Black Writers Taking Care of Business

As we begin another Black History Month, I am both saddened and encouraged. I am saddened because as I look back over the years, I find that so much of our history has been hijacked and distorted by white writers who often did more damage than good when interpreting who we are as a race. A great example was William Styron’s 1967 novel, Confessions of Nat Turner. I am encouraged because now I begin to see more Blacks taking the reign and writing our history from our point of view. We have taken heed of the admonition expressed as far back as 1928 by Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois, when he warned that if we failed to take control of the manner in which our culture and history are portrayed, then only the sordid and negative aspects would rule. Thirty years later, the great writer Ralph Ellison wrote that, “It is our job as writers to portray our people and culture. A people must define itself and Blacks have the responsibility of having their ideals and images recognized as part of the composite image, which is that of the American people.”

I am extremely proud of the quality of writers we have in San Antonio, and the fact that they are writing about our history in both non-fiction and fiction genres. These brothers are serious about their craft and the manner they write about their culture and people. Through their writings, they have captured the grace, beauty, dignity and the struggle of Black Americans in this country. Allow me to share them with you in this blog.

Caleb Alexander, a freelance writer and owner of Golden Ink Publishing Company in San Antonio, is one of the finest writers in this country, and his skill has been proven through his works. He has ghost written in the Urban Literature Genre, stories for the two giants in that field, Vickie Stringer and Teri Woods. Some of his more successful works include, True to the Game II, True to the Game III, Deadly Reigns I, II and III, for Woods, and Dirtier Than Ever, The Reason Why, Red’s Revenge, The Boss and Forever for Stringer. Caleb soon grew frustrated with this kind of writing and decided to concentrate on stories with a great social value to the Black community.   Having grown up in the inner-city of San Antonio during the crack epidemic, his novel, Eastside, provides the reader with a first-hand close-up view to just how devastating and destructive that period was, in what had been a very stable community. He is presently completing his novel, When Lions Dance, a historical fiction work that chronicles a young woman’s life from pre-civil rights up to the election of Barack Obama. As a superb writer, who decided that it is important that he concentrate his skills to stories of a greater value to the community than what urban literature fiction offered, Caleb is an excellent role model for young Black Americans and why he is included with this groups of excellent writers.

For seven years, Cary Clack wrote about the major events and struggles that the Black community confronted daily, as a Columnist for the San Antonio Express News. I was a dedicated follower of Cary and made sure I had my copy of the newspaper on Tuesday and Sunday. Cary worked as a Scholar-Intern at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta, where he wrote commentaries for Coretta Scott King. Some of his memorable columns for the Express News was compiled and published under the title Clowns and Rats Scare Me, in 2011. In 2008 he was awarded the Dallas Press Club’s “Katie Award” for Best General Column. He was given the Friends of the San Antonio Public Library’s “Arts and Letters Award for Writing,” in 2012, and was also selected “Best Columnist,” three years in a row in the San Antonio Magazine’s Editors and Readers Poll. He is presently writing a book titled, Dreaming US: Where Did We Go From There? Cary is an excellent role model for young Black Americans and is why he is included with this group of excellent writers.

Dr. Mateen Diop is an educator, author, publisher, and activist for the future of young men of color. As an educator, Dr. Diop has served in nearly every role and capacity for children and young adults from K1 through 12. He is currently serving as the Principal at Sam Houston High School in San Antonio. He is passionately dedicated to serving the needs of inner-city children from the cradle to college. He has authored his seminal book, Inner City Public Schools Still Work: How One Principal’s Life is Living Proof, in 2012. Dr. Diop is a product of inner-city schools and believes that we can direct our youth in such a powerful way, but we must be willing to lead boldly and embrace change, so that we can direct their thoughts toward positive ends. Dr. Mateen Diop serves as an excellent role model for our young Black Americans and is why he is included with this group of excellent writers.

D.L. Grant is the Branch Manager for the Carver Library of the San Antonio Public Library system. He received his Master’s Degree from North Texas University and will be awarded his Doctorate Degree this year. D. L. has made the Carver Library the focal point for the expression, through literature and art, of the beauty of the African American Culture. Every Saturday there is a program at the library, by different cultural groups in the city. He has taken his lead from the past and recognizes the importance that the 35th Street Library in Harlem, New York (now the Schomburg Center) played during the great literary period, known as the Harlem Renaissance. He is a member of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. D. L. has recently published his historical novel, Hundred Dollar Bet, with a plot that incorporates the history of Black Colleges during the 1950’s and 60’s, as well as the Black fraternities and sororities.

