Monthly Archives: May 2007

SCOTT JOPLIN, THE KING OF RAGTIME

 (Post updated on April 9, 2009. See link below at the end of the post.)

ScottJoplin.jpeg
Scott Joplin

One of my favourite composers of all time is the great Scott Joplin. He is the most well-known of the composers of a form of music known as Ragtime–music which predates jazz, gospel, blues, rhythm and blues, rock-n-roll, disco, and even rap and hip-hop.

Late in the 1890s, a craze for a new kind of music called Ragtime swept over America. The instant popularity of Ragtime increased with the advent of the new century, thrilling some observers of American culture, alarming some others. By 1910, the mania had reached its peak and a decline set in, and the outbreak of the First World War signaled the end of the Ragtime era. Elements of the music, however, remained alive in jazz and in popular dance, theater, and movie music, and traces of Ragtime remain in American vernacular music of our own today.

The ultimate diffusion of Ragtime mirrored its origins. Nurtured primarily by a large corps of itinerant black pianists in the Midwest, Ragtime synthesized diverse musical strands—marching-band music, Euro-American dances such as the polka, quadrille, and schottisch, sentimental songs, salon music—binding them together with the vital syncopated rhythms indigenous to black music in Africa, the Caribbean, and in the United States. The first published rag came from the pen of a white imitator—bandmaster William H.Krell, whose “Mississippi Rag” of 1897 nevertheless reveals a close study of the true creators of this music form, black men, but, black composers soon made their way into print as well and received much of their rightful due.

Ragtime grew up in cafes, saloons, and what the period referred to as sporting houses. The Midwest of the ’90s retained much of its frontier origins, and the flourishing tenderloins provided a haven for the early Ragtime pianists whose music hovered just below the border of respectability. To some, however, Ragtime meant more than merely the sonic tapestry of the red-light district or a showplace for keyboard prowress; they saw the possibility of it escaping from its environment and becoming a medium of serious composition. None maintained this vision of a highly evolved, “classic” Ragtime with greater devotion than a young black musician named Scott Joplin. Through ceaseless labor and considerable genius, he succeeded in transforming the rough vibrancy of his forbears into a subtle and polished act.
 

Many details in the life of America’s first great black composer remain uncertain. Scott Joplin was born between June-November 1867 and January 1868, and even until today, his day of birth is still in heated contention. Even his place of birth in East Texas (some records state Linden, Texas OR Texarkana, Texas) is still a matter of rancorous debate. Being a black man, it is understandable of the diminished knowledge surrounding Joplin’s birth, since at that time, practically no records were kept on the early lives of millions of black citizens in birth records at hospitals or county/census registrar seats. Especially since so many millions of black citizens were born at home, and delivered by black midwives, and not by doctors. However, regarding his ingenious piano works in the style known as Ragtime, it is undisputed that Scott Joplin created a place for himself among the great composers of piano music in Western culture. Joplin’s syncopated musical style found expression in the popular idiom of piano Ragtime, a style that flourished along the Mississippi river in the closing decade of the Nineteenth Century and which endured as a prominent piano style until the end of World War I.

To this improvisational genre Joplin brought great artistry, craftsmanship, and elegance. His piano works influenced such great composers as Claude Debussy, and Joplin is claimed as an important contributor in both serious music and as an innovator in the development of piano Jazz. However, it is clear that Joplin himself considered his music to be in the classical tradition of Western art music since this was the music of his background and education.

Scott Joplin was the child of a former slave and a free-born black woman, Giles and Florence Givens Joplin, and he grew up in the town of Texarkana on the Texas-Arkansas border. He had few early educational opportunities, but his mother took an active interest in his education, and most members of his family played musical instruments. Julius Weiss, a German immigrant musician, taught the young Joplin and played a significant role in the formation of Joplin’s artistic aspirations.

 His activities during the 1880s are not documented, but anecdotal evidence suggests that he lived for a while in Sedalia, Missouri, a town later linked to his fame. He also worked as a traveling musician and became a close associate of Ragtime pioneer, Tom Turpin, in St Louis. In 1891 he was back in Texarkana, performing with a minstrel company. In 1893 he went to Chicago during the World’s Columbian Exposition and led a band, playing the cornet.

He returned to Sedalia in 1894, joined the Queen City Cornet Band (a 12-piece ensemble of African-American musicians), playing lead cornet, and formed his own dance band. He traveled with his Texas Medley Quartette, a vocal group, performing as far east as Syracuse, New York, where his first two publications were issued, the songs Please Say You Will and A Picture of Her Face.

Joplin attended music classes at George R. Smith College in Sedalia, and he taught piano and composition to several younger Ragtime composers, including Arthur Marshall and Scott Hayden (with whom he composed collaborative Rags). In 1898 and 1899 he performed as a pianist at the Maple Leaf Club (made famous by Maple Leaf Rag) and the Black 400 Club, and Joplin formed a fruitful relationship with the music publisher John Stark, who published about one-third of Joplin’s known works.

Early in 1899, Joplin’s first composition was issued, the piano Ragtime piece, Original Rags. Dissatisfied with the usual arrangement whereby publishers purchased popular music outright for $25 or less, Joplin then obtained the services of a lawyer before publishing again. This was a wise decision, for his next publication, Maple Leaf Rag, on which he had a royalty contract paying one cent per copy, was an extraordinary success. Its success was not immediate, however, since only 400 copies were sold in the first year, but it sold half a million copies by 1909, thereby providing Joplin with a steady, albeit small, income. The most famous of all piano Rags, Maple Leaf Rag, formed the basis of Joplin’s renown and justified his title as the “King of Ragtime Composers.”

In 1901, Joplin moved to St Louis with Belle, his new wife, and devoted his time to composition and teaching, relegating performance to a minor part of his activities. Adding to his fame through the next few years were such outstanding Rags as Sunflower Slow Drag (1901, with Scott Hayden), The Easy Winners (1901), The Entertainer (1902) and The Strenuous Life (1902), a tribute to President Theodore Roosevelt.

Despite his success as a Ragtime composer, his ambition was to write for the lyric theatre. His first effort in this direction was The Ragtime Dance, a ballet for dancers and a singer-narrator, depicting a black American ball such as those held at Sedalia’s Black 400 Club. It was first staged on November 24, 1899 at Wood’s Opera House in Sedalia, although it was not published until 1902. His next stage work was A Guest of Honor, an opera depicting black leader Booker T. Washington’s dinner in the White House with President Theodore Roosevelt in 1902. Joplin applied for a copyright in February 1903 and took the opera on tour with his company of 30 the following August. Early in the tour the receipts were stolen and the company disbanded. The score was never published and subsequently has been lost.

A notable Rag of 1904 was his The Cascades, performed at the St Louis World’s Fair. Another very popular composition was The Chrysanthemum, dedicated to Freddie Alexander, whom Joplin married in June 1904. She died the following September and was the person to whom he dedicated his next opera, Treemonisha.

