THE GREENSBORO MASSACRE: (1979 – 2009)
Lest we forget.
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Nov 18, 2004 … This month marks the 25th Anniversary of the Greensboro Massacre, when forty Ku Klux Klansmen and American Nazis opened fire on an anti-Klan …http://www.democracynow.org/2004/11/18/remembering_the_…; – 45k – Similar pageshttp://www.democracynow.org/2004/11/18/remembering_the_1979_greensboro_massacre_25
YOUTUBE GREENSBORO MASSACRE 1979:
“DEATH TO THE KLAN!” KKK + POLICE VS. BLACKS:
25 Years After
Greensboro Massacre: We Will Not Forget!
Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 835, 29 October 2004.
On 3 November 1979, in broad daylight, nine carloads of Klansmen and Nazis drove up to a black housing project in Greensboro, North Carolina, where an anti-Klan rally was gathering. With cool deliberation, the killers took out their weapons, aimed, fired and drove off. Five union officials and organizers and civil rights activists—supporters of the Communist Workers Party—lay dying in pools of blood. Ten others were wounded or maimed for life. The Greensboro Massacre was the bloodiest fascist attack in the U.S. in decades.
Greensboro was a conspiracy of the fascists and their capitalist state patrons. From the outset, the fascists were aided and abetted by the government, from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent who helped train the killers and plot the assassinations, to the “former” FBI informer who rode shotgun in the motorcade of death and the Greensboro cop who brought up the rear. When the two-minute fusillade ended, the cops moved in to arrest the survivors for “rioting.”
Signe Waller, widow of Greensboro martyr Jim Waller, recounted, “The FBI had men going around the textile mills and showing people pictures, asking for their identification. Many of the pictures were of people who were later killed in the Greensboro Massacre, and one of them was Jim’s” (The Carolinian Online, 18 October). Two successive all-white juries acquitted the killers of all charges, affirming once again the meaning of “justice” in this racist capitalist country.
Carried out during the Democratic Carter administration, the Greensboro Massacre was the opening shot of what would be the Reagan years’ war on labor and blacks. When the Klan announced it would “celebrate” this massacre on November 10 in Detroit, the Spartacist League initiated a labor/black mobilization that drew over 500, many of them black auto workers, who made sure that the Klan did not ride in the Motor City. In organizing the protest we had to [...]
JOHN O’QUINN, STAR PERSONAL-INJURY LAWYER IN TEXAS
By KATE MURPHY
Published: October 31, 2009
John O’Quinn, a plaintiff’s lawyer whose outsized personality matched the jury awards he won for his clients, died Thursday when the sport utility vehicle he was driving jumped a median, crossed several lanes of oncoming traffic and smashed into a tree along a parkway in Houston. Mr. O’Quinn was 68 and lived in Houston.
David J. Phillip/Associated Press
A spokesman for the Houston Police Department said Mr. O’Quinn was found dead when emergency crews extricated him from the mangled vehicle. A passenger, Johnny Lee Cutliff, 56, Mr. O’Quinn’s personal assistant, was also killed. Neither man was wearing a seat belt, the police department said. An investigation into the cause of the crash is continuing.
A bare-knuckles litigator who forced makers of cigarettes and breast implants to forfeit billions of dollars in awards in personal-injury cases, Mr. O’Quinn portrayed himself as a crusader against corporate malfeasance. He told Texas Monthly in 1995: “When the bad guys come, who do you want? You don’t want some namby-pamby son of a bitch. If companies obeyed the law, I’d be the Maytag repairman.”
Raised by his auto mechanic father, Mr. O’Quinn was known for connecting with blue-collar juries. “Even though he got manicures, he remembered what it was like to have grease under your nails,” Jack Rains, a friend since the two were in law school together at the University of Houston
in the 1960s, said in a phone interview.
Mr. O’Quinn first gained prominence in 1986 when he persuaded jurors to order the Monsanto Company to pay $100 million in damages for negligently exposing an employee to benzene. The award was later vacated, and the case was settled out of court. In another notable case, he persuaded a jury to award a client $8 million for the wrongful death of a bull due to pesticide poisoning.
