The press emphasized the riot’s injustice with headlines in other newspapers like “Riot a National Disgrace: Negroes Did Not Start Trouble,” “Lawyer Warns Chicago Negroes to Arm Selves,” “Mobs Massed in Streets Shoot Negroes Fleeing from Burning Houses: State Troops are Disarmed and Police Seem Powerless” and “Man-Hunting Mobs Burn 60 Homes and Slay Fleeing Blacks by Bullet and Rope.”
by Wanda Sabir
2017 marks the centennial of the nation’s bloodiest race riot in the 20th century in East St. Louis, Illinois. Migrant Black people were hired to work as miners to replace striking white workers at the Aluminum Ore Co. The white workers stormed City Hall demanding redress from the mayor.
Shortly thereafter, news of an attempted robbery of a white man by an armed Black man set off the reign of terror in downtown East St. Louis in which unarmed Black men, women and children were pulled from trollies and street cars and beaten and shot down in the street. Illinois Gov. Frank O. Lowden called in the National Guard to quell the disturbance through June 10, yet when the National Guard left, the white workers were without job security, their union unrecognized.
This photo of a Black victim of the bloody white riot in East St. Louis on July 2, 1917, is one of very few that exist. Rioters smashed every camera they saw, and police chased away journalists trying to cover the riot.
Let’s just say the animosity was on simmer, the flame turned up once again July 2. In July, the white mobs burned down the houses of Black residents and killed unarmed Black men, women and children. Lynchings also occurred. The violence was so intense, East St. Louis police and National Guard were reported “fleeing the scenes of murder and arson” and/or not responding to Black calls of distress at all (blackpast.org).
From its onset May 28 to July 2, such travesties of justice were revealed in a published report, “Massacre at East St. Louis,” by W.E.B. Dubois and Martha Gruening for the NAACP, and a year later by an independent investigation initiated by a Special Committee of the United States House of Representatives (blackpast.org).
On July 8, 1917, UNIA President Marcus Garvey said, “This is a crime against the laws of humanity; it is a crime against the laws of the nation, it is a crime against nature and a crime against the God of all mankind.” He also believed that the entire riot was part of a larger conspiracy against African Americans who migrated North in search of a better life: “The whole thing, my friends, is a bloody farce, and that the police and soldiers did nothing to stem the murder thirst of the mob is a conspiracy on the part of the civil authorities to condone the acts of the white mob against Negroes” (blackpast.org).
The City of East St. Louis has a series of events planned for this centennial year to honor the lives of these innocent Black victims of hate crimes. Visit http://www.estl1917ccci.org/. One of the key architects of the Centennial Commemoration is East St. Louis Poet Laureate and Scholar Eugene Redmond.
Watch this coverage where Father Joseph Brown speaks of his father mentioning hiding people under beds during the violence: http://www.bnd.com/news/local/article118063163.html.
Spoken Birds Fly Outta East Saint Louis, Illinois: 1917-2017
Blues-ode for Mr. & Mrs. ‘Sippi, King & Queen of Nineteen Seventeen
by Eugene B. Redmond
as century-aged ancestors-in-the-flesh,
we’re East Saint, Kinlock, Ferguson & Kush:
ridin’ ash-borne flights of Sankofa-woke words,
re-risen, Phoenix-like, as hip Spoken Birds:
flyin’ straits outta these Flaming Racial Quakes
that shake DuBois, Garvey, Ida B. & Faiths …
now, in hatred’s one-hundred-year-old wake,
hate again combusts as hatred incarnate –
in spates of urban slaughter at epidemic rates.
but we’re still our own keepsakes
who fly, who row, who chart our hearthwork’s flow:
&, as all y’all know, with history ahead of us,
Tomorrow’s Soular Trove’s in tow
Eugene B. Redmond can be reached at email@example.com.
