me. Was it a trick? Was it real? Did something supernatural take place? Maybe one man went back in time? Whatever happened, we have a real doppelganger situation on our hands (What’s a doppelganger? I take it you don’t watch Flash the TV show. A doppelganger is the version of you that exists in another timeline). I’m not joking. I think there really was something supernatural going on.

According to the story, Will West (or Will Tell, certain sources give different last names. Most of them use West so I will in this article) was arrested in 1903 and sent to the Leavenworth Penitentiary in Kansas. Back then they used a facial recognition system called The Bertillon System. The Bertillon System is a system developed by Alphonse Bertillon, a French criminologist who first developed the system of physical measurements of body parts, especially components of the head and face, to produce a detailed description of an individual. Invented in 1879, the system became known as the Bertillon system and gained acceptance as a reliable method of criminal investigation, though there were complaints that the system was flawed. The West case proved that it was in 1903 when two unrelated black men would inadvertently inspire the use of a different system, or at least that’s what is documented.

Will walked into Leavenworth in 1903 and caused the Clerk to double check his records. He was adamant that he’d seen this man before. In fact, not only did he see him before but it was two long years ago. Yes, he is sure of it. He had already arrested the man standing in front of him and his name was William West.

Using the Bertillon System would not help in this case, as the men had the same measurements and were identical in appearance. Let us imagine what the conversation was like. The clerk, whose name was McClaughty, pulls out Williams records, flips through them and looks up at Will. His mouth is twisted, his brow carving deep lines in his head. He looks away, staring at the files in front of him and then back up at Will.

“So, what you’re saying is that this ain’t you?”

The man turns the files around to show a photo of what looks to be the man in front of him.

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Mug shot of William

Will’s eyes buck but he shakes his head.

“No. I mean, that’s my picture but I don’t know where you got it from. I have never been here before.”

The Clerk did more searching and discovered that a William West was arrested two years ago for murder and that Will was a different person altogether. The incident caused the move from The Bertillon System to that of fingerprinting in criminal cases. Or at least the start of its use in the U.S. Fingerprinting had been used before in other parts of the world. According to Google: “The English first began using fingerprints in July of 1858, when Sir William James Herschel, Chief Magistrate of the Hooghly district in Jungipoor, India, first used fingerprints on native contracts. (By the way, Twins have different fingerprints)

Here’s a side by side of Will and William:

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Some sources say that the men really were Twins. If this is true, why would Will lie about it? I mean, he was being arrested. What would be the motive behind the twin’s actions? Did they commit a crime together and one just got caught later?

If you scroll up to the first photo of Will and then back to the profile of William, their heads are shaped differently. William’s lump is more pronounced and there’s more of a curve. William’s profile also shows that his cheeks are slightly more sunken in, which isn’t so in the first image. This would indeed show flaws in the Bertillon System, which gave the men the same measurements (but you can look at the back of their heads and see they are shaped differently). William is also wearing more of a frown than Will is. According to the story, William was arrested for murder two years earlier. By the look on his face, he appears to have been incarcerated longer. I won’t say that he did it because we are talking about 1903 here ( a time where black men were often accused of a murder they did not commit), but he does look to be more agitated than Will.

Will’s image is also lighter and that’s either a mole or ink above his lips and under the nose. Either way, it’s not in William’s photo. Neither is what looks to be a scar on William’s head present in Will’s picture. There’s enough evidence physically to see these may, in fact, be two different people. One thing’s for sure, these men look too much alike not to be twins, but who knows? Maybe Will is from a different timeline altogether or the men really were not related. After all, the truth is stranger than fiction.


Here’s a throwback for fun by the way. This is Tracey and me turning ten. I can’t use a recent picture because then it’ll be obvious. I have locs and she doesn’t.

Can you solve the mystery? Where’s EC? (Lol hee hee)

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Photo Source: Copyright©Yecheilyah Ysrayl. May, 1997

Twin Show Down!!