In a series of decisions in the 1990s, Mr. O’Quinn, with his former law partner Richard Laminack, won more than a billion dollars from makers of silicone breast implants for women who said they had been harmed by them. He was one of five lawyers who shared a $3.3 billion fee for brokering a 1998 settlement between tobacco companies and the State of Texas, which sued to recover state costs for treating smoking-related illnesses. And in 2004, he won a $1 billion verdict against Wyeth, a manufacturer of a weight-loss product containing the drug combination known as fen-phen, now banned.
“No one worked harder than he did,” said Mr. Rains, who said he believed his friend’s drive was due to his difficult upbringing in a home without a mother and with a stern and exacting father. “Hungry dogs hunt better,” Mr. Rains said.
John Maurice O’Quinn was born in Baton Rouge, La., on Sept. 4, 1941, to Leonard O’Quinn and Jean Wilkes O’Quinn. The family moved to Houston when Mr. O’Quinn was a toddler, and his mother left him and his father when he was 4. He grew up working in his father’s auto repair shop near Rice University
, where he enrolled as an engineering student upon graduating from high school. A lackluster student who was often on academic probation, Mr. O’Quinn dropped out of Rice after six semesters and enrolled in the newly established University of Houston Law School, which in the early 1960s was accepting students without a college degree.
“From Minute 1 of Day 1 of Class 1, I felt like a duck who’d gone to water,” he told The Houston Chronicle in 1998. “I knew this is where I should be.”
As a lawyer, Mr. O’Quinn was reprimanded repeatedly for his antics in and out of the courtroom. He was once cited for contempt for sleeping on the floor in a vacant courtroom, and he was accused of jury tampering when it was revealed that he was romantically involved with a juror in one case; it later emerged that the affair began after the trial.
Vilified by proponents of tort reform, Mr. O’Quinn was investigated on several occasions on charges of inappropriately soliciting clients. In 2007, he was ordered by an arbitration panel to pay more than $40 million for overcharging several women he represented in a class-action case involving breast implants. That decision is on appeal.
“It’s fair to say a lot of people had grudges against John, and he evoked strong responses,” Mr. Rains said.
Upset over Mr. O’Quinn’s malpractice suits related to breast implants, more than a hundred doctors in Houston signed a petition in 2005 to reject Mr. O’Quinn’s $25 million donation to St. Luke’s Hospital, which included a provision to rename an office tower after him.
Today his name is on that tower and on several other buildings in Houston, clearly advertising his largess to various institutions, including the University of Houston and the Menninger Clinic, where he was once admitted for treatment of alcohol abuse after an arrest on drunken-driving charges. His friends said he had not had a drink in almost a decade, not even to raise a toast at his lavish Christmas and birthday parties, at which entertainers like Don Henley
and Jerry Lee Lewis
Although he said work was his hobby, Mr. O’Quinn has since 2003 pursued a passion for car collecting. His collection numbers 850, said his partner of 11 years, Darla Lexington. It includes the Batmobile used in the filming of “Batman Forever” and Pope John Paul II
’s 1975 Ford Escort GL.
Mr. O’Quinn’s two marriages ended in divorce. Besides Ms. Lexington, he leaves no immediate family members.
MICHELLE TRIOLA MARVIN, OF LANDMARK PALIMONY SUIT
Published: October 30, 2009
Michelle Triola Marvin, whose landmark alimony-without-marriage lawsuit against the actor Lee Marvin, her former boyfriend, helped lead to the concept of “palimony” settlements for unmarried partners, died on Friday morning in Malibu at the home she shared with Dick Van Dyke. She was 76.
United Press International
Michelle Triola Marvin being interviewed in 1979.
The cause was lung cancer, a spokesman, Bob Palmer, told The Associated Press.
Michelle Triola was a little-known actress and singer in 1964 when she began living with Mr. Marvin, the leading man whose role as a gunslinger in “Cat Ballou” earned him an Academy Award a year later. After the couple split in the early 70’s, Ms. Triola, who by that time had adopted Mr. Marvin’s last name, retained a lawyer and took Mr. Marvin to court, claiming that she deserved part of his $3.6 million fortune because their relationship had been based on an unwritten contract just as legitimate as a marriage certificate.
