Saturday, August 30, 2008

Episode 146: James Baldwin

If it hasn't already, the start of the new school year is right around the corner. So especially for everyone headed back to class, I offer up this episode featuring the one and only James Baldwin. In this episode, James Baldwin discusses the topic "Living and Growing in a White World" in a talk with students at predominantly black, Castlemont High School in Oakland, California. The important thing here though, at least to me, is that in this talk Mr. Baldwin is encouraging the students to learn how to think for themselves. To take in information and form their own conclusions about it, instead of regurgitating facts and the opinions of others. I'm not sure when this was actually recorded, but this talk was broadcast on June 23, 1963. So to all of the students out there...this one is for y'all. If you're in high school...stay focused and graduate (I'm talking to you cousin)! To all of the college hard, and learn to think!! Take an art class! Go Seminoles! Peace.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Episode 145: 1968 Democratic National Convention

With the 2008 DNC set to begin this week, I wanted to take y'all back to the 1968 DNC with this piece of radio coverage from Pacifica radio in Chicago. In this episode, broadcast live on August 28, 1968, correspondent Julius Lester is on the floor of the convention interviewing several black delegates from various parts of New York including Juanita Watkins, Guy R. Brewer, Edward J. Odom, Ted Childs, and Tyrell Duckworth, Sr., (as best as I can make out the names). This episode specifically highlights the massive disorganization between the democratic delegates, the black delegates in particular, and the members of the black caucus (today's Congressional Black Caucus - CBC). Julius Lester asks each delegate what action they believe the black caucus should take. He follows up with a question about the black delegates supporting the nomination of 'favorite son' Rev. Channing E. Phillips of Washington, D.C. as the party's nominee. Apparently the 1968 DNC went horribly, with disorganization inside and massive protests outside. But overall I thought this was an insightful piece of historical interviews, and I'm curious to see how it will compare to this year's convention (and the coverage of it). There is a lot of speculation and excitement surrounding this year's DNC, and I thought it would be worth looking back on how a convention went so badly forty years ago. Peace.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Episode 144: "Uncle Tom's Cabin" or "Life Among the Lowly"

I've had the desire to read this book for a while now, and after putting it off long enough, I finally decided to check out this copy of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" or "Life Among the Lowly" (first published in 1852). I just finished it last week...and truthfully I haven't stopped thinking about this story since. I can't believe that it took me so long to finally get around to reading it. This story is deep. Much better than I had anticipated. So I wanted to put out this episode (along with episode 143) and just let y'all know what I've been thinking about this classic American masterpiece.

First let me say, EVERYONE SHOULD READ THIS BOOK. For real. Going into it, I had my modern-day ideas of what an "Uncle Tom" is. Y'all know what I mean. We think of an "Uncle Tom" as some sellout ni**er, "yessuh...nossuh", type sucker. Actually reading this book blew those stereotypes out of the water. The character of Uncle Tom was so much more. Uncle Tom is a Christ-like character, a true Christian willing to endure pain and suffering rather than violate his morals with the belief that he would be rewarded in the next life. In that vein, an "Uncle Tom" is actually much more similar to MLK or Ghandi in his actions and beliefs. It's really a shame the way this story has been distorted and tarnished over the years, and I definitely have my opinions as to why it has been. But I'll get to those in a second. First let me start with the basics.

The story itself is written in a style much like a play or screenplay, and this makes it really easy to read and follow (despite some of the old timey language - warning: the word nigger is used throughout this book like it's no big deal). And this particular version was published in 1900 as a children's book with nice big type and interesting black and white illustrations throughout. So even if you're not big on reading, I would recommend just flipping through the illustrations in this book. They'll definitely grab your attention.

Secondly, "Uncle Tom's Cabin" is a story about morality and family, and how those themes were challenged by the institution of slavery in this country. The author, Harriet Beecher Stowe, did a great job of creating characters both black and white that connect and resonate with the reader, even though they were mostly pretty flat and stereotypical. However the characters' dealings with each other is what makes the story great. Now let's get to the plot.


The story starts off dealing with the characters of Eliza, the fair-skinned (they use the terms mulatto, octaroon, and quadroon a lot in this story) house slave of a pretty well-to-do white Kentucky family. Eliza has a young son named Harry with her husband George Harris, who is a fair-skinned worker slave on a neighboring plantation. George is a very smart man who has a hard life dealing with his jackass of a master, and finds consolation in his family. George is, however, about to lose his mind with the way he is treated and is ready to try and run away to the north to try and get freedom for himself and eventually his young family. The drama starts however, when Eliza's master falls on hard times and is forced to sell off a few of his slaves to a (ni**er) trader, and they settle on her young son Harry and old Uncle Tom. Well this news is simply too much for Eliza to handle, and she decides to also try and escape with her son rather than have him shipped down south to God-knows-where and completely break up her already fracturing family.