In 1907, by which time he had published more than 40 works, mostly Rags, Joplin moved to New York with the intention of finding a publisher for his second opera, on which he was still working. Within his first year in New York he befriended, helped and encouraged Joseph F. Lamb, a young white man who was to become one of Ragtime’s greatest composers. Joplin left his longtime publisher Stark and tried several New York firms, finally settling with Seminary Music, with which he published such piano pieces as Wall Street Rag (which includes a descriptive narrative of events in the famed financial district), Paragon Rag (dedicated to the Colored Vaudeville Benevolent Association, of which he was a member), Solace (a syncopated non-Rag, subtitled “A Mexican Serenade”), and Pine Apple Rag. Seminary Music was linked to and shared an office with Ted Snyder Music, where Irving Berlin was employed at the beginning of his long career. It was through this connection, Joplin maintained, that Berlin had access to the score of Treemonisha, from which he supposedly stole a theme for use in his hit song Alexander’s Ragtime Band.

Joplin completed Treemonisha in 1910 and, after failing to find a publisher willing to issue the score of some 250 pages, he published the score himself in May 1911. The score received a very favorable review in the American Musician and Art Journal in June 1911, and soon afterwards Joplin announced several stagings, but none reached fruition. The only known performances during his lifetime were unstaged run-throughs without scenery or orchestra in 1911, a staging of only the final number in Bayonne, New Jersey, in 1913, and an orchestral performance in 1915 of the ballet from Act 2, Frolic of the Bears. The last work Joplin saw in print was his Magnetic Rag (1914), which he issued through his own publishing company, formed with Lottie Stokes, his third wife. He continued composing almost to the end of his life, including more stage works and orchestral music, but the manuscripts remained unpublished and were apparently destroyed in 1961.

The disaster of Treemonisha dealt a mortal blow to the composer’s spirit. Changes in his personality had already begun to disturb his wife and friends. His quiet, level temperment became unpredictable, his behaviour tense, suspicious, increasingly moody. His skill at the piano declined seriously. After the debacle of the Treemonisha the pace of disintegration increased,, until Joplin had to be taken to Manhatten State Hospital in the fall of 1916. Even there, he continued to compose during occasional lucid moments, feverishly scketching and revising. But, Joplin never recovered, and he died in the hospital, on April 1, 1917, the year America entered World War I.

In his compositions, Scott Joplin strove for a “classical” excellence, and he longed for recognition as a composer of artistic merit, rather than one simply of popular acclaim. Although he lavished much of his creative efforts on extended works, it was with his piano Rags (miniatures rarely exceeding 68 bars of music) that he attained greatness. Both he and Stark referred to these pieces as “Classic Rags,” comparing their artistic merit to that of European classics. The comparison is not unwarranted, for Joplin clearly sought to transcend the indifferent and commonplace quality of most Ragtime. This aim is evident in his comments regarding his music, in his plea for faithful renderings of his scores, and most of all in the care and skill with which he crafted his works. Joplin’s Rags, unlike those of most of his contemporaries, are notable for their melodically interesting inner voices, consistent and logical voice-leading, subtle structural relationships and rich chromatic harmonies supported by strongly directed bass lines. These qualities are all apparent in Rose Leaf Rag, where Joplin also replaces the traditional Ragtime bass pattern with an original figure. Throughout his music, Joplin reveals himself as a composer of substance.

A renewed interest in Joplin’s music began in the early 1940s, though such interest remained limited until the Ragtime revival of the 1970s, when most of his works were reissued, performed, and analyzed. The movie, “The Sting”, starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, created a surge of interest in Joplin’s music, using many of his most well-known compositions:  “The Entertainers”, “Maple Leaf Rag”, and “Solace”. Treemonisha was lavishly staged and recorded by the Houston Grand Opera in 1976. Public acclaim and official recognition came in the form of a posthumous Pulitzer Prize in 1976 and a commemorative postage stamp in 1983.

Today, Scott Joplin is remembered in the famous Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival held each year in Sedalia, Missouri, during the month of May. This year’s festival will be held between May 30-June 3, 2007. Here is a link for the festival”

http://www.scottjoplin.org/festival.htm

The awakening of the last three decades in black culture and history has not yet resurrected Joplin and his contemporaries, who remain barely known beyond a growing coterie of Ragtime devotees. The Sedalia Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival aims to put an end to that, and it offers a perfect opportunity to discover the beauties of his music and accord him the honor that he so justly deserves.

 For your listening pleasure, the following are samples of Joplin’s well-known compositions.

Enjoy!

 

Original Rags

 

Maple Leaf Rag

 

The Entertainer

 

Rag Time Dance

 

The Chrysanthemum

 

Gladiolus Rag

 

Fig Leaf Rag

 

The Cascades

 

Paragon Rag

 

Stoptime Rag

 
OTHER LINKS FOR SCOTT’S MUSIC:

WERNER ICKING MUSIC ARCHIVES:  http://www.icking-music-archive.org/ByComposer/Joplin.php

KUNDST DER FUGE MIDI RAGTIME FILES:  http://www.kunstderfuge.com/ragtime.htm This site also showcases other Ragtime composers:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • James Price Johnson
  • Scott Joplin
  • Joseph Lamb
  • Jelly Roll Morton
  • James Scott

The Complete Works of Scott Joplin

      Piano Rags

  • Maple Leaf Rag (Sedalia, 1899)
  • Original Rags (arr. C. Daniels) (Kansas City, 1899)
  • Swipesy Cake Walk (collab. A. Marshall) (1900)
  • The Easy Winners (1901)
  • Peacherine Rag (1901)
  • Sunflower Slow Drag (collab. S. Hayden) (1901)
  • A Breeze from Alabama (1902)
  • Elite Syncopations (1902)
  • The Entertainer (1902)
  • The Strenuous Life (1902)
  • Palm Leaf (Chicago, 1903)
  • Something Doing (collab. Hayden) (1903)
  • Weeping Willow (1903)
  • The Cascades (1904)
  • The Chrysanthemum (1904)
  • The Favorite (Sedalia, 1904)
  • The Sycamore (New York, 1904)
  • Bethena, Ragtime Waltz (1905)
  • Leola (1905)
  • Eugenia (Chicago, 1906)
  • The Ragtime Dance (New York, 1906)
  • Gladiolus Rag (New York, 1907)
  • Heliotrope Bouquet (collab. L. Chauvin) (New York, 1907)
  • Lily Queen (collab. Marshall) (New York, 1907)
  • Nonpareil (New York, 1907)
  • Rose Leaf Rag (Boston, 1907)
  • Searchlight Rag (New York, 1907)
  • Fig Leaf Rag (New York, 1908)
  • Pine Apple Rag (New York, 1908)
  • Sugar Cane (New York, 1908)
  • Country Club (New York, 1909)
  • Euphonic Sounds (New York, 1909)
  • Paragon Rag (New York, 1909)
  • Pleasant Moments, Ragtime Waltz (New York, 1909)
  • Wall Street Rag (New York, 1909)
  • Stoptime Rag (New York, 1910)
  • Felicity Rag (collab. Hayden) (New York, 1911)
  • Scott Joplin’s New Rag (New York, 1912)
  • Kismet (collab. Hayden) (1913)
  • Magnetic Rag (New York, 1914)
  • Reflection Rag (1917)
  • Silver Swan Rag (New York, 1971)

      Other Piano Works

  • Combination March (Temple, TX, 1896)
  • Great Collision March (Temple, 1896)
  • Harmony Club Waltz (Temple, 1896)
  • Augustan Club Waltz (1901)
  • Cleopha (1902)
  • March Majestic (1902)
  • Binks’s Waltz (1905)
  • Rosebud (1905)
  • Antoinette (New York, 1906)
  • School of Ragtime, 6 exercises (New York, 1908)
  • Solace (New York, 1909)