Attorney Chris Pittard is a former Airborne Ranger Infantry Officer. After a thirteen-year military career, Chris graduated cum laude from St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio and is a practicing employment law attorney. He is also a past legal writing professor. No stranger to writing, Chris has written an outstanding creative non-fiction book, Transmanaut Chronicles: A Coming of Age Story from 1977. His book is currently under contract with a production company to be adapted to a screen play. Not to rest on his laurels, Chris is working on a second book chronicling his experiences in the 1960’s and 70’s, dealing with the racism and bullying as only a young Black boy can experience, in his journey to become a United States Army Ranger. Chris has also written and will release soon the first in his series of Children’s books, The Puppies, The Continuing Adventures of the Carrot-Top Kids. Chris serves as an excellent role model for our young Black Americans and is why he is included with this group of excellent writers.

These outstanding writers adhere to the dictum, “The Past is Prologue to the Future,” and if a people do not know their past, then they have only to look forward to a very empty and dismal future. Because of their commitment to quality writing that helps create a new and positive image of our race, I am sure that past great writers like Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, Richard Wright, James Baldwin and Ralph Ellison would tip their hats to them, and feel that our literary future is in excellent hands.

JAED Publications LLC and Golden Ink LLC, two Black owned publishing houses, will host these five fine writers of the African American experience in a forum, “Telling Our Story Our Way,” at the Carver Public Library, in San Antonio, Texas on February 17, 2018.

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The Genius of J. B. Stradford: Black Wall Street Entrepreneur

While growing up in the 1950’s and 60’s in America we, as Black young men and women, were always told that in order to make it in this country we had to be twice as good as the European Americans. Equal opportunity existed only within the framework of that European American community, and we certainly were not allowed inside. If our plight was difficult in the 60’s, you can imagine how difficult it was for Blacks living at the turn of the century, and had been out of slavery for less than fifty years. Not only did they have to be twice as good but at least ten times as good just to succeed, and had to be geniuses to build successful businesses. One of those geniuses was John B. Stradford, the richest Black man on Black Wall Street in 1921. His luxurious 54 room Stradford Hotel, located on the famous Greenwood Avenue, was evidence of his brilliance as a businessman. The Stradford Hotel, trimmed in press brick above the windows and stone slabs below, was considered the finest Black owned hotel in the country and even rivaled some of the white owned hotels in Oklahoma. Gorgeous chandeliers hung from the ceilings in the lobby and in the banquet room. The hotel had a pool room for the enjoyment of the guests, a dining hall for the eating pleasure of the guests and a salon for the relaxation of the guests. It was first class all the way. According to Stradford, his structure matched the Hotel Tulsa, “the finest building in the southwest.”  He also owned fifteen rental houses and an apartment building.

Stradford, the son of an escaped slave Julius Caesar Stradford, received his law degree from Oberlin College in Ohio and migrated to Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1899. He, along with another businessman, O. W. Gurley, set their sights on building a community that would bring tremendous pride to all that lived there. Stradford believed that Blacks in 1921, had the best chance for success in a racist country if they pooled their resources, worked together and supported one another’s businesses. Spending within their own community would create self-sufficiency and allow them to achieve some independence. His genius was so timely and his strategy so successful in building an independent commercial business sector along Greenwood Avenue, that when Booker T. Washington visited there, he named it “Negro Wall Street,” which has now been changed to Black Wall Street.

Stradford’s genius set the example for many other Blacks who followed after him into the Greenwood section of Tulsa, Oklahoma. O. W Gurley, who also owned the Gurley Hotel; John and Loula Williams who owned the Dreamland Theater with over seven hundred seats for movie goers as well as the Williams Confectionary, a place where young lovers met for cool drinks on hot days. They claim more engagements were made in that Confectionary than in the churches. There was also Mabel Little’s famous beauty parlor and her husband Pressley’s Little Bell Café, famous for its smothered chicken and rice. The luncheon special was such a delicacy, that the whites put aside their racist attitudes to make it over to the café during lunch time. When Dr. W. E. B. DuBois visited Black Wall Street in March 1921, he marveled at the number of successful businesses along Greenwood Avenue. Much of that success was due to John B. Stradford’s determination to establish a financially independent community.

