Blues for an Alabama Sky January 11 through February 4 Curriculum & Study Guide
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT Syracuse Stage would like to acknowledge Donna Glick and the Education Department at Bostonâ€™s Huntington Theatre for graciously making their Blues study and curriculum guide available to us. It has been an invaluable resource.
Blues for an Alabama Sky Table of Contents Performance Policies and Procedures……………………………………………….2 New York State Learning Standards………………………………………………...4 Audience Role and Responsibility…………………………………………………..17 One-Minute Etiquette Reminder…………………………………………………….18 Technical Elements………………………………………………………………….19 Dramatic Criticism…………………………………………………………………..21 Characters, Setting, and Synopsis…………………………………………………...24 Pearl Cleage…………………………………………………………………………26 Interview with Timothy Douglas……………………………………………………28 Who’s Who………………………………………………………………………….35 The Harlem Renaissance…………………………………………………………….45 Poetry………………………………………………………………………………..46 Questions for After Reading the Story (or Script)…………………………………..52 Post-Performance Questions………………………………………………………...53 For Further Discussion………………………………………………………………54 Writing Assignments………………………………………………………………..56 Arts Activities……………………………………………………………………….57 Quotations from the Play……………………………………………………………59 Vocabulary…………………………………………………………………………..60 Works Consulted and Photographs………………………………………………….63
Dramaturgical research for Blues for an Alabama Sky prepared by Pat Pederson, Education Associate, and Rachel Edwards Harvith, Literary Assistant. Curriculum activities prepared by Richard Keller, Director of Dramaturgy and Education.
PERFORMANCE POLICIES AND PROCEDURES WHEN TO ARRIVE AT THE THEATRE: We recommend you arrive at the theatre at least 30 minutes prior to the performance to allow time for seating. This is a professional theatre production and will start at the scheduled time. BUS DROP OFF AND PARKING: Busses not staying may load and unload at the Centro bus stop on East Genesee Street. Bus parking is available along East Genesee Street at the bagged meters. Cars must make arrangements in parking facilities as they will be ticketed if parked at the bagged meters. SEAT ASSIGNMENTS: As each seat at Syracuse Stage is reserved and performances are often standing room only, students must sit in their assigned seats. For reasons of convenience, efficiency, and courtesy, we request that students do not trade seats. Regardless of the number in your block of seats, we request that this rule is respected. We ask that chaperons and teachers do not sit together but sit evenly distributed throughout the students. LATECOMERS: Latecomers will be seated at the discretion of the Management. There is no late seating below Row F. BACKPACKS, CAMERAS, AND WALKMANS: Backpacks, cameras and tape recorders (including Walkmans) are strictly prohibited in the theatre. As we do not have storage facilities for these items at Syracuse Stage, we ask that you leave them at school or on the bus. PHOTOGRAPHY: Cameras (flash or otherwise) are strictly prohibited in the theatre. Union rules do not allow the taking of pictures during a production and flash cameras are a distraction to both acting company and audience. FOOD, DRINK AND GUM: There is absolutely no food, drink, or gum allowed in the theatre. Please leave snacks and lunches on the bus. Students will be asked to leave the theatre to remove any food items or the items will be taken and not returned. INTERMISSION REFRESHMENTS: Soda will be available during intermission. Pepsi, Diet Pepsi and 7Up will be offered for $1.00 (exact change will be appreciated). Reminder: You must dispose of all snack items before reentering the theatre. AUDIENCE ETIQUETTE: Live performance theatres require behavior different from that required in the movie theatres. Please review theatre etiquette with your students before attending the performance. If any student becomes disruptive to the point of interference with the performers or other audience members, the chaperon will be asked to remove that student.
POST-SHOW FOLLOW UP: Performances at Syracuse Stage are funded by grants, corporations, and individuals. They do want to hear from you. We ask students and teachers to write the sponsors with your likes and dislikes and to let the sponsors know that the student matinees are an important program. Please: 1] Write thank you letters to the sponsors to let them know that this is an important program. (Names and addresses can be obtained from the Director of Education.) 2] Write to Syracuse Stage with suggestions to improve your theatre experience. 3] Call the Director of Education if you have any questions or if there is an issue that requires immediate action. Thank you in advance for the work you put into helping Syracuse Stage present the student matinee program. We hope that the season entertains and enlightens you and your students. Part of the art of living is living with the arts.
PEOPLE YOU SHOULD KNOW Director of Dramaturgy and Education.................. Education Associate……………………………… Group Sales Coordinator........................................ House Manager...................................................... Producing Director................................................. Artistic Director.....................................................
Richard Keller Pat Pederson Tracey White Lisa Kehoe James Clark Robert Moss
IMPORTANT NUMBERS Syracuse Stage Administration Offices: 315/443-4008 Education Department: 315/443-1150 Group Sales: 315/443-9844 3
The New York State Standards of Learning The following chart is designed to assist you in using the activities and questions in this guide to address the New York State Learning Standards for the Arts in the areas of Theatre, English Language Arts, and Career Development and Occupational Skills in the areas of Universal Skills. As you are the experts at adapting these activities to meet the needs of your specific classroom, this grid is only meant as an easy reference and does not intend to suggest that these are the only learning standards to which these activities apply, nor is every activity and question included on the grid. We hope this is helpful, and if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, you should feel free to call us at (315) 443-1150.
AUDIENCE ROLE AND RESPONSIBILITY As audience members, your students have a distinct role and responsibility. The success of any performance depends on the actors on the stage as well as the people in the seats. Because, for many students, this is their first exposure to a live theatre production, they might not realize that the behaviors used in the movie theaters or when watching a video or television are not always appropriate in this setting. We encourage you to spend time discussing the subject with your students and have included two pages to assist you. The first contains some discussion questions to use in classroom (with some suggested answers in italics) while the second is a ONE MINUTE ETIQUETTE REMINDER to read on the bus. [ 1 ] What are some of the differences between a live theatre production and a movie? * A movie can be filmed in any order of scenes and can be redone as many times as needed to get a “good scene.” Once a scene is done to the director’s satisfaction, it is “in the can” and will not be done again. Live theatre must be done in sequence as written, continues regardless of mistakes and problems, and is done in its entirety each performance. * The audience’s noise level, activity level, and attention level do not affect the movie actor’s performance. All of these things are heard and noticed by the actors of a live performance and have an immediate effect on the performance. This might be a positive or negative effect-- if the audience laughs at funny lines or is leaning forward in anticipation of the action, this encourages the actors to give an energetic performance; if the audience does not laugh at appropriate times or is restless during the performance, the actors often find it difficult to give their best performance. * The special effects in a movie can be generated by computers or camera angles while the special effects in the theatre rely on the audience’s imagination to help create them. * Movies provide realistic images while live theatre provides images of reality.
[ 2 ] What is the best way to approach viewing a live performance of a play? * The audience attending a live performance must walk into the theatre willing to “suspend their disbelief” and use their imagination to provide part of the setting. * Theatre is alive and active in ways that television and movies are not. Look for the passion and emotion behind the actions and the words. * Because each performance is complete and affected by audience response, an audience member will never see a duplication of a performance. Though the meaning is the same, each performance has its own underlying interpretations.
[ 3 ] What is the audience’s role during a live performance? How do you think audience behavior can affect an actor’s performance? The audience’s role is to form a connection with the actors and to appropriately respond to the performance. This response may be laughter, gasps, applause, or quiet attention as well as restlessness or silence. Noises such as paper rattling from unwrapping food, watch alarms, cell phone ringing, or talking can distract the actors and cause a disruption of the energy flow which in turn weakens the performance. It also keeps those around you from maintaining their connection with the actors.
ONE MINUTE ETIQUETTE REMINDER Please read to students on the bus prior to entering the theatre.
Stay in the group to be seated. Your school or class will be called and seated at the same time. Sit in the seat to which you are assigned. If you move or refuse to take a particular seat, you will be sitting in someone elseâ€™s place and it will cause a delay in seating other classes. No food, drink, gum-chewing, headsets, or backpacks in the theatre. Please leave lunches and snacks on the bus. NO TALKING OR GETTING UP DURING THE SHOW. This includes whispering. Every performance of a play is a unique experience, created by particular actors with a particular audience. The audience is a very important part of the play. The experience of seeing live theatre is very different from seeing TV or a movie where nothing the audience can do will change the show. Stage actors are very much aware of the reactions of the audience, and indeed it is the audience-- you-- that helps the actors toward a great performance. An audience may applaud, laugh, cry and respond in any way that makes it part of the on-stage action. Please avoid talk or inappropriate actions that distract attention from the stage. Remember, the actors can see and hear you. Please use the restrooms before the show or at intermission only. If you have any problems or questions, please ask the ushers for help. Enjoy yourself!
TECHNICAL ELEMENTS A performance does not just happen; it is the product of a great deal of teamwork. The technical elements of a production support the characters the actors create to present the audience with the illusionary reality that is theatre. Sets, lights, sound, props, and costumes create the environment in which the play lives. These elements combine with the audience’s imagination to create the special effects and illusions. The following discussion questions are intended to help students focus on each of these technical elements and analyze its part in a production. SECTION A: SETS Before the performance began, what were your first impressions of the set design? How did it make you feel? Which of your senses were involved by the set design? What was the physicality of the stage? Did the set incorporate any theatrical devices such as a rake, a thrust, ramps or stairs, voms or the pit? What type of action did you expect? As the performance progressed, how did the set change from scene to scene or did it remain one setting for the entire play? Were the changes of location made by actual set alterations or by the actors use of the set? How was the stage used? Did the action take place across the whole stage or was it contained in small areas? What could you tell about each environment and time of the used area? Was movement between areas fluid or rigid? Did the actors move around the set in purposeful motion or did action flow from one area to another? What materials and color schemes were used for walls, the deck (stage floor), set pieces? Did the materials and colors fit the time and location of the play? Were you able to concentrate on the action and characters or did the elements of the set attract your attention? After viewing the performance, do you feel the set design supported the play? Did it make sense to you? Would you have done anything differently? SECTION B: COSTUMES What could you tell about each of the characters based on his or her appearance before any action took place? Did the costumes influence your expectations or opinion of each character? Did the costumes put you in the correct time period? Did the style of the costumes go with the personality of the character and the mood of the play? How did the colors and materials used compliment or contrast with the colors and materials of the set? Did the colors and materials group the characters in any way? Were there any parts of the costumes you found distracting or out of place? SECTION C: LIGHTING What clues did the lighting give you about the feel or emotional tone of the play? Was the lighting from an identifiable source or did it blend into the setting? Was the lighting supportive to the action of the performance or distracting? Could you identify the colors that were used? Why do you think these particular shades were chosen? Did any one character have a particular shade or degree of lighting? 19
SECTION D: SOUND What types of sounds were used? Were the sounds environmental noise or in response to specific character actions? (for example: crickets chirping in the summer or a gunshot) Did the sounds fit the situation or distract you from the performance? Were the sounds correct for time period and location? SECTION E: PROPS Were the props appropriate to the time period and setting? Did the characters have all the props they needed for the scenes? Did they have too many props? SECTION F: GENERAL What aspect of the performance impacted you the most? Was this aspect more content or physical? Did the technical elements of the performance enhance or detract from your enjoyment of the play? Would you have changed anything about this production? How would you have changed it?
The following is taken from a chapter in Katherine Anne Ommanney’s Book, The Stage and the School. Though her book was written in 1939, the information she imparts is still valid today. The questions that follow are designed to help students focus on the areas she discusses. No matter what degree of mechanical perfection the theatres of the screen and air may obtain, they can never take the place of the legitimate stage because they can never create that intangible magnetic quality which passes from actor to audience. To appreciate fully any type of drama and judge it fairly, you must consider the play itself, the interpretation by the actors, its staging by the director, and its reception by the audience. Your judgment is naturally colored by your personal preferences, immediate state of mind, social background, and technical theatrical knowledge. Often the company you are in can make or break the joy of a performance. There are four considerations to be kept in mind as you judge the play-- the type, the theme, the plot, and dialogue and characterization: [a] The Type-- Naturally the type of play and its fundamental purpose must color your attitude toward it-a frothy social satire cannot be judged by the same standards as a romantic drama in blank verse, though both may be worthy of discriminating analysis. [b] The Theme-- If you are to be an intelligent playgoer, the theme of the play will receive your first consideration. It is the theme about which the keen discussion of successful “first nights” of new plays usually centers. It is their themes which hold the attention of the theatrical world on dramatists of the first rank. Determine for yourself what you consider to be the theme of the play, and be prepared to justify your belief by adequate reasons. You might follow Goethe’s example and ask: What did the author try to do? Did he or she do it? Was it worth doing? [c] The Plot-- When you go to a play, you are naturally more interested in the plot than in anything else. If the play is any good at all, you will be asking yourself, “What is going to happen next?” most of the time, and be really eager for each act. At the same time, you should consider whether the events are plausible and whether the people and places are presented convincingly. [d] Dialogue and Characterization-- The playwright’s style is perhaps the last element to notice, for you will be so interested in the play that the author and the style are of secondary interest. However, it is the dialogue through which the plot is developed and the characters portrayed, and professional critics are more interested in the lines than in anything else. The characterization, of course, gives the actors a chance to interpret the play correctly, and you will often find that you have forgotten who is playing the parts in your interest in watching the characters in the play meet and solve their problems. They should express themselves so well through their words and actions that you should not be conscious of either the author or the actors. The people themselves should be very real to you, and you should feel that you are meeting new acquaintances and accepting or rejecting them as the play progresses. Part of the fun of going to a play comes during the intermissions when you can discuss these new-made friends and speculate upon their ultimate actions. It is during the intermissions that you can take time to consider the playwright and the skill with which he or she has given the actors worthwhile lines to say and interesting things to do.