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I saw a post earlier today about these twins who are both serving as District Court Judges and pretty much have a lot more in common, from the ages of their children, to marrying their hubby’s two months apart. I discovered another blogger (not sure if she wants me to mention her or not) who is also a twin. I am also a twin!

I’m challenging all Twins to post their twin pics! Please do this on your own blog and link to this page so I can see them. The Twin Show-Down starts now!!!

*Clears throat: if I’m the only one who participates than me and my twin will just have to suck up all the attention 🙂 But no, seriously, I wanna see your twin!*

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The Twins Had a Brother

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dem twins lived around the corner
boys
chocolate
tall and smooth skinned like
dem twins
didn’t know they had a brother tho
till word got round bout the mind he left on his mother’s front porch
that ain’t a metaphor
his brains divided itself between the concrete and front porch of his mother’s front yard
I heard the dice did it
the way it be running across the concrete
acted like it didn’t know better
than to come walking out the palms of hands
like it didn’t smell the misery of struggle between the cracks
like it ain’t hear the whispering of people on top the rocks
feel the oppression slipping outta the hands of wanna be gangsta’s
why it ain’t just stop before turning up numbers
maybe dem twins woulda still had a brotha
it was a block of them that seen it
almost as normal as a street fight
the way lives don’t matter in the hood
all because of dice
and dollar bills
ain’t know dollars were so expensive
till it expended ole boys life
I wonder if he rolled a seven or eleven
Wonder what he ate for dinner last
Or how that dolla ended up in his pocket
Or if the dolla knew what was coming
But anyway it was a block of them who seen it
some got carried off to hide outs from ole boy
and some was taken out of school
I wanted to go too
go away from the stench of prophecy behind my house
away from the Isaiah’s and Deuteronomy’s leaning against they mama’s voice
making it sound all crazy like
and dem Leviticus’s standing on the corner
akin like the ground wasn’t still warm from ole boys blood
just around the corner from my house
when I found out
that the twins had a brotha

MSN Reports: “These twins can teach us a lot about racial identity”

As many of you already know, I also happen to be a twin. So naturally, I was drawn to this story. Racial identity also happens to be the central theme of the short story series (Stella Trilogy) I’m writing, each part surrounding a person’s search for identity, knit together by the same blood. Book #1: Between Slavery & Freedom is available now on Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Lulu, iBookstore, etch. In the meantime, check out this article.

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© Provided by Vox.com Lucy and Maria Aylmer as children (YouTube)

MSN News Article:

“There’s a set of biracial twins in the UK who are turning heads because one is black and the other is white.” That’s how the New York Post introduced a profile of Lucy and Maria Aylmer, 18-year-olds whose father identifies as white and whose mother is “half-Jamaican” (and, we’re to assume, thinks of herself as black).

It’s just the most recent story of fraternal twins born with such dramatic variations in complexion they’re seen by many — and even see themselves  — as members of two different racial groups.

Each of these situations and their accompanying striking images, is a reminder of how fluid and subjective the racial categories we’re all familiar with are.

What “black and white twins” can teach us about race: it’s not real

Lucy and Maria’s story, and all the other sensational tales in the ” Black and White Twins: born a minute apart” vein are actually just overblown reports on siblings who, because of normal genetic variations that show up in more striking ways in their cases, have different complexions.

But they’re fascinating because they highlight just how flimsy and open to interpretation the racial categories we use in the US and around the world are.

Even the Post’s description of the Aylmer twins is clumsy, asserting that they’re each “biracial,” but stating in the very same sentence that one is white and the other is black.

And the fact that the two, despite having the same parents,  see themselves as belonging to two different racial groups ( “I am white and Maria is black,” Lucy told the Post) proves that there’s a lot more than biology or heritage informing racial identity.