When I first began my research to write my historical novel, Fires of Greenwood: Tulsa Riot of 1921, I was immediately impressed with John Stradford and disturbed because I had never read about him in the history books. What impressed me besides his tremendous success as a businessman, and why he should be a hero to all Black America, was his dogged determination to never bow down or be subservient to anyone white. He refused to accept Booker T. Washington’s accommodationists approach that he preached to Blacks as the best way to get along with whites. In fact, Stradford would be considered an admirer of Dr. Du Bois’s fiery protest approach to oppose racism. One time a white man riding in an ice wagon made a remark that he considered offensive. Stradford snatched the man down from the wagon and pounded him until he fell to the ground. He began to pummel the man until John Williams ran out of the Dreamland Theater and pulled him off the beaten victim. The white fellow ran off pledging there would be a lynching that night in Tulsa. Williams volunteered to drive Stradford to Muskogee until it all passed over. But Stradford refused to go. That “bull dog of a man,” as he was called by friends, refused to back down to anyone. When the bombing and destruction of all the buildings on Greenwood began on June 1, 1921, Stradford refused to abandon his hotel and stood out front with his gun waiting for the mob to show up. Unfortunately, he was unable to save his hotel and the sacrifice and work he put into building it went up in fire and smoke, as the bombs dropped from airplanes not only destroyed his hotel but all the buildings along Greenwood in a thirty-four-block area.

After it was all over, a Grand Jury indicted John Stradford as one of the instigators of the riot. Nothing was further from the truth. In fact, he attempted to mediate with the officials in Tulsa to prevent the confrontation. But once he realized that was not going to happen, he was determined to protect what he owned. Given the nature of white folk’s mentality at that time, it is not surprising that they attempted to blame a Black man, who stood up to them and refused to bow down, as a trouble maker. Also, Stradford was a very successful and rich Black man who, through his financial independence, was able to fight back against racism, and that is a lesson Black folks today could learn from him.

But that is probably the reason when they ultimately make a movie on what happened on June 1, 1921, John Stradford will not play a major role, and definitely will not be portrayed as a hero. He is, however, a hero to his ancestors and others that know of him, including me. Laurel Stradford his great-great granddaughter told me, “I feel very blessed and honored to be part of a family that has such a rich background. It is what gave me and the other members of the family the foundation to become successful and pleased with who we are, and the great tradition we represent.” Someday in the future, maybe all Black America will know what the family knows of this great man, and it will serve as an inspiration to the entire race. That can only happen if we all are vigilant about how Black Wall Street is covered in a future movie or in a television series. We owe it to the hard work and sacrifice that men like John B. Stradford, a genius who beat the odds, and helped to give meaning to our rich and valuable history.

It was my honor and joy that Laurel Stradford read my novel, in which her great great grandfather is captured through the power of the pen.

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Dream or Nightmare: You Decide!

On January 24, 2016, I posted a blog titled, ‘Dr.  King and Malcolm X: Dream or Nightmare?” In that article, I wrote that Malcolm X challenged the premise of the Dream that Dr. King articulated in his speech at the Washington March for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963. In a speech at Ghana University a month later, Malcolm X exclaimed, “If someone else from America comes to you to speak, they’re probably speaking as Americans and they speak as people who see America through the eyes of Americans. And usually those types of {people} refer to America as the American Dream. But for twenty-million of us of African descent it is not an American Dream, it is an American nightmare.”

The question rather Black American’s relationship with this country is a good one (dream) or a continuous bad experience (nightmare) continues to be debated. This has been especially critical since the election of Trump to the White House and the bigots and racists seem to be crawling out of their holes and expressing their dislike of people of color.  As we celebrate another year of marches, speeches and religious ceremonies marking Dr. King’s birthday, we must also re-consider the question raised by Malcolm X fifty-five years ago. Using the hindsight of history, we must examine the condition of Black people in this country today; a prognosis of our progress.

Recently on my show “Discussions with the Writer Fred,” on Black Video News, I raised the issue with two well-informed guests. Allow me to share that broadcast with you and invite you to decide if we are indeed living out King’s dream or still stuck in the tragedy of Malcolm X’s nightmare. You listen, watch and decide.

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