Judging the Acting-- It is the acting of the play which arouses the keenest response from the onlookers. The just appraisal of the work of the artists is to be expected as a result of any theatrical training. If actors create living people for us, losing themselves in the artistry of assuming other individualities by utilizing all that is best in their own physical and spiritual equipment, you should appreciate their ability and applaud their success. The star system has led many people to either condemn the work of an actor because of stupid prejudice, or to acclaim wildly any performance of a favorite star, no matter how good or bad the interpretation of a particular role may be. No greater opportunity for helping to create a finer American theatre is available to students than their refusal to let press-agent glorification or scandalous notoriety in place of artistic and sincere interpretation on the part of the actors they acclaim. The Direction-- The most important factor in the ultimate success or failure of a play is the director, and they are the last people to receive their deserved praise or blame from the public. They are personally responsible for every phase of the production: the adaptation of the play, the casting of the parts, the interpretation of the characters, the effectiveness of the staging, the length of the rehearsal period, and the total effect of the production. You will get real enjoyment from noting how directors have developed contrast in casting, costuming and interpretation, how they have worked out interesting stage pictures and emphasized their center of interest, and how they have created the proper atmosphere to bring out the author’s meaning with all their tools-- actors, lights, setting, and costumes.
The following questions from Katherine Ommanney’s book, The Stage and the School, may help you to view shows intelligently, but don’t let them spoil your enjoyment of the theatre or turn you into a commentator during the performance! Real enthusiasts of the theatre free their imaginations and emotions while seeing a play or a picture, while using their intelligence and discrimination to heighten their appreciation of this great art.
Section A: Theme 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.
Is the fundamental idea of the play true or false in its concept of life? Is the theme warped by a distorted or limited life experience on the part of the author? Are we better or worse for having seen the play? Is the theme consistent with the setting, plot and characters presented in the play? Do you agree with the author’s philosophy? In your opinion, should the general public be encouraged to see the play?
Section B: Plot 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.
Is it a clear-cut sequence of events? Does it rise to a gripping climax? Are we held in suspense until the end? Are we as emotionally stirred as the author apparently wants us to be? Are you satisfied as to the final outcome? Are you chiefly interested in the events, the people, or the place?
Section C: Characterization 1. Are the characters true to life? 2. Are they consistent throughout the action of the entire play? 3. Are they in keeping with the social and geographical background of the play? 4. Do they arouse such feelings as sympathy, affection, disgust, admiration, or hatred on the part of the audience? 5. Are their actions in keeping with their motives? 6. Are the situations at the climax and conclusion the result of their inherent natures?
Section D: Style 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8.
Is the dialogue of a nature so as to retain your interest throughout the play? Is it consistent with the characters and the setting? Is it an end in itself or an adequate means of plot advancement and characterization? Does it make us think about the author or the characters themselves? Do we remember lines after the play because of their pithiness or beauty? Is the use of dialect correct in every detail? Would people of the class represented talk in real life as they do in the play? Is the power of expression worthy of the ideas expressed?
Section E: Acting 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9.
Is the interpretation of any given role correct from the standpoint of the play itself? Does the actor make his or her role a living individuality? Are they artificial or natural in their technique? Are we conscious of their methods of getting effects? Do they grip us emotionally-- that is, do we weep, laugh, suffer, and exult with them? Are their voices pleasing and their presence magnetic? Do they keep in character every moment? Do we think of them as the characters they are depicting or as themselves? Does any actor use the play as a means of self-glorification, or are each of them an intrinsic part of the action at all times? 10. Does each apparently cooperate with the other actors, the director, and the author in interpreting the play by knowing his or her lines, helping to focus attention on the center of interest, and by losing himself or herself in the part?
Section F: Audience Reaction 1. Is the audience attentive or restless during the performance? 2. Is there a definite response of tears, laughter, or applause? 3. Is there an immediate appreciation of clever lines, dramatic situations, and skillful acting? 4. Is the applause spontaneous and whole-hearted, or politely perfunctory? 5. After the performance are people hurrying away, or do they linger to discuss the play? 6. Are they apathetic or animated, bored or buoyant, serious or scoffing? 7. To what types of people does the play seem to appeal?
Character List for Blues for an Alabama Sky Angel Allen - A thirty-four year old black woman, a former backup singer at the Cotton Club. She only admits to 29 because her appearance is very important to her. Guy Jacobs - a thirtyish gay black man, a costume designer who dreams of creating costumes for Josephine Baker, an international star. Delia Patterson - a twenty-five year old black woman, a social worker at a Margaret Sanger family planning clinic who wants to help Sanger open a clinic in Harlem. Sam Thomas - a forty year old doctor at Harlem Hospital who plays as hard as he works. Like Delia, he's single. Leland Cunningham - a twenty-eight year old black man from Alabama, a new resident of Harlem. He is visiting relatives in the north while he recovers from the death of his wife and their baby (they died in childbirth). Design Team Director
Jon Herter 24
Setting The interiors of Guy and Angel's, and Delia's apartments, as well as the exterior of their Harlem apartment building. Playwright Cleage says, “It is the summer of 1930. Harlem, New York. The creative euphoria of the Renaissance has given way to the harsher realities of the Great Depression. Young Reverend Adam Clayton Powell Jr. is feeding the hungry and preaching an activist gospel at Abyssinian Baptist Church. Black Nationalist visionary Marcus Garvey has been discredited and deported. Birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger is opening a new family planning clinic on 126th Street and the doctors at Harlem Hospital are scrambling to car for a population whose most deadly disease is poverty. But, far from Harlem, African-American expatriate extraordinaire, Josephine Baker, sips champagne in her dressing room at the Folies Bergere and laughs like a free woman.” Synopsis Angel Allen, a nightclub singer, has just broken up with her white gangster boyfriend, thereby losing her job. Guy Jacobs, with whom she came north to Harlem from Savannah, comes to her rescue by taking her in; he is a costume designer for nightclub performers though he aspires to design for Josephine Baker, expatriate black star of Paris’ Folies Bergere. As Guy walks her home he is joined by a mysterious young man who disappears back into the night. Guy and Angel’s neighbor, Delia, is a social worker spearheading an effort to get one of Margaret Sanger’s birth control clinics opened to serve Harlem’s population; Delia faces a battle because many Harlem residents see birth control as a kind of genocide promoted by whites to keep blacks down, as Black Nationalist Marcus Garvey had believed. Angel and Guy’s friend Dr. Sam Thomas, who Delia has a crush on, carves out time between delivering babies, closing wounds and letting “the good times roll” to help Delia prepare her case. Meanwhile Leland, the mysterious young man who came to Guy’s aid, returns to see how Angel is doing. He is newly arrived from Alabama, staying in Harlem with cousins while he tries to get over the death of his wife and their baby boy. Angel is both attracted to Leland (he would be a good provider) and put off by him (he is very country, very naïve and conservative) but encourages their relationship at the same time she auditions for other nightclub owners. Guy wants her to accompany him to Paris—he’s sure Baker will invite him as soon as she receives his new designs—but Angel dismisses the notion as unrealistic. Then she discovers she’s pregnant, but by whom: Leland? A nightclub owner? Should she keep the baby? Or turn to Dr. Sam to abort it? Preliminary Design notes: Tony Cisek, scenic designer Mr. Cisek composed these notes after design meetings with Mr. Douglas, our director, and lighting designer Michael Gilliam. He shared them with our tech staff on October 5, fully 2 months before the actors will begin rehearsals. The setting initially appears to be an abandoned, boarded-up brownstone apartment building, tenement-like in its current state, with the remains of the first floor visible. The front façade is actually upstage of the inside of the building. The gray façade looms, while the playing area in the foreground sits in cool, textured shadow, with indiscernible piles of stuff about.
As the first characters enter, turn on lamps, etc., the building is revived with the warmth of these spirits whose drama once took place inside these walls. One by one, the boards of the façade come to life, dissolving to warmly-lit windows. Who or what is inside is unknown, but here are lives unfolding, as if they are free, as if their legacies will not be forgotten. The space takes shape: we see some semblance of two apartments separated by a long hallway, though only the doors remain standing. Delia’s is on the left, Guy’s on the right. The play unfolds. The characters treat their environment as if it looked just as it did in 1930. In a way, they are ghosts, and they are taking us back to revisit their story. Toward the end, as the people in Angel’s life, and her opportunities, leave her, as she starts o fade, so do the lives in the building around her. The windows dissolve back to their dead, boarded-up state. In the final moments, though, Angel has a moment of clarity and acceptance of her life and of her self. She achieves a moment of transcendence, and the bleak boarded-up windows disappear to reveal the beautiful Alabama sky beyond.
Meet Pearl Cleage (Many thanks to Rachel Edwards Harvith for her invaluable assistance.) Pearl Cleage was born on December 7, 1948, in Springfield, Massachusetts, the daughter of a minister and teacher. She began writing plays in the late 1960s at Howard University and graduated from Spelman College in 1971 with a B.A. in drama. From 1981 to 1986, she was a playwright in residence at Just Us Theater Company in Atlanta; she served as that company’s artistic director from 1987 to 1994. Cleage achieved a major breakthrough as a playwright with the premiere of Flyin’ West, a full-length drama commissioned by Artistic Director Kenny Leon of the Alliance Theatre Company of Atlanta and produced there in 1992. Flyin’ West is set in 1898 Kansas and chronicles a group of African-American women who moved west to Kansas after the Civil War to find a better life in the all-black town of Nicodemus. The play has received more than a dozen productions across the country. Blues for an Alabama Sky had its premiere at the Alliance in 1995 under the direction of Kenny Leon. It was subsequently produced as part of the Cultural Olympiad in conjunction with the 1996 Olympic Games. The Alliance Theatre also produced one of Cleage’s most recent plays, Bourbon at the Border, in 1997. Set in Detroit in 1995, Bourbon explores the aftermath of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Cleage is a regular columnist for the Atlanta Tribune, a contributing editor to Ms. magazine, and a regular contributor to Essence. Her work has also appeared in Black Books Bulletin, The Journal of Negro Poetry, Negro Digest, and many other publications too numerous to mention. She is a founding editor of the magazine Catalyst, has published two books of essays, and her first novel, What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day, was singled out by Oprah Winfrey as an Oprah book. In addition, Cleage is the author and performer of many performance pieces, including The Jean Harris Reading (1981), Clearing the Heart (1989), and Mad at Miles (1990). Cleage presently teaches playwrighting at Spelman College. She lives in Atlanta, is the mother of one daughter, Deignan, and is married to novelist Zaron W. Burnett Jr. 26
Cleage calls herself a black nationalist feminist, and her writing reflects this sensibility. In her book of essays Deals with the Devil and Other Reasons to Riot, Cleage outlines the reasons why she writes: I am writing to expose and explore the point where racism and sexism meet. I am writing to help myself understand the full effects of being black and female in a culture that is both racist and sexist. I am writing to try and communicate that information to my sisters first and then to any brothers of goodwill and honest intent who will take the time to listen. I am writing because five women a day are murdered by the men who say they love them. I am writing because rape is. I am writing because I am a daughter and a mother and a lover and a sister and a womanist. I am writing to understand. I am writing so I won’t be afraid. I am writing so I won’t start crying again. I am writing because nobody even said the word sexism to me until I was thirty years old and I want to know why. I am writing because I have seen my friends bleed to death from illegal abortions. I am writing because I have seen my sisters tortured and tormented by the fathers of their children. I am writing because I almost married a man who beat me regularly and with no remorse. I am writing because my daughter is almost old enough to start “dating” and I don’t know how to tell her to protect herself from what I cannot even fully articulate to myself. I am writing to allow myself to feel the anger. I am writing to keep from running toward it or away from it or into anybody’s arms. I am writing to find solutions and pass them on. I am writing to find a language and pass it on. Cleage’s mission as a writer shines through in all the writing she does, from essays to plays to fiction. Cleage uses Deals with the Devil as a forum to express her opinions on problems within the black community, with a special emphasis on black women, but she expresses that opinion in the form of instructions for change. For example, she tells black women how to protect themselves from abusive relationships, and how to discuss sexism constructively with the men in their lives. Issues of rape and violence towards women are frequent topics in Cleage’s novels and plays, as are drug addiction, teenage pregnancy, and AIDS. Cleage’s use of theatre as a vehicle for change marks one of her ties to the experimental theatre movement of the 1960s in general, and the Black Arts Movement in particular, with a special link to poet/playwright Amiri Baraka, whom Cleage cites as a particular inspiration. Baraka wrote Dutchman, The Slave Ship, and many other plays geared toward inducing audience members to actively challenge the status quo. Cleage’s plays are frequently as educational as they are insightful. In such plays as Flyin’ West, Bourbon at the Border, and Blues for an Alabama Sky, audiences are transported, either in the characters’ present reality or through their flashbacks, to an important time and place in African-American history. African-American audience members are thereby able to learn a little about their heritage, whether it be that of the post-Civil War black migration, the turbulent 1960s, or the Harlem Renaissance. 27
Another key element in Cleage’s work, both as a playwright and a novelist, is her use of black characters only within all-black communities. Whites might be mentioned, but they never appear onstage (or, in the case of a novel, appear at all). They are an outside force threatening the well-being of the black characters within their close-knit communities, and disrupting the natural balance. Writer, artist, teacher Pearl Cleage has charged herself with a mission to make the world a better place. She sums it all up eloquently in the Preface to Flyin’ West and Other Plays: I will confess only that I truly love writing plays. As a child of the Black Arts Movement and the Woodstock Generation, I still believe that theatre has a ritual power to call forth the spirits, illuminate the darkness and speak the truth to the people. If these plays don’t manage to do that, the weakness is mine. If they do, I also claim the magic. Principal Works by Pearl Cleage Plays Duet for Three Voices The Sale Hymn for the Rebels Banana Bread Hospice Puppetplay Essentials Good News Porch Songs A Little Practice Late Bus to Mecca Chain Flyin' West Blues for an Alabama Sky Bourbon at the Border 1997
Essay collections 1968 1972 1974 1982 1982 1983 1983 1984 1985 1985 1990 1990 1992 1995
Mad at Miles: A Blackwoman's Guide to Truth Deals with the Devil and Other Reasons to Riot
Poems and Vignettes We Don't Need No Music One for the Brothers: A Love Story The Brass Bed and Other Stories
1972 1983 1991
Blues for a Better World: An Interview with Timothy Douglas by Rachel Edwards Harvith, Literary Assistant, Syracuse Stage ** On a Sunday morning, I sat down to chat with director Timothy Douglas about self-discovery and the echoes of slavery that leave many black artists of today still singing the blues. ** 28
REH: So, let’s start at the beginning. Were you familiar with Pearl Cleage or her Blues for an Alabama Sky before you were asked to direct it for Syracuse Stage? TD: I was familiar with both, yes. I knew about Blues’ premiere [at the Mark Taper Forum] with Phylicia Rashad because it was such a big deal. Most people in theatre knew that that was happening. And I thought, wow, I’d love to see it onstage. And I read the play, but I just became familiar with it and really didn’t think about it again until I was asked to do it. REH: What were your first thoughts when you read over the play? TD: One of the things it felt like was a love ode to the Harlem Renaissance, which is a period I have always been enamored of and amazed that we don’t hear more about, because so many artists, important artists, came out of it. . . And I was also interested in a novelist-turnedplaywright, [because] traditionally that can be very tricky; I was interested in [seeing] how successful she was at making that transition. . . . I think she was enormously successful, and one of the things that distinguishes her—and I feel it’s because of her being a novelist—is the way that she tells a story, and the way that her narrative works. It does feel like poetry . . . but it is dramatic as well, and that’s usually the tricky thing with novelists-turned-playwrights. You know, dramatic action tends to not be as potent [from a novelist] as when coming from a playwright. But Pearl Cleage is good at that all the while she’s creating or retaining a sense of storytelling through poetry, through images. REH: Why do you think it’s important to do this production now? What makes it important for audiences of today? TD: Well, the main issue is specifically about race. And perceptions of race. It really struck me how little has changed in this country in terms of how these black people feel about how they’re perceived and treated by the dominant culture. A lot of the issues are still very much the same; I can attest to that. But Cleage presents them without browbeating. She really is able to tell the story from the characters’ point of view, [and] get the message across to a wide audience; the message of the play always shines through the story. It’s still prominent. Afterward those who are watching it or reading it [can] choose to think about the ramifications of what she is talking about, i.e., how Guy is perceived as a homosexual man in that period, and so on. The things that he actually goes through in the play that aren’t pleasant, it’s no different today. Certainly not in New York. I would imagine Angel’s voice, specifically [that of] a black actress, [would ring true with] any woman who is an actress or an artist, [who] finds very similar frustrations when dealing with producers, directors, casting people who happen to be white. It’s different, it is different, but a lot of the differences are subtle. Of course, what happens to Angel is not so subtle, and I think what’s brilliant about that is that, even though those overtones of racism are so subtle, the impact on the character is huge because it’s one more rock on the huge pile. So though Angel may seem to be over-reacting to someone watching from the outside, for her it’s the last straw. That’s why she’s so passionate in that last third of the play. People seeing that might, if they get beyond the simple events of the play, get a glimpse of how difficult it is for that woman, 29
specifically, and then that black woman, and then that black woman artist. She’s got all that to deal with every time she steps out in front of someone who doesn’t know her. That still goes on today. REH: Wow, that’s really interesting. That’s really interesting— TD: It’s one of the reasons I stopped acting. Because I could feel I was always being perceived as a black actor. Not an actor, but a black actor. I will never be anything but that. But you know, that’s not who I am, that’s what I am. And I felt so often it was perceived as being who I am. It started to really just chip away at my sense of self-worth in the business. So I had to stop. REH: That’s really interesting, too, because I was thinking about the character of Angel, and how she sings the blues, but when she goes to these auditions, that’s not what the audience wants to hear. They want something that conforms to their stereotypes. TD: Right, right. Basically they’re saying, “We don’t want you . . .We want what we think you are.” Please, you just need to turn on the WB to see that. Not even just WB, any network television. Most films coming out of Hollywood. That is still the message given to America. Well, you know, we have to work, we’re going to do it because we have to work, and the less enlightened people argue and say, “Well, there’s work, there’s work, why are you saying there’s no work for black people?” It’s a vicious cycle. And then we get angry, and then people want to know why we’re so angry, (laughs) because we addressed that whole thing last year with the networks meeting with the NAACP and coming up with this plan to [get more minorities on television]— Where are the shows that we were promised? People wonder why black people seem so crazy in this country! (Laughs) The feeling is, and one of the things that Pearl—you just got me started— REH: (Laughs) That’s fine. TD: —which Pearl understands is that (this is me, but I think I hear it in Pearl’s voice), what’s going on with plays like this, and this continuing struggle, is the simple fact that, as a nation, we really haven’t dealt with the effects of slavery in this country on any fundamental level. Not in the way that America and most of the world has acknowledged and made very serious efforts to deal with the Holocaust. There’s still a lot of work to do there, but at least it’s been acknowledged; no one’s pretending that it wasn’t harmful, and no one’s pretending that we aren’t still suffering the effects of that. We’re really directly addressing that. But we’re not doing that in this country with respect to slavery. And the very thing that has to happen is a formal acknowledgment of it, before any kind of healing can begin. Which is why Blues for an Alabama Sky, Robert O’Hara’s Insurrection and other plays like them are still necessary. We’d love the day to come when these plays aren’t necessary . . . Before we go on, I just want to say I don’t think Pearl is thumping the Bible here; I believe her play is about her characters, that it celebrates the spirit of them. I just am really talking about the underlying stuff, which is not underlying. But the play’s not going to be about politics, we’re really going to tell the story of these people. 30
REH: So, overall, what are you hoping to communicate in this production? TD: The trickiest thing for me going into it is Pearl’s last stage direction. The last thing that happens is Angel, alone, having some kind of—I don’t want to say epiphany, that’s too strong, but she does come to a place of self-awareness which will allow her to go on, and that’s evidenced in the stage direction of her toasting the photo of Josephine Baker. Now, if you look at the events of the play, it feels like, “Oh, that poor woman, she’s miserable, and she’s decided to just hole up, and turn inward, and not deal with the world anymore”—which that last stage direction is definitely not saying; it says something very different. So the challenge is, even though this horrible thing has happened to her, because of it, she has been snatched out of denial; she can no longer deny what’s truly going on with her and the world around her. Obviously, what’s happened to Angel is not the most pleasant thing, but what Pearl is saying is that because she has finally come to herself, even though it’s horrible the way she came there, from this point on, she will live in and with the truth. And that’s Josephine Baker in La Sirene des Tropiques, c.1927 ultimately much more important than her creature comforts, that she has discovered her innate sense of power and worth, and will go on. So on that level, I believe it’s a happy ending, even though it’s a real bitter pill that’s going to heal her. Well, we have to get there; that’s the greater challenge. But it’s not obvious. The first time I read it, I thought, oh, how depressing, but now I’m like, oh, this is great, yeah. Yeah. And that is so classically, from my perspective, the black woman. I mean, I grew up with all women, my mother and my two sisters, and to see what they go through, and yet they just keep coming back, they just keep coming back. They don’t trumpet; they never talk about what their strength is, they don’t—they just go, they just keep going, they just keep . . . throwing it out there. And the more that happens to [Angel], that she absorbs, and somewhere in herself decides to go on, the less there is to say, the less there is to prove. She seems to just become more wise, almost Buddha-like, and she doesn’t say anything in the end. It’s just that one gesture of toasting the photo of Josephine Baker, which she has been railing against the whole play. REH: Let’s talk about Josephine Baker for a minute, because her picture is there from the beginning. A constant presence. TD: To me she represents the central issues of this play, which work on different levels. Certainly, Josephine was, to most artists of the Harlem Renaissance and many African Americans, a hero: she succeeded, she crossed over, she made it, a success for herself within the 31
white world. Which is great, that’s a huge accomplishment. Josephine’s respected on her own, she is an artist before she is a black artist. Everyone wants to feel that they’re received as the individuals that they are before the color of their skin and their experiences. And Josephine was able to do that, but she had to go to Europe to do that, as many black people have fled this country and still do. I discovered Europe two years ago and I get it, I totally get it. And so Josephine is present to say, yes, it is possible, and that’s why she’s such a beacon for Guy. But Angel has a problem with her. I think on one level—and I don’t know how important it is, we’re going to explore it—on one level Josephine’s just another woman, so the kinds of stereotypical jealousies that can come up in women’s relationships are present. I mean men get jealous too, but women’s conflicts are unique, I find. There’s also this perception in the black community that a black person making it in the white world is a sell-out, someone who wishes to be white. That’s double-edged. On the one side, yeah, there are some people who, because of their experiences, become so self-loathing— and I don’t think this is unique to black people—so self-loathing that yes, they want nothing to do with the world that they came from. But with Josephine, though she was exceedingly talented, like many artists, like Guy, she couldn’t get ahead in her own country. She was being held back. So Josephine’s response to the entity holding her back is that she has to go. It’s not that she wants to be white; she wants to get up from under the thumb of oppression. Which is what Guy wants, [and] what Angel ultimately wants, but Angel denies herself that because she’s stuck; she can’t [think outside of the box”]. Angel resents this woman, this black woman “who thinks she is better than me,” basically. Who “wants to be white,” you know? I think that’s a major part of it. The understanding that Angel comes to at the end is that it ain’t about Josephine. (Laughs) Angel suddenly feels, in that toast, even though she has just been through the depths of hell, she feels herself on par with Josephine, she understands her. It’s not about advantage, it’s not about material things, it’s about having an understanding, coming to a sense of self. It’s so interesting, in Pearl’s play, how it happens after that interview with Tony, [with] my favorite line: “and I caught myself in the mirror, and I said, what is that colored woman laughing at?” Angel suddenly got how she is perceived. She thought she was in control all along: she’s the good time gal, and she’s a strong woman, and because of that she thought she was in control of her destiny in the white world she was existing in. And, boy, when she realizes that, Angel also realizes she didn’t have the power she thought she had. Then, for the next fifteen pages, she goes, she just disappears. It’s treated like a Greek story; that’s the classic hero story: they have to go away [to explore themselves through the action of physically exploring the world]. When Angel comes back she is different, and because she is different, she cannot be involved with the people that she was once involved with. They love her and she knows they love her, but she is different, everything for her is different. And that’s what Josephine understood: the first time she went to Europe she couldn’t come back. These things haven’t changed; they just keep running. It’s a real classic story of having to literally break away. Pearl Cleage (and I) are putting a black face on it because of this nation’s preconceived ideas. As a nation we have all these other things going on in our heads. So we the audience put a lot more on the play than what’s there. And Pearl wisely leaves enough “air” there in the play for us to do that, and still get the story that she’s trying to tell. It’s a wonderful play. 32
