Happy New Year!

1 Jan

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Merry Christmas

24 Dec

The Christmas season is hard on folks who are too broke to pay attention. But if you are a literary giant like Langston Hughes, your DIY Christmas cards end up on display at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.

Michael Morand, the Beinecke Library’s communications director, told Hyperallergic:

Langston Hughes’s extensive archives provide numerous insights into his long life and career. His 1950 typewritten Christmas postcards illuminate a period when his finances were limited though his friendships remained abundant. He wittily addressed his wide circle of friends that year with verse that tell how times were tough and still convey resilience and joy. Likewise, the 17 boxes in the archives of Christmas cards he received and kept over many decades demonstrate the breadth and depth of his personal and professional relationships with other cultural and civic leaders.

Langston Hughes - Broke and Busted2

Public Art Matters in Stone Mountain

18 Dec

I lived in Atlanta-DeKalb County for three years. Although Stone Mountain is in DeKalb County, I never went there. For most of the 20th century Stone Mountain was effectively a “sundown town” which African Americans entered at their own risk.

Sundown Towns

Stone Mountain, the birthplace of the modern Ku Klux Klan, was called out by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his “I Have A Dream” speech. The city is home to the country’s largest Confederate monument.

Stone Mountain Confederate Memorial

In the wake of the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, cities across the country have removed Confederate monuments. However, Stone Mountain, which is now overwhelmingly black, can’t touch the symbol of hate and white supremacy. The reason: In 2001, the Republican-controlled legislature passed Ga. Code § 50-30-1.

Stone Mountain - Georgia Statue

The United Daughters of the Confederacy used public art to propagate the “Lost Cause” mythology and romanticize the Confederate generals who tried to destroy the Union. The false narrative is believed by alleged child molester and sore loser Roy Moore who longs for the good old days when his ancestors could buy my ancestors:

I think it was great at the time when families were united — even though we had slavery — they cared for one another…. Our families were strong, our country had a direction.

This short documentary by Field of Vision shows how fake news was embedded in white Southerners’ psyche.

Leonard Bernstein@100

4 Dec

This year marks the centennial birthday of several jazz luminaries, including Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Lena Horne and Thelonious Monk. Philharmonic Laureate Conductor Leonard Bernstein was born on August 25, 1918 but the celebrations are already underway. The worldwide festivities will continue until August 25, 2019.

Leonard Bernstein

Bernstein had a longstanding appreciation of jazz, blues and spirituals. His 1939 Harvard University bachelor’s thesis was entitled, “The Absorption of Race Elements into American Music.”

From LeonardBernstein.com:

From his earliest years, jazz was an integral part of Bernstein’s life, and it made a crucial impact on his own music.

As a teenager in the 1930s, he put together a jazz band, was famous for his jazz piano playing at parties, and directed a swing band at summer camp. Some of the jazz-inflected music he composed in the mid-1930s at Harvard, and later at Curtis [Institute], provided source material for future works. Perhaps most significantly, his undergraduate thesis was no less than an assertion that jazz is the universal basis of American composition. In New York soon after college, he got to know jazz intimately, by day transcribing for publication the improvisations of legendary players like Coleman Hawkins, and playing piano in jazz clubs at night.

About 15 years ago, I first saw this video of Bernstein conducting Louis Armstrong performing “St. Louis Blues” with the composer, W.C. Handy, in the audience. The images are forever etched in my mind.


Last Saturday, I attended the Louis Bernstein Marathon at the CUNY Graduate Center, an eight-hour concert that featured performances of Bernstein’s most popular work. For me, the event was a mash-up of two of my passions: good music and historic preservation. The CUNY Graduate Center is located in the repurposed B. Altman & Co.

B. Altman

For Louis Bernstein at 100 calendar of events, go here.

Boycott Denver’s ink! Coffee

27 Nov

In cities across the country, gentrification is displacing African Americans. In the District of Columbia, for instance, a new study found that for the first time in nearly 60 years, the city’s black population dipped below 50 percent. Historically black neighborhoods are being transformed into “gilded ghettos” for white millennials.

At the same time, gentrification is erasing African American cultural heritage from public memory. In Philadelphia,
the Royal Theater, once considered “American’s Finest Colored Photoplay House,” has been reduced to a façade.

Royal Theater

To raise money to pay for the sins — and crimes — of its priests, the Archdiocese wants to sell St. Peter Claver Catholic Church, the Mother Church of Philadelphia’s black Catholics.

St. Peter Claver Catholic Church

The historic church is listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. So prospective buyers should take note there will be hell to pay if they try to demolish the historic properties.

In Denver, gentrifiers are moving into Five Points, once known as the Harlem of the West. As gentrifiers move in, longtime African American residents are displaced. To rub salt in the wound, a local coffee chain, ink! Coffee, celebrates gentrifying the neighborhood.

Ink Coffee - Five Points

The chain’s founder, Keith Herbert, said it was a “joke.” Well, the joke is on him. The in-your-face sign of white privilege garnered negative headlines from coast-to-coast (herehere and here). In a Facebook post, Herbert apologized for the “joke”:

I have been following the comments on social media and listening to our customers, and I want you to know that I hear you. I have used the last 24 hours to listen to your perspectives, and to better educate myself on gentrification. I am embarrassed to say that I did not fully appreciate the very real and troubling issue of gentrification, and I want to sincerely apologize to those who understand firsthand the hardship and cultural consequences that gentrification has caused in the Five Points neighborhood, throughout the City and County of Denver and in communities throughout our state.

Hebert said he will “educate” himself about the issue. If he had not closed the Five Points location on Saturday, the hundreds of protesters would have schooled him that gentrification is no laughing matter to those who are pushed out.

Ink Coffee - Five Points - Protest

Community leaders and activists have called for a boycott of ink! If you have family or friends in the Denver area, please help spread the word: #DontDrinkInk.

Don't Drink Ink Collage2
I’m a coffee drinker but I would rather drink muddy water than a drop of the white privilege ink! is brewing.

UPDATE: The creative “genius” behind the ink! Coffee sandwich-board sign, Cultivator Advertising & Design, Inc., has taken its website offline.

Cultivator Advertising

Now that’s funny.

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