      Songs for Voice & Piano

  • A Picture of Her Face (Joplin) (Syracuse, NY, 1895)
  • Please Say You Will (Joplin) (Syracuse, 1895)
  • I Am Thinking of My Pickaninny Days (H. Jackson) (1901)
  • Little Black Baby (L.A. Bristol) (Chicago, 1903)
  • Maple Leaf Rag (S. Brown) (1903)
  • Sarah Dear (Jackson) (1905)
  • When Your Hair is like the Snow (O. Spendthrift) (1907)
  • Pine Apple Rag (J. Snyder) (New York, 1910)

      Stage Works

  • The Ragtime Dance (Ballet), Wood’s Opera House, Sedalia, 1899 (1902)
  • A Guest of Honor (Opera), East St Louis, IL, 1903, (score lost)
  • Treemonisha (Opera), Atlanta Memorial Arts Center, Atlanta, GA, 1972, (New York, 1911)

* * *

References:

 

 

1.
They All Played Ragtime – The True Story Of An American Music by Rudi Blesh and Harriet Janis, (4TH Edition, New York, NY, Oak Publications, 1966; Hardcover November, 2008)
5.0 out of 5 stars (1)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. “Music in the United States:  A Historical Introduction”,  [Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1969], H. Wiley Hitchcock.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.
Scott Joplin: Piano Rags by Joshua Rifkin (Audio CD – Oct 25, 1990)
4.6 out of 5 stars (41)

 

2.
Scott Joplin: His Complete Works by Scott Joplin, Joseph Lamb, and Richard Zimmerman (Audio CD – Jul 19, 1994)
4.2 out of 5 stars (12

 

3.
Rags to Riches: The Essential Hits of Scott Joplin by Scott Joplin and Robert Strickland (Audio CD – Jun 21, 2005)
4.7 out of 5 stars (3)
 

 

 

 

 POST UPDATE LINK

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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IN MEMORIAM

Sunday, MAY 27, 2007, I opened my newspaper to find out that Mrs. Fannie Lee Chaney, the mother of James Chaney, had passed away, Tuesday, May 22, 2007. She was the mother of the black Civil Rights worker who was murdered along with Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, in Philadelphia, MS, in 1964.

All three young men were civil rights workers who went down to Mississippi to help disenfranchised black voters obtain and exercise their right to vote as citizens of Misssissippi and America. These three young men were jailed by the racist white police, turned out of jail, at night, taken by Klansmen out into the surounding woods,  brutally beaten and shot to death. Their bodies were buried in an earthen dam. Later that year during the Freedom Summer, their bodies were found.

The men accused of murdering them were found ‘Not Guilty’  by an all-white jury. The mothers of Goodman and Schwerner asked that their sons be buried with Mrs. Chaney’s son in the same cemetary, but, the segregated city of Philadelphia, MS, of Neshoba County, denied all three of these mothers the right to have their sons buried together, even though they all died together fighting against a racist system of cruelty and hatred.

Mrs. Chaney lived to see a reputed Klan leader convicted two years ago in the young men’s deaths.In recounting the trial of the accused killer of her son, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, who helped prosecute Edgar Ray Killen, recalled that he held Mrs. Chaney’s hand to steady her as she walked to the witness stand to testify. Though her legs were shaky with age, Hood said, she seemed to have found an inner strength and calmness.“She told me she just wanted to live . . . to have her day in court over her son’s murder,” Hood said. “I’m glad she got to live to see the trial.”It may have been justice denied for much too long, but, Mrs. Chaney was able to receive some justice before she left this world.May she and all those brave women and men, who put their lives on the line to pave a way for all of us living today, never be forgotten.

May all that her son, and the sons of Mrs. Goodman and Mrs. Schwerner, always be celebrated for giving us the civil rights, voting rights and so many freedoms that many Americans did not have. Rights that so many Americans, black, white, Native American, Asian, Latino, Arab—–ALL take for granted today.

May she rest in peace.

Link:

http://abclocal.go.com/wpvi/story?section=local&id=5331975

To sign the Chaney Family Guest Book, follow this link:

http://www.legacy.com/Braedenton/GB/GuestbookView.aspx?PersonId=882277008

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TOWARDS THE END OF AUNT JEMIMA

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

Pancake flipping. Broadly grinning. Greasy, smiling, shining face. Teeth broadly flashing a huge show of white. Head rag, bandanna wearing, servile, anything for the white folks. Icon of  the world of segregation and meek utter unconditional unending servitude.
The racist, sexist image of Aunt Jemima has become entrenched into the subconscious memory and culture of all Americans, and like a health-destroying bad habit, has sneaked into our existence and psyches as to have become a normal image that no longer holds feelings of disgust, shame and revulsion. That the manufacturers of Aunt Jemima have for over 100 years been able to so skillfully integrate this disparaging symbol into American culture, as to lend it as imparting endearing qualities across all racial, gender and ethnic groups, has had a profound impact on the image black Americans have had of themselves and of the image whites, and other races, have had of black people, and especially the image that black women have had to contend with.
That black women were relegated to being wet-nurses for the children of white people, that this asexual image of the all-giving mammy was created by white men to cover up their massive rapes of black women during slavery, regardless of the fact that black women in slavery on average were very thin/skinny because of a sub-standard slave diet, and that the majority of black women slaves did not live past the age of fifty years, this image was created to present the propaganda that black women were so matronly, so obese, so un-womanly, that there was no way any white man would have sex with such a black woman, let alone rape her.
Hence the creation of the Mammy/Aunt Jemima icon to justify rape of black women not only during slavery, but the continued perpetuation of legally and publically sanctioned rape of black women during Jim Crow segregation. Contrary to what many people think, the many black women who were forced into white homes to care for the white family because of the role of domestic servant was the only employment they could obtain, the image of the well-endowed, obese black Mammy is a lie. The majority of the black women who worked in white homes during segregation were young, slender black women. The creation of Aunt Jemima by white men was to soothe the conscious and fears of white women who felt that these “Jezebels” (ironic that the white men who raped black women would have the balls to call black women whores after they, the white men, raped black women for generations, and would slander black women with the epithet “Whore/Jezebel), but, white men created the Mammy image so white women would not have to fear that the Jezebel black woman would lure their weak-willed white men away, so that white women would not have to fear that these “temptresses” would wreck their already in turmoil white home life, therefore, Aunt Jemima was created to give the South an image of tranquil, docile, happy ex-slave black people who only lived to serve the white people’s bottomless needs. On the contrary, the many black women who were forced into working in white people’s homes resented this type of work and the horrors that came with it, since the job of domestic was all that was allowed to black women then.
And the all-pervasive degrading image of Aunt Jemima has relegated black women into a low economic status of life, forever slaves to a hateful stereotypical image of the all-serving, selfless, all-giving, give-out, work to the death, slave like a mule hitched to a plow, deny any and all essence of her being a human being—–MAMMY.