It’s a reminder that the racial categories we use are fickle, flexible, open to interpretation, and have just as many exceptions as they do rules when it comes to their criteria for membership— that’s why they have been described as “not real,” meaning:

  • They’re not based on facts that people can even begin to agree on. (If we can’t even get a consensus that people with the same parents are the same race, where does that leave us?)
  • They’re not permanent. (If Lucy decides one day, like many other people with similar backgrounds, that her Jamaican mother is black and therefore, so is she, who’s to stop her?)
  • They’re not scientific. (There’s no blood test or medical assessment that will provide a “white” result for Lucy and a “black” one for Maria.)
  • They’re not consistent (Other twins with the same respective looks and identical parentage as these twins, might both choose to call themselves black or biracial.)

“Not real” doesn’t mean not important

Of course, none of this changes the fact that the concept of race is hugely important in our lives, in the United States, in the UK where the twins live, and around the world.

There’s no question that the way people categorize Lucy and Maria, and the way they think of themselves, will affect their lives.

That’s because, even though race is highly subjective, racism and discrimination based on what people believe about race are very real. The racial categories to which we’re assigned, based on how we look to others or how we identify, can determine real-life experiences, inspire hate, drive political outcomes, and make the difference between life and death.

But it’s still  important to remember that these consequences are a result of human-created racial categories that are based on shaky reasoning and shady motivations. This makes the borders of the various groups impossible to pin down — as the “black and white” twins demonstrate — and renders modern debates about how particular people should identify, futile.”

Commonly Asked Questions about Twins

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Yea, you guessed it, I’m a twin. The following questions have followed me around my whole life, and on behalf of twins everywhere, I present the following commonly, sometimes annoyingly, asked questions:

“Yall twins?”

We are obviously twins. But I must say I’m guilty of this myself. Though being a twin, when I see other twins I ask the same questions other people ask me. Hmmm, wonder if that breaks some kind of twin rule.

“Who the oldest?”

Is this a trick question? But since you asked, I came out first.

“By how many minutes?”

Five whole minutes and I’m the big sister, yay me

“Yall fraternal or identical?”

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This is a good question actually. A lot of people get confused between the two. Identical twins look well, identical, but this doesn’t determine whether or not they’re identical. A general stereotype about identical twins is that they are clones. They act alike, look alike, and are expected to be “identical.” However, the term identical twins actually describe how we form in the womb, not what we look like. Also known as monozygotic, identical twins are twins who developed from one egg that splits and forms two embryos. Fraternal, or dizygotic, twins develop from two eggs, each fertilized by separate sperm cells. (This is why fraternal twins sometimes look nothing alike) Dizygotic twins share about 50% of their genetic traits, the same as any other siblings born at different times. With that said, my sister and I are identical twins.

“Who’s the mean one?”

You know, being a twin doesn’t mean that we share personalities. In some ways we do, but we’re not half of one thing and another half of another thing. There’s not one who’s wholly mean and another who’s wholly nice. We both still have our own individual character traits.

“If I hit you, will she feel it?”

I don’t know, if I hit you, will you feel it?

Some interesting facts about identical twins:

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• The causes of monozygotic twinning are generally unknown and unidentified. No one really knows why an egg splits; according to the “professionals” it’s a malfunction of the normal development process. I beg to differ, there is nothing abnormal about us. We’re awesome. 🙂

• There’s no hereditary trait that influences a predisposition to having identical twins. Contrary to popular belief identical twins do not run in families, although there are families with a high incidence of identical twins.

• Identical twins represent about a third of all twins. fraternal twins are twice as common as identical.

• Birth rate statistics for identical twinning have remained stable over the years, despite the overall increase in twins and multiples since the late 1980’s. The odds of having identical twins are about 3 in 1,000, whereas the birthrate for all twins is about 32.2 in 1,000.

• Identical twinning is not generally influenced by fertility-enhancing treatments like drugs or in vitro, although identical twins have been produced in pregnancies that were the result of such treatments.

• Birth rates for identical twins are consistent across populations; it is the same regardless of race, geography or mate

 

“What’s the most fun thing about being a twin?”

People are fascinated by us.