It’s Morning In America

Last night America elected its first black president.  We made history, as everyone still enjoys saying.  And I think we’ve earned the right to bask in the glow for a little bit.

But listen, there’s still a lot to be done.

First and foremost, it should be stated that, although come January we will have a Black president, that does not mean that racism is “over”.  That having a black president does not end the dialogue we have on this blog, on other blogs, and in meatspace about race, prejudice, and the challenges people of color face in this country and the world.  Obama’s win only proves that he specifically had what it took to win this election.  It wasn’t that any black person could have won, just as not any random woman could have won.  McCain made the mistake of thinking that; of looking at people like labels.

So there’s still a lot of anti-racist work to be done.  Racism still needs to be eliminated.  And while I’m hopeful that having a black president is one major step in that direction, it can also cause a setback as people throw “But we have a black president!” in our faces every time we bring up the deep-seated problems in this country.  We can’t let that happen.

Another important thing to remember is that Obama is not perfect and he’s not supernatural.  While we can rejoice in his presidency, we can’t cut him any slack.  And I think we must be willing, as activists and as non-activists, to work hard for change.  He said as much in his speech last night, so let’s hold him to his word.  More than ever we need to hold a president to his word this time around.

Am I wrong to feel, to hope, that doing so will be easier?  That in 4 years I’m going to feel better about my country than I do today?  Obama has never shared all of my values, but I am overwhelmed right now with a good feeling.

All good things must come to an end

February and Black History Month are over! My limited exposure to the media meant I didn’t have to deal with too much stupid BHM crap this year. Must remember this strategy next time around.

First thing, I want to thank all of the guest bloggers and essayists who contributed to ABW last month. Your contributions were everything I hoped for and more — you’re all amazing and talented folks.

On the guest blogger front, I’m happy to announce that Karynthia will be joining us as a regular political blogger. She’ll usually post on Mondays, though if this election continues to bring the crazy, you might see her even more. Nora will remain a contributor as well.

Due to the awesomeness of the author essays, I am going to make them a regular feature. I might use different themes each month or stick with the history thing, I’m not sure yet. Suggestions are welcome.

I must say, though last month was awesome, was also one of the busiest on this blog in a long time. I loved it, but I am ready for a break. So here are some links to tide you over this weekend:

If you’re interested in more discussion, debate, and musings from creators (not just of fiction, but of art, comics, television, movies, etc.) then I highly suggest you look over the Race Around the Net list compiled by digital_femme on LJ. It’s an excellent place to start if you’re looking to read and learn more.

You may have noticed links to Black News Junkie on some posts. BNJ is sort of like Digg for black blogs. It’s a good place to see what folks on blogs are talking about, you can vote on interesting stories, and you can submit your own blog posts to it. Right now it only drives a bit of traffic, but as more people use it, it will benefit both bloggers and readers more. Go make an account!

For those of you interested in children’s literature written by and about black folks, check out the festivities over at The Brown Bookshelf. Every day in February they highlighted an author or illustrator and there is a lot of good stuff over there.

A few weeks ago I got an email about TheRoot.com, a new website headed by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. It’s a bit like a Huffington Post, but with African-American concerns at the fore. It’s also more news magazine-like with the various bloggers only being one component. So far I find it interesting and entertaining in equal measure.

Besides the blogs and news, there’s also a section where you can start your genealogical search and get your DNA tested to see where your origins lie. Now I am aware that this process isn’t perfect, but I am rather interested to see if there’s something in my background I’m not aware of or if I can find out from what region of Africa some of my ancestors hailed from. Still, until I have a few hundred dollars lying around doing nothing, I will just have to wait.

Last and least, here’s the stupidest Black History Month thing I came across on the Internets:

Walgreens Sort of Celebrates Black History Month

Walgreens BHM

Is this a cotton-picking joke? We’ll never know. What crazy stuff did you all find/hear about?

“How can we conjure the wondrous world we believe in?”

It’s a common misconception that writers create characters or situations that have a direct parallel to their lives or the people they know. It’s not always that straightforward, and many times happens on a deep, unconscious level. For Black History Month, I’ve invited a few writers to explore how history — whether personal or family or country or world — affects their fiction.