 

And despite all their efforts, despite all their work and accomplishments that so many black women have done, the  mammy image always forces them back into the slave plantation kitchen of many American’s minds. As the author, Deborah Gray White, author of “Ar’nt I a Woman?” put it so well:
“In the pictures painted by Americans, Mammy towered behind every orange blossom, mint julep, erring white child, and gracious Southern lady. . . .In the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s Hollywood film producers and New York advertising agencies built their own monuments to Mammy. With their films, their pancake boxes, and their syrup bottles, they imprinted the image of Mammy on the American psyche more indelibly perhaps than ever before.We probably can not measure the effect of the mass packaging of Mammy with precision, but the fact is that Mammy became a national symbol of perfect domesticity at the very time that millions of black women were leaving the cotton fields of the South in search of employment in Northern urban areas. Surely there is some connection between the idea of Mammy, the service and domestic jobs readily offered to black women, and their near-exclusion from other kinds of work.”
A CHRONOLOGY OF THE HISTORY OF THE RACIST STEREOTYPE AUNT JEMIMA
1889    
Pearl Milling Company founded by Charles Rutt and Chris Underwood.
Creation of the first ready-mixed pancake flour.
Aunt Jemima chosen by Charles Rutt as advertising’s first living trademark.
Aunt Jemima Manufacturing Company replaces Pearl Milling Company.
1890
Aunt Jemima trademark registered by Bert Underwood, brother of Chris.
Aunt Jemima Manufacturing Company sold to R. T. Davis Milling Company.
1893
Nancy Green debuts as Aunt Jemima at World’s Columbian Exhibition, Chicago, 1893.
1895
Aunt Jemima paper dolls introduced.
1900
Master of promotional strategies for Aunt Jemima trademark, R. T. Davis, dies.
1903
Reorganization of R. T. Davis Milling Company.
1905
Aunt Jemima rag dolls introduced.
1914
R. T.Davis Milling Company reincorporated as Aunt Jemima Mills Company.
1926
Aunt Jemima Mills Company sold to Quaker Oats Company for $4,202,077.28
1940S
Painted package illustration of Aunt Jemima becomes a realistic photograph.
1955
Aunt Jemima Restaurant opens at Disneyland.
1960s
Aunt Jemima image featured on packages and in advertising campaigns becomes a composite.
1989
Aunt Jemima trademark is 100 years old.
1989
Trademark modified and reintroduced on May 27.
1991
Quaker Oats/Aunt Jemima forms an alliance with the National Council of Negro Women.
 

Women Who Have Portrayed Aunt Jemima

 

Nancy Green (1834 – 1923)
The first Aunt Jemima, Nancy Green, was born a slave in 1834. She signed an exclusive contract which gave her the right to portray the character for the rest of her life. Green was featured at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Green, as Aunt Jemima, cooked pancakes, sang songs, and told stories of the Old South.
Anna Robinson ( ? – 1951)
In 1933, Anna Robinson became the second Aunt Jemima, and was featured at the Chicago Century of Progress Exhibition. Robinson’s likeness was captured on a painted portrait, an image that changed the product’s packaging.
Edith Wilson ( ? – 1981)
Prior to becoming the character, Edith Wilson was a classic blues singer and actress in Chicago. She appeared in “Amos ‘n’ Andy” and the movie, To Have and Have Not. Quaker Oats had Wilson portray Aunt Jemima on radio, television, and in personal appearances from 1948 to 1966. Wilson was the first Aunt Jemima to appear in television commercials.
Ethel Ernestine Harper ( ? – 1981)
Ethel Ernestine Harper was Aunt Jemima during the 1950s. Prior to assuming the role, Harper graduated from college at the age of 17 and became a teacher. As an actress, Harper performed in the Hot Mikado and the Negro Follies.
Rosie Hall (1900 – 1967)
Rosie Hall worked for Quaker Oats in the company’s advertising department until she discovered their need for a new Aunt Jemima. In 1988 they declared her grave an historical landmark.
Aylene Lewis ( ? – 1964)
Aylene Lewis first portrayed Aunt Jemima in 1955 at a restaurant of the same name at Disneyland. As Aunt Jemima, Lewis posed for pictures with visitors.
Ann Short Harrington (1900 – 1955)
Little is known about the career of Ann Harrington. Clippings from New York papers indicate the Harrington was “discovered” working as a cook in Syracuse, New York for the Kappa Sigma fraternity house. Before the fraternity, Harrington had worked for the former New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey. It is unknown how long Ann Harrington portrayed Aunt Jemima, but she apparently appeared on television shows as the character in the New York area.
 