This commemoration of the ancestors who died violent deaths is necessary for the healing of not just Black souls, but the soul of the nation. Similarly, Bryan Stevenson, Equal Justice Initiative, has started documenting lynchings and has plans for a memorial in Montgomery, Alabama in 2018. There will be 4,000 names listed. See http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/lynching-memorial-aims-help-u-s-acknowledge-history-terror/.
He says in a Newshour interview: “We are really burdened by this legacy. And I don’t think we have acknowledged it adequately. We terrorized African-Americans at the end of the 19th century and through half of the 20th century. The demographic geography of this country was shaped by this era of racial terror and lynching.
“The Black people who went to Cleveland and Chicago and Detroit went there as refugees and exiles from terror. And we haven’t owned up to it. And I think we need to. It took us 15 years to build a 9/11 memorial here in New York.”
Stevenson says our freedom is linked to this silence.
In the Name of Love
Martin King is known as the man of love, love as a weapon for peace. However, his association with this term has been seen as both a strength and a weakness. King is best known for his “love ethic,” something bell hooks defends in an essay by similar title. In the essay, hooks, cultural critic and scholar, states:
“It is truly amazing that King had the courage to speak as much as he did about the transformative power of love in a culture where such talk is often seen as merely sentimental. In progressive political circles, to speak of love is to guarantee that one will be dismissed or considered naive.
“But outside those circles there are many people who openly acknowledge that they are consumed by feelings of self-hatred, who feel worthless, who want a way out. Often they are too trapped by paralyzing despair to be able to engage effectively in any movement for social change. However, if the leaders of such movements refuse to address the anguish and pain of their lives, they will never be motivated to consider personal and political recovery. Any political movement that can effectively address these needs of the spirit in the context of liberation struggle will succeed. …
“Choosing love we also choose to live in community, and that means that we do not have to change by ourselves. … African American theologian Howard Thurman believed that we best learn love as the practice of freedom in the context of community. ‘Truth becomes true in community. The social order hungers for a center (i.e. spirit, soul) that gives it identity, power and purpose. America, and all cultural entities, are in search of a soul.’”
Jan. 20 this country steps into a new paradigm, one unanticipated, certainly not expected, yet seen as an opportunity. The Trump paradigm is an opportunity for those people whose work honors this legacy to move from the philosophical to the practical. As millions of women and girls plan to show up at the inaugural festivities to put the new administration on notice, all Americans are called to step it up, be actively engaged rather than passively along for the ride.
These are the artists prepared to uplift everyone who attends “In the Name of Love,” Living Jazz’s annual tribute to Martin Luther King. It’s on his actual birthday this year, Jan. 15. Don’t miss it!
The 15th Anniversary of In the Name of Love, A Musical Tribute Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is Sunday, Jan. 15, 7 p.m., at the Oakland Scottish Rite Center, 1547 Lakeside Drive. Jan. 15 would have been King’s 88th birthday.
The theme is Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?” Special guests are Kenny Washington, Terri Odabi, Will Russ, Destani Wolf and Luq Frank; Tammy Hall, pianist, Marcus Shelby, bassist, Sly Randolph, drummer, John Santos, percussionist, and Teo Avery, saxophonist, are the house band. Other guests are the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, Living Jazz Children’s Project with the Oakland School for the Arts Ensemble. Dana King is mistress of ceremonies and will present the Humanitarian of the Year Award to Glenn Upshaw, Violence Interrupter, Youth Alive.
The program is a benefit for the Living Jazz Children’s Project, a free music education for Oakland public elementary schools. For tickets and information, call 510-858-5313 or visit mlktribute.com. Tickets are $25-$40; children $8-$12.
Other MLK Jr. events
The Dance Brigade presents ‘Gracias A La Vida: Love in a Bitter Time’
“Your silence will not protect you,” Audre Lorde said. With “Gracias a La Vida: Love in a Bitter Time,” Dance Brigade celebrates 40 years of activism through the arts. This program, created by Krissy Keefer, opens Friday, Jan. 13, 7:30 p.m., and continues on Saturday, Jan. 14, 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theatre, 700 Howard St., San Francisco. Tickets are $10-$40. The Saturday matinee is $5. Get tickets at ybca.org or 415-978-ARTS. For information, visit DanceMission.com or call 415-826-4441.
