Carver Library: Hub of African American Literary and Cultural Activity in San Antonio, Texas

carver branch libraryIf one were asked to identify the main cultural hubs for African American literary activity, San Antonio, Texas would probably not be in the mix. Cities with much larger Black populations would lead the list. I am sure New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas and Los Angeles, to name just a few would be mentioned. I acknowledge that these cities deserve such consideration.

However, let me add to this list the Carver Public Library, located in the center of the African American community in San Antonio. Named after the famous educator and scientist George Washington Carver, the library first opened its doors in 1930. It served the African American community during those terrible years when Blacks were refused entry into the Central Public library and all the other ancillary branches. There is probably no greater blemish on this country’s democracy than the fact that a race of people was barred from entering all of its libraries, the symbols of knowledge.

Today, the Carver Library is the center of cultural activities, presenting literary and cultural programs practically every weekend. Under the leadership of Branch Manager D. L. Grant, Carver is gaining the reputation as the most important institution in the city for dispensing information about our history. It also serves as a place where contemporary issues are discussed. Its activities have earned the Carver the title of a grandchild to the famous 135th Street Library in Harlem, during the great Renaissance period of the 1920’s. Under the leadership of Regina Andrews and Nella Larsen, that library hosted some of the most intense and informative literary events of the period. Such notables as Gwendolyn Bennett, Ethel Ray Nance, Jessie Fausett and Countee Cullen participated in poetry readings at the library. Langston Hughes and Claude McKay were provided writing areas in the basement. And the first exhibit of African American art in Harlem was held there.

The Carver mirrors the 135th Street Library with similar activities. For the past five years, the Carver has held a distinguished Martin Luther King Lecture Series, of which I had the pleasure to be their lecturer in 2012. In February of this year the library hosted an afternoon with an outstanding group of authors that included Mary Morrison, Rhonda Lawson, kYmberly Keeton, Dr. Mateen Diop and Chris Pittard, during Black History Literary Weekend. One of the more unique programs that Black Men United for Reading and Writing (a select group of Black men who sponsor literary events in the city) organized at the library is a series of Slave Narrative Readings, supported with spirituals sang by the men’s choir from St. Paul United Methodist Church.

This past weekend is typical of the programs the Carver Library supports on an on-going basis. Early Saturday afternoon Prosperity Publications hosted a discussion workshop titled, “The Deconstruction of the Black Woman in Literature, Film and Music.” Four of the most brilliant Black women in San Antonio shared their knowledge of the subject and the audience was allowed to respond. The session was recorded and will be loaded on You Tube within the next month. After that program Dr. Ronald Kelley, a motivational speaker and advisor to public schools on how to mentor young Black men, moderated a discussion around the Ferguson, Missouri tragedy. The library was packed with concerned citizens anxious to express their frustrations about the brutal murder of Michael Brown.

This community has come to depend on the Carver Library as the place to congregate and discuss relevant issues to the community. Just like the 135th Street Library in Harlem served as a gathering place for the many intellectuals, writers and community organizers, the Carver Public Library serves that function in 2014 for the same group of activists in San Antonio, Texas.

The Myth of Post-Blackness and Ferguson, Missouri

Ferguson Police Officers in militarized armor -- watching protesters.
Ferguson Police Officers in militarized armor — watching protesters. In Ferguson, MO. #mikebrown

Those of us who have been around for a while (like since the 1960’s) often chuckle, to stop from frowning, when all this talk about post-blackness inundated the airwaves and social media. The young Generation X crowd that has “made it” in the system began denouncing the notion that being Black alone inhibited movement up the social and economic ladder. This denunciation took many different forms. Toure argued that post-blackness was a rejection of the idea that certain qualities were exclusive to Black people; Jonathan Capehart scowled at the idea that blackness can be defined. He claimed it never was a definable attribute. Pharrell Williams claimed that blackness was a state of mind and had nothing to do with pigmentation. In fact, Williams went as far as to create a new Black defined as someone “who doesn’t blame other races for our problems. Racism has vanished and it’s all in your head. Stop blaming other people for your shortcomings,” was his advice to Black folk.

Are these young brothers so blinded by their own success they can’t see that this country still suffers from the plague of racism, and we are no where near a post racial society. The historical thread of racism manifested through brutal attacks of young Black men still exists. We all remember the vicious murder of Emmit Till in 1955 and James Byrd in 1999. How about Amadou Diallo killed by the New York Police, also in 1999.

During the first decade of the new century the attacks continued. In 2000 a Black man, Patrick Dorismond, was shot and killed by the New York Police. Then on November 25, 2006 Sean Bell was shot and killed in Queens, the morning of the day he was to get married. In 2009, the New York Times ran a story about seven Black men in Miami, Florida killed within a span of eight months, and in that same year Oscar Grant was shot and killed by a Bay Area Rapid Transit Officer in Oakland, California.

The trend continued into the second decade of this century. In January 2010 Aaron Campbell was shot dead by the Portland Oregon Police. Three months later, in March 2010, the Los Angeles Police shot and killed Eugene Washington. Police were not the only culprits who felt a need to murder our young. The most famous case to date was the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012. His murderer, George Zimmerman, was exonerated the next year, signaling to the country that it is open season on our young boys.

Within the past two weeks, we have witnessed the killing of three more young Black men. John Crawford was shot and killed by a Dayton, Ohio police offer while holding a toy rifle inside at Wal-Mart Store, and Eric Garner suffocated while in the choke hold of a New York policeman. However, without a doubt the majority of the Black population has been up in arms for the past week with the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Adding to the tragedy of the Brown murder was the manner in which the police responded to the community’s protests with military style tanks aimed at the crowd and the lobbing of tear gas into the middle of the “animals,” the term used by a police officer when referring to the people in the crowd.

 Given these statistics I question how anyone can believe that we are now in a post racial state of existence in this country. Those celebrities should publicly admit that their assessment of the conditions of many Black Americans is still very precarious, and that when they make such statements they do damage to our attempt to put an end to all the abuse our young still face, whenever they walk the streets of their neighborhoods.