 
THE ANATOMY OF A STEREOTYPE THAT HAS MOCKED, DENIGRATED AND VILIFIED BLACK WOMEN FOR OVER 100 YEARS
The term stereotype was coined by a Frenchman named Firmin Didot in 1798. Stereotyping was associated with a printing mechanism that consisted of a plate upon which letters had been cast to create a permanent and unchangeable record or image. Around 1824 the term was being applied in a metaphorical sense due to its association with consistent monotony of perceived expectations and ideas that arise from prejudicial notions of fantasy, versus reality based in fact.
The phrase was introduced to the general public by Walter Lippmann in 1926. He described it as:
“An ordered more or less consistent picture of the world to which our habits, our capacities, our comforts and our hopes have adjusted themselves. . ., it is a form of perception which implies a certain character on the data of our sense before the data reach intelligence.”
Stereotypes are the set of traits used to explain and predict the behavior of members of socially defined groups, therefore, based on this definition, stereotypes can and will result in perceptions of an extreme consistent nature, allowing for little, if any, variation within the target it seeks to define. Cut to the chase, a stereotype can be defined as a consistent representation of black people in advertising with images, words/text, and situations that in the end suggest that ALL members of the race (ergo, black people) are the SAME.
The stereotypes most associated with Aunt Jemima are considered as very negative by many black people. Traditional stereotypes are negative and always portray the intended group of people given the stereotypes in an unfavorable and disgusting light, and the main intent of stereotypes serves to stand for a whole diverse group of human beings. And nowhere is this more seen than in the case of Aunt Jemima, who is known to blacks, whites, Latinos, Asians, etc. as the motherly-think-of-everyone-else-before-herself-even-if-it-means-her-demise-both-physical-and-mental Mammy image, due to 100 years of mass marketing.
And it is the negative stereotypes of Aunt Jemima that seriously hinder and degrade the image of all black American women.
And it is through the mass media that the images of Aunt Jemima are proliferated and bombard the mental cognizance of persistent memory. And make no mistake about it,  mass media plays a very vital role in the perpetuation of racist/sexist stereotypes against black people. The stereotyping of black people by media provides negative role models for both the minority/subjugated group (black people) and the majority/dominant group (white people). This causes a rift of cultural isolation, racial and residential segregation, increasing the distance between the two, making communication extremely difficult, and fuels the lingering legacy and detrimental effects of the pervasive stereotypes.
And the stereotypes of Aunt Jemima/Mammy are the most insidious that black women continue to have to challenge, fight and suffer from:
-The happy slave
-The devoted servant
-The happy non-white
-The natural-born cook
-The mental inferior
-The woman who is so ugly in appearance that she is no one a man would want to romance, love, or bring into his life or show off around his male buddies/friends
Aunt Jemima would also be the happy-go-lucky, clowning, grinning, childlike, soulful, hostile [but wary] perpetual servile slave.
Other attributes of Aunt Jemima/Mammy are the following:
-Strong, kind, loyal
-Obese, almost cow-like in image
-Slatternly, lazy and filthy in her appearance
-Her dark skin was mocked with a greasy eye-blinding shine
-Asexual, unattractive, matronly in appearance
-Always the “motherly type”—-but, not the type for a man to marry
-Good-humored to a fault, never had reason to cry or experience sorrow
-The ubiquitous head rag (which incidentally, was originally a West African gele headwrap worn by black Africans, but made into a pernicious stereotype by white people during slavery and by media ads of the 20TH Century). This image gave way to the phrase “handkerchief head”.
(Ironically, the name “Jemima” is biblical in nature and is an anglicized version of the feminine Hebrew name Yamimah, the second of Job’s daughters born to him at the end of his self-entitled book of the Bible. Jemima, the offshoot of irascible mammy, was sweet, jolly, even-tempered, and polite. Yamimah/Jemima, Hebrew for “dove,” was Job’s youngest daughter, symbolizing innocence, gentleness, and peace. But the name belies its meaning. The caricature connotes not naïvéte but stupidity, not peace but docility. Jemima was an obese, darkly pigmented, broad-bosomed, handkerchief-headed, gingham-dressed, elderly servant content in her subjugation.)
When black women slaves stepped off the plantation, they envisioned a life free from perpetual toil of slavery, but, white America would not let them shed the shackles of the racist image of Aunt Jemima. With the packaging of Aunt Jemima securely embedded into the minds of all Americans, the icon of Aunt Jemima was here to stay.
In the 1923s, the Daughters of the Confederacy asked the Congress to set aside a site in the Capitol area where a monument in recognition of the “Black Mammy” could be built. Black people were so angered and offended at the thought of such an outrage even being suggested that they protested vociferously against this monument of insulting degradation against the image of black womanhood, and as a contemptuous sign of black servitude. Black women across the nation were enraged at the proposal for a Mammy statue. Civil rights leader Mary Church Terrell wrote that if it were built, ‘there are thousands of colored men and women who will fervently pray that on some stormy night the lightning will strike it and the heavenly elements will send it crashing to the ground.’  They instead suggested that “a better memorial would be to extend the full rights of American citizenship to the descendants of these Mammies”. Ending the lynching, public humiliation of black people on trolley cars and other forms of transportation, giving black people the right to vote, were what black people needed, not more racist/sexist slaps in the face. So great was the pressure brought by black people, black leaders and black groups, that the monument was rightfully killed in the House of Representatives.
I have admiration and reverence for Nancy Green and the many black women who portrayed Aunt Jemima.
They made do as they could with the world that was handed to them, and showed themselves, as so many, many black women have, that they were of better, sterner stuff than those white people who insulted, belittled, degraded, and mocked them.
The many Nancy Greens who had to go into white homes and face rape from the white husbands and sons, faced abuse from the white wives, faced disrespect, faced being cheated out of wages that amounted to nothing more than $2-3 dollars a day for hard labor under conditions that were no better than slavery—–those black women were the real humans, the real women, the real Southerners.
On days when I think I have it so bad, when I think I can’t go on, I remember all those brave black women who came before me, and I say to myself: “If they can go on after enduring hells that I can only conceive of in nightmares, then who am I to complain?”
It is white-run America that created these images; created these images to destroy the integrity, the value, the humanity of black women. That white men used black women as sexual toilets, and that white men tried to justify their sexual hatred of black women with the creation of “Mammy” was white Southern society’s way of sweeping under the rug white male sexual aggression against black women. By creating “Mammy”, white men , and white women, were seeking to assuage their guilt over all the hundreds of thousands of rapes done to black women during slavery and segregation. The creation of Mammy was to deflect from the reality of what many black women and girls suffered at the hands of white male rapists in the South. And this subservient image was created as a controlling image against black women. Black women who had more honor and humanity than all the white people who sought to destroy them.
Would that white America and all of America could learn from these fine women’s humility and love of life that they were willing to take the brunt of abuse so that their children, and their children’s children would have a better, less hellish life.
That is what a real woman does.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

The devastation of the enduring legacy of Aunt Jemima/Mammy still haunts all black women no matter how substantial their successes in America. In 1986, Oprah Winfrey became offended when “Saturday Night Live” producer Lorne Michaels asked her to perform a skit with her playing Aunt Jemima in the process of being laid off by the Quaker Oats Company. Oprah was incensed and refusing to play the part, instead wanted to open the show with a sketch showing her arguing with Michaels over the skit, that no matter how much education, fame, knowledge, or position a black woman gains in America, in the end she is still a servile, slaving, mule of the world Aunt Jemima/Mammy in white America’s eyes. Even the Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has not escaped the slanderous insult that Aunt Jemima brings with it; she too, has been called an Aunt Jemima, as well, by a radio host who refused to apologize to Madame Secretary, but, he was willing to apologize to Aunt Jemima, and give radio listeners of a contest, free pancake mix and syrup! 

This contemptuous insult is hurled at all black women no matter what their occupation, acheivements or station in life.

And that is how many people, of many races, still wish to view black women.

That no matter what we accomplish, we will always be mammies, wet-nurses and proverbial cooks in people’s eyes, no matter how many degrees we have, no matter what board room corporation we run, no matter how we take care of our families and communities. That someone of the stature of Oprah Winfrey could be relegated to being seen as a selfless serve Massa and Missus Mammy is a testament to the America’s love and desire to keep black women in the kitchen, on the plantation, cooking and slaving away for white-run America’s benefit, white-run America’s contentment, white-run America’s happiness.

AUNT JEMIMA MAKES A CHANGE IN 1989

In 1989, the Quaker Oats Company changed their image of Aunt Jemima. Gone was the greasy shine, the head rag, the obese figure. In its place came the pearl earrings, a slimmed down face/figure, and a helmeted perm. But, no matter what the changes, Aunt Jemima is still Aunt Jemima—a hated, racist, sexist icon, that continues to haunt black women. She may look like a black Betty Crocker, but, she is still Aunt Jemima.

In 2007 America, Aunt Jemima commands a huge share of the breakfast foods market in pancake mixes, syrup, and frozen waffles/pancakes. But, there are still some black people today who are insulted by the continuing image of this icon still being sold and merchandised to Americans. And as a stereotypical image Aunt Jemima has offended some members of the black community, many of whom refuse to buy the product for fear of looking like aiders and abettors in this most sexist and racist of symbols that has lived for so long in the world of advertising and the perpetuation of a stereotype that will not die and go down into that grave and stay dead.

In 1991, the Quaker Oats Company fearing the backlash of the 1960s and 1970s of the Black Power Movement, and recognizing the challenges the black community was putting on the marketers of racist merchandise (Cream of Wheat, Uncle Ben’s Rice, and Aunt Jemima), created a contest and entered into a venture with the National Council of Negro Women in the hopes of making the trademark into a more positive symbol with the black American community. They ran the year-long contest, which was to recognize the leadership skills and talents of black female college students. Many  women were honored across various sectors of black society, from many cities across America. The program ended with a national winner representing:

“The nominees and winners in each city will symbolize community involvement and strong family values—those traditional qualities that Aunt Jemima brands continue to represent and support.

“There are many women across the country whose hard work and dedication deserve recognition and appreciation. We want to lift up examples of women in different fields who inspire us all to greater community service.”

Wow.

Service.

Hard work.

Slavish servile support of other people’s interests other than her own.

Hmm.

Sounds very Aunt Jemimaish to me.

The winner at the breakfast award that was held at the  Quaker Oats Chicago headquarters, was given an award and was named “Black Woman Community Leader of the Year”.