Today’s Guest Essay is by Andrea Hairston

Andrea HairstonFor many years I have taught various courses in 20th century Black Theatre, focusing on how 19th century blackface minstrelsy and its 20th century progeny served as a catalyst for many black theatre and film artists. In our discussions of black performers who donned the minstrel masks, many students couldn’t understand why any self-respecting African American would act in a coon show or why Native Americans acted in Wild West Shows. Despite our (obvious) complicity in any number of contemporary atrocities, students insisted they would never have done minstrelsy or “stood around watching horrible things going down on stage and off.”

Although I persuade them of the complex choices facing 19th and early 20th century performers, I realized that to a degree, I secretly shared my students’ smug, superior attitude. Shocked by my own self-righteous judgment, I determined to write about characters who we, given the luxury of historical distance, might dismiss or hold in contempt. On sabbatical, I researched blackface, hoodoo, vaudeville, and early film for a novel and a course I now teach on minstrelsy from Daddy Rice to Big Momma’s House.
Continue reading

“Each turn of a writer’s imagination creates a different history”

It’s a common misconception that writers create characters or situations that have a direct parallel to their lives or the people they know. It’s not always that straightforward, and many times happens on a deep, unconscious level. For Black History Month, I’ve invited a few writers to explore how history — whether personal or family or country or world — affects their fiction.

Today’s Guest Essay is by Charles Saunders

History influenced my writing from the get-go. In a way, fantasy fiction offers a different perspective on history – the perspective of mythology and folklore. It’s like looking at history through a kaleidoscope. Each turn of the tube yields a different image. And each turn of a writer’s imagination creates a different history.

Part of my motivation for writing the Imaro novels and other African-oriented fantasy stories was to make a new kaleidoscope for African history, because the one that existed at the time was flawed. The African-history perspective in fantasy and sword-and-sorcery fiction was either distorted or missing altogether. What I wanted to do was to reclaim that history, and bring what was lost or hidden back to light.

Three outstanding books on African history formed the foundation for the setting of the Imaro novels: The Lost Cities of Africa by Basil Davidson, The World and Africa by W.E.B. Du Bois, and Cheikh Anta Diop’s The African Origin of Civilization. Interestingly, Davidson was a white British scholar, Du Bois was African American and Diop was Senegalese. Yet despite the differences in their backgrounds, their works are remarkably similar.

Together, those books illuminate the African history that was hidden or destroyed in an attempt to foster the illusion that Africans had no history before their continent was colonized by Europeans. The fantasy fiction of the time when I conceived Imaro and his setting (that would be the early 1970s) replicated that illusion.

I used real history to change fantasy history – a reversal of the usual mode, in which fantasy history is a transmutation of real history. Were it not for the historical sources provided by the books of Du Bois, Davidson and Diop – along with many others that line the shelves of university libraries – I probably never would have started writing at all.

Charles Saunders is a writer and journalist living in Nova Scotia, Canada. He’s the author of the Imaro novels and short stories, plus several non-fiction books, columns, and screenplays.

(Extremely) Selected Bibliography

Novels

Imaro
Imaro 2: The Quest for Cush
Imaro 3: The Trail of Bohu

Short Fiction

Gimmile’s Songs, in Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora (2000)
Yahimba’s Choice, in Dark Matter: Reading the Bones (2004)

Essays

Why Blacks Don’t Read Science Fiction – Windhaven #5 (1977)
Why Blacks Should Read Science FictionDark Matter (2000)

Oh that black history!

February is coming up soon and that means Black History Month stuff will abound. While it is a bittersweet time of year for us black folks, it does serve as a reminder, even to ourselves, to go beyond the surface of our history in America and learn something new and useful (then put it out there for everyone else to learn).

This February I plan to celebrate the month in three ways.

First, I’ll continue the project I started last year and put up more of my own family history. I’m going to contact some of my mother’s college friends and ask them to write a little something about her. And I’ll keep reaching back into the dark parts of history where my train-robbing ancestor’s antics still lurk.

