Black History Literary Weekend in San Antonio, Texas

I am extremely proud of what we do in San Antonio to promote literacy and culture among our youth. We take a great deal of pride in the quality of writers living right here in the Alamo City. The weekend of February 26 to 28, we plan to acknowledge our writers at a Black History Literary Weekend Dinner. However, prior to the dinner, eight of our outstanding authors will participate in a number of events to include trips to S. J. Davis Middle School and the George Gervin Academy, where they will meet and talk with young students in grades eight through twelve. These eight authors, who have works of fiction, non fiction and poetry, voluntarily give of their time because they strongly believe that they must encourage our young to dig deep in the far regions of their mind, and nurture the gift of creative writing. They readily acknowledge, that someone in their life served as a role model to encourage them to pursue a dream of becoming a writer. Many times, young children do not get such encouragement in the home, and far too often their talent remains dormant and they never reach the pinnacle of success as writers.

This year’s theme for Black Literary Weekend is, “Literature: The Foundation of all Cultures.” Without the written word, the history is lost and the people become insignificant to the world and subject to elimination. A people’s history is recorded in many different genres to include, novels, autobiographies, biographies, essays, dissertations, poetry and the list goes on. The key is that it all begins when young adults have the courage to pick up a pen and write that first sentence. That often is the most difficult task because our young may have been discouraged by family members, peer groups or many other people who pass through their lives. This weekend our authors will dispel those doubts and hopefully, from out of the young people they meet and greet, will come the next Pulitzer Prize writer.

This year’s speaker at the dinner is an outstanding leader within the artistic and literary circles who has, over the years, served as a magnificent beam of creative light illuminating on our community. Aaronetta Pierce is not only a collector of art but also a writer who has recently produced two outstanding works, one on Maya Angelou who was Ms. Pierce’s very close friend, and the other an essay written to her grandchildren about their heritage. Both pieces will appear in an anthology to be released in March 2015, titled, Black is the Color of Strength. It will be one of many outstanding books featured at the San Antonio Book Festival in April 2015.

One of our primary goals for the dinner this year is to raise enough money to help support our effort to establish the Dr. David Floyd Writing Project as a 501c3 foundation. David is a brother whose life story I wrote a few years ago. It is a fascinating story. He graduated from high school reading at the second grade level, and last June received his Doctorate Degree in Accounting. Unfortunately, we lost David in October of 2014 to cancer. David and I had just begun to talk about a sequel to his story, encouraging young black boys not to fear life or run away from its challenges. We now plan to make him a symbol of struggle, dedication and success. If you are in the San Antonio area and would like to attend this dinner, you can contact Ms. Antoinette Franklin at (210) 264-1518 or Mr. D. L. Grant at (210) 207-9180, or just email me at fredwilliams@satx.rr.com.

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What’s in a Name?

Image Courtesy of Imib.org
Image Courtesy of Imib.org

I recently participated in a discussion group at the Carver Library in San Antonio, Texas. During the exchange of ideas among the participants, one brother who called himself, Brother Cedric X, asked me why I hadn’t changed my name from my slave name of Williams. That question changed the entire dialogue of the discussion and was an attempt to make those of us who still have our “slave names” deal with “our failure to break free of our slave mentality.”

It has also triggered my thoughts on what is in a name? Does it really matter that millions of Black folk haven’t taken on an African name? And would it have altered the direction of our history if we had? Does it really matter that Martin DeLaney, Frederick Douglass, Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois, and A. Phillip Randolph did not change their names? Could Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. have been a more effective leader if he had been Martin X or Martin Muhammad? In other words, what is more important the individuals’ deeds and accomplishments or their name? What more could Rosa Parks have done if her name had been Rosa Ali? What about Fannie Lou Hamer? Wasn’t it really her no-nonsense fiery personality that made her so effective and not the name?

It seems that our heritage and culture have evolved from African to African/ European because of over four hundred years of absence from Africa, and presence in this country. Furthermore, because of the abuses of slavery we all have a mixture of blood, both African and European. During an interview on the Joe Madison Show, Dr. Henry Louis Gates, host of “Finding Your Roots” PBS program, conjectured that the majority of African Americans can have as much as 20% European blood, and with some as high as 40%. Does the name change help eliminate that influence on who we are? Through the change of names, are we trying to build an African based culture in this country? Name alone will not accomplish that. Culture is about language, religion, music, literature, foods and most important a continuity in history from one generation to the next. What names best fit those variables?

We represent a cultural transformation that has made us a very unique and beautiful people who evolved out of slavery and through Jim Crow and oppression. Our ancestors triumphed over the worst and created the very best not because they were African, but because they were very strong human beings. I, for one, am very satisfied with my African heritage for what it is, and not what I am trying to make it to be. However, in the best interest of our culture and its sustainability, we must accept the fact that we are also influenced by the European/English cultures. Dr. Maya Angelou made that quite clear in an interview with Terry Gross of National Public Radio when she explained that her prose and poetry evolved from the rhythm and imagery of Black southern preachers, the lyricism of the spirituals, the directness of gospel and the mystery of the blues. In the same interview, she told Ms. Gross that one of her favorite poets was Paul Laurence Dunbar and she learned a great deal from his poem “Sympathy.” She also mentioned her admiration for William Shakespeare and was moved by the great English writer’s ability, “to know my heart…a Black woman in the twentieth century.”

For my beautiful brothers and sisters who have changed their name that is something they chose to do for their identity and that is admirable. But that is not what we all must do in order to love and cherish our African past, and absolutely does not mean we harbor any positive feelings about the oppressors from whom our names evolved.

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.