However, the program did receive some flak from the black community.

SO WHERE DO WE STAND WITH AUNT JEMIMA?

The selling of Aunt Jemima adorned merchandise is still with us. People continue to buy this product which has outlasted (with the exception of Uncle Ben’s Rice and Rastus of Cream of Wheat) many racist stereotypical products created to insult and degrade black Americans.

Aunt Jemima has outlived:

-Gold Dust Twins

-Nigger Head Oysters

-Racist trade cards

-Rising Sun Stove products

-Pickaninny Brand Peanut Butter

-Kirkman’s Soap

And that’s just to name a few.

 
Mammy.
Black women still have to contend with the insulting blow that Aunt Jemima has delivered for over 100 years.
For the last 30 years, I have waged a silent boycott of Quaker Oats’s Aunt Jemima icon by not buying products that continue to degrade and disrespect me as a black woman.
And enough time has been spent waging this battle against this company which has no interest in retiring this most hated of racist and sexist symbols.
Therefore, I have created a petition to end the flagrantly disrespectful Aunt Jemima image, here:
My petition is to implore the Quaker Oats Company to cease its use of Aunt Jemima. For Quaker Oats to start showing the respect to black women that we have more than earned the right to after 400 years of living with sexist and racist denigration from the cruel stereotypes created by white America.
Please, if you also wish to join with me in the demise of Aunt Jemima, I ask that you sign my petition.
Together, with enough of our signatures, we can hopefully, and  finally, put Aunt Jemima out of her misery.
And finally for the Quaker Oats Company to start to truly give respect and honor to all the glorious contributions that so many black women have made in their lives in this country.
It is not necessary to degrade and insult an entire race of women to sell a product. And that is the message I wish to send to Quaker Oats.

Enough is enough.

LINKS/REFERENCES:

http://www.ferris.edu/htmls/news/jimcrow/mammies

http://www.chron.com/content/chronicle/metropolitan/96/04/07/aunt-jemima.html

http://www.auntjemima.com/aj_history

http://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/onlineessays/JC28folder/Mammy.html

http://www.thecemetaryproject.com/Graves%202/aunt-jemima.htm

http://www.uwm.edu/Dept/Grad_Sch/McNair/2004/mcgee.pdf

“Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben and Rastus:  Blacks in Advertising, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow”,  by  Marilyn Kern-Foxworth, foreword by Alex Haley.  Praeger Publishers, 1994.

 

AUTHENTIC HISTORY: “Stereotypes of African-Americans: Products and Advertising”  (AUNT JEMIMA PANCAKE AD)

THE MAMMY PROJECT

THE MYTHIFICATION OF THE MAMMY

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: BLACK MAMMY STATUE

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YOLANDA KING, PASSES AT AGE 51

Oldest Child of Dr. King Carried On Parent’s Legacy With Her Siblings

Interactive

Civil Rights In America Civil Rights In America
A half-century after Rosa Parks’ protest, a look back at the events of the civil rights movement.
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Special Report

Martin Luther King Jr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Look back at the life of the slain civil rights leader and learn about how Americans are celebrating his legacy.
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Photo Essay

Coretta Scott King Coretta Scott King
Look back at the life of the first lady of the American Civil Rights movement.
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Remembering The Dream On MLK Day
With Both Coretta Scott King And Martin Luther King Jr. Gone, Their Children Look To The Future

Remembering The Dream On MLK Day


ATLANTA, Ga., May 16, 2007CBS News Report/Associated Press


Yolanda King, center, one of the daughters of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., seen here in January 2007 with her brother Dexter (right) and Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin (left). (AP)

(AP) The King Center in Atlanta — set up to preserve the legacy of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King — says his oldest child, Yolanda Denise King, has died.

Steve Klein, a spokesman for the center, says the 51-year-old died late Tuesday in Santa Monica, Calif.

A spokesman for the King Center says the family does not know the cause of death but suspects it might have been a heart problem.

The death comes just over a year after the death of her mother, Coretta Scott King — a civil rights leader in her own right — at the age of 78, of complications from ovarian cancer, and after a battle with the effects from a stroke.

The children of Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King — Yolanda Denise, Martin Luther III, Dexter Scott, and Bernice Albertine — have each in their own way worked to carry on their parents’ work fighting for racial equality and social justice.

Born on Nov. 17, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, King was just an infant when her home was bombed during the turbulent civil rights era.

As an actress, she appeared in numerous films and even played civil rights heroine Rosa Parks in the 1978 miniseries “King.” She founded a production company called Higher Ground Productions.

Speaking last January in Atlanta at Ebenezer Baptist Church — where her father preached for many years — Yolanda exhorted those observing the national holiday that bears his name to remember that America has not yet achieved peace and racial equality.

“We must keep reaching across the table and, in the tradition of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, feed each other,” said Yolanda, urging those who honor the Kings’ work to question their own beliefs on prejudice and be a personal force for peace and love.

Yolanda at that same ceremony used her craft as an actress to deliver a tribute to her parents, performing a series of skits telling stories including a girl’s first ride on a desegregated bus and a college student’s recollection of the 1963 desegregation of Birmingham, Ala.
© MMVII, CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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BLACK SARAH

Another aspect of the “Marians” and Black Madonnas, is the legend of Black Sarah.

Black Sarah is the patron saint of the European gypsies. In gypsy legend she was an Egyptian serving girl who drifted in a small boat from the Holy Land with Saint Mary Jacobe and Saint Mary Salome, the biblical sisters of the Virgin Mary. Her feast day is celebrated each May 24TH at Saintes Maries de la Mer in the south of France, where the three are said to have landed in A.D. 42. Her statue is carried down to the sea on this day to re-enact her arrival in France.

This ‘Gypsy Hornpipe’ is a traditional English tune written and sung in Black Sarah’s honor.

“You wore lead and shoes to raise fences;

“I speak from my heart, my words may displease you.

BLACK SARAH PROTECT ME.

“The good God in heaven he meant all his people,

“To live as they choose, without harming each other.

“You are no longer my brother;

“You have stopped me and my family from drinking of God’s own clear streams,

“And grazing our horses.

“I was born on a grove, raised in field and in forest;

“Now I live in a broken-down caravan cart.

BLACK SARAH CONSOLE ME.

“We dream of the past with the seasons we circle.

“How can we call only one place our home?

“You would have our lives as bleak as your own;

“You surround us with laws and government forms,

“Try to teach our children your ways,

“But, their hearts will choose freedom.

“I try to forget the nightmare I read in your palms,

“I take only your money.

BLACK SARAH FORGIVE ME.

“Lead me I pray, as you led the two Marys.

“With love and strength led them safe to the land.

“Help me understand,

“That although I am a poor woman,

“The eyes of my children dance with my love……………

……………..their laughter delights me.”