MLK Jr. Day 2017: Justice in the Beloved Community
Northern California MLK Community Foundation in its Martin Luther King Day 2017 calendar lists many activities, from Freedom Breakfast to concerts and lectures.
Perspectives at OMCA: Two Generations of Black Struggle
Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, 2 p.m., the day after the new U.S. president is sworn in, Bobby Seale, co-founder of the Black Panther Party, will share his stories, his reflections and his strategies concerning the politics of revolution with Oakland poet, educator, playwright and screenwriter Chinaka Hodge. Hear from these two speakers, whose experience includes a range of cultural and political work, as they share their perspectives on the past and present iterations of Black struggle in the US and Oakland. Tickets are $18 for OMCA members and $20 general admission. Seating is limited and advance purchase of tickets is required. Go to http://museumca.org/2016/perspectives-omca-two-generations-black-struggle.
‘Mama at Twilight: Death by Love’
The Lower Bottom Playaz proudly present “Mama at Twilight: Death by Love,” written and directed by Ayodele Nzinga, at The Flight Deck, 1540 Broadway, Oakland. It will preview on Jan. 12 and runs through Jan. 29.
“Mama at Twilight: Death by Love” is a love story that offers a frank examination of family life in the inner-city as it intersects mass incarceration, poor access to health care, religious taboos, and struggles under the burden of imposed tropes of man and womanhood. The Jefferson family is an American family trying to find their way into the American dream with a closet full of family secrets that make love a difficult and bruising task. This is the story of their roadblocks, the societal obstacles and the burden of their undying love for one another.
The Lower Bottom Playaz traditionally offer works that interrogate the experience of being human through the lens of the North American African experience. “Mama at Twilight: Death by Love” follows this tradition and closes the Playaz’ Season17: Ubuntu. This is a reprisal of the work that toured Northern California in 2009 to enthusiastic audiences and was produced by the City of Oakland as a part of National AIDS week to draw attention to the necessity of testing to prevent the spread of HIV.
Independent Lens 2017 Winter Spring Season
Titles include two films that explore tragic incidents of gun violence that shook the nation: “Newtown,” about the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, and “TOWER,” about the 1966 mass shooting at the University of Texas.
“The Witness” offers a fresh look into the notorious 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese, which quickly became a symbol of urban apathy.
Race and identity – both cultural and personal – are explored in several films, including “Accidental Courtesy,” a profile of an African American musician on a quest to fight racism by befriending members of the KKK; “Best and Most Beautiful Things” about a young blind woman’s journey of self-discovery; “Birth of a Movement” about the racial uproar that surrounded the 1915 release of D.W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation”; “What Was Ours” about Native Americans seeking to reclaim lost tribal artifacts; and “Real Boy,” the story of a transgender teenager on a journey to find his voice. Visit http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/.
Independent Lens airs Monday nights at 10 p.m. on PBS, and all films are available for free online streaming the day after broadcast on the Independent Lens website. Independent Lens will also stream a selection of some of the most popular and award-winning films from previous seasons in the weeks leading up to the new season launch on Dec. 26.
West Coast Premiere: Native Son
“Native Son” by Nambi E. Kelley, adapted from the novel by Richard Wright, directed by Seret Scott, has its West Coast premiere at Marin Theatre Company Jan. 19-Feb. 12. MTC is located at 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley, 415-388-5208. Visit marintheatre.org.
Bigger Thomas reminds us of Malcolm Little. Both boys wanted more from life then white America allowed. Bigger wanted to be a pilot; Malcolm wanted to be an attorney. Life served them a different meal. Nambi E. Kelly’s “Xtigone,” directed by Rhodessa Jones for African American Shakespeare Company, met with critical acclaim by San Francisco audiences. It was the story of Antigone and her brother set in the present.
