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Katherine Johnson: The Girl Who Loved to Count

I have always been ridiculously proud of being black. My parents filled me with the stories of those who fought for Caribbean independence like Julian Fedon, Queen Nanny and Toussaint L’Ouverture. For the few years my family lived in Canada, my dad owned a black book store and I loved nothing better than to sit in a corner reading a book and listening to grown folk talk about history and politics. I learned about the ongoing struggle in America and the rest of the black diaspora an to reverse centuries of racism and imperialism at a very early age.Spending my formative years in London and Toronto I got read and hear about so many heroes that bucked the restrictions of antebellum and Jim Crow America without the malignant dynamics that serve to minimize and disregard the acts of these heroes in this country.I was deeply impressed by the fighting spirit of black people of all walks of life.  By the time I was nine I was recite more facts about black accomplishments than a J. A. Rodgers book!

Since I was surrounded by this knowledge I never got the idea that math and science was for white men. I competed and won borough and city wide science fairs. I went to natural science camp and I am proud alumni of the Bronx High School of Science. It wasn’t until my tenure as a doctoral student I got the message that black excellence was not to be seen or heard. I was asked by several professors indirectly and directly to tone down my rhetoric when it came to issues of race because I was making white students uncomfortable. One vile little weasel of a professor actually told me I had to learn “how to talk to white people!” In my doctoral program the feelings of whites were more important than my education, a lesson that was a far more bitter pill to swallow than when illness stopped me completing my degree.

This is why women like Katherine Johnson (portrayed by Tajari P. Henson in the film Hidden Figures) has my undying admiration. She served this country when she didn’t have the right to vote. She helped this country garner the prestige of winning the space race when she couldn’t buy a home next to her white colleagues. She had to temper her brilliance, yet excel at her work in era where the toxic brew of racism and sexism was the norm. I doubt my pride would have let me reach the heights of technical brilliance that she and her colleagues did. Ms. Johnson performed her duties with quiet dignity and we are now able to bask in the glow of her accomplishments  and show the next generation able to how fantastic black female mathematicians and scientists can be.

Johnson was born in 1918 in the little town of White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, Johnson was a research mathematician, who by her own admission, was simply fascinated by numbers. Fascinated by numbers and smart to boot, for by the time she was 10 years old, she was a high school freshman–a truly amazing feat in an era when school for African-Americans normally stopped at eighth grade for those could indulge in that luxury.Her father, Joshua, was determined that his bright little girl would have a chance to meet her potential. He drove his family 120 miles to Institute, West Virginia, where she could continue her education through high school. Johnson’s academic performance proved her father’s decision was the right one: Katherine skipped though grades to graduate from high school at 14, from college at 18.

Continued at: Katherine Johnson: The Girl Who Loved to Count | NASA

14-Film Series Celebrating Jamaica’s 50th Anniversary Of Nation’s Independence At BAMcinématek | Shadow and Act

If you live in NYC, London or a Yardie at home. Check this out!

Brooklyn, NY/Jul 11, 2012—From Thursday, August 2 through Monday, August 6—the 50th anniversary of Jamaican independence—BAMcinématek presents Do the Reggae, a 14-film series dedicated to the country’s unique and widely influential musical tradition.

14-Film Series Celebrating Jamaica’s 50th Anniversary Of Nation’s Independence At BAMcinématek | Shadow and Act.

Go See Beasts of the Southern Wild!!!