Next, I plan to feature black authors and their books. I mainly know about science fiction and fantasy authors, so I welcome any suggestions of mainstream, fantasy, mystery, and non-fiction authors you’d like to see up on the blog.

Last, I want to invite some guest bloggers to contribute a post or two over the month. I’d really love to get some international black bloggers in for that. Again, if you have suggestions on who might be interesting, say so in the comments. (You can mention yourself, if you like :) )

I think that should fill up 29 days quite nicely, don’t you?

Our Black History – the Larkin Family in Fourth Creek

In 2004 the Finley-Larkin family had a reunion in Fourth Creek, Alabama. This branch of the family doesn’t have very regular reunions, but this one is generally felt to be among the best because we all went back ‘home’. We still have people who live in the area, though many have spread out to other parts of the South and some up North. Sadly, much of the land we once owned is no longer ours.

Still, it was an extremely moving trip for me. I stood on the land my ancestors walked and lived on. I stood in the church where they worshiped. I stood on the ground they were buried under. I stood inside my own history.

My cousin John Finley told us family stories during our tour of the area and one in particular stuck with me. The story of how the Larkin boys–my great-great grandfather and his brothers–came to own land in Fourth Creek. I recently called to ask that he tell me the story again so I could get it straight. I thought my computer was recording the conversation, but, alas, it betrayed me. Good thing I was taking notes.


The three Larkin brothers that started our branch of the family were Charles, Mose (or Moses), and Sump (or Sumpter) Larkin. They were from the Carolinas and of Irish descent. They came down to Alabama in order to buy some land and establish themselves. On the way down from the Carolinas they ‘picked up some wives’; at least one of the wives was mulatto. When they got to Alabama, the boys discovered that they would need more money in order to buy the land they wanted. So they went to Texas (sans wives) to make some money. Apparently, the opportunities in Texas were not as lucrative as they believed. According to legend, they conceived and pulled off a train heist. The proceeds were enough that they were able to go back to Alabama and buy land in Fourth Creek.

There was some sort of strife among the brothers regarding race. Apparently Charles and Sump objected to Mose having relations with women that were considered too dark. It isn’t clear if the Larkin brothers were fully ‘white’ themselves or were somewhat mixed. But at least one of them definitely wasn’t having any really dark-skinned folks in his family. Thus, there are now two Larkin graveyards in Fourth Creek, about a mile apart. One referred to as the ‘white’ cemetery and one referred to as the ‘black’ cemetery.

Mose was Julia Larkin Finley’s father. He was more tolerant of darker-skinned folks because Julia’s husband, Dallas, wasn’t light-skinned. There are no stories saying that Mose objected to this marriage. However, his brother Charles wasn’t so tolerant. His son, Archie, is my grandmother Ree’s father. He loved my great-grandmother, Kate, so the story goes. But the family would not allow him to marry her because she was too dark.

Tut Larkin - Julia's BrotherOne of the things I’ve always heard about the Larkins is that they were very keen to keep their light skin. Then as now, light skin was a status symbol. Light-skinned folks were seen as better or more white–or, at least, they thought they were. Because of this, there were quite a few marriages between too close of kin (by our standards).

The Larkins did have a modicum of influence in Fourth Creek because they were land owners and there were a lot of them. They were one of four interconnected families in that area; the Finleys, the Tidmores, and the Hicks were the others.

Julia married a Hicks and a Finley. My grandmother married a Tidmore (Derry) and so did her aunt Ida (Sam). Ree and Ida were close in age – really like sisters since they were only a few years apart. My grandfather, Derry, was the youngest of 8 or 10, I think, and just a few scant years older than Sam, who was his nephew. So my grandmother’s aunt married my grandfather’s nephew.

Yeah, it gives me a headache, too.

Eliza Alice Finley

I visited the cemeteries my ancestors were buried in. In one (which I was told is the ‘white’ cemetery, but I think whoever told me that was confused) Mose is buried along with Julia, Dallas, their daughter Eliza, and, oddly, Archie Larkin. As I said, it was an incredibly moving experience.