The second storyline involves the life of Uncle Tom, another faithful slave on the Kentucky plantation who is chosen to be sold down south to pay off his master's debt. This is another aspect of the book that is told vividly, just how much the slaves are deemed the property ("mind, body, and soul") of their masters to be broken up, bought, and sold on a whim. Uncle Tom has a personality opposite of the slave George however. He humbly accepts his fate, and sacrifices himself to be sold in order to keep the rest of his family secure. Uncle Tom had accepted Christ while being enslaved. And although he was enslaved and illiterate, he did his best to try and read and study his Bible, and was devoted to a life of honesty and integrity.

Well to make a long story short, after these events set the story in motion, George, Eliza, and Harry must adventure along the underground railroad aided by well-meaning whites to obtain their freedom in Canada. Uncle Tom on the other hand is sold down south, and lives out his life first with the St. Claire family in New Orleans before circumstances take him to another plantation (probably in Texas or Oklahoma) near the Red River where he is subjected to the stereotypically cruel master Simon Legree.

It's Uncle Tom's time in New Orleans with the St. Claire family that tests a lot of the moral and Christian themes of the story. The St. Claire family believe themselves to be good people, yet are forced (mostly through their very Christian and sympathetic young daughter Eva) to confront the moral of the story, that Christianity and slave ownership are morally and philosophically incompatible. This element of the story drives home two points to the reader. First is to expose the hypocrisy typical of many who decried slavery but could not love anyone of a differing background from their own (and most especially those of a different race). The second was to reinforce the overall moral of the story with the idea that Christians could not afford to wait to do something to end slave ownership.

The other pieces of the story that were unexpected to me, are first that the Harris family eventually make their way to Liberia in Africa. I guess you can consider this the happy ending, and it seems to show that the author believed that the best way for the ex-slaves to find peace and happiness was to leave the United States (as the Harris family does...first to Canada, and then making their way to Liberia). I wonder if this is truly what the author felt, or was a widely held belief in the years this was written (leading up to the Civil War).

Also, the eventual liberation of many of the other slaves in the story, based on the suffering endured by Uncle Tom and his continued nonviolent resistance to so much evil is so Christ-like, it is beautiful although tragic. Contrasting Uncle Tom with George, one can see the two choices a man can take when being faced with being enslaved and separated from his family. While George chooses the more natural reaction of resisting (sometimes violently) to gain freedom for himself and his family, Uncle Tom chooses to view it all as God's will, and bravely submit to the cruelty and sorrow he knows will face him and the family he leaves behind.

All in all, this story is worth reading. After finishing it I can see how it would have had such a powerful impact on the conscience of this nation back when slavery was a normal way of life. This book was the best selling novel of the 19th century, and was acted out and retold for decades afterward through stage plays, minstrel shows, and cartoons (like previous episodes 13 and 143). There is a great link where you can see the impact this story (particularly the saga of Eliza) had on American entertainment here (check out the video snippets at this

Unfortunately, the characters of this story were also used and distorted to create several negative stereotypes of blacks, as well as the story itself being twisted into different types of racist propaganda. It seems it fit white audiences fine in the following decades to turn this tale of compassion and morality into a joke or a gag...and in turn strip it of it's power to challenge the hypocritical Christian beliefs held by so many in this country. To me that is truly a tragedy, and does not do justice to the book's legacy, the author's intent, or the lasting impact that the story itself has on one's conscience.

Lastly, I would actually be interested in seeing this book (if the story is kept intact) being turned into a modern day film. I think the power of the story along with the powerful imagery it evokes would really be something to see. Also I would be curious to see how it would be accepted by today's audience. Just an afterthought.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Episode 143: "Eliza on Ice"

Apparently the story of a slave master and his dogs chasing down a runaway slave woman and her infant son was a funny idea for a cartoon not too long ago. "Eliza on Ice" is a rare Mighty Mouse cartoon (does anyone out there remember Mighty Mouse?) from 1944 that was a parody of the classic novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin" featuring the characters Eliza, her young son Harry, Simon Legree, and Lil' Eva (similar to previous episode 13, you'll have to scroll way down to go back to that one). Overall, this cartoon is just strange, and it completely distorts the plot of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" in the worst way. First of all, Uncle Tom is the race starter in this piece, asking everyone (including the dogs) if they're ready before the chase ensues. Then Simon and his dogs go about chasing Eliza and the baby through several scenes of winter landscape, including the famous river crossing scene (in which Eliza runs across a slot machine that jackpots the ice that keeps the chase going). Watching this episode after episode 13's "Uncle Tom's Bungalow", it's funny how the cartoons seemed to copy each other's gags (although "Uncle Tom's Bungalow" was produced seven years earlier...I guess some jokes are so good you can rip 'em off and do 'em twice). Finally, after getting a call from the angelic form of Lil' Eva in heaven, Mighty Mouse springs into action. Mighty Mouse flies down just in time to battle Simon Legree and his dogs aboard a river paddle boat, and save Eliza and Harry from plummeting to their demise over a waterfall. As much as I love cartoons, the subcontext of this one is still puzzling to me (but I'd love to hear anyone else's opinion of it). So in the end Mighty Mouse is a freedom fighting abolitionist! Who woulda thunk it!!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Episode 142: 1964 Olympics Newsreel