REH: Now talk a little bit about the significance that you find in the title. TD: I’m still wrestling with that one. (laughs) I recently directed A Raisin in the Sun, which is lifted from, of course, Langston Hughes’ beautiful poem. REH: Absolutely. TD: So in that sense, it really has nothing to do with the play, and yet it’s the very thing that influenced the play. And so I’m living in the essence of that. The beauty of an Alabama sky. What am I trying to say here? (pause) It’s very sketchy, but looking at my life based on what’s happening right in front of my face, and judging the worth and the value of my life based on that— Take someone like Angel, who has the life she has in Harlem, and Leland, who recently lost his wife and his child; Guy could say “my life is hard, horrible,” you know, all these things, “life sucks.” But all they have to do, as Leland does and I do, is just tip our heads back and look up at something as beautiful as the stars in the sky, or even the clouds in the sky during the day, and the moon up there, I mean I’m in awe. I suddenly feel so small in the scheme of things. And knowing and accepting and acknowledging that there’s something so much greater than what’s happening right in front of me, I can go on. I can go on. Yes, these are horrible things that happen to me, [and they] must be acknowledged, but this is not why I was put on this planet. And so I think that’s part of what Pearl’s saying—that you must have the ability to look up and acknowledge that [there are] black people in the south and elsewhere suffering the effects of racism that still exist in this country, but I look up again, and it’s still there. (laughs) And I’ve moved on, I’ve had this little epiphany realizing, yes, I’m not meant for this, life is better than this, but then I come back and what I have to deal with is so uninteresting and even unimportant in the larger scheme of things. I want to do what Josephine did and go to Europe and become a star, but, no, I gotta deal with this idiot in front of me who thinks that, because my skin is darker than his, I’m less than he is. That’s not interesting to me and that’s not my battle, that’s his. That’s his inability to understand. That’s the blues of it. So I still gotta sing the blues just to get past this. REH: What about the country v. the city dynamic and the character of Leland? TD: Well, he’s very much in touch with nature. He’s very much in touch with the earth and the way of country life. Which is, I was going to say simpler, but it’s only simpler in that it’s not as fraught with activity. But country activities are all essential, elemental: having to get food from the land, having to walk long distances daily for groceries or for anything that you need, and on that journey constantly being touched [by] nature and being a witness to nature. That’s something I’m constantly finding as I get older. I am getting clearer and clearer about nature’s lessons in life . . . watching the seasons and how brilliant it is that we’re going into winter now, and everything sort of seems to stop, and yet the spring proves that even though the outside has stopped, there’s always something going on, always changing, and eventually it will bloom and will reveal itself to you. I think our lives work exactly the same way. Especially if you’re going through hardship, to know that that’s just a kind of winter, and yes, it’s cold, and, yes, it’s hard, and it’s not easy, 33
but just to know that spring is going to come [is a comfort of a kind]. But life in the city doesn’t allow for that. You don’t really see the seasons change, you just suddenly notice that it’s cold, or you suddenly notice that it’s hot. And there’s so many people there who don’t follow the rhythms of nature. City rhythms begin to take over natural rhythms, and the bustle has no order, rhyme or reason, and so we learn to live with chaos and we call that natural. And that really messes with, not only our minds, but it messes with us biologically. And so, for Leland, he’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer, in terms of his street smarts, but he is absolutely in touch with the truth, and in the presence of the truth—like heat—you put a hot cloth on a boil to get the pus to come up to the top (laughs), you know. Well, in the presence of Leland’s red-hot truth, he draws it out of the people around him, specifically Angel. And that’s why she kinda goes into freak-out mode initially, because she doesn’t understand his influence on her, which is why she has such a hard time. But really what goes on is that he’s drawing that crap out of her. He finally succeeds, but, unfortunately, he takes it on once he’s drawn it out of her. I mean they absolutely transfer: it’s his truth that she comes to at the end. But she doesn’t even know it yet. REH: Now, what about the fact that he comes from the South? Do you think it’s a statement on Reconstruction and the Great Migration of blacks to the North to find opportunity? TD: It must be that, don’t you think? Journeying up in an effort to find—like going to Rome for knowledge. I mean, Leland is on a bit of a pilgrimage. He doesn’t know what he’s going to find. He’s searching for his truth. He had work lined up before he came, so he really is coming to experience more of himself, to experience more of life. But for me it’s that interesting symbolism of going from South to North. Coming from the bottom and going to the top. To see what’s there. Going from his complete, earth-connected truth, and coming up to the intellect to test the waters up there. And he goes right to Harlem, where the black intellectual movement is going on. REH: Yeah. TD: And it kills him. (pause) So I think certainly the actual physical act of going South to North is a nod to the Migration. Frankly that’s why black people came North, was to figure out a life. But I don’t think Cleage’s spending time on that; it’s more a going from within and coming out. And whether a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, which certainly is true with Leland. REH: Now, what about Margaret Sanger, and what she represents to Delia? TD: Again, you can look at it two ways. The birth control issue is a constant fight within the black community. As Doc says, you know, it is a form of genocide, with this white woman coming into a black community. I believe that Margaret Sanger’s intentions were pure, but to certain people it was a form of genocide. And it’s no secret then and now there are certain white people who wouldn’t mind if black people just disappeared. Now, I don’t think Doc believes that, but his point is that you’ve got to consider that there are people who do feel this way. You just have to consider that. Which is something that Margaret Sanger does, though not in this 34
play. And I think that Pearl is saying that it is clear that, since there are so many unwanted pregnancies in the black community—as in other communities—birth control is something to consider. But there are people who choose to have large families. And the idea of this system by which you can eliminate black babies before they’re born, that’s a very scary thing, especially for black people who are still directly dealing with the struggle that exists, and are resisting assimilation. Delia understands that birth control is a way out for black women who choose it, who understand that they couldn’t handle a child, who really don’t want one, who know a child would cause more chaos than anything else. That’s what Delia wants. However, with birth control being introduced to the community by a white woman, it’s another example of what some people in the world of this play would consider blacks trying to be white. Trying to be the oppressor. Why would you do that? This also is the post-slave mentality—and it applies not just to race but in any abusive relationship—of the one being abused becoming attached to the abuser. What Pearl is saying through these characters is, “I’m not saying what’s right or wrong, I’m just saying, be mindful. Open your mind, you have to be aware of what’s happening.” When Leland becomes aware of Guy’s lifestyle, that’s ultimately what brings him down, because he doesn’t have an understanding for it. And when Angel finally understands how she has been perceived all these years, and it’s so completely different than what she thought herself to be, there she is, she’s delivered. It’s horrible, but there she is. So Pearl’s just saying, “Wake up, people. Wake up. And then make your choices. But make your choices consciously.”
Who's Who in the Background of Blues A number of real people inform Cleage’s characters’ beliefs and actions in Blues, people whose ideas and choices influenced many real Harlemites. Here then are some biographies of such historical figures as Josephine Baker, Langston Hughes, Margaret Sanger, the Drs. Adam Clayton Powell (Jr. and Sr.), Marcus Garvey, Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois. Josephine Baker-(1906-1975). Ernest Hemingway called her “the most sensational woman anybody ever saw. Or ever will.” But Josephine Baker had to work her way to the top. Born in the slums of St. Louis as Josephine Freda, Baker was the illegitimate daughter of Carrie MacDonald and Eddie Carson. Josephine was first raised by her grandmother, and then by her mother and her husband. The family was so dreadfully poor that Josephine would frequently scavenge for food in markets, and earn pennies collecting lumps of coal. Her school attendance was sporadic, and she often got into trouble with the police. St. Louis’ terrible race riot in 1917 saw groups of whites killing and severely beating many blacks, and destroying their property. After living through the riot, Josephine’s goal became to escape poverty, her family, and St. Louis. She tried to escape through marriage at the young age of thirteen, but the marriage only lasted a few months.
Josephine went to work as a waitress in the Old Chauffeur’s Club, where she got her first opportunity to perform. She met a group performing at the Club, The Jones Family Band, and they invited her onstage. The same funny antics that had infuriated Josephine’s schoolteachers made her an immediate hit with the audience. When band invited her to come on the road with them as one of the Dixie Steppers, Josephine seized the opportunity, touring with them till the group disbanded in Philadelphia, where she married again. The marriage didn’t last long, but she kept her husband’s name—Baker. About this time she made the connections necessary to get into Sissle and Blake’s all-black musical, Shuffle Along. Even as a chorus girl, Josephine got the audience’s attention—attention enough to send her packing to Paris in 1925 to appear in the Revue Negre. She caused a great sensation with her entrance in the revue, upside down on the shoulders of a large black man, wearing only a pink flamingo feather between her legs. Baker soon Josephine in a banana skirt for her most famous became a star with a remarkable career, headlining at the dance, ‘Fatou,’ in La Folie du Jour (1926) Folies Bergere and starring in motion pictures. Her incredible acting, dancing and singing talents led her to invent the musical style “le jazz hot.” Baker was also a sensation in France’s high fashion world, but on returning to America to appear in the 1936 Ziegfeld Follies, she was still seen simply as a black woman sporting a glamorous style, speaking French and wearing designer gowns. Baker soon returned to France as many African-American artists have before and since, because they associated France, and especially Paris, with the idea of freedom. During World War II, French citizen Baker was active in the Resistance. She escaped from Nazi-occupied France to North Africa and enlisted in the women’s division of the Free French Forces there. Her efforts to entertain Allied troops were renowned, and she was decorated with the Croix de Guerre, one of France’s greatest honors, for her espionage work. After the war, Baker worked toward civil rights, sharing the podium with Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the 1963 march on Washington. Baker had no children of her own but adopted twelve children of varying races whom she called her Rainbow Tribe. The Tribe, along with her enormous spending habits, put Baker in debt later in life, which she covered by giving numerous farewell concerts, performing to the very end. She gave her last performance in 1975 at the Bobino Music Hall, celebrating her 50 years onstage. She died only five days later. Much of Baker’s early popularity was due to the 1920s European craze for all things African. Josephine incorporated many black stereotypes into her performances: the primitive, the exotic, the sexual object, the tragic mulatto, even the pickaninny. But Baker, with her outgoing, feisty attitude, took all these old roles and made them her own. She combined three seemingly opposite characteristics—humor, eroticism, sophistication—which, combined with her musical talent, dancing ability, and charm, made her irresistible. Arriving at the banks of the Seine at the age of 19 Josephine was asked how she learned to dance; she simply explained, “Because I was born in a cold city, because I felt cold 36
throughout my childhood, because I always wanted to dance on the stage.” And she did. Baker’s memory lives on today through numerous films, CDs, books, posters, and photographs. She truly is an icon. James Langston Hughes – (1902-1967). Born in Joplin, Missouri, raised primarily by his grandmother Mary Langston, Hughes entered Columbia University in 1921, a few months after his poem "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" appeared in the journal The Crisis. His literary career was launched with his first collection of poems, The Weary Blues, in 1925, and he became a much beloved and admired celebrity in Harlem society. In addition to poems, Hughes wrote numerous plays, essays, song lyrics, a novel and two autobiographies. He was also one of the many African-Americans to frequently enjoy the freedom of Paris society, living there for most of 1924, and visiting in 1937 and 1938, for example. His long-time address in New York was 20 East 127th Street. Hughes was one of the first writers to incorporate slang (which he called Harlemese) and the rhythms and structures of jazz into his writing, techniques that are clearly evident in the poem "The Weary Blues" (below). Langston Hughes, who became an American treasure, was still writing at the time of his death in 1967. The Weary Blues Droning a drowsy syncopated tune, Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon, I heard a Negro play. Down on Lenox Avenue the other night By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light He did a lazy sway . . . He did a lazy sway . . . To the tune o' those Weary Blues. With his ebony hands on each ivory key He made that poor piano moan with melody. O Blues! Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool. Sweet Blues! Coming from a black man's soul. O Blues! In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan— 37
"Ain't got nobody in all this world, Ain't got nobody but ma self. I's gwine to quit n-a frownin' And put ma troubles on the shelf." Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor. He played a few chords then he sang some more"I got the Weary Blues And I can't be satisfied. I ain’t happy no mo’ And I wish that I had died.” And far into the night he crooned that tune. The stars went out and so did the moon. The singer stopped playing and went to bed While the Weary Blues echoed throughout his head. He slept like a rock or a man that’s dead. Margaret Sanger – (1883-1966). Sanger was a pioneer in championing contraception in America. Although the world's first birth control clinic opened in Amsterdam in 1882, the United States was slow to join the family planning movement. Margaret Sanger trained as a nurse in an Albany hospital as well as the Manhattan Ear and Eye Hospital before specializing in obstetrical care. After the birth of her second child, she began working as a visiting nurse on New York City's Lower East Side, serving mostly poverty-stricken immigrants. She began to fight for contraception after caring for several women who died of illegally induced abortions; one young woman died in her arms, Sanger helpless to aid her. In 1914, she founded a publication, The Woman Rebel, that included information about contraception. Since the Comstock Act of 1837 prohibited use of the US mail to distribute anti-contraception literature, Sanger was arrested, but the charges were soon dropped. In reply to her indictment, Sanger wrote a pamphlet titled Family Limitation with detailed descriptions of birth control methods. It sold more than ten million copies and was eventually translated into several foreign languages. In 1916, Sanger opened the country's first birth control clinic, in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, but it was shut down by the police after serving 464 clients in 11 days; Sanger was jailed for a month. After her release she traveled to Europe to study contraceptive techniques (it was not such a taboo there) and, in 1920, organized the first World Population Conference in Geneva. An American conference on contraception was held a year later in New York, from which Sanger garnered enough support to establish the American Birth Control League. This organization circumvented the ban on mailing contraceptives by creating family planning clinics. The first doctor-staffed clinic, the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau, opened in 1923 (in 1942 this clinic and the Birth Control League formed the Planned Parenthood Federation). Sanger's Harlem clinic, funded in part by a $5,000 grant from philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, was open from 1930 to 1937. At its peak of activity, the clinic was in operation four afternoons and one evening each week. Most of the patients, 83% of whom were on public or private relief (welfare), were treated free of charge. The clinic was endorsed by many of Harlem's prominent institutions and political leaders, including the black newspaper The Amsterdam News, Rev. Adam Clayton Powell's Abyssinian Baptist Church, and the social 38
advocate W.E.B. DuBois. But a faction led by Marcus Garvey believed that birth control was a genocidal practice; through their efforts, a distrust of contraception lingered in many Harlem citizens’ minds long after Garvey had been deported. Thus, the demand for the Harlem clinic's services decreased to the point that its operation was no longer viable. Ironically its closure in 1937 coincided with the American Medical Association’s inclusion of contraception in its recommended topics for medical education. As president of the International Planned Parenthood Foundation, established in 1952, Sanger continued to advocate birth control and helped develop the oral contraceptive. She published seven books and received countless accolades during her life. Adam Clayton Powell Sr. (1865-1953). Minister and community leader who became the pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church in 1908, he initiated the church's move from Greenwich Village to Harlem, which saw as the eventual home of black New Yorkers. Abyssinian Baptist Church soon hosted the largest black congregation in the United States. The son of former slaves he nonetheless attended a number of colleges including Yale’s divinity school; eventually he was granted doctorates of divinity from Virginia Union University, Virginia Seminary and College, and Howard University. His was an activist pastorship during which he established a Home for the Aged (paid for in 7 years, by 1933), a missionary working in Liberia and a Chair of Religious Education at Virginia Union University, though he was not as liberal as his son, with whom he occasionally disagreed. He also wrote pamphlets on such topics as “Colored Man’s Contribution to Christianity,” “A Plea for Strong Manhood” and “The Kind of Christianity Needed to Reconstruct the World.” Adam Clayton Powell Jr. - (1908-1972). (It is this Powell Delia hopes will be preaching every Sunday, though many of the old guard at Abyssinian do not agree with his liberal views: when his father wanted to retire in 1934, the deacons fought Jr.’s succession for three years). After graduating from Colgate University (he did marry former Cotton Club chorine Isabel Washington against his father's wishes) Powell Jr. became a vital figure in Depression-era Harlem. He began preaching in 1930, led the Abyssinian Baptist Church after his father's retirement in 1937, and was a US congressman representing Harlem for nearly thirty years. (See the excerpts from his book Marching Blacks, below.) Powell Jr. at a rally in Englewood, NJ (1963)
In his 1945 book Marching Blacks, newly-elected Congressman Powell (he represented Harlem for more than thirty years) set down a brief history of his people in the United States from his perspective, which was that of a liberal activist. One influence on the young man, obviously, was his father’s ministry at Harlem’s famed Abyssinian Baptist Church, which ranged from exhortations to the congregation about what was wrong with their world to establishing a retirement home for aged parish members. Powell Sr. also openly agreed with Marcus Garvey’s philosophy that African Americans must learn to value themselves and their abilities in the face of white disapproval, and that to do this they should enter into business for themselves, by themselves (see below). Powell Jr. went further to the left than his father and was more openly activist than he. Admittedly, the following excerpts from his writing first appeared just as black men were returning from fighting in still-segregated armed forces of World War II. Still, nothing in this book would have been news to African Americans, particularly any who had read Powell Jr.’s “Soap Box” articles in The Amsterdam News. Here, then, is Preacher Powell’s description of Harlem, “the capital of every black town,” and the nascent 20th century civil rights movement.