I am a elitist film scholar and fangirl with maximum nerdery. I am always on the alert for complex films where black people are portrayed in their full humanity. A fantasy film about a little black girl facing a series of trials after the mysterious disappearance of her father is right up my ally. The problem with loving films like this, Eve’s Bayou, Daughter’s of the Dust and George Washington is that they are not put in wide distribution because film distributors do not believe that whites will go to see films with black actors. An academic study has proved their suppositions to be true, whites people are extremely narcissistic audience. The few predominately black cast films that receive mainstream acclaim feature stereotypical characters that affirm white ideas about black dysfunction. I took me a week to get through Monster’s Ball & I am never going to watch Precious. The black actors who can open a film can only do so with a predominantly white cast. Denzel Washington’s films Antoine Fisher & The Great Debaters made a fraction of his Oscar winning film Training Day.
Beast of the Southern Wild has won honors at Cannes and Sundance. A film with that kind of buzz should be at least get an art house distribution in major cities but it is only opening in New York & Los Angeles. If you are in one of these cities please check it out. If you want find out where the film is playing check out the Fox Searchlight page below.

Where and when to see BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD | FoxSearchlight.com.

The Mainstreaming of Madea

As a British born JAmerican raised in the Catholic Church and I know that this unusual upbringing makes some parts of Southern black religious culture alien to me, but Madea is not one of them. As a film scholar, I know that white blackface actors began the theatrical tradition of dressing like black women and defaming them as totally without femininity. With his new film Tyler Perry hopes to bring his vile stereotype of black womanhood to white audiences.I hope this is a box office flop of major proportions.

The Mainstreaming of Madea – Miami New Times.

For many, especially black people who see in her a mockery of our own grandmothers, Tyler Perry’s Madea is little more than a mammy—an insult to the matriarchal community figure that Perry claims to celebrate. And unforgivably, when compared to Flip Wilson’s Geraldine or even Martin Lawrence’s Big Momma, his black-men-in-drag-for-comic-effect peers, Perry’s Madea—that crass, violent, ignorant, bizarrely asexual depiction of a black Southern woman that he insists is based on women he has actually known—simply isn’t funny.

THE HELP (2011) | The Unaffiliated Critic

THE HELP (2011) | The Unaffiliated Critic.

……The scatological focus culminates in what is simultaneously the “comic” highlight of the film, its cathartic climax, and its deus ex machina: Minnie, in revenge for being fired, feeds Hilly a chocolate cream-pie made out of Minnie’s own shit. This turns out to be the most important story in the book that Skeeter publishes, and a source of blackmail that removes any potential threat of retaliation from the evil White Queen. Because there were no problems in Jim Crow America that couldn’t be solved with a good fecal prank…..

Do white people watch black movies? – The Washington Post

Do white people watch black movies? – The Washington Post.

The answer is a resounding hell no. If there are no whites on the screen it ain’t gonna be seen. Black folks reaaly need to boycott white films for a few months to see if Hollywood can do without our economic support.

ABWW Heroine of the Day: Janet Collins

Ballerina and choreographer, Janet Collins (March 7, 1917 in New Orleans, Louisiana – May 28, 2003 in Fort Worth, Texas), becomes the first Black dancer to appear with the Metropolitan Opera Company…However, because of her race, she could not tour with them in parts of the deep South.

Janet Collins was one of the few classically trained Black dancers of her generation. In 1951 she won the Donaldson Award for best dancer on Broadway for her work in Cole Porter’s Out of This World. She also performed in Aida, Carmen, and was the first Black ballerina at the Metropolitan Opera. She could not tour in parts of the Deep South due to her race. In later life she taught dance.

Janet Collins was among the pioneers of black ballet dancing and paved the way for others to follow. (Arthur Mitchell, for example, joined the New York City Ballet in the year Collins retired.) In 1932, aged 15, she auditioned with success, for the prestigious Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, but as she was required to paint her face and skin white in order to be able to perform, she did not join the company.

Janet Collins struggled time and again against racism, which did not spare the world of professional ballet dancing. Not many African-American dancers and performers achieved the successful career she was able to attain. In 1951, Janet Collins became the first African American to be hired full-time by the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Marian Anderson, the first to sing there, did not perform until 1955.