Her lawyer, Marvin M. Mitchelson, argued that Ms. Triola Marvin had an oral agreement with Mr. Marvin that she would give up her career and devote herself to him full time, “as a companion, homemaker, housekeeper and cook.” In return, Mr. Mitchelson argued, Mr. Marvin had agreed to provide all of Ms. Triola Marvin’s “financial support and needs for the rest of her life.”
In 1979, after a sensational three-month trial that featured Hollywood celebrities testifying in support of Mr. Marvin, a judge rejected Ms. Triola Marvin’s claim that the two shared any expressed or implicit contract. But in a small victory for her, the court ruled that she was entitled to $104,000 in “rehabilitative” alimony, or palimony, a portmanteau of “pal” and “alimony.”
The case broke ground, and the attention surrounding it prompted a flood of similar cases and brought Mr. Mitchelson a lucrative career as a divorce lawyer. The case established a precedent in California that allowed unmarried partners to sue for financial support, and courts in Connecticut, New Jersey and many other states soon followed suit.
Ms. Triola Marvin went on to work for a public relations firm, and began a relationship with Mr. Van Dyke, with whom she lived for 30 years. Besides Mr. Van Dyke, she is survived by a sister, Diane Triola Johnson of Los Angeles.
Mr. Marvin died in 1987.
Her small victory in Marvin v. Marvin was short lived. In 1981, a California appeals court, in a 2-to-1 ruling, overturned the judgment. Ms. Triola Marvin later said in an interview on “Good Morning America” that she had not been surprised by the decision because the appeals panel was made up of two men and one woman.
“I understand that the woman tried very hard to reach the two men in her argument,” she said.
JOHN PEMBERTON JR., CIVIL RIGHTS CRUSADER
Published: October 29, 2009
John de J. Pemberton Jr., who as executive director of the American Civil Liberties Unionduring the turbulent 1960s helped double its size and shift its focus to the criminal courts as an arena for issues like civil rights and Vietnam, died Oct. 21 in Monte Rio, Calif. He was 90.
American Civil Liberties Union
The cause was congestive heart failure, said his daughter Nancy Pemberton.
Mr. Pemberton, who said he considered himself a militant on civil liberties issues, sometimes had to balance the views of other militants with those of A.C.L.U. members who favored a more moderate approach. A contentious issue early in the Vietnam War was whether the civil rights group should help draft resisters. It eventually did, in 1968.
“The in-fighting gives us our strength,” Mr. Pemberton said in an interview with The New York Times in 1970.
The A.C.L.U. certainly grew stronger under Mr. Pemberton’s leadership. When he became executive director in 1962, there were 28 A.C.L.U. affiliates with a membership of 61,000 people and a total income of $535,000. When he stepped down in 1970, there were 47 affiliates with a membership of 144,000 and a total income of $2 million.
Mr. Pemberton helped orchestrate a major shift in the A.C.L.U.’s legal strategy. The group had historically chosen to pursue appeals of important test cases in higher courts in order to establish a constitutional principle, often as a friend of the court.
But, under Mr. Pemberton and his board, the A.C.L.U. came to serve as criminal counsel for an individual defendant in 95 percent of the cases. He said in an interview with The New York Times Magazine in 1966 that this change was necessary to make the lower courts work.
“We no longer think that, because the Supreme Court
says thus and so, the cop on the beat will behave that way,” he said. “But if the cop knows that the citizen he meets in the street will be able to get a lawyer and go to court, then his behavior will change.”
Nowhere was the new focus on defending criminal cases more critical than in the South, where in 1964 the A.C.L.U. created a legal unit to ally with other civil rights organizations to provide legal counsel. One case involved 1,100 people arrested for parading without a permit in Jackson, Miss. Another involved defending a black man accused of raping a white woman.
Under Mr. Pemberton’s leadership, the A.C.L.U. pressed ahead on its historic overall mission of advocating for controversial defendants on civil liberties grounds. They included Communists, members of the Ku Klux Klan
, Black Panthers, the Harlem Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr.
and Lt. William A. Calley Jr., who was convicted of ordering the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.
In 1969 Mr. Pemberton wrote a letter to Secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird saying that the publication of pictures showing the murdered Vietnamese made it impossible for Lieutenant Calley to get a fair trial.