POST UPDATED 2-11-2016

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NO! THE DOCUMENTARY, AND THE BLACK AGENDA REPORT

I meant to post a link on this documentary on rape, sexual abuse and domestic violence against black women in the black community sometime ago. The documentary “NO!” is a must see for those who are concerned for the health, safety and well-being of black women living in America. 

http://www.notherapedocumentary.org

Also, here in its entirety is a conversation with the acclaimed filmmaker Aishah Shahidah Simmons of this documentary conversing on why she brought this film forth to shine light on a very little, if often, discussed subject: the destruction of black women in the black community. Also, check out this link where Clamor Magazine interviews Ms. Simmons on her documentary film:  http://clamormagazine.org/issues/38/culture.php

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aishah Shahidah Simmons

 

 

 

 

The Myth of Black Women’s Progress: A Conversation with Activist and Filmmaker Aishah Shahidah Simmonsby Tamara K. Nopper
Aishah Shahidah Simmons is the director of NO!, a feature length documentary that unveils the reality of intra-racial rape, other forms of sexual violence, and healing in African-American communities.  It has taken Simmons eleven years to complete NO! because of a lack of support from various funders and mixed responses, including those from the Black community.  But because of consistent support from some and a growing amount of support from both Blacks and non-Blacks, NO! was finally completed in 2005.  Now Simmons is putting her efforts into getting the film out there. She sits down with writer Tamara K. Nopper to talk about how Black women are situated in the contemporary conversation of the “crisis facing Black men,” and how this informs how Black women’s experiences of rape and sexual assault are addressed. “We can never talk about the rape of Black women. Black women’s issues can’t ever be central.”TN: In general, I think Black men and Black women tend to be dismissed if they talk about oppression or racism. But there’s something really fascinating to me, also being in some of these activist spaces, some of the spaces you and I are both familiar with and different spaces as well – seeing how non-Black people, men and women, how they kind of gravitate towards Black men to learn what does it mean to be Black.  Or what is Black oppression like from a “Black perspective”?  Do you notice that?AS: Yeah, oh yeah, definitely.  Definitely.TN: Do you think that has affected in some ways some of the non-Black support that could have been available to you or that you thought might have been available to you in terms of you know, people’s fears of “Oh, are you condemning Black men?”  Or people’s identifications with Black men for whatever reason that might be? AS: I think that for progressive non-Black people there’s a vested interest in seeing Black men as victims.  It’s like the huge New York Times piece that came out.  That to talk about, we tend to see things in kind of single issue topics.  Yes, Black men are definitely victims to a white supremacist society but at the same time they’re perpetrators in a male supremacist world.  But white folks and just folks who are not of African descent, they don’t want to see this, they don’t want to deal with that.  They kind of go, “Well, you know, Black men are in jail, disproportionate amounts of percentage of men are in jail or are Black.”  And yet most Black men who are in jail are not in jail for raping Black women.And I want to be explicitly clear: I oppose the herding of Black men into prisons, I’m very opposed to the criminal injustice system.  But I really get tired of how that gets used in this kind of discourse. I’ve had a scholar-activist ask me at a Q&A after a screening if I am concerned about perpetuating the myths of the stereotype of Black men.

 “There’s all kind of concern about how Black men are being portrayed – but what about Black women?”

The stereotype of Black men is them raping white women.  Nobody wants to like flip the coin, as Salamishah [Tillet] has taught me, the coin of the Black male rapist.  But the other side of that coin is the Black woman whore who can’t be raped.  But we never address that, we never talk about that.  So there’s all kind of concern about how Black men are being portrayed – but what about Black women?  And it’s very interesting because it’s how we’re trained.  I mean I think all of us are trained in terms of a patriarchal point of view, regardless of what race we are, to make men’s issues central. I believe that’s what creates this kind of gangster reality amongst the hip hop generation, the kind of these, “Well, it’s so hard being a Black man”’—and not to say that it’s not, but what the hell, Black women are not having a picnic.

Not only are we [Black women] dealing with racism and sexism from white mainstream society but we’re also dealing with sexism from our community and who we going to tell?  Because nobody going to believe us and do we want to see our brother/father/boyfriend/lover/comrade get arrested?

TN: Different sociological conversations are going on where they’re suggesting that Black women are having it much easier because they’re not in prison or their unemployment rates are not so high, even though in some cases they are as high, right?  How do you think those narratives of Black female progress that are kind of being put out there sociologically, how do you think they affect the ability of Black women’s rape to get dealt with?

AS: Oh, I think it plays – I’m not saying that it’s not a rough time for Black men – by any stretch of the imagination.  But I do think that it still, it’s the divisive way that somehow that Black women are having a picnic.  And I think that as Elaine – Elaine Brown doesn’t say it in NO! but she says it in the raw footage of NO! – she talks about the types of jobs where many Black women are working. And let’s talk about what sexual harassment looks like at Popeye’s, you know, this is not Anita Hill. Is there a sexual harassment policy at Popeye’s or McDonald’s? And if there are, what are they?

TN: Or in sex work.

AS: Yes!  Exactly!  Definitely in sex work.  And so I think there’s this way in which clearly, here’s the example, let’s talk about the example of the young sister at North Carolina Central.  A single mother of two, a student, and also a sex worker, somebody who’s a stripper.  And so nobody, we don’t want to look at that she’s a single mother of two – where the hell is the father of her children – I’m not saying that he’s not having a hard time somewhere.  And she’s at school, so clearly, she didn’t want to be a sex worker until she dropped dead.  But clearly she’s thinking about something else in addition to sex work, you know, in terms of furthering her formal education.

“Not only are we [Black women] dealing with racism and sexism from white mainstream society but we’re also dealing with sexism from our community.”

And yet, look at how she’s being treated.  I just can’t even imagine if this were a Black man.  I can’t even imagine if a Black man were a single parent, raising two kids, managing a stripper’s club to support himself/his family while he’s in school, was accused of sexually assaulting a white woman Duke student, how the [Black] community would respond.  I do believe that it plays a role because I think there’s always suspicion already that Black women, they have it good, they’re already out to get the [Black] man anyway.  You know, I really think there is this way in which if Black men are guilty of rape, the overwhelming feeling in the [Black] community is that they are under siege… they can’t help it…this is what’s going on.  So I do think that it does create this kind of hostile environment for Black women.

TN: You were talking about the prison industrial complex and we know the statistics around Black people and specifically Black men in prison.  And when I was at your event at Temple University a few years back, I saw where somebody said, “Okay, but are we going to deal with Black men being raped in prison?”’ And I’m sure that conversation has come up more than once, correct?

AS: Yeah.

TN: So what are your responses to that critique because it’s a pretty prominent critique, right?

AS: It is a prominent critique.  I think we do have to deal with prison and rape, I really do think we have to deal with that.  But the question is if I’m talking about the rape of Black women, can we talk about the rape of Black women?  There’s always this way in which we can never talk about the rape of Black women. Black women’s issues can’t ever be central. We always have to look elsewhere. Black men are in jail, Black men are being raped.  All of that is true, but what about Black women? 

Can we talk about the violence that Black women experience?  Can we talk about the rape that they experience?  And it’s this interesting struggle, very sobering and painful. I’m not a man, but anytime I hear about police brutality, high incarceration rates, that’s perpetrated against him the by state/white supremacy, I am called to action.  I’m not like, well, “What did Rodney King do, what did he do to get beat?” 

TN: Or what was he wearing?

AS: Exactly!  All of that.  I’m called to action. Having a brother and a father and many Black men who are related to me by blood and by spirit, I worry about what will happen if they get stopped by the police.

“We’re constantly told and taught and trained to think about Black men’s lives at our own expense.”

But that very, very rarely happens with Black women and rape, any women really, but I’m talking about Black women, that just doesn’t happen.  It’s like, what was she doing out?  She’s just probably just a “golddigga,” to use the language of Kanye’s song.  Violence against Black women is always presented in that way. So we’re constantly told and taught and trained to think about Black men’s lives at our [Black women’s] own expense.  At our own expense. 

