Category Archives: Black Literature

FINDING BLACKNESS

I have a friend who does an outstanding presentation to young Black American men. The title of his talk is, “What I would Tell You If I Were Your Father.” By the end of his talk, he is encouraging the young men that it is time to jettison the “Bling-Bling,” of all the superficial chains, rings, sagging pants, disrespectful and vulgar language for a new lifestyle. But unlike many other black leaders, he does not attack the young for their behavior, but instead tries to explain to them why they have a very negative mindset, one that is destructive and detrimental to their growth and demeaning to their culture. The basis of his approach is to reject the assumption made by many conservatives, both black and white, that the young black man’s behavior is of his own doing. That he is not the victim of centuries of an oppressive system, deliberately designed to destroy the black youth’s feelings of self-worth, of pride in who he is, and of the race and culture from which he comes.

But the conservatives are wrong. Two centuries of purposeful and vicious attacks on the most important principle in the growth for a healthy and positive young man, be it black or white or any other race, the belief in one’s self, is still being denied black youth in this country. But shame on us who have allowed this to happen. Shame on us who admire the negative portrayals of blacks in books, movies and on television. It is like we have come to the point that we get the same kind of enjoyment out of the negative images of the race, in the same manner that whites have gotten for over two hundred years. It is time for us to reverse this trend and change the paradigm. It is time for us to no longer be the exception, but instead to be exceptional. Let us begin to point out the great accomplishments of our race, and the exceptional men and women who have accelerated in their particular fields of endeavor. Let’s do something different for a change and take the high road, instead of settling for the ditch. We accomplish change by finding our blackness as a people and a culture. There is a war for the soul of our culture, and it calls for drastic steps from all who are concerned. Here are a few facts that we all can begin to share with our young; facts they need to know so they will know “they are somebody.”

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They NEED TO KNOW that Blacks excelled as jockeys soon after the Civil War. The first winner of the Kentucky Derby was Jimmy Winfield. In fact, 15 of the first twenty-eight Derbies were won by Black jockeys. And the greatest jockey in the history of the sport was Isaac Murphy who won three Kentucky Derby races and 44% of all his races throughout his career.

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They NEED TO KNOW that Jesse Owens embarrassed the German dictator Hitler who had claimed the German runners were invincible, but defeated them in the 100-yard-dash. In fact, Owens won four gold medals in the Olympics that year, proving that Black excellence was unstoppable.

lockebuncheaydavisThey NEED TO KNOW Black exceptionalism does not end with sports, but can be found in academic circles also. There is no question that Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois was the country’s most gifted scholar of the 20th Century. He was the first Black man to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard University and was a historian, sociologists, philosopher, novelist and all around brilliant thinker. Dr. Alain Locke, also a philosopher, attained Phi Beta Kappa status and graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University. He was the first Black Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University and was known as the “Godfather of the Harlem Renaissance.” Jesse Fausett was the literary editor for Crisis Magazine during the Renaissance. She was the first Black female graduate from Cornell University and first Black woman to achieve Phi Beta Kappa status. Dr. Ralph Bunche became the first African American to win a Nobel Peace Prize for his work toward bringing peace in the Middle East in the late 1940’s. Dr. Angela Davis is an accomplished scholar who has taught at the University of California at Los Angeles and wrote many political tracts critical of the oppression Blacks have suffered in this country.

opptymagcrisismagladyThey NEED TO KNOW that Black Americans have been publishers since 1827 when Samuel Cornish and John Russwum published Freedom’s Journal. Frederick Douglass published North Star in 1847, Robert S. Abbott, the Chicago Defender in 1905 and Edwin Nathaniel Harleston, Pittsburgh Courier in 1907. Black Americans also published some very influential magazines. Dr. Du Bois was editor and publisher of the Crisis Magazine associated with the NAACP, Charles Johnson published Opportunity Magazine for the Urban League, John Johnson published Ebony and Jet, Earl Graves Black Enterprise and Edward Lewis, Clarence O. Smith, Cecil Hollingswroth and Johnathan Blount founded Essence Magazine, first published in 1970.

jb_stratfordluoullawilliamsThey NEED TO KNOW that Black Americans were successful entrepreneurs and that they can accomplish the same. They need to read about the great businessmen in 1921 Tulsa, Oklahoma. Blacks had built a self-sustaining infra-structure of businesses, led by the great John Stradford, the richest man on Black Wall Street. He owned the most luxurious 54 room hotel and it was said that it matched for beauty, extravagance and comfort any hotel in the state of Oklahoma. Laurel Stradford, his great granddaughter is presently working on publication of his memoirs, and when they are released they should be required reading in every Black high school in this country. Other business men and women included O. W. Gurley who owned property in Tulsa, John and Loulla Williams and Dr. Andrew Jackson, all a part of the successful business class on Black Wall Street. Tulsa was not the only city where Black businesses flourished, just the most glaring example of success.