Janet Collins’ dance reputation today resides primarily in her role in breaking the color barrier; the constraints on Black classical dancers were too strong for her to have a vibrant performing career. However, her original choreography, which she performed in solo tours, was clearly of note, although few records survive. In her late forties she retired, turning to religion and finding comfort as an oblate in the Benedictine order. She was also an accomplished painter. Janet Collins died in 2003 at the age of 86, in Fort Worth, Texas. In recognition of her great work and dedication, her renowned cousin Carmen De Lavallade established the Janet Collins Fellowship which would honor aspiring talented ballet dancers.

Courtesy of Harlin C. Kearsley via Wikipedia

ABWW Shoutout to: Aretha Franklin and Condoleeza Rice

Now this is an unusual combination! I wish I was in Philly to see this. Condi surrounded by black folks that are not her relatives? This probably has not happened since she left Birmingham. Miracles do happen.

Reposted from theGrio
MATT MOORE, Associated Press
NANCY C. ALBRITTON, Associated Press
07/27/2010
Condoleezza Rice is no stranger to the whims of royalty. So when the Queen of Soul herself, Aretha Franklin, decided the two should get together to play a song or two for charity, it was decreed. The former U.S. secretary of state and Franklin take the stage Tuesday evening at Philadelphia’s Mann Music Center in a rare duet for Rice, the classically trained pianist, and Franklin, the divalicious voice of a generation. Their aim is to raise money for urban children and awareness for music and the arts. “It is a joint effort for the inner-city youth of Philadelphia and Detroit,” Franklin told The Associated Press the night before their concert with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Their appearance will brim not only with Franklin’s catalog of hits, but arias from the world of opera and classical music.
“We decided to give it a try,” Franklin said. “So here we are, in the city of Brotherly — and Sisterly — Love.”

Rice, better known as a diplomat and national security adviser, will accompany Franklin singing her hits “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and “I Say a Little Prayer.” Rice said she’s been practicing furiously for her performance of Mozart’s piano concerto in D Minor with the orchestra. Franklin’s repertoire will include songs from her new album “A Woman Falling Out of Love,” to be released later this year. Rice’s given name is derived from the Italian opera stage instruction con dolcezza, meaning “with sweetness.” Long a musician of note, she played from elementary school through college and beyond, in quartets and performing chamber music.

She has even played with cellist Yo-Yo Ma but “this will be the first time I’ve played with an orchestra since I was 18,” she said. When she learned that Rice played classical music, Franklin sent for one of her recordings “to hear what she sounded like.”Previously, she said, “All I had seen of Dr. Rice was in a political atmosphere. It just seemed foreign that she would be a classical pianist.”Franklin was surprised.”She really does play,” Franklin said. “She’s formidable.”The two met at a White House function, Rice recalled. “We were just talking and chatting and she said ‘You play, don’t you?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ And she said we should do something together.” Rice told the AP their plan to play together was borne of their mutual appreciation for music and determination to keep it near and accessible to children.

Franklin, relaxing in her hotel suite and holding a single long-stemmed peach-hued rose, deplored school budget cuts of music and arts programs as “a travesty” that cannot be allowed. “Imagine what all of this would be without music. If you have to cut, cut something else. Not the music. We need the music. It soothes the savage beast. We need the music.” Rice, in a separate interview, agreed. “Nothing makes me more unhappy than when I hear people talk about music education in the schools as extracurricular,” Rice said. Both women lauded each other’s talents, and abilities, but Rice made it clear she’ll leave the singing to Franklin.”You do not want to hear me sing!” Rice said. “I’m a good choir musician, but I think I will stick to playing the piano.”

ABWW Heroine of the Day: Josephine Baker

La Baker was rose from the chitlin circuit in America to a one of France’s most honored national heroes. She transcended the gross stereotypes of African American women and became an icon of black femininity around the world.

Born Freda Josephine McDonald (June 3, 1906 – April 12, 1975) in St. Louis, Missouri, she later took the name Baker from her second husband, Willie Baker, whom she married at age 15.