Before the reunion, my cousin Richard and great-aunt Peggy also told me stories about the Larkins.

On the Larkin side are very colorful characters.
The Larkins were Irish.
And I remember asking Aint Katie
sometime
about my grandmother Julia
and I said
“Who in Gramma’s family was black?”
And she said
“Nobody”

And I’m gunna tell you
why I asked that question.
They were being held
just like the slaves were
and I thought they might have been
workin’ off a debt
or somethin’.
Indentured in some way.
Although indentured servitude
should have been outlawed
maybe a hundred years
prior to that.
But when they freed all the slaves,
the white man had
locked them up
he wasn’t gunna let them go.
He had locked up
two of them
and the other sisters
came lookin’ for them.
They all jumped on him
and beat him up
then they all left.

So I just assumed they were
they had worked around
black folks
and were very familiar with them.

And also my
great-great grandfather,
(that’s three greats for you,)
would have been
Tom Larkin [father of Charles, Mose, and Sump].
And Tom had two families.
He had a white family
and a black family.
So the Larkins have been
kinda mixed race
for a long time.
They were Irish
and had that Irish temper.
So when the fights would start
the whites and the blacks
would get together
and fight anybody else
but when there was peace
they had nothin’ to do
with each other.
The black side and white side.

Ida Larkin - Julia's sisterThere were no black part of the family.
Gramma Julia’s mother was
Rose Larkin
she had about three sisters
one was named Jane.
Jane married
Sump Larkin
Rose married
Mose Larkin.
And that was gramma Julia’s
mother and father
Mose and Rose.
And then Sump married Jane.
Also great-grandmother Rose
had a brother named
George
and they were Carpenters
before they married the Larkins.
Their mother’s name
I think her name was
Lucy Carpenter.
I don’t know her husband’s name.
But to the best of my recollection
and everything that I’ve uncovered
they were all white
Irish white.
They told me the story
that when Sump and Jane
had their first child
they had to lock Sump
out of the house
because they had said
the child would be black.
Jane was darker than her sisters,
but she still had straight hair
she just had an olive complexion.
And Sump had made the statement
at the time
that if he thought
he had an ounce of
black blood in him
he would cut it out.
Of course
the baby came out white.

Yeah they wanted to keep
that side of the family
high-yellow.
That’s why a lotta
mental problems
on that side of the family.
Because they married
each other
first cousins
and that kinda stuff.
So it was a lotta
mental problems
in the family
because their inter-family marriage
and havin’ babies by
too close of a relative.
So it was just a messed up situation.

That happened in all the
high yellow families

All the higher yellow blacks
treated the darker color blacks
you know
like inferior
because they thought they were better.
They thought just because of
the color of their skin
they took the white man’s attitude.
And they wouldn’t
socialize with ‘em,
didn’t hardly marry
a darker skinded black.
They would go and
lay down with them
you know
like Archie did with Mom
and had a baby,
but as far as marrying
they didn’t hardly ever
marry outside of their
“High Yellow Clan”
I called them.
They were black people
so they lived with the black people
maybe next door to them
but they didn’t live with them.
You understand what I’m sayin’?

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Angry Wee One

I’m in the process of collecting more information for some other OurStory posts. I want to get stories on the Larkin family from a cousin and also do the interviews about my mom. Next week for sure there will be posts about my maternal grandmother Anna Ree and her mother Katie Bell. In the meantime, you’ll have to content yourself with this:

Tidmore Family Portrait

From the top left: My grandmother, Anna Ree Tidmore, my grandfather Derry Tidmore Sr., my grandmother’s mother Kate Rembert (nee Finley), my mother Marjorie T. Bradford, one of her sisters, Ella Tidmore, and… well, guess.

Whenever I look at this picture now, I can’t help but sing “One of these things is not like the other! One of these things does not belong.”

Right there is four generations of my family, and that was not even half of the immediate family living at the time or even living in the city. These are the only folks who could get themselves together to be dressed up in a photo studio. Sadly, only half of the people pictured are still alive. 20+ years is a long time.


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