The NEED TO KNOW categories are extensive and I could go on for pages writing about successful Black Americans whom we must begin to share with our youth. I know there are many different organizations that are doing that very task as I write. But we must do more and I will continue to write about the successes either on this blog or through future novels and anthologies. Hopefully, you all will do your part and together we can help our young find their Blackness from a very different perspective than what they have received over generations, from a racially biased education system.

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Tony Lindsay: Writing with a Purpose!

zorafestival2017Every year for the past five years I have taught a creative writing workshop to high school students during Education Day at the Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Culture in Eatonville, Florida. And every year, I carry out the same exercise before we discuss the necessary tools to good writing of fiction. I ask them to close their eyes and just imagine the year is 2116 instead of 2016, and it is their great grandchildren who are about to read a novel they wrote a hundred years ago. I suggest that novel will reflect who they are and effect how their great grandchildren view them as a writer and person. Furthermore, it will provide every reader in the year 2016, an idea of the condition of our people, and the nature of our society at that time. My intention is to get them to think about writing with a purpose, and the important role they serve when putting pen to paper or given contemporary technology, fingers to computers.

acornsinaskilletI believe if more Black writers would practice the same exercise they might not produce such trashy, inconsequential works of fiction that gut our communities and reach our children. Maybe some of these writers would put a little more thought into what they publish. Please do not misinterpret what I write; I am not casting aspersions on all our writers. We do have some that give a great deal of thought to their works. One of those authors is Tony Lindsay, an outstanding writer out of Chicago, Illinois. Tony has a MFA from Chicago State School of Creative Writing and has penned seven novels, two short stories and recently completed an anthology of short stories titled, Acorns in a Skillet.

Adhering to our commitment at Prosperity Publications to publish only works that have quality content that are entertaining, enlightening, and empowering, we were proud to be able to publish Tony’s anthology, because it met all our standards. It is a serious work by a serious writer in the same category as Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin and Walter Mosley. Tony explains to the reader that his collection of short stories grew out of America’s complex racial interactions. The stories are unsettling in their timely nature, which will stimulate the reader to examine American life and how we live in a country where race matters so intently.

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The constant in these riveting portrayals of American life is race, but not always racial conflict. His collection of short stories is inclusive in the message and ends with a story of unity and a hopeful look to the future; something that every good piece of literature should accomplish and is why we can place Tony in the category of writers with a universal appeal.

tonylindsayI can comfortably state that Tony Lindsay is one of the better Black contemporary writers who refuses to compromise his talent and his message in his writing just to get published. He writes with a purpose because he knows what he puts on paper now will be read one hundred years from now, and he is determined to be remembered as a writer with a message. He has what I refer to as a passion for the art and he places that passion over profit, and that I must admit is very refreshing. He is a throwback to a time when most of our authors wrote because of a burning desire to interpret our world as is, and also how it should be. Those of us who abhor the trashy, sex riddled novels of today must thank Tony for rising above that level and giving us stories that empower, enlighten, and also educate.

I urge you who are serious about reading good and decent works, to reach out and get Tony’s short story anthology, Acorns in a Skillet, and in doing so, make a statement that we do appreciate good writing and will offer our support to those authors who do care about how we will be viewed through our literature in the year 2116.

You can purchase at www.amazon.com. For an autographed copy contact info@prosperitypublications.com. Please visit our website at www.prosperitypublications.com and review all our publications.

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“Rooted in the African-American Literary Tradition”

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Considering the Tulsa Riot of 1921 from a Black Writer’s Perspective

It was recently revealed in an Ebony story that John Legend and his company Lifted Film, along with actress Tika Sumpter, plan to do a mini-series on the Tulsa Riot of 1921. In the article, the writer mentions, as a reference, a piece I did for Ebony On-Line on February 24, 2014, titled “Black Wall Street: A Legacy of Success.” The article was written right after the release of my historical novel, Fires of Greenwood: The Tulsa Riot of 1921. Because they have generated renewed interest in the story, I thought it appropriate to re-print an article I wrote months ago on how I came to write this novel. So here it is.

Seven years ago I began my research into the Tulsa Riot of 1921. The result of that study was the release of Fires of Greenwood, a novel that chronicles the barbarous attack on a prosperous Black community, leading to the brutal killings of over three hundred men, women and children, and the destruction of thirty four blocks of successful businesses and beautiful homes. As we have witnessed throughout our turbulent history in this country, the official reason given for the massacre was the alleged attack of a young white girl, Sarah Page, by Dick Rowland, a nineteen-year-old Black bootblack. However, the actual facts of what happened in the Drexel building elevator on May 30, 1921 between those two, do not support the alleged reason for the massacre. I was, therefore, determined to write a novel depicting the real truth behind the slaughter of three hundred Black Americans, at the hands of a white mob.