I had this conversation with this brother whom I really love and respect, and I think there’s this kind of misinformation because he said something to the effect, “Part of the problem is that, you know, we’ve been lynched for defending your honor.”  But that’s not true.  You all [Black men] were lynched because of or in defense of white women’s honor. So there’s all this kind of mythology and misinformation about the reasons thousands of Black men were murdered as a result of false allegations of rape (of white women).  I’m definitely not saying Black men have not fought to protect Black women. I do think that there needs to be discussions of prison and rape but not at the expense of talking about Black women and girls being raped by Black men and boys. 

TN: I noticed in your film that you had a historical conversation about these issues, about lynching, about the myth of the Black male rapist, about Black women being seen as ‘unrapeable’ and a lot of ideas that people like Ida B. Wells helped to bring to the forefront in her anti-lynching pro-feminist work.  Did you originally mean to do that or was it a response to some of these responses that you were getting? What informed kind of putting that segment in?

AS: Yeah, I realized that in order to talk about rape and sexual assault in African America, I had to address Black women’s herstory in America. Because really when it came up was during the Clarence Thomas hearings when he said this was a ‘high tech lynching.’  I remember being with my brilliant friend at the time and how Thomas’ ahistorical statement stopped her dead in her tracks. 

And so it was an ahistorical thing so I realized and in talking to my mother (Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons) and talking to Beverly Guy Sheftall and Elsa Barkley Brown that there was this need to address the history of lynching in this country.  Because it was not only just to say hey, there have been no Black men lynched for raping or sexually assaulting, allegedly or otherwise, Black women.  But more importantly or equally as importantly that Black women were at the forefront of the anti-lynching movement, because there’s this way in which Black women are “traitors” to the race.

“Why aren’t Black men who rape Black women traitors to the race?”

So what I realized what I need to do was lay down a Black feminist foundation – hopefully, a solid foundation – of Black women’s herstory in this country, being enslaved, being raped by white men, you know, fighting for equal rights and Black rights in this country, while still being assaulted.  So it was just this way of kind of saying, who is the fucking traitor here?  ‘Cause you know, to quote my dad (Michael Simmons), the traitor is to have a rapist in our community and not warn anyone. Why aren’t Black men who rape Black women traitors to the race?  You know, why is it that Black women who come forward are traitors to the race? I had people say, “How you gonna lynch another brother with that documentary?  How you gonna talk about these issues when Black men are doing so bad?” And my response is, “Does that give them the right to rape me or any Black woman because they’re doing bad?  Why not bring an end to white and male supremacy?”

TN: Switching gears, I want to ask you about your thoughts about Hurricane Katrina and how the issue of rape was dealt with.  Among activists, there’s been this kind of emphasis on trying to challenge images of Black people that were being circulated by mainstream media and the most famous of course being the “looting versus finding debate.”  But do you think that contributed to the invisibility around sexual assault and rape in the way that those conversations were getting framed by activists?

AS: Oh, I definitely think it.  I think it’s in response to racism in this country, we keep having this knee jerk reaction.  So definitely Black people were not looting, I mean in the way in which the media was saying they were – they weren’t shooting at the helicopters in the same way. But then we go, “They weren’t raping.”  It’s like, again, it goes back to NO! where Aaronette White says in the film, “Black men are not the stereotypical rapist and they’re not the only rapist. But at the same time Black men are raping.  They’re not raping more than white men, they’re raping period.” But there’s this way where we feel like we have to say, “But they weren’t even raping.” 

And it’s like, that’s not true, there are Black women victim survivors who have disclosed that they were sexually assaulted during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  And again, the discourse is always geared to the defense of Black men.  Painfully, Black women aren’t really in the equation in many ways. I think that we have to be able to talk about the intersectionalities, as so many Black feminists – Audre Lorde, Barbara Smith, Kimberle Crenshaw – have written and lectured about. We’re not all good, we’re not all bad, we’re complex.  You know, my dad always says that “equality is the right to be mediocre.”  Black people don’t have to be the best people on the planet. We do a lot of good and we also do a lot of bad. We, like the rest of the human family, are complex individuals. So we do a tremendous disservice to say there were no rapes going on…

I feel as a community we’re always trying to stop a lynching. And as a result we can’t even sort out the intersections of race, gender, class, sexuality, because we’re just trying to save somebody, almost always a Black man, from being lynched, metaphorically, by the media or even literally, by the state/white supremacy. 

This is exactly why NO! is all Black and I addressed racism, while addressing sexism and homophobia in our non-monolithic community. I’m very much aware of racism, but at the same time, we’re going to talk about sexism, goddamnit, in this documentary.  And we’re going to talk about how it impacts Black women’s lives. 

Tamara K. Nopper is an educator, researcher, writer, and activist living in Philadelphia. She is a graduate student in the Department of Sociology at Temple University and a volunteer for the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors (CCCO), a national anti-war and counter-military organization.  She can be reached at tnopper_at_yahoo.com.

For more info about NO! and to purchase a copy of the documentary, visit: www.notherapedocumentary.org.  For more information about Aishah Shahidah Simmons, visit: www.myspace.com/afrolez

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THE SHRINE OF THE BLACK MADONNA

With Mothers Day coming up on  Sunday, May 13, 2007, I did not want to let this week go by without linking to an excellent article on the enduring beauty, fascination and mystery of the Shrines of the Black Madonnas found throughout Europe.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

“To many Christians, Mary is the Heavenly Mother of all, and like a good mother she seeks to meet all the needs of her children. Especially as the mysterious “Black Madonna” she allows people to project their hopes, desires, and needs unto her, only to draw them ever deeper into divine mysteries.

“She plays many roles for many different kinds of people:  She is the heiress of the thrones of the pre-Christian goddesses. She is the bride of the Christian God, the bride in the Song of Songs [Song of Solomon], who represents all souls seeking union with the Divine and says:  “I am black but beautiful.” (1:5). She is a rebel against the establishment, a heavenly therapist, a spiritual guide. As the archetype Dark Mother, she is a symbol of our inner shadow-self when properly integrated. As a black woman, she is a friend to the oppressed and reconciler of all races. She is a  healer of all disease, a guide and companion at the time of death. She is the helper of Christ, turned black from carrying our sins with him.”

from  “BLACK MADONNAS AND OTHER MYSTERIES OF MARY” by ELLA ROZETT:

http://www.interfaithmarianpilgrimages.com/pages/blackmadonna.html#top

And I will include the most beautiful words spoken in the Bible:

“I am black, but comely, [Negra sum sed formosa], O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon.

“Look not upon me, because I am black, because the sun hath looked upon me:  my mother’s children were angry with me; they made me the keeper of the vinyards; but mine own vineyards have I not kept.

“If thou know not, O thou fairest among women, go thy way forth by the footsteps of the flock, and feed thy kids beside the shepherd’s tents.

“I have compared thee, O my love, to a company of horses in Pharoah’s chariots.

“Thy cheeks are comely with rows of jewels, thy neck with chains of gold.

“Behold, thou art fair, my beloved, yea, pleasant: also our bed is green.

“The beams of our house are cedar, and our rafters of fir.”

from the SONG OF SOLOMON.


Notre Dame de Meymac, Meymac (Correze)

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