Surviving the 1917 riots in East St. Louis, Illinois, where the family was living, Josephine Baker ran away a few years later at age thirteen and began dancing in vaudeville and on Broadway. In 1925, Josephine Baker went to Paris where, after the jazz revue La Revue Nègre failed, her comic ability and jazz dancing drew attention of the director of the Folies Bergère.

Virtually an instant hit, Josephine Baker became one of the best-known entertainers in both France and much of Europe. Her exotic, sensual act reinforced the creative images coming out of the Harlem Renaissance in America.

During World War II Josephine Baker worked with the Red Cross, gathered intelligence for the French Resistance and entertained troops in Africa and the Middle East.

After the war, Josephine Baker adopted, with her second husband, twelve children from around the world, making her home a World Village, a “showplace for brotherhood.” She returned to the stage in the 1950s to finance this project.

In 1951 in the United States, Josephine Baker was refused service at the famous Stork Club in New York City. Yelling at columnist Walter Winchell, another patron of the club, for not coming to her assistance, she was accused by Winchell of communist and fascist sympathies. Never as popular in the US as in Europe, she found herself fighting the rumors begun by Winchell as well.

Josephine Baker responded by crusading for racial equality, refusing to entertain in any club or theater that was not integrated, and thereby breaking the color bar at many establishments. In 1963, she spoke at the March on Washington at the side of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Josephine Baker’s World Village fell apart in the 1950s and in 1969 she was evicted from her chateau which was then auctioned off to pay debts. Princess Grace of Monaco gave her a villa. In 1973 Baker married an American, Robert Brady, and began her stage comeback.

In 1975, Josephine Baker’s Carnegie Hall comeback performance was a success, as was her subsequent Paris performance. But two days after her last Paris performance, she died of a stroke.
Check out some of her performances on youtube, get more information on this amazing woman at her official website and check out the TV autobiographical movie , The Josephine Baker Story staring Lynn Whitfield at Net Flicks or Blockbuster.

ABWW Heroine of the Day: Jackie “Moms” Mabley


Jackie “Moms” Mabley (March 19, 1894 – May 23, 1975) was an American standup comedian and a pioneer of the so-called “Chitlin’ Circuit” of African-American vaudeville. Moms Mabley was born Loretta Mary Aiken into a large family of twelve children in Brevard, North Carolina in 1894. Her father, James P. Aiken, owned and operated several businesses while her mother, Mary, kept home and took in boarders. Her father died a sudden accidental death when she was eleven. By the age of fifteen Mabley had reportedly been raped twice and had two children that were given up for adoption. After being pressured by her stepfather to marry a much older man [citation needed] and encouraged by her grandmother to strike out on her own, she ran away to Cleveland, Ohio with a traveling minstrel show where she began singing and entertaining.

She took her stage name, Jackie Mabley, from an early boyfriend, commenting to Ebony in a 1970s interview that he’d taken so much from her, it was the least she could do to take his name. Later she became known as “Moms” because she was indeed a “Mom” to many other comedians on the circuit in the 1950s and 60s. She was one of the top women doing stand-up in her heyday, and recorded more than 20 albums of comedy routines. She appeared in movies, on television, and in clubs.

Mabley was billed as “The Funniest Woman in the World”, and she tackled topics too edgy for many other comics of the time, including racism, one of her regular themes was her romantic interest in handsome young men rather than old “washed-up geezers”, and regularly got away with it courtesy of her on stage persona where she appeared as a toothless, bedraggled woman in a house dress and floppy hat. She added the occasional satirical song to her jokes; her version of “Abraham, Martin and John” hit #35 on the Billboard charts in the summer of 1969. At 75 years of age, Moms Mabley became the oldest person ever to have a US Top 40 hit.

Mabley was one of the most successful entertainers of the Chitlin’ circuit, earning US$10,000 a week at Harlem’s Apollo Theater at the height of her career. She made her New York City debut at Connie’s Inn in Harlem. In the 1960s, she become known to a wider white audience, playing Carnegie Hall in 1962, and making a number of mainstream TV appearances.Mabley died in White Plains, New York from heart failure.

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