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Besides the mysterious relationship between the Dick and Sarah, what I found most compelling was discovering just how prosperous Black Americans were in their segregated community known as Greenwood. In fact, when Booker T. Washington past through the city on his way to speak in Boley, Oklahoma in 1905, he was so impressed with the number of successful businesses in the Greenwood corridor, he coined the term “Negro Wall Street” (once the term Negro was no longer acceptable, it was changed to “Black Wall Street”) as the best way to describe the area. Years later, in March 1921, Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois was just as impressed with the number of successful businesses, when he visited the community and delivered a speech at the Dreamland Movie Theater, owned and operated by Black entrepreneurs John and Loula Williams.

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My research also brought to life the Gurley and Stradford Hotels, places of lodging for Black visitors to the city. Dr. Du Bois actually stayed at the Gurley Hotel during his visit there. However, it was not considered the better of the two; the Stradford was the finest Black owned hotel in the country, and easily matched the white hotels in Tulsa for convenience, luxury and comfort. John Stradford and O. W. Gurley were two of the richest Blacks in Tulsa. Both men had become millionaires before all was lost on that dreadful day in 1921.

In addition to the Gurley and Stradford, there were William Anderson’s Jewelry Store, Henry Lilly’s Upholstery Shop, A. S. Newkirk’s Photography Studio, Elliott and Hooker’s Clothing Emporium, H. L. Byar’s Tailor Shop, Hope Watson’s Cleaners and Lilly Johnson’s Liberty Café that served home cooked meals at all hours, while nearby Little Café is where people lined up waiting for their specialty chicken or smothered steak with rice and brown gravy. And there was the famous Little Rose Beauty Shop, run by the matriarch of the community Mabel Little.

The area possessed fifteen Black physicians and Dr. Andrew Jackson was recognized by the prestigious Mayo Clinic as one of the finest doctors in the country. The community also built its own hospital and the magnificently structure Mt. Zion Baptist Church, known to rival any other church in Tulsa or the entire state of Oklahoma. All this came crashing down, as the invaders dropped turpentine soaked firebombs that lit up the entire community and torched many unsuspected men, women, and children.

The tragedy that befell the prosperous Greenwood district, as well as other similar communities in this country, was that Black Americans were too successful, and a jealous and envious white community was determined to eradicate those businesses. That egregious attack on innocent citizens was not about a Black man accosting a white girl. It was about Black men and women who had bought into the Booker T. Washington position that hard work and a commitment to the American dream of capitalism would pay off handsomely. O.W. Gurley, a strong advocate of the accommodationist approach, found out just how much whites respected successful businessmen and women of the darker hue when they shot his wife and burned down his hotel.

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Tulsa clearly points out that the only acceptable behavior whites would condone was for Blacks to be passive and subservient to them. “Uppity” became synonymous with Black men and women stepping out of the role as servants and field hands. However, the positive message that shines through the pages of Fires is that Blacks in Tulsa refused to condescend to the arrogance of the majority, and were willing to fight and die rather than allow an innocent Black boy to be lynched by the mob. Finally, this writer portrays the relationship between Dick and Sarah in a manner not pursued by the many other researchers, who have studied the causes of the riot. The portrayal of their involvement makes for an interesting and entertaining read, which should always be the goal of the novelist.

timeline_pic01This novel re-creates the events that led to this slaughter and brings to life true heroes who stood up to the evil and fought back. It is imperative that Black writers begin to “tell our story our way,” and that is what I have done in the pages of Fires.  Eminent scholar and Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree noted that, “Frederick Williams has taken the 1921 Tulsa Riot to new heights and reminds us all that we cannot forget the African American community that battled to protect their dignity and respect. We will never forget what happened to the members of “Black Wall Street’ and will make sure that generations of people will forever remember the hard working men and women who fought to preserve their dignity.”

Prosperity Publications, the publisher has contracted to convert this work into a screenplay and will pursue producing a movie that will be as compelling as recent movies such as Selma, The Butler and Twelve Years A Slave. In the meantime I invite you to purchase the novel through Amazon or communicate with the company at www.prosperitypublications.com., or leave a message here on my writer’s blog.  A novel is always more comprehensive and thorough than the movie and that will be true with Fires. 

You can also visit the website of the Greenwood Cultural Center at www.greenwoodculturalcenter.com or the John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park at www.jhfcenter.org both located on the grounds of the tragic events that happened on June 1, 1921, 95 years ago.

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Filed under Black Culture, Black History, Black Literature, Race