No history of America's Harlem can be written without including the Abyssinian Baptist Church. Standing in gothic majesty on West 138th Street, built of solid rock, concrete and steel, its foundations penetrating as much as forty feet to rest on rock—this, the nation's largest Protestant church, has been a mighty bulwark against reaction, a citadel for the oppressed and a fortress from which emerged in ever-swelling numbers black pioneers determined to make a way out of no way. . . . Spearheaded by [W.E.B.] DuBois and aided by independent radicals like my father, the first great Negro mass movement began in 1905, the Niagara movement. For the first time a national Bill of Rights for black people was defined and laid down. In 1910 the leaders of this movement joined with the new white man, and the Abyssinian Baptist Church National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was born. This organization has been a constant thorn in the flesh of fascist America. At times it lost power and prestige by coming too closely under the control of whites, many of [whom] considered the NAACP a conscience salve. They would donate hundreds of dollars to its treasury and yet refuse to employ Negroes in the corporations they headed. But as long as the NAACP held its mass base and refused to render unto Caesar, democracy strode onward with vengeful strides. . . . Until 1920, [the Negro] was, in the words of Carter G. Woodson, still "denied education; driven out of the [white] church of Christ; excluded from hotels, theatres and public places; treated like dogs in traveling; refused decent employment; forced to the lowest wage scale; compelled to pay the highest rent for his homes; prohibited from buying property in decent neighborhoods; ridiculed in the press, from the platform and on the stage; disfranchised and taxed without representation; denied the right to choose his friends or to be chosen by them; deprived by custom and law of protection for his women; robbed of justice of the court; and lynched with impunity.” . . . In 1930, '31 and '32 I made a study of the ten thousand members of 40
the Abyssinian Baptist Church. Eighty-two percent of them were born in the South; 21 percent had no education; 60 percent went only as far as grade school; 18 percent to high school; and only 2.8 percent had attended college. . . . Eighty percent of the women held unskilled positions and 50 percent of the men. That was an average cross-section of Harlem. . . . Harlem in 1927 was a cesspool. During the Great Migration [from the 1910s into World War I] two hundred thousand people from the South and the Caribbeans had poured into it. They came into a section that formerly housed eighty-thousand whites. . . . The recreational, educational and religious facilities were built to meet the needs of that smaller number. Within one decade the face of Harlem . . . became the world's largest ghetto. No new schools were built and not only were there no new hospitals, but even the private hospitals in the area closed their doors to blacks. A handful of new churches was erected but not more than a score of new apartment houses. Yet 310,000 immigrant and pioneer blacks were forced to live in this bloated area. . . . The basic trouble of Harlem was economic. Its inhabitants had to pay a tax on being black. Rents were 20 percent higher than the whites'; foodstuffs, by survey of PM and my own newspaper, The People's Voice, were 17 percent above the general level (the other papers never bothered to touch upon the subject); lifeinsurance rates were double; credit clothing stores thrived on usury rates of 100 percent; and shoddy furniture was sold at prices that equaled downtown Fifth Avenue stores. Into such a community— divided, hopeless, beating its heart out against the rock walls of frustration—came white shopkeepers who set up their businesses yet refused to employ Negroes. . . Over five thousand people worked on 125th Street. Scarcely a hundred of them were Negroes and without exception they were porters and maids. The prosperity of the Twenties never hit Harlem. It was an artificial economy. They were a people milked by absentee ownership and sucked by merchant leeches. On Saturday afternoon Harlem would get paid and by Saturday night, when the doors of the shops closed and the merchants and landlords departed, 90 percent of Harlem's salary went with them. For but a few hours people would hold in their hands the wages of a week's toil. Harlem was tinsel. It was a community of people making believe at the game of life. Cheap politicians sold the Negro vote. Campaigners draped rainbows around the shoulders of their constituents which faded the morning after election. Elected leaders of government handpicked chosen Negroes here and there and elevated them to high offices where they could be controlled. They pointed to them and said to the black starving masses, "See! This is what we are doing for you.” Out of the hundreds of Negro Baptist churches there were only two pastors who had a college education. . . The nightlife for which Harlem was famous was closed to 41
Negroes. Cheap movies, corner speakeasies, religious orgies—these were all that the blacks of upper Manhattan had to ease their pain. The march up freedom road was to be interrupted as the great American prosperity myth began to grow and the boom year of 1929 to approach. Spendthrift whites with money to burn would think it fashionable to coddle black artists. The Negro renaissance would be ushered in.. . . This was Harlem on the verge of the great Depression—no leadership, no mass organization, exploited by cheap politicians, victimized by local merchants, inadequate educational and health facilities, religion in the hands of ecclesiastical mountebanks. And then came the great Depression. Harlem was unprepared. The people sat on curbstones with dismissal slips in their hands, staring hopelessly and bitterly at a world that held no promise of tomorrow. . . . In 1930 there were twelve-million Negroes in the United States. In 1933, 17.8 percent were on relief as contrasted with 9.5 percent of the total white population. In two years the Negro percentage on relief jumped to 25.5 percent. In Unemployment Registration, 1931 the large urban centers the proportion was even greater with Negroes outnumbering whites three to one. When the Depression hit, blacks got blue in the face trying to get out of the red. Except for the few nationalistic societies there was no mass organization of any importance. Harlem Negroes were unprepared for collective action. Paradoxically, the national headquarters of every national organization were located in New York City. These Negro leaders of world headline fame could walk on a hot crowded Saturday night from one end of Lenox Avenue to the other and not five people would know them. . . . People began to wonder if the Negro had it in him to conquer his urban environment. The challenge was hurled squarely into the faces of the hundreds of thousands of black Manhattan. This crucial test caught us unprepared, weakened by the Depression—but some of us were ready. We knew that interracial friction had to be smashed. Differences in color must disappear [he refers to the white and black preference to lighter-skinned rather than darkerskinned African Americans], caste must vanish and the problem of each Negro become the problem of all Negroes. Two objectives faced us—to conquer our environment, first, economically, and, second, politically. Social equality, while it is demanded by all Negroes, was last on the scale of objectives. Because we were hungry we started toward the economic objective first. . . . The Negro was therefore ready to take his place in the American scene on an equal basis with all other citizens. Collectively he had not yet developed the fundamental prerequisite for group advancement—mass organization. But God had endowed him with the same mind as 42
another human being, and as an individual he had crossed many seemingly insurmountable barriers, accomplished many breakthroughs and forced the world to recognize his worth. . . . Marcus Garvey (1887-1940). Born in Jamaica, Marcus Mosiah Garvey was forced to quit school when he was fourteen to help support his family. He became a printer’s apprentice and, infuriated with the economic inequality he saw around him, organized a printer’s union strike in 1907. He moved on to Costa Rica, becoming the timekeeper for a banana plantation, where he was greatly disturbed by the exploitation of the darker black laborers by their lighterskinned overseers. A trip to London in 1912 only confirmed his suspicion that equitable relationships between blacks and whites were not possible. After reading Booker T. Washington’s Up From Slavery, Garvey asked himself, “‘Where is the black man’s government?’ ‘Where are his king and his kingdom?’ ‘Where are his president, his country, and his ambassador, his army, his navy, his men of big affairs?’ I could not find them, and then I declared, ‘I will help to make them.’” To this end, Garvey returned to Jamaica in 1914 and formed the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), whose goal was “the general uplift of the Negro peoples of the world.” Garvey tried to establish schools based on Washington’s model, but, unsuccessful, went to Harlem in 1916 to raise funds. Soon thereafter, Garvey decided to remain in Harlem. He used the UNIA to form a platform of black nationalism, which emphasized pride in black roots, economic independence, and development of a nation in Africa run solely by and for blacks. In The Future as I See It (1923), Garvey wrote of the necessity for such a nation: There is many a leader of our race who tells us that everything is well, and that all things will work out themselves and that a better day is coming. Yes, all of us know that a better day is coming; we all know that one day we will go home to Paradise, but whilst we are hoping by our Christian virtues to have an entry into Paradise we also realize that we are living on earth, and that the things that are practiced in Paradise are not practiced here. You have to treat this world as the world treats you; we are living in a temporal, material age, an age of activity, an age of racial, national selfishness. What else can you expect but to give back to the world what the world gives to you, and we are calling upon the four hundred million Negroes of the world to take a decided stand, a determined stand, that we shall occupy a firm position; that position shall be an emancipated race and a free nation of our own. We are determined that we shall have a free country; we are determined that we shall have a flag; we are determined that we shall have a government second to none in the world. 43
The popularity of Garvey and the UNIA was immense. In 1921, he had nearly a million followers. He had incredible charisma, and would speak in uniform, leading his followers in a parade around Harlem. He published a newspaper, Negro World, which had a circulation of about a quarter million readers. In 1919 Garvey started a steamship company, The Black Star Line, to earn money for the UNIA, provide jobs for blacks in the shipping industry, and serve as an affordable way for blacks to travel to Africa. Unfortunately The Black Star Line was an economic failure practically from the outset. In 1922 Garvey was accused of mail fraud; he was convicted three years later. He served almost three years in prison and then was deported to Jamaica. Garvey spent the rest of his life trying to rebuild the UNIA’s reputation. He died of a stroke at age 53, without ever making it to Africa, even for a visit. Booker T. Washington - (1856-1915). Booker Taliaferro Washington was born a slave in Franklin County, Virginia. Washington’s father was a white man whom he never met. His mother Jane was the head cook for a small planter, so the home of Booker’s early childhood—a cabin with a dirt floor and open holes in the walls for windows—also doubled as the kitchen for the white household. Upon emancipation, Jane took Booker and his three siblings to join her husband in West Virginia. Booker began work in a salt furnace, later switching to a coal mine. His long work hours made study difficult, but he managed to attend night classes when he could. His main goal was to achieve an education. After he overheard some coal workers discussing the Hampton Institute, a vocational training school for blacks and American Indians in Virginia, Washington strove to save enough money to go there. Using great thrift and overcoming much economic hardship, Washington worked his way through Hampton as a janitor, graduating with honors in 1875. He then served on the faculty of Hampton until 1881, when he went on to found The Tuskegee Institute, a school for black teachers, in Alabama. Washington’s philosophy on black advancement was nonconfrontational to the umpteenth degree. He maintained that before blacks begin the fight for social equality, they should attain an education. Washington’s idea of black education was mainly confined to the vocational skills necessary to secure a job in the workforce. In a speech he gave at the Atlanta Exposition in 1895, Washington encouraged his fellow blacks to strive for “real estate or industrial skill” over “a seat in Congress or the state legislature,” and to start a “dairy farm or truck garden” instead of “stump speaking.” There was danger, he warned, in starting ambitions too high, instead favored a more pragmatic approach: Our greatest danger is that in the great leap from slavery to freedom we may overlook the fact that the masses of us are to live by the productions of our hands, and fail to keep in mind that we shall prosper in proportion as we learn to dignify and glorify common labor, and put brains and skill into the common occupations of life; shall prosper in proportion as we learn to draw the line between the superficial and the substantial, the ornamental gewgaws of life and the useful. No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem. It is at the bottom of life that we must begin, not at the top. 44
Washington’s philosophy put him under fire with other influential black thinkers at the time, among them W.E.B. DuBois, who thought Washington made too many concessions to please white Southerners. But Washington so very popular with white leaders that he received funding for black causes and placed blacks in federal jobs. He even advised Presidents Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft on racial matters. Washington wrote several books, including his own autobiography, Up From Slavery (1901), which has been compared to The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin with respect to its championing the classic American success story. W.E.B. DuBois (1868-1963). Born William Edward Burghardt DuBois in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, W.E.B. DuBois grew up attending mainly white schools and churches. From a very young age, he developed an interest in learning as well as a desire to make a name for himself and to aid in the uplift of his race. He was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Fisk University, and the first black to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard. DuBois wrote landmark studies of black history, and was the first black sociologist, not to mention one of the founding fathers of sociology as a discipline. He has been called the founder of black studies in American academic life. DuBois’ most well-known book is The Souls of Black Folk (1903), in which he proclaimed that “the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line.” He expressed the difficulty of being black in the United States using the metaphor of a veil: After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world—a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, his double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. For DuBois, blacks possess a double consciousness that gives them a special ability to see things about the world that whites cannot, but along with this ability comes the knowledge of how the world perceives blacks, and the irreconcilable battle of whether to follow one’s heart or to absorb the messages the world gives out about black inferiority. DuBois’ method for solving “the problem of the color line” was very different than Booker T. Washington’s idea of vocational education. DuBois advocated strong education across all disciplines for the gifted members of the race, whom he referred to as the “talented tenth.” Members of the talented tenth would then go on to become political leaders and moral exemplars for the race. Therefore, although DuBois advocated higher education for some, he did not recommend it for all. In this respect, he has been criticized by some as an elitist. 45
DuBois played a major role in the founding of the Niagara Movement in 1905, which became the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) four years later. DuBois was the editor of The Crisis, the magazine of the NAACP, from 1910 to 1934. DuBois left the NAACP from 1934 to 1944, due to differing opinions on the matter of segregation: unlike other NAACP members, he argued that while blacks sought to eliminate the racism that caused segregation, they should strive to make segregation work in their favor. DuBois rejoined the NAACP in 1944, but was forced to resign in 1948 over issues such as his open admiration for the Soviet Union. At the age of 93, DuBois joined the Communist Party and renounced his United States citizenship. He moved to Ghana, where he died soon afterwards. A Few Words on The Harlem Renaissance Courtesy of the Huntington Theatreâ€™s Blues for an Alabama Sky study guide In 1925, the New York Herald Tribune declared that America was "on the edge, if not already in the midst, of what might not improperly be called a Negro renaissance." Also known as the New Negro Arts Movement, the Harlem Renaissance was a literary and artistic movement spearheaded by a generation of black writers born around the turn of the century. Among its leaders were Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Countee Cullen and Claude McKay. The emergence of African-American poetry and prose in the 1920s was a by-product of the political movement led by prominent black intellectual W.E.B. DuBois from around 1905. DuBois called for a "talented tenth" of African-American leaders to fight against discrimination in all aspects of their lives, and Renaissance leaders echoed this sentiment. They believed that the most effective means of erasing anti-black prejudice was through the propagation of AfricanAmerican art. James Weldon Johnson, executive secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), wrote in 1922: "The final measure of the greatness of all peoples is the amount and standard of the literature and art they have produced. . . . Nothing will do more to change the mental attitude and raise his status than a demonstration of intellectual parity by the Negro through the production of literature and art." Three years later, the writer Alain Locke added: "Our immediate hope rests in the reevaluation by white and black alike of the Negro in terms of his artistic endowments and cultural contributions, past and prospective." The Harlem Renaissance lasted from approximately 1920 until the early '30s. Historians of the period have generally viewed it in three stages. In the first stage, up until 1923, white artists and writers took interest in black culture and appropriated it in their poetry and prose. Eugene O'Neill's The Emperor Jones (1920) is an example of this phenomenon. From 1924 to 1926, African-American art was fostered by the journals The Crisis and Opportunity, publications of such civil rights organizations as the NAACP and the National Urban League. From 1926 until the movement's decline, black artists (called "Niggerati" by Hurston and others) published many of the works for which the period is known. The crash of the stock market in 1929 foreshadowed the end of the period's literary achievements. . . . However, the real black cultural Renaissance of the 1920s, Cornel West has concluded, didn't happen in Harlem. In his view, the course of black art in the United States was more justly served over the long term by the development of jazz in such centers as New 46
Orleans, St. Louis, Memphis and Chicago. West's view also resonates in the popular conception of Harlem in the '20s as a place where nightlife was at the center of activity. Despite its narrow focus on literary and artistic achievement, the term Harlem Renaissance has come to embrace the musical and cultural aspects of the period as well. More Poetry This is actually a blues, but blues was the most popular form of spontaneous oral poetry among African Americans back in those days, like rap is today. This is the work of Sterling A. Brown. Rent Day Blues I says to my baby “Baby, but de rent is due; Can’t noways figger What we ever gonna do.” My baby says, “Honey, Dontcha worry ‘bout de rent. Looky here, daddy, At de money what de good Lord sent.” Says to my baby, “Baby, I been all aroun’; Never knowed de good Lord To send no greenbacks down.” Baby says, “Dontcha Bother none about de Lord; Thing what I’m figgerin’ Is how to get de next month’s board.” Says to my baby, “I’d best get me on a spell; Get your rent from heaven, Maybe get your food from hell.” Baby says, “One old Miracle I never see, Dat a man lak you Can ever get away from me.” I says, “Ain’t no magician, Baby, dat’s a sho-Gawd fact; 47
But just you watch me Do de disappearin’ act.” “Ef you do, you’re better Dan de devil or de Lord on high”; An’ I stayed wid my baby Fo’ a devilish good reason why. Leland might have this following Sterling Brown poem traveling through his mind. (By the way, dicties were high class people, good sports admired, envied and copied by others.) Tin Roof Blues I’m goin’ where de Southern crosses top de C.& O. I’m goin’ where de Southern crosses top de C.& O. I’m goin’ down de country ’cause I cain’t stay here no mo’. Goin’ where de Norfolk Western curves jes’ lak de river bends, Where de Norfolk Western swing around de river bends, Goin’ where de people stacks up mo’ lak friends. Leave ’is dirty city, take my foot up in my hand, Dis do-dirty city, take my foot up in my hand, Git down to de livin’ what a man kin understand. Gang of dicties here, an’ de rest wants to git dat way, Dudes an’ dicties, others strive to git dat way, Put pennies on de numbers from now unto de jedgement day. I’m got de tin roof blues, got dese sidewalks on my mind, De tin roof blues, dese lonesome sidewalks on my mind, I’m goin’ where de shingles covers people mo’ my kind. Langston Hughes, like Angel and Guy, left the South for the North, though he did so with mixed feelings as the following poem, from his collection The Weary Blues, demonstrates. (NB: Beginning about 1919 the country experienced a wave of anti-African American violence as Ku Klux Klan membership grew to unprecedented levels, even as far north as Ohio.) The South The lazy, laughing South With blood on its mouth. The sunny-faced South, Beast-strong, 48
Idiot-brained. The child-minded South Scratching in the dead fire’s ashes For a Negro’s bones. Cotton and the moon, Warmth, earth, warmth, The sky, the sun, the stars, The magnolia-scented South. Beautiful, like a woman, Seductive as a dark-eyed whore, Passionate, cruel, Honey-lipped, syphilitic— That is the South. And I, who am black, would love her But she spits in my face. And I, who am black, Would give her many rare gifts But she turns her back upon me. So now I seek the North— The cold-faced North, For she, they say, Is a kinder mistress, And in her house my children May escape the spell of the South. Life up North was no picnic, but it had its attractions, as Mr. Hughes recreates in the next poem. This is probably not the kind of nightclub Angel would have worked in, since “the races” mix in this verse, but it’s definitely the sort of club she, Guy and Sam would patronize. Harlem Night Club Sleek black boys in a cabaret. Jazz-band, jazz-band— Play, plAY, PLAY ! Tomorrow. . . . who knows? Dance today! White girls’ eyes Call gay black boys. Black boys’ lips Grin jungle joys. Dark brown girls 49
In blond men’s arms. Jazz-band, jazz-band— Sing Eve’s charms! White ones, brown ones, What do you know About tomorrow Where all paths go? Jazz-boys, jazz-boys— Play, plAY, PLAY ! Tomorrow. . . . is darkness. Joy today! Any African American would recognize this next portrait. Troubled Woman She stands In the quiet darkness, This troubled woman, Bowed by Weariness and pain, Like an Autumn flower In the frozen rain. Like a Wind-blown autumn flower That never lifts its head Again.
Gwendolyn Brooks was a Chicago native who actually began writing after the Renaissance, but, as she describes in the following poem, some things had not changed. The Sundays of Satin-Legs Smith He sheds, with his pajamas, shabby days. And his desertedness, his intricate fear, the Postponed resentments and the prim precautions. 50
Now, at his bath, would you deny him lavender Or take away the power of his pine? What smelly substitute, heady as wind, Would you provide? Life must be aromatic. . . . But you forget, or did you ever know, His heritage of cabbages and pigtails, Old intimacy with alleys, garbage pails, Down in the deep (but always beautiful) South Where roses blush their blithest (it is said) And sweet magnolias put Chanel to shame. . . . He dances down the hotel steps that keep Remnants of last night’s high life and distress. As spat-out purchased kisses and spilled beer. He swallows sunshine with a secret yelp. Passes to coffee and a roll or two. Has Breakfasted. Out. Sounds about him smear, Become a unit. He hears and does not hear The alarm clock meddling in somebody’s sleep; Children’s governed Sunday happiness; The dry tone of a plane; a woman’s oath; Consumption’s spiritless expectoration; An indignant robin’s resolute donation Pinching a track through apathy and din; Restaurant vendors weeping; and the L That comes on like a slightly horrible thought. Pictures, too, as usual, are blurred. He sees and does not see the broken windows Hiding their shame with newsprint; little girl With ribbons decking wornness, little boy Wearing the trousers with the decentest patch, To honor Sunday; women on their way From “service,” temperate holiness arranged Ably on asking faces; men estranged From music and from wonder and from joy But far familiar with the guiding awe Of foodlessness. He loiters. Restaurant vendors Weep, or out of them rolls a restless glee. The Lonesome Blues, the Long-lost Blues, I Want A 51
Big Fat Mama. . . . Since a man must bring To music what his mother spanked him for When he was two: bits of forgotten hate, Devotion: whether or not his mattress hurts: The little dream his father humored: the thing His sister did for money: what he ate For breakfast—and for dinner twenty years Ago last autumn: all his skipped desserts. . . . But movie-time approaches, time to boo The hero’s kiss, and boo the heroine Whose ivory and yellow it is sin For his eye to eat of. The Mickey Mouse, However, is for everyone in the house. Squires his lady to dinner at Joe’s Eats. His lady alters as to leg and eye, Thickness and height, such minor points as these, From Sunday to Sunday. But no matter what Her name or body positively she’s In Queen Lace stockings with ambitious heels That strain to kiss the calves, and vivid shoes Frontless and backless, Chinese fingernails, Earrings, three layers of lipstick, intense hat Dripping with the most voluble of veils. Her affable extremes are like sweet bombs About him, whom no middle grace or good Could gratify. He had no education In quiet arts of compromise. He would Not understand your counsels on control, nor Thank you for your late trouble. . . . Her body is like new brown bread Under the Woolworth mignonette. Her body is a honey bowl Whose waiting honey is deep and hot. Her body is like summer earth, Receptive, soft, and absolute . . .
Questions for After Reading the Script 1. Explain how the title Blues for an Alabama Sky reflects the themes in the play? 2. Issues of race, sexual identity, religion, and birth control abound in Blues for an Alabama Sky. Give examples of the conflict that arises from the characters’ perspectives on these issues. 3. What does Paris represent to Guy? Name some African-American artists who sought a livelihood in Europe during the 1920’s? 4. Describe the relationship between Guy and Angel? Does Angel believe in Guy’s dream? How are they different? How are they alike? Where do Angel and Guy hail from? What was their life like there? 5. What promise did Harlem hold for African-Americans in the 1920’s? Do you think it is still regarded in the same way today? Explain your answer. 6. What does Leland see in Angel besides his deceased wife Anna’s face? What does he hope to accomplish by marrying her? What irony exists in the demise of his relationship with Angel? 7. Why does Angel agree to marry Leland? In what respects is this relationship similar to her relationships with the Italian gangsters? 8. How does Leland’s opinion change of his new-found friends during the course of the play? Why do you think he was so opposed to their lifestyles and beliefs? 9. Leland mentions he is from Tuskegee, and Sam replies, “Home of the World Famous Institute.” Why is the Tuskegee Institute famous? 10. Is there a character in the play who’s plight you identify with more than the others? If so, who and why? 11. Describe Doc’s feelings about performing another abortion on Angel? What does Angel mean when she says to Sam, “How come a little half-Italian baby didn’t tug at your heartstrings like this one does?” 12. What do you think the future holds for Delia and Guy in Paris? Will he make it? Will Delia? 13. Blues for an Alabama Sky is a tragedy tinged with hope at the end. Where does the tragedy reside in this play and where does the hope live? 14. At the very end of the play, Angel toasts the photo of Josephine Baker. What do you think is going through Angel’s mind? 53
Post-Performance Questions 1. What elements of the set are used to reflect Harlem of the 1930’s? Describe how they are incorporated into the action of the play. 2. Nothing is as vivid as our imaginations. How did the production of Blues for an Alabama Sky differ from what you imagined after having read the play? 3. After seeing the play, who do you think is the protagonist? The antagonist? Why? 4. Lighting changes are often subtle and go unnoticed when we watch a play. Think back on the production, and try to recall the lighting design. Was it effective? Were you aware of it during the play? 5. What sounds were used to create the ambiance of a large city? Describe how music, particularly the blues, was used for both atmosphere and to advance the plot. 6. Choose a scene from the play that you felt was most compelling. Describe what about it, i.e., dialogue, physical action, lighting, sound, costumes, props, etc., contributed to the overall effect of the scene. 7. How did the set design enable the story to be acted fluidly from scene to scene. What technical elements were used during scene changes? Would you have designed anything differently? 8. Casting is a very important element in the production of a play. What are some of the attributes that the actors in Syracuse Stage’s Blues for an Alabama Sky brought to this production? 9. Now that you’ve seen the play, try to finish the sentence, “This is the story of . . . ” Compare your answers in class. Use examples from the play to support your answer. 10. Blocking and physical gestures can communicate thoughts and emotions as much as dialogue. At the end of Act One when Angel closes the door behind Leland and takes the dress out of its box, what do you think is going through her mind? 11. In addition to being a playwright, Pearl Cleage is also a fiction writer and essayist. Why do you think she chose to write Blues for an Alabama Sky as a play instead of a work of fiction? 12. Although tragedy is often laced with comedy, if you’re not used to reading plays, it is sometimes difficult to discern the tone in a scene. What were some of the lighter moments in the production of Blues for an Alabama Sky? Did you sense that they were humorous when you read the play? 54
For Further Discussion 1. Why do you think this play is entitled Blues for an Alabama Sky? Which character sings the blues, and why? Investigate the history of blues in American culture and compare the use of “singing the blues” in the lives of real Americans to the way the characters in the play use the blues. What are some ways you either literally or figuratively 'sing the blues' in your own life? Learn and sing a blues song from the 20’s. Discuss how its feelings and themes reflect those in the play. 2. The Harlem Renaissance gave rise to many great African American poets, Langston Hughes being one of the most famous. Research the works of some others and read from them in class. 3. Birth control and abortion are controversial topics today, but this play shows how present and inflammatory they were seventy years ago as well. Research the work of Margaret Sanger and the early “family planning “ movement. Enact a debate between Sanger and an opponent, emphasizing the historical reasons for their arguments (as opposed to the positions activists take today). 4. Josephine Baker was one of many American artists who took up residency in Paris during the 1920’s. Who were other American “expatriates” there at this time? What did they see in Paris and vice-versa? 5. Reflect on Angel's statement "I'm tired of Negro dreams. All they ever do is break your heart." Identify events in the play that corroborate this statement and others that refute it. Recall dreams you yourself have had. What kind of dreams have 'broken your heart?' Using examples from Cleage's play and from your own life, investigate conditions that may cause a dream to break a person's heart. 6. Blues for an Alabama Sky takes place in 1930, a time when the poverty of the Great Depression is overshadowing the glory of the Harlem Renaissance. What events occur or what scenic elements are present in the play to suggest the reality of the Depression's existence? How do the struggles of the characters in Blues compare to the struggles of typical real people who were living in Harlem in 1930? 7. Playwright Pearl Cleage confronts many forms of discrimination in this play: racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. Find examples of discrimination in the play. Discuss each one separately. Compare and contrast them. Consider situations in your own life when you have dealt with discrimination. How did you react to these situations? 8. Broadway has been called the Great White Way. Black theatre for many years remained in the shadows of the Great White Way. Despite the shadow, Black theatre eventually grew and flourished, and today, no longer in the shadows, such luminaries as August Wilson, George C. Wolfe, Douglas Turner Ward, Ntzoke Shange and Cheryl West, to name a few, are 55
prominent among U.S. theatre artists. Have students trace, individually or in groups, the struggles and triumphs of black theater in America. You might divide this project according to eras. Some eras to consider might include colonial America, before and after the Civil War, the Harlem Renaissance, before and after World War II, and black theater of the 50s, 60s, 70s and in the present day. Reports should include the well known playwrights, directors and actors of each era, as well as a time line. 9. Divide students into small groups to write sequels to the play. In an interview with the playwright, Ms. Cleage projected her character's futures: "I think Guy's going to be fine. I don't think Angel's going to be fine. I think she's going to be exactly what she doesn't want to be: an old woman begging up and down 125th Street. But Guy will be fine. I think Delia will be fine. I think that Leland is destroyed." What do you think will happen to the characters? How have the charactersâ€™ journeys been influenced by the people and events around them? Encourage students to share, discuss, revise, and perform their plays.
Writing Assignments 1. There are several historic characters mentioned throughout the play that have helped shape our present-day society: Josephine Baker, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Langston Hughes, Margaret Sanger, etc. Choose one of them, research their life, and discuss their impact. 2. The five characters of “Blues” are all complex, multi-layered, and troubled. Choose one to write a letter of advice to about their situation in the play. Explain their problems to them in an objective way that they might understand. 3. Read Ms. Cleage's play Flyin' West or an essay from her book Deals with the Devil, or read one of her articles for Essence or MS. Magazine. Write a position paper that identifies a continuum of themes that might represent Ms. Cleage's "voice" as a writer, artist and feminist. 4. Everybody feels the “Blues” now and then. Try your hand at writing song lyrics for your own blues. Create a rhythm and a tempo for it. 5. Prepare a monologue for Leland to present to a judge and jury in his defense of shooting Sam. Since there is no question that Leland shot Sam, your monologue will have to persuade them that there were mitigating circumstances. Consider Leland’s background and his state of mind at the time of the crime. 6. Write a scene between Guy and Angel that occurs when they are in their fifties. How have their lives changed? Have they stayed in touch? Are they still friends? Has either one found success? Is Guy still living in Europe? What has happened to Angel? 7. Write a speech that Delia might have given in support of Planned Parenthood. Consider the historical context: place, time, who she was speaking to, etc. 8. Langston Hughes was credited with capturing the essence of the blues in much of his poetry. Try writing a poem that reflects your own musical taste while expressing a heartfelt emotion or belief. Read it aloud to the class, and see if they can determine your musical influences. 9. Write a newspaper article that would accompany the headline that Delia reads aloud at the end of the play: “Murdered Physician Accused of Performing Illegal Abortion of Missing Harlem Showgirl.” Make up quotes from the characters in the play for your article. 10. Although the Harlem Renaissance has long since past, Harlem continues to be a vibrant part of New York City. Create a timeline from 1900 to 2000, highlighting the history of the neighborhood.
Arts Activities - Visual Arts and Acting & Improv 1. Study the origins and development of Harlem from its origins in the 17th century through today. Display visual representations of Harlem in maps, photos, and artwork 2. Design a set for the Cotton Club. See if you can find old photographs to use as the basis for your design. 3. Style and clothing were a big part of the 1920’s and the Harlem Renaissance. How do the characters’ costumes in Blues for an Alabama Sky reflect their personalities? What does their manner of dress mean to them? Refer back to the text and find the dialogue that supports your conclusion. Design a costume for one of the characters in the play and explain why the costume is appropriate. 4. Design a poster for Blues for an Alabama Sky. Discuss figurative (literal) and abstract imagery with the students. Have the students design either one style or the other. Discuss the posters in class. Have them explain the intent behind their designs. 5. Always a concern for Syracuse Stage is how to design the lobby for a production. Have your students come up with a design concept for Blues for an Alabama Sky for the Syracuse Stage lobby. Remember that the lobby gets heavy traffic, so the design can’t be intrusive. 6. Using several mediums, photographs, painting, fabric, text, etc., have the students create a collage representing Harlem. Contrast the past to the present in the art. Experiment with form. The piece needn’t be one dimensional. 7. Photocopy the poems that were written earlier in class. Distribute the copies of the poems and have the students design and create a book for the collection. Artwork could be used in the text in addition to the cover. The artwork should reflect the essence of the play. 8. Divide the class into groups and, using the text from the Writing Assignments where students wrote a scene between Guy and Angel, have the students act out some of the scenes. The author of each scene will work with another student, the director, to bring his/her scene to life with the students who are the actors. 9. Distribute index cards containing situations addressing some of the themes that are found in Blues for an Alabama Sky. Have the students improvise these scenes. Discuss how their own background and beliefs informed their scenes. 10. Have the students choose several songs from among the blues that were written in class. Discuss the chosen songs and how they might be arranged. Divide the class into groups to perform an a cappella version of each song. Give them time to rehearse their songs.
11. When preparing for an acting role, it is essential that the actor understands the history of the character he/she is playing. Often actors will create a history for their character that goes beyond the information in the play. Have the students choose a character from Blues and create a biographical sketch that reveals an incident from their past that might have been alluded to in the play. 12. Have the students perform the monologue they wrote for Leland in the Writing Assignment exercise. Or, if they choose, have them perform a monologue for one of the other characters in the play.
Josephine Baker, c. 1926
Quotations from the play Use the following quotations to discuss specific events from Blues for an Alabama Sky in context, or to discuss the universal ideas expressed by the quotations. You might use the quotations as a springboard to role-playing, or as the first line of letters, poems, and short stories; or you may choose to use them as titles for pictures, paintings, other visual images or music. ANGEL:
“Everybody in Harlem is singing the blues.”
“Just what Harlem needs. Two more mouths to feed.”
“My momma taught me that man was the beginning and end of his own misery and that calling on God to fix it once you broke it was a comfort we were not allowed.”
“All revolutions leave a space for dancing. They just like to pretend they don’t.”
“You can’t make it real just because you want it to be.”
“For prospects, you gotta look past 125th Street. No laws says we gotta live and die in Harlem, USA, just ‘cause we happened to wind up here when we finally blew out of Savannah. The world is a big place!”
“I deliver babies every day to exhausted women and stone-broke men, but they never ask me about birth control. They ask me about jobs.”
“A woman shouldn’t have to make a baby every time she makes love!”
“You’re not just shining me on, are you?”
“I’m tired of Negro dreams. All they ever do is break your heart.”
“Freedom’s such an abstract thing. That’s baby’s flesh and blood.”
“I’m sorry about twenty different ways, and I don’t give a damn about any of them.
“It is tawdry. And so What? So are we all! Tawdry and tainted and running for our natural lives!
“Sorry ain’t worth waiting for, trust me. All sorry can do is sit there. It can’t ever make it right. 60
Vocabulary (in alphabetical order, not order of appearance) The Amsterdam News - a major newspaper of the African-American community, founded in New York in 1909 by James Anderson. Its name refers to the original name for New York, which the Dutch called New Amsterdam. This weekly paper had its offices at 2340 Eighth Ave. bathtub gin - a homemade spirit concocted from raw alcohol water, essences and essential oils, made often during Prohibition by gangsters (bootlegger - someone who manufactures, sells, or transports alcohol illegally) and even Mr. and Mrs. America on occasion. cabaret - a nightclub or restaurant serving liquor and providing musical entertainment. cable - in pre-fax and pre-email days a cablegram, that is, a message sent by submarine telegraph cable, was the fastest way to send a lengthy message a long distance. Think Western Union. Champs Elysees - a broad avenue in Paris that stretches 1.17 miles from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde and is surrounded by many museums, gardens, theatres and fashionable stores. It's still very fashionable. collard greens - the leafy part of stalked smooth-leafed kale, often eaten in the South. continental - not the car but pertaining to European fashion or style. The Cotton Club - Harlem's best-known and most expensive nightclub, which opened in 1923. It featured some of the era's best black performers but, like most of the better known night spots, served whites only. demimonde - the fringes of respectable society, including women supported by a succession of wealthy lovers as well as persons fond of nightlife; a distinctive class or group ostracized by the larger class that operates according to its own social rules. The Great Depression - a period of abysmal economic activity, predominately marked by everrising levels of unemployment from 1929 well into 1934. More than a few residents of Harlem were already experiencing chronic unemployment before 1929. dissipation - excessive drinking or drug use that impairs one's physical and mental health. drag ball - a dance party in which people wear clothing of the opposite sex. At the Hamilton Lodge Drag Ball, a yearly New York City event held at the Rockland Palace Casino, prizes were awarded to the most gorgeously arrayed cross dressers, female and male. floozy - a woman with a reputation for sexual promiscuity. Folies Bergere - famous Paris music hall where Josephine Baker starred in many shows. 61
Marcus Garvey – see Who’s Who, pg.43. genocide - the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political or cultural group. Harlem - section of New York City in northern Manhattan between the Harlem and East Rivers. Harlem Hospital – “It was 1919 before Negro doctors and nurses were added to the staff of this hospital, which serves the Negro community (History Tour).” Poorly staffed and supplied, many poor people preferred to die at home rather than at Harlem Hospital, waiting to be seen. Unfortunately it was the only hospital that would accept black and minority patients in New York. headliners - principal performers in a show; the stars. hotsy-totsy girls - vivacious, scantily-clad chorus girls with more sex appeal than talent. infirm - those who are feeble and in poor health. juke joint - an eating and drinking establishment featuring a dance floor near the jukebox. Some were like bars, some more like diners or drive-in restaurants. La Bakaire - Guy’s pet name for Josephine Baker. The Lafayette - a large Harlem theatre, one of the first US theatres to desegregate, it was on Seventh Ave. between 131st and 132nd streets. This was the theatre before the Apollo where black entertainers made the big time. literati - the educated class, or persons interested in literature or the arts. Zora Neale Hurston and others called their fellow Harlem Renaissance artists the Niggerati. "Merci ma cherie. Bon nuit." - French: "Thank you, dear. Good night." Richard Bruce Nugent (1906-?) - a friend and companion to Langston Hughes; one of the most flamboyant and colorful figures of the Harlem Renaissance, he was as well known for his bohemian extravagance as for his homoerotic paintings and prose. Philistines – materialistic citizens of ancient Philistia who held intellectualism and art impractical, and therefore unnecessary. Prohibition - from 1920 to 1933 when the manufacture, transportation and/or sale of alcohol was forbidden by the Volstead Act, the 18th Amendment. It was repealed in ’33 at President Roosevelt’s suggestion. 62
queen - slang for an effeminate, flamboyant gay man; sometimes used to describe a gay man dressed as a woman, as in “drag queen.” Rockefeller - a family of wealthy businessmen and philanthropists; John D. Rockefeller Sr. (1839-1937) was at one time the world's richest man. Saks Fifth Avenue – a posh New York department store. Savoy Ballroom - Harlem nightclub which had a capacity of 4000 people and was popular with movie stars, the international set—people of all classes mixed on the dance floor. The “Home of Happy Feet,” at Lenox Avenue and 141st Street, was the birthplace of the Lindy Hop and other dance fads. And it was here that a shy and sometimes awkward girl began her long trek to the top of the entertainment world—Ella Fitzgerald. sepia Adonis - A very handsome, brown-skinned young man. Adonis was the mythological Greek youth loved by Aphrodite, goddess of love. shimmy - a loose, straight-hanging dress, often sporting fringe; also, a jazz dance in which one shook from the shoulders down. Small's Paradise - One of the most prestigious nightclubs in Harlem; owned by African-Americans, it admitted blacks, unlike most Harlem clubs. suffragette - A woman who advocated for a woman's right to vote, called suffrage. When American women were granted this right in 1920 many “suffragettes” simply moved on to other women’s rights issues. Strivers’ row – The houses on 138th and 139th streets, between Seventh and Eighth avenues, have been called Strivers’ Row. Built between 1889 and ’91 as suburban homes for the white wellto-do they unfortunately did not catch on because the subway system did not serve that area well yet. The houses were designed by distinguished architect Stanford White, and when whites were not interested they were snatched up by eager African Americans. “They are elegant,” reports M.A. Harris in A Negro History Tour of Manhattan, “and they have such exterior features as courtyards and driveways. Harlem residents referred to those people who bought these homes as ‘folks striving to get up in the world’—hence the name Strivers’ Row. New York City has designated this area as a landmark which is to be preserved intact.” Sugar Hill – A wealthy neighborhood in Harlem. The “high tones,” or affluent, upwardlymobile, conservative people who lived there did not think very highly of Adam Clayton Powell 63
Jr.’s progressive ideas about taking action to help the lower classes improve their lot, and they would certainly not approve of birth control, though, admittedly, few Americans anywhere did in the 1930s. traipse - to walk about without a plan or purpose. “Tres elegante” – French: “very elegant.” Tuskegee Institute – The school founded by prominent black educator and political leader Booker T. Washington in Tuskegee, Alabama in 1881 (see Who’s Who). His aim was to provide secondary education and vocational training to African-Americans, so blacks would literally work their way to equality gradually. His critics accused him of training people to be subservient, even “Uncle Tomish” (after the obsequious slave featured in Harriet Beacher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin). two-tone shoes - elegant shoes made from two different colors of leather, like saddle shoes. “Voila!” – French: "Here it is!” Voodoo woman - one who practices a religion derived from African ancestor worship, sorcery and witchcraft, also known as santeria. Fats Waller - (1904-1943) Jazz pianist, singer and songwriter, composer of “Ain't Misbehavin'" and other hits, Waller began his performing career as a teenager when he became the organist for his neighborhood movie theatre, accompanying silent movies.
Works Consulted “Booker T. Washington.” The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. Ed. Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Nellie Y. McKay. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1997. Brown-Guillory, Elizabeth, ed., comp. Wines in the Wilderness: Plays by African-American Women from the Harlem Renaissance to the Present. New York: Greenwood Press, 1990. Campbell, Mary Schmidt; Driskell, David; Lewis, David Levering; Ryan, Deborah Willis, eds. Harlem Renaissance: Art of Black America. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1987. Cleage, Pearl. Deals with the Devil and Other Reasons to Riot. New York: Ballantine Books, 1993. — Preface to Flyin’ West and Other Plays. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1999. DuBois, W.E.B. The Souls of Black Folk. New York: The Penguin Group, 1995. The Encyclopedia Americana. Danbury, CT; Grolier, Inc., 1998. Elson, John. “Black Beauty.” Time, October 30, 1989. Feagin, Joe R. “Black Nationalism.” The Grolier Encyclopedia. CD-ROM. Grolier Electronic Publishing, 1995. Garvey, Marcus. “The Future as I See It.” The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. Ed. Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Nellie Y. McKay. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1997. Hamilton, Charles V. Adam Clayton Powell Jr.: The Political Biography of an American Dilemma. New York: Athenaeum/Macmillan Publishing Co., 1991. Hammond, Bryan, comp.; O’Connor, Patrick, ed. Josephine Baker. London: Jonathan Cape, 1988. Harris, M.A. A Negro History Tour of Manhattan. New York: Greenwood Publishing Corp., 1968. Hatch, James V., and Hamalian, Leo, eds. Lost Plays of the Harlem Renaissance, 1920-1940. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1996. Hickey, Neil and Edwin, Ed. Adam Clayton Powell and the Politics of Race. New York: Fleet Publishing Corp., 1965. 65
Hughes, Langston. The Weary Blues. Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms, 1968. Johnson, James Weldon. Black Manhattan. New York: De Capo Press, Inc., 1991. Lewis, Ronald L. “Marcus Garvey.” The Grolier Encyclopedia. CD-ROM. Grolier Electronic Publishing, 1995. Little, Monroe H. “Black Colleges.” The Grolier Encyclopedia. CD-ROM. Grolier Electronic Publishing, 1995. “Marcus Garvey.” The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. Ed. Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Nellie Y. McKay. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1997. O’Connor, Patrick. Josephine Baker. London: Jonathan Cape, 1988. Ottley, Roi. “New World A-Comin’: Inside Black America. Boston, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1943. Ottley, Roi, and Weatherby, William J., ed. The Negro in New York: An Informal Social History. New York: The New York Public Library, 1967. “Pearl Cleage.” Contemporary Authors Online. The Gale Group, 2000. Powell, Adam Clayton Jr. Adam by Adam: The Autobiography of Adam Clayton Powell Jr. New York: The Dial Press, 1971. — Marching Blacks: An Interpretive History of the Rise of the Black Common Man. New York: Dial Press, 1945. Rose, Phyllis. “Exactly What Is It About Josephine Baker?” The New York Times. March 10, 1991. Schoener, Allon, ed. Harlem on my Mind: Cultural Capital of Black America, 1900-1968. New York: Random House, 1968. Stuckey, Sterling. “W.E.B. DuBois.” The Grolier Encyclopedia. CD-ROM. Grolier Electronic Publishing, 1995. Washington, Booker T. “Up From Slavery.” The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. Ed. Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Nellie Y. McKay. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1997. “Washington, Booker T.” The Grolier Encyclopedia. CD-ROM. Grolier Electronic Publishing, 1995. 66
“W.E.B. DuBois.” The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. Ed. Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Nellie Y. McKay. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1997. Yenser, Thomas, ed. Who’s Who in Colored America: A Biographical Dictionary of Notable Living Persons of African Descent in America, 1933-1937. Brooklyn, NY: Thomas Yenser, pub., 1937. Photo Credits James Van Der Zee. The corner of West 138th Street and Seventh Avenue, taken from THE ABYSSINIAN BAPTIST CHRUCH, 1927 / James Van Der Zee Collection……………..…….cover THE GAY NORTHEASTERNERS on Seventh Avenue, c. 1927 / Schomburg Collection, NYPL….4 James Van Der Zee. PORTRAIT OF COUPLE, MAN WITH WALKING STICK, 1929 / James Van Der Zee Collection………………………………………………………………………………..20 James Van Der Zee. PORTRAIT OF COUPLE WITH RACCOON COATS AND STYLISH CAR, 1932 / James Van Der Zee Collection………………………………………………………….24 Betty Forbus. PEARL CLEAGE……………………………………………………………………..26 Josephine Baker in La Sirene des Tropiques, c. 1927 / Hammond Collection……………………….31 Josephine Baker in La Folie du Jour, 1926 / Hammond Collection…………………………………36 Carl Van Vechten. LANGSTON HUGHES, 1939. Reproduced from a hand gravure print by Richard Benson / The Estate of Carl Van Vechten and Eakins Press Foundation……………………………37 ADAM CLAYTON POWELL SR. From Who’s Who in Colored America: A Biographical Dictionary of Notable Living Persons of African Descent in America, 1933-1937. Ed. Thomas Yenser. Brooklyn, NY: Thomas Yenser, pub., 1937……………………………………………………………………..39 ADAM CLAYTON POWELL JR. AT A RALLY IN ENGLEWOOD, NJ, 1963. From Adam Clayton Powell and the Politics of Race. Neil and Edwin Hickney, Ed. New York: Fleet Publishing Corp., 1965…………………………………………………………………………………………………..39 Abyssinian Baptist Church, West 138th St., 1936……………………………………………………40 SLEEPING IT OFF, c. 1938 / Library of Congress…………………………………………………41 UNEMPLOYMENT REGISTRATION, 1931 / UPI………………………………………………..42 MARCUS GARVEY, c. 1922 / NY Daily News Photo……………………………………………..43 BOOKER T. WASHINGTON / Bettmann Archive…………………………………………………44 DR. W.E.B. DUBOIS, c. 1920 / Brown Bros……………………………………………………….45
Aaron Siskind. PORTRAIT, c. 1938……………………………………………………………….52 Lenox Ave. and 135th St., 1927 / Underwood and Underwood……………………………………..56 Josephine Baker, 1926 / Hammond Collection……………………………………………………...59 SMALL’S PARADISE, c. 1929 / Schomburg Collection, NYPL…………………………………..63 BILL ROBINSON AND CHORUS, c.1936 / Ernest Smith Collection……………………………..64 James Van Der Zee. THERESA BAR AND GRILL, 1933. James Van Der Zee Collection….back cover