With the Olympic games in full swing, and the track-and-field events set to start this weekend, I thought that it'd be a good time to put out this episode and take a look back at some footage from on the track from back in the day. This episode is an old Universal Newsreel (they used to play these in the movie theaters, now they play commercials...boooo) of a few of the standout track-and-field events, as well as the closing ceremony of the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. The featured athletes in this clip are "Bullet" Bob Hayes, the anchor leg of the 4x400 U.S. relay team, and the Florida A&M and Dallas Cowboys star. Also spotlighted is Abebe Bikila, the Ethiopian runner who became the first person to win the Olympic marathon twice. It's an entertaining little piece of Olympic history, and a teaser for some track and field events. Enjoy...Peace.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Black Cinema Stamps

In a bit of unadmitted government publicity for the BMA podcast (wink, wink) the U.S. Postal Service has issued a set of Classic Black Cinema Poster postage stamps. Check out the story that appeared in USA Today here, and you can see images of all the stamps in this collection here. The other images included in this series are posters for the films "The Sport of the Gods" (1921), "Black and Tan" (1929), "Caldonia" (1945), "Princess Tam-Tam" (1935), and "Hallelujah" (1929), which is also available on previously released BMA episode 91. I'm a see if I can get my hands on copies of the other films for y'all.

Thanks Mac for passing this on! Peace.

Episode 141: James L. Farmer, Jr.

This episode features James L. Farmer, Jr. (also appearing in episode 75, and portrayed as the youngest member of the Wiley College debate team in the film, "The Great Debaters"), co-founder of CORE in a November 13,1992 appearance on the show "Open Mind". In this episode, he discusses the topic of his role and reflections on the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 60s, as well as his views on where it all stood in the early to mid-1990s. Farmer shares some interesting opinions in this episode, and it's always interesting to me to hear members of previous generations take a look at what they feel they were successful in accomplishing, as well as some of the shortcomings that need to still be addressed. This episode is exactly that, and I wanted to share it with the BMA audience. Peace.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Episode 140: "Motherless Children Have a Hard Time"

Here we are at episode 140...and in this episode, I bring to you for your listening pleasure blues legend Blind Willie Johnson singing "Motherless Children Have a Hard Time". Now I like this song...there's such truth in just the title alone. Blind Willie recorded this one on December 3, 1927 in Dallas, Texas. The original title of the song "Mother's Children Have a Hard Time" was a garbled translation of someone trying to decipher Johnson's singing, which is understandable as Willie has a deep, gravely voice. It makes me think of a blues singing Buju Banton. A native Texan, Blind Willie has one heck of a legend/story. According to whoever tells this stuff, it is reputed that Johnson was blinded as a child by his stepmother in a fit of anger after she was discovered in bed with another man by Johnson's father, who then beat her. The stepmother then picked up a handful of lye and threw it, not at Willie's father, but into the face of young Willie.

Nevertheless, Willie became a master at the slide guitar whose music straddled the border between blues and spirituals. While the lyrics of all of his songs were religious, his music drew from both sacred and blues traditions.

Blind Willie Johnson was born in 1897 near Brenham, Texas and remained poor until the end of his life, preaching and singing in the streets of Beaumont, Texas to anyone who would listen. A city directory shows that in 1944, a Rev W. J. Johnson, undoubtedly Blind Willie, operated the House of Prayer at 1440 Forrest Street, Beaumont, Texas. This is the same address listed on Blind Willie's death certificate. In 1945, his home burned to the ground. With nowhere else to go, Johnson lived in the burned ruins of his home, sleeping on a wet bed. He lived like this until he contracted pneumonia two weeks later, and died.

Johnson made 30 commercial recording studio record sides in five separate sessions for Columbia Records from 1927–1930. His music has influenced a number of artists, and his songs have been remade by more than a few. This record is one of my favorites, and I hope that y'all enjoy it too. Peace.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Episode 139: Mahalia Jackson

I needed a little encouragement on Sunday, so this episode is the beautifully brilliant Mahalia Jackson in a November 12, 1957 appearance on the short lived "Nat King Cole Show" on NBC. In this episode Mahalia sang two songs, the one included in this episode is "Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho". Mahalia Jackson was featured in Nat's then-current movie "St. Louis Blues," which is a pretty good should check it out if you get the chance. But this episode is Mahalia at her best, so listen and be encouraged as you work through this week. Peace.