John de Jarnette Pemberton Jr. was born on April 21, 1919, in Rochester, Minn., where his father was a surgeon at the Mayo Clinic
. He graduated from Swarthmore College
Law School, where he was on the editorial board of The Harvard Law Review.
He practiced law in Rochester from 1950 to 1962, and was chairman of the Minnesota branch of the A.C.L.U. from 1955 to 1958. In one of his cases for the union, he represented a white man and an Indian woman who were barred from completing the purchase of a joint cemetery lot because contract language limited the cemetery to Caucasians. He won the case.
After leaving the A.C.L.U., Mr. Pemberton was acting general counsel for the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
and regional attorney for the commission in San Francisco, where he taught at the University of San Francisco. He previously taught at Duke and New York University
Mr. Pemberton’s first marriage, to the former Lorraine Pruett, ended in divorce. In addition to his daughter Nancy, he is survived by his wife of 36 years, Frances Werner; his daughters Sally Zalek and Ann and Caro Pemberton; his son, James; four grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.
ELMER WINTER, CO-FOUNDER OF MANPOWER TEMPORARY AGENCY
Published: October 30, 2009
Elmer Winter, whose very bad day at the office — he and his law partner madly scrambled to find emergency secretarial help — spurred them to start Manpower
, the worldwide temp agency, died on Oct. 22 in Mequon, Wis. He was 97 and lived in Fox Point, Wis.
Manpower announced the death.
In April 1948, Mr. Winter and his brother-in-law and law partner, Aaron Scheinfeld, had to file a brief on a tight deadline with the Wisconsin Supreme Court. They could find no one to type it.
They finally hunted down their former secretary and persuaded her to toil until dawn. Their problem was solved, but they thought about the experience. They recalled a legal client who supplied short-term laborers for unloading freight cars. Maybe they could do the same thing for a broader range of employers.
So they scraped together $7,000, rented a small store in Milwaukee and went into the business of arranging for temporary employees. A friend suggested the obvious and almost perfect name Manpower; most of the original employees were women.
The first year did not go so well. They lost $9,000, despite long lines of typists, stenographers and bookkeepers eager for the temporary work they spoke of in a newspaper ad. But the two decided to stay with their new sideline because what few paying customers they had were happy. By the end of 1949, they had covered their losses and made a small profit.
Six decades later, Manpower has grown to be the world’s third-largest company in the business of providing temporary and other staffing services. It has 4,100 offices in 82 countries, and 400,000 clients, ranging from small businesses to huge corporations.
Manpower has twice been acquired by other companies and emerged as an independent company both times. Today it offers many employment services beyond temporary labor, including the placements of permanent employees. Workers accrue benefits based on how long they work, even if they work for many employers.
Mr. Scheinfeld, the dreamer, died in 1970, but Mr. Winter, the nuts-and-bolts guy, stayed until 1976, when he retired. Manpower then had offices in 20 countries.
But Mr. Winter kept an office in the building, and a title, chairman of the advisory council. He also kept busy: he formed an organization to promote business ties between the United States and Israel; served as president of the American Jewish Committee
; led efforts to aid Milwaukee youth; and was beloved by generations of Manpower employees who relished his stories and lavender sports coats.
Moreover, he made something of a name for himself as a sculptor, specializing in turning automobile bumpers into works of art. A particularly soaring creation was titled “To Dream the Impossible Dream.”
Mr. Winter chuckled at the reaction of a man who viewed one of his deliberately mangled works in Philadelphia: “I don’t know anything about art, but this guy is a lousy welder,” he said.
Another of Mr. Winter’s accomplishments was writing 13 how-to books on subjects like how to be a better secretary.
His winning personality, sugar-coated with modesty, never hurt him.
“I was not an outstanding kind of guy that was bound to succeed,” Mr. Winter said in a documentary about Manpower’s history last year. “I was just a nice guy.”
Elmer Louis Winter was born in Milwaukee on March 6, 1912. His father, Sigmund, was an immigrant who owned a clothing store. Elmer’s first job in 1922 was delivering fruits and vegetables by horse-drawn cart to brewery workers. He went to Milwaukee public schools, and earned economics and law degrees from the University of Wisconsin
In 1936, he was offered a job in the Chicago law firm owned by Mr. Scheinfeld for $30 a month, according to “Entrepreneur Magazine’s Encyclopedia of Entrepreneurs.” When the firm expanded to Milwaukee, Mr. Winter managed the new office. After Manpower’s success seemed certain, both men retired from practicing law.
Private employment agencies had existed in the United States since 1863, but the modern temporary staffing industry began after World War II with the founding of Kelly Girls by William Kelly in 1946. Later called Kelly Services
, it was the first multiregional temporary agency. Manpower was the first to expand beyond clerical help into industrial positions, the journal, Regulation, reported in 1998.
For workers, the appeal of the temporary-help agencies is flexibility and variety. For companies, it is the ability to react quickly to changes in labor needs. Training programs Mr. Winter helped establish benefited both sides.
Secretaries were given free brush-up courses that included training on new office machines like electric typewriters, The New York Times reported in 1966. Instructors tried to instill confidence in women returning to the work force after an absence.
“They are made to believe they can cope with any modern business situation,” Mr. Winter said.
Mr. Winter’s wife of 54 years, the former Nannette Rosenberg, died in 1990. He is survived by his wife, the former Hope Melamed; his daughters, Sue Freeman, Lynn Winter Gross and Martha Gross Tracy; eight grandchildren; and 13 great-grandchildren.
When Mr. Winter was 95, he bought a red sports car. When he was 96, he passed a driver’s test to renew his license until the age of 104. Three weeks before his death, he drove to Manpower’s headquarters to put in his usual day’s work.
“Hang in there, Elmer,” said the sign on his desk.
ROY DECARAVA, HARLEM INSIDER WHO PHOTOGRAPHED ORDINARY LIFE
Published: October 28, 2009
Roy DeCarava, the child of a single mother in Harlem who turned that neighborhood into his canvas, becoming one of the most important photographers of his generation by chronicling the lives of its ordinary people and its jazz giants, died on Tuesday in Manhattan. He was 89 and lived in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn.
His death was announced by Sherry Turner DeCarava, his wife and an art historian who has written about his work.
Mr. DeCarava trained to be a painter, but while using a camera to gather images for his printmaking work he began to gravitate toward photography, partly because of its immediacy but also because of the limitations he saw all around him for a black artist in a segregated nation. “A black painter, to be an artist,” he once said, “had to join the white world or not function — had to accept the values of white culture.”
Over a career of almost 60 years, Mr. DeCarava — who fiercely guarded the manner in which his work was exhibited and whose visibility in the art world remained low for decades — came to be regarded as the founder of a school of African-American photography that broke with the social documentary traditions of his time. While an outspoken crusader for civil rights, he felt that his pictures would speak louder as a record of black life in America if they abandoned the overtly humanist aims of mentors like Edward Steichen
“I do not want a documentary or sociological statement,” he wrote in his application for a Guggenheim Fellowship, which he won in 1952, becoming the first black photographer to do so. His goal, he explained, was “a creative expression, the kind of penetrating insight and understanding of Negroes which I believe only a Negro photographer can interpret.”
His books, like “The Sweet Flypaper of Life,” a best-selling 1955 collaboration with Langston Hughes
, and his most famous photographs — a girl in a pristine graduation dress heading down a desolate, shadowed street; a man ascending wearily from the subway; a stage portrait of John Coltrane
playing with closed-eyed fury — were hugely influential, paving the way for younger photographers like Beuford Smith and Carrie Mae Weems.
“One of the things that got to me,” Mr. DeCarava told The New York Times in 1982, “was that I felt that black people were not being portrayed in a serious and in an artistic way.”
Peter Galassi, the chief curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, who organized a retrospective of Mr. DeCarava’s work there in 1996, said of him on Wednesday: “He was looking at everyday life in Harlem from the inside, not as a sociological or political vehicle. No photographer black or white before him had really shown ordinary domestic life so perceptively and tenderly, so persuasively.”
Roy Rudolph DeCarava was born in New York on Dec. 9, 1919. He was the only child of Elfreda Ferguson, a Jamaican immigrant, who separated from Mr. DeCarava’s father not long after his birth. As a child he shined shoes and delivered newspapers and ice to make ends meet, while his mother, an amateur photographer, made sure that his artistic talents were nurtured with music lessons and drawing supplies.
He was one of only two black students at a high school for textile studies in the Chelsea section and one of only a few at the Cooper Union
School of Art, to which he had won a scholarship to study art and architecture. After two years there, discouraged by the hostile attitude of many white students toward him, he left and enrolled at the Harlem Community Art Center on 125th Street, where he pursued painting while also using his brushes to make signs for the Works Progress Administration
. After a stint in the Army during World War II, he returned to New York and left painting behind for printmaking, which he juggled with a job in commercial illustration.
But soon his field work with a camera, meant to feed his printmaking, became his primary interest, and he joined the great postwar street photography world, where practitioners like Helen Levitt, William Klein and Lisette Model were at work with their 35-millimeter rangefinders.
Mr. DeCarava (pronounced dee-cuh-RAV-ah) told Charlie Rose
in a televised interview in 1996 that photography was an ideal way to get at the directness he desired from art. “Going outside and meeting the challenge of taking what is and making it yours, that’s what photography does for me,” he said. “It’s not the subject that interests me as much as my perception of the subject.”
Avoiding flash whenever he could, his pictures explored the nuances of shadow perhaps more than any other photographer of his day. The critic Vicki Goldberg
, writing in The New York Times, described his best work as “bafflingly dark, suffused with stillness,” adding: “DeCarava reads the city’s small secrets as it goes about its business unawares, and comes in so close that everything outside his concentration falls away.”
The $3,200 he received from his Guggenheim Fellowship allowed him to shoot in Harlem full time. Steichen used some of Mr. DeCarava’s work in the landmark “Family of Man” exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1955. At the same time — after he had approached Hughes for help in finding a publisher — he published “Sweet Flypaper of Life,” which uses his work with Hughes’s prose poetry to weave a fictional narrative of Harlem life as told by a grandmother named Sister Mary Bradley.
Around the same time, he embarked on a years-long project of photographing jazz musicians like Louis Armstrong
, Billie Holiday
, Duke Ellington
, Count Basie and Thelonious Monk
at work and at rest. He was drawn to his subjects, he once said, not only because of his love of the music, but also because of the affinities he saw between jazz and photography, both of which depend on the understanding that “in between that one-fifteenth of a second, there is a thickness.”
Like many photographers who came of age in the 1940s and ’50s, he fought to win full recognition of photography by museums and galleries. For two years in the mid-’50s, he turned an apartment where he lived on the Upper West Side into a photo gallery, featuring exhibitions of work by artists like Harry Callahan and Minor White.
“From the broader art community recognition did come, albeit slowly, and sometimes at great cost,” wrote his wife, Sherry Turner DeCarava, whose three daughters with him, Susan, Wendy and Laura DeCarava, all of Brooklyn, also survive him. “His insistence that people recognize and treat photography properly, as a fine art, was ahead of many in his generation.”
But Mr. DeCarava struggled against barriers much more difficult to overcome. He was active in the Committee to End Discrimination Against Black Photographers and helped lead efforts like a protest against Life magazine, demanding that it address the lack of black photographers on its staff. But not everyone agreed with his approach. Gordon Parks
, Life’s only black photographer in the 1960s, declined to endorse the protest and Mr. DeCarava never forgave him.
His first major solo museum exhibition did not come until 1969, at the Studio Museum in Harlem
. In 2006, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts for work that, as his citation said, “seized the attention of our nation while displaying the dignity and determination of his subjects.”
To support himself and his family, Mr. DeCarava worked for many years as a freelance magazine photographer for publications like Fortune and Newsweek
In 1975, he became an associate professor at Hunter College
and later a professor of art there, one not afraid to take things into his own hands. Over one Christmas vacation, as his wife recalled, he designed and built the first full-fledged undergraduate darkroom for the college’s art department. But he described his most significant contribution as trying to impart to his students a sense of photography’s unique power.
“It doesn’t have to be pretty to be true,” Mr. DeCarava said in a 2001 interview with the contemporary artist Dread Scott. “But if it’s true it’s beautiful. Truth is beautiful. And so my whole work is about what amounts to a reverence for life itself.”
AMOS FERGUSON, OUTSIDER ARTIST OF THE BAHAMAS
Published: October 29, 2009
Amos Ferguson, a folk artist known for his brilliantly colored Bible scenes and his depictions of the social rituals and the flora and fauna of the Bahamas, died on Oct. 19 at his niece’s home in Nassau. He was 89.
National Art Gallery of the Bahamas
Jesus as depicted in a work by Amos Ferguson of the Bahamas.
Mr. Ferguson, a house painter by trade, did not turn to art until he was in his 40s, when, as he told the story, a nephew came to him and related a dream he had just had. Jesus, the nephew said, came out of the sea with a painting in his hands and said Mr. Ferguson was wasting his talent for painting.
Mr. Ferguson heeded the call and, painting with exterior enamel on cardboard, rendered Bible stories or Bahamian scenes in a vibrant Caribbean visual idiom. The work, sold at the Straw Market in Nassau, was discovered by a New York collector in the 1970s, and in 1985 the Wadsworth Atheneum
in Hartford mounted the exhibition “Paint by Mr. Amos Ferguson” — taking the artist’s signature as the title.
Mr. Ferguson, previously unknown even to many Bahamians, leapt to the front ranks of the outsider-art genre.
“Until the 1950s or 1960s, we did not really have an artist who depicted us,” Ms. James said. “Amos was intuitive, but he tapped into the pulse of Bahamian culture. The seeming simplicity of the forms and the subjects gave him an audience abroad, and now here.”
Mr. Ferguson was born on Feb. 28, 1920, on the island of Exuma in the Bahamas. He was one of 14 children of a Baptist preacher and carpenter. At 14 he left home for Nassau, where he worked as an upholsterer, furniture finisher and house painter.
After receiving the call to become an artist, he set up at the foot of the bridge connecting Nassau to Paradise Island and began painting Bahamian scenes on cardboard sheets that his wife used in her basket making. When they failed to sell, he retreated to his house and concentrated on intensely personal religious paintings and brightly colored, joyous renderings of social rituals like the Junkanoo festival. He also liked to depict the island’s crabs, fish and flowers.
Beatrice, his wife, offered his paintings to tourists at the Straw Market, where she sold baskets and dolls. She died in 2000. He has no immediate survivors.
“He would paint on pizza boxes, shirt cardboard, drinking glasses, anything,” said Laurie Carmody Ahner, who sells Mr. Ferguson’s work at the Galerie Bonheur
in St. Louis. “He was the ultimate recycler.”
The titles, with their shaky spelling and grammar, were evocative: “When I Was Nine Years Old I Dream About Black Crab and Snake,” “This Picture Is When Noah Was Bilding the Ark” or “Jesus Hung on the Cross for You Sin and My Sin. They Plat Crown of Tones and Place It on His Head.”
“I paint by faith, not by sight,” Mr. Ferguson often said.
He began showing at galleries in the Bahamas in 1972, but widespread recognition came to him after 1978, when Sukie Miller, an American collector, bought several of his paintings. She showed them to Ute Stebich, a dealer in Haitian art in Lenox, Mass.
The two women traveled to Nassau, photographed the work and sent slides to the Wadsworth Atheneum
, hoping that the museum might acquire some paintings for its African Diaspora Collection. Instead, curators organized a show of 50 works, which brought Mr. Ferguson to the attention of the international art market. His images were later used to illustrate “Under the Sunday Tree” (1991), a collection of poems by Eloise Greenfield.
Exposure abroad helped win Mr. Ferguson new respect in the Bahamas, where fame had been slow to come. “Used to be, I could count the people in the Bahamas who understood my work,” he told United Press International in 1985. “But now they just believe and see what I’m doing. The eyes were in darkness. As time rolls on, they come into the light.”
In 2005 the street he lived on in Nassau was renamed Amos Ferguson Street. He continued painting even after his eyesight began to fail.
“To paint, the Lord gives you a vision, a sight that you go by,” he once told a reporter. “But don’t forget you have to see and check that Bible and don’t forget God. And the more you keep up with your Bible, and get the understanding, the better you paint.”
FROM THE ARCHIVES