Now the playwright tackles the story of dreams deferred – does the dream shrivel … run syrupy sweet or does it explode? as Langston Hughes asked. When I was teaching a composition class at Contra Costa College, we cast Bigger Thomas as OJ Simpson to explore options for Black men when all seem exhausted. Listen to the interview with director Ms. Jones and principal performer Ryan Nicole Austin (Tig) on Wanda’s Picks Radio Show, February 11, 2015.
27th Annual Celebration of African American Poets and Their Poetry
Please join us for the 27th Annual Celebration of African American Poets and Their Poetry, Saturday, Feb. 4, 1-4 p.m.. at the West Oakland Branch Library, 1801 Adeline St., Oakland. Community members of all ages are invited to participate by reading poetry, performing, dancing or/and displaying works of art. This year’s theme is The Crisis in Black Education, although all themes are welcome. If you’re interested in being featured in this program, please call 510-238-7352 to register. There will be a rehearsal Saturday, Jan. 28, 10 a.m. to 12 noon at the library.
Publish your own novel
How to Publish Your Own Novel Workshop will be held Saturday, Jan. 7, 10:30 a.m.-1 p.m., at the West Oakland Branch Library, 1801 Adeline St. Author King William says of his workshop: “While I am sure that everyone has their own method, as an author and publisher of four books, I have a tried and true technique to share with you to get you started on your literary career.”
Remembering Fidel Castro in Berkeley
¡VIVA FIDEL! The Struggle Continues/La Lucha Continúa is Saturday, Jan. 14, at La Peña Cultural Center, 3105 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, $10 general entrance, but no one will be turned away for lack of funds. The doors open at 6:30 p.m., and the program will start at 7 p.m. There will be a photo exhibit, live music, poetry and a panel discussion on Fidel’s legacy, the Cuban Revolution and how to move forward to end the blockade.
Hubert Collins Washington (May 2, 1939-Dec. 13, 2016)
Hubert Collins Washington says he first met me at La Peña Cultural Center at a performance of Black Poets with Attitudes. I recall the interview he granted me when I was completing an Oral History class. It was over chicken and waffles at a Black restaurant by the same name. My project was interviews with veterans of World War II; Hubert was a Vietnam veteran.
He served as a chaplain’s assistant in Louisiana. He came to Oakland when he was 19 or 20 and stayed with his uncle and aunt. While studying to be a doctor, he took a class with Huey P. Newton. It was an accounting class. Hubert says he was closer to Huey’s older brother, Melvin.
Hubert Collins Washington and Wanda attend the Iconic Black Panther Party exhibit, the last one before he was too weak to go out. – Photo: Wanda Sabir
Hubert shared this story with us at the Iconic Black Panther exhibit. It was the last exhibit he attended before he got too sick to leave the rehabilitation hospital. I’d wanted to take him to the All Power to the People exhibit at the Oakland Museum, but his health wasn’t up to the excursion.
A great storyteller, Hubert was also a great illustrator – his block prints of Gwendolyn Brooks (he tells me) were stunning. He also took photos of most of the poets in the early San Francisco Black arts scene, especially writers like Bob Kaufman, devorah major, Opal Palmer Adisa, Reggie Major. When President Obama was elected to office, Hubert attended both inaugurations. For the second one, he didn’t even have a place to stay and spoke about how cold his feet were. He said he was there for the ancestors.
He kept a tablet and drew a sketch each day of the president’s term. It was one of many losses when his house was repossessed. He was in the hospital recovering from prostate cancer when the locks were changed and his possessions thrown away. He never fully recovered from the blow and started talking about leaving California long before the cancer returned with a vengeance this summer, 10 years later.
