February Is Black History Month

A primitive-style painting by W.H. Johnson of WWII soldiers, Training for War
A 20th century painting by W.H. Johnson of WWII soldiers, Training for War. William Henry Johnson was an African-American painter, who studied modernism in NYC and Paris, where he developed his popular primitive style.

Monthly Themes

Nowadays, it seems that every month of the year has at least several attached themes that are designed to inspire the enlightened person to take at least a small glimpse outside the world, which surrounds them. February is no exception, for this winter month has several themes associated with it. February is Children’s Dental Health Month, Cholangiocarcinoma Awareness Month, Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, Senior Independence Month, National Bird-feeding Month and last but not least is National Condom Month. Nonetheless, by far the most widely known theme for this, the shortest month of the year is Black History Month.

The Slave Ship was done by the English painter, JWM Turner, in 1840 during the heyday of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Based on the real life event, whereabouts an English sea captain through over a hundred slaves overboard on a trans-Atlantic voyage  to the New World, this piece of art helped raise awareness to the horrors of the booming business of importing African slaves to the Americas.
The Slave Ship was done by the English painter, JWM Turner, in 1840 during the heyday of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Based on the real life event, whereabouts an English sea captain through over a hundred slaves overboard on a trans-Atlantic voyage to the New World, this piece of art helped raise awareness to the horrors of the booming business of importing African slaves to the Americas.

Black History

No matter how you look at it, Black History is inevitably linked to slavery. Even though African slaves had been brought to Europe and other places before Columbus,
the transatlantic travels of the great explorer opened the door for the slave trade. Beginning in 1502, Portuguese
and Spanish ships routinely carried slaves from Africa to the New World. Even though black slavery in America
ended in 1863, the aftereffects and legacy of this human condition still carries on into the present. And this is the essence of American black history.

Barrack Obama was the first black president elected to the White House. He took the oath of office in 2009 and will leave the White House in January 2017.
Barrack Obama was the first black president elected to the White House. He took the oath of office in 2009 and will leave the White House in January 2017.

Beyond Slavery

There is a lot more to Black History than just slavery, especially if you consider that the Emancipation Act was passed just over a 150 years ago.
Since then, the essence of Black History has been about urban migration, de-segregation of the schools, voting rights, equal pay and fair housing.
Also of importance, has been the individual accomplishments of various individuals from the black community. This includes not only politicians,
like our current president, but also, a long list of athletes, actors, musicians, visual artists and authors.

Writing A Story About Black History

Anybody can write a story about Black History. Mark Twain explored new ground with his colorful 19th century
story of Huck Finn and Jim (a runaway slave) and their journey down the mighty Mississippi. Their journey did not end in freedom for Jim, but the struggles
of the two vagabonds has captured the hearts and minds of many readers, ever since the novel was first published in 1884. Since then many literary works,
songs and films have dealt with the sensitive subject of race relations in America. A list of other such classics, viewed from a white viewpoint might include
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, Go Down Moses by William Faulkner and Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe.
In fact, February might be a good month to read one of these classics, but don’t stop here for there are many books that have been published
over the years that deal with this important subject.

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The Passing of a Multi-talented Artist

Dateline: On May 28, 2014, the writer, Maya Angelou died at age 86. Over the years she had received many awards for her writing. Perhaps, her most prestigious was the Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded by President Barrack Obama in 2011.

Inside the Flame Nebula  Image Credit: Optical: DSS; Infrared: NASA/JPL-Caltech; 
Inside the Flame Nebula 
Image Credit: Optical: DSS; Infrared: NASA/JPL-Caltech;

Many Artists

Today in our media-crazed society there are many artists, both known and unknown. Sometimes there are so many that they seem like stars in the sky. I guess with the exploding population on our planet (it’s now around 7 billion) and the proliferation of Indie artists and authors on the internet, it’s a miracle that anyoneever  gets any mention, at all. Perhaps Maya Angelou was lucky because she came of age, when music was recorded on vinyl LPs and books were made from dead trees. No idea how she would have fared in today’s topsy-turvey world of social networking and self publishing. But nonetheless, here’s a brief  tribute to a spunky lady who had a popular nightclub act, played a major role in the “Roots” TV drama, read poetry at Bill Clinton’s inaugaration, plus penned a series of seven autobiographical novels that brought inall  kinds of awards and recognition.

Miss Calypso was Maya Angelou's first recording. Released in 1957, the LP recording was based on her popular nightclub act.
Miss Calypso was Maya Angelou’s first recording. Released in 1957, the LP recording was based on her popular nightclub act.

Who Was Maya Angelou?

Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Annie Johnson on April 4, 1928 in St. Louis. She picked up the nickname in early childhood from her older brother, who couldn’t quite pronounce my sister and so he just used the simple phrase, “Maya”. Then in the her twenties she married a Greek man by the name of Angelos. Although the marriage did not last all that long, the name, with a slight twist did.

My Experience With the Writer

Back in the nineties I read two of Maya’s autobiographical novels. The first was titled All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes: and then I read her classic I Know Why he Caged Bird Sings. Looking back now, I think the Traveling Shoes tale of going back to Africa and coming across a village, where several residents looked like they could be her identical twin, has hag the most lasting impression on me. Anyway you look at it, picking up any one of her most remarkable novels and sitting down and having a good read is well worth the time invested.

Maya Angelou, a year before she died, from wikipedia photo credited to York College ISLGP
Maya Angelou, a year before she died, from wikipedia photo credited to York College ISLGP

“A Black Grandmother In the White House, My Goodness”

Not too long ago Maya spoke these exact words on the Anderson Cooper Show. My only question is whether she was referring to Barrack Obama or Michelle Obama. Both have black grandmothers, though Barrack has one, while Michelle has two. But if she is referring to the Barrack children, their black grandmother could only come from their mother’s side. Is this a put down of Barrack Obama or perhaps just a little bit of sisterhood bonding with the First Lady. I suspect the latter.

In Conclusion

Probably nobody sums up Maya Angelou’s amazing and tumultuous life better than John McWhorter of the New Republic:

“And Angelou’s life has certainly been a full one: from the hardscrabble Depression era South to pimp, prostitute, supper club chanteuse, performer in Porgy and Bess, coordinator for Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, journalist in Egypt and Ghana in the heady days of decolonization, comrade of Malcolm X, and eyewitness to the Watts riots. She knew King and Malcolm, Billie Holiday, and Abbey Lincoln.”

Who could ask for more?