A founding member of the Community Reform Church of Oakland, he taught many Sunday School children in his 50-year tenure, like Rev. Gladion Carney (Alabama) and his brother, Kenneth Carney (Sacramento). We listened the evening before he died to messages from friends and relatives like Ann (his elder sister Marie’s daughter), Barbara (Evelyn’s mom), Luella, Dave Holly, Helen, Tony, me, Joe Lucas, Jean Livingston, Joanne Lucas, McBain, Lettie and Carol.
As the messages played, Hubert smiled as he listened to their prayers and good cheer. I waved goodbye as he looked at me, more alert than previous evenings. He even thanked me for visiting. I told him I’d come by after work the next day, and I was getting ready to do just that when I got a call from Mr. Holly that Hubert had made his transition that afternoon about 2:50 p.m. It was less than an hour after Oliver left.
A lifetime seems endless while we are on the road.
Hubert loved his family and told me how he went to Detroit to celebrate his niece’s graduation by taking her to meet the poet laureate of Detroit, Naomi Long Madgett, 93, founder of Lotus Press, Godmother of Poetry. Hubert says of the visit that Mrs. Madgett was generous with her time. Hubert loved literature and always had a book by a Black author in his hands. The book was often wrapped in a paper bag, he also had the latest Black papers. When I visited him, I always took him something to read, the San Francisco Bay View, the Oakland Post and, that last weekend, the program from the Oakland East Bay Symphony’s “Let Us Break Bread” concert. Hubert retired after working as a mail man.
He taught art classes at Arroyo Viejo Park in Oakland and received first prize for his ceramic sculptures in the Emeryville Art Show two years in a row. He graduated from Cal State Hayward, where he took studio art classes. It was there he met Arthur Monroe, painter, arts administrator and architect of the Black artists’ contingent from the West Coast to the Second World Festival of Black and African Culture, in Lagos in 1977. Little would I know that I would attend the Third World Festival of Black and African Arts and Culture – widely known as FESMAN – in Dakar in 2010.
Hubert was so encouraging and full of great ideas. I hadn’t known he played the mbira, the Shona harp. I had one made for him in Zimbabwe a couple of years ago when I was there. Hubert introduced me to the Black arts scene 15-20 years ago. I had been a sheltered housewife, now liberated collegiate with weekends free – at least two a month (smile).
My sophisticated friend knew all the Black writers, like devorah major, Opal Palmer Adisa, Mona Lisa Saloy and others. He would tell me who to ask for an interview, like Raymond Saunders (smile). He always thought about legacy and whose legacy needed preserving. I couldn’t keep up and some of these tips went unanswered.
His people were in high places. I remember when Hubert left town to attend the inauguration of his nephew into a mayoral office in Louisiana somewhere – the first Black man in such a position. But back to Ray Saunders, I had no idea that the famous artist would end up being my younger daughter’s teacher at the California College of Arts and Crafts (now CCA).
I still have the photo Hubert took of TaSin and me outside the Oakland Museum one Sunday, in front of the sign which announced Saunders’s retrospective exhibition. Talk about foreshadowing. TaSin went to visit Hubert that last weekend. She got him a burger and a vanilla milkshake. He ate a bit of the burger for her and drank half the milk shake. I think this was his last meal.
Hubert is survived by his friends in Oakland and Detroit, Oliver Wendell Holmes, David Holly, Tony Thompson, Wanda Sabir, two sisters, Marie and Esther, a brother, a sister-in-law, nieces, cousins and of course lots of friends. He also has other relatives in the Central Valley.
There was no service for Hubert – he was cremated, his ashes sent to Detroit – long story, so we would like to have something for him this month. Please send Hubert stories to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have any photos, especially of his art, send them too.
Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached at email@example.com. Visit her website at www.wandaspicks.com throughout the month for updates to Wanda’s Picks, her blog, photos and Wanda’s Picks Radio. Her shows are streamed live Wednesdays at 7 a.m. and Fridays at 8 a.m., can be heard by phone at 347-237-4610 and are archived at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks.