When I met sculptor Francis Miller, he was finishing up a days work on Deerfield’s Civil war monument. He was putting his tools in his truck and probably about to drive off but then I came…and two more people after that.
I had always wanted to hear a sculpture’s opinion about historic monuments being taken down and after introducing myself he very kindly, answered my questions.
What you think about historic monuments being taken down?
… I think about the reason it was put up and how it functions today…if something is causing harm, it is a problem…however, there’s a flip side. I understand why so many people- white people in the south predominantly- are tying to hold on to these Civil War icons… icons to them [anyway].
I did some work in Arkansas at the national cemetery on the Minnesota monument. After the war they brought down grand from Minnesota- beautiful grand plant- they built a really tall, a 10 foot tall Union Solider on top… then from here to the flag pole there’s a little obelisk about yay high built out of marble leaning to the side and it reads: here are buried 540 confederate deaths.
So, after the war, the north clearly didn’t try economically and somewhat socially,…to make amends for all the damage that they caused within that community….and that would be for the whites…. After that kind of devastation and poverty they were trying to hold on to something for identity and I think it became the Civil War leaders. I can’t fault them for grabbing on to something, it’s just the wrong thing.
What about honoring the past regardless of whose past it is?….I understand, this statue is not representing you or you disagree with what he did in the past but it’s the past… When we look at history and we open up our books, if there’s something to represent that history, then we can tell our kids- this is the place where so and so happened and even though we don’t agree with what was done or said, in the past they really honored him which is why there is a statue of him here.
Right, but then the problem I had was a lot of them were put up in the Jim Crow era. So they were put up as a means of oppression right in the heart of the city… still claiming that dominance. And that was the line I thought was crossed when I learned about the history of the monuments…[These statues] were not generated immediately after the Civil War [or during the] historical period [it seemingly represented], [the statues were built much later to keep a whole community of people under oppression]….
So, yeah, I don’t have a problem with those moments coming down.
If they…were closely aligned with the Civil War and were honoring the people who they thought were important for their community heritage and history, then I wouldn’t think they should be torn down because it would mark history.
It’s still not an easy thing to grapple with and it would be ashamed if all of the statues come down….However these newer monuments? We should put the brakes on these monuments. We should think about when they were invented and why and who funded them? What the climate was at that time- socially? I think there are some legitimate reasons to get these things removed.
I also was thinking about …communities…[particularly poor communities] with historical monuments. Instead of spending so much time [trying to figure out if a monument should be taken down or should we build a new one], there’s also other monuments that are still standing that need to be taken care of, like what you are doing here…
There is a wall in Brooklyn, a frieze, done by a very prominent artist during the 20’s and 30’s. Richmond Barthe. A Harlem Renaissance artist. It was done during the great depression I think.
What is it?
It’s like a wall mural but it’s not a painting, it’s like a …carving into a stone wall ….its an image of blacks dancing and slaves escaping. The wall is cracking and it’s not being taken care of. We spend so much time on taking something down or breaking something up, lets take care of what we have as well…the art that is meaningful.
Yeah, I agree. The civil war monuments are so charged. They are charged emotionally. They are charged politically.
I think another issue is, when it’s taken down…Its still apart of history. It’s still saying something. Like when I go to Florida and I see the statue of Andrew Jackson, we know what he stood for but he’s there…I know he had a lot say about my people but I don’t know if today it would really mean anything if we just took it down….and then put it where? Where would we put it? I remember I went to Argentina and saw they did something similar. They took down statues…and at the back of their ‘White House’ they had so many statues there. It was an eyesore. What are you going to do with that?!
In my heart, I love preserving things. I always have and that’s my initial reaction for anything- save. And culturally I think we are much richer having these things even if there may be some controversy but I think there is a limit.
How did you get into sculpting anyway, Mr. Miller?
In middle school, I started making a ton of stuff. My family took a trip to the grand canyon and we went to a Native American Shop. Everything was probably made in China… but I was fascinated with these little sculptures that was in this shop! And I said, Wow, that’s what I wanna do. I want to make sculpture.
What are the names of your favorite artist?
I have a pretty broad range. One of my favorite artist is, Alberto Giacometti. I love his work so much. Kiki Smith, a more contemporary sculpture…Richard Sarra….
You ever heard of Augusta Savage?
No, not by name.
She was also a sculpture and lived during the 20’s and 30’s. She graduated from Cooper Union and during the world’s fair she created a piece called Lift Every Voice and Sing or The Harp…However not much of her work was preserved…
Let me see if I can pull it up. Oh, there she is…let…Oh, yeah, there she is. Cool. Let me put on my glasses…Wow! And African American Sculpture!! That just wasn’t prominent at all!!
We spoke until an older gentleman came by and asked Mr. Miller for help taking a photo the Civil War monument.
If you are interested in the Harlem Renaissance Frieze piece by Richmond Barthe here is a link to the article: https://hyperallergic.com/473342/an-iconic-harlem-renaissance-frieze-is-crumbling-in-brooklyn/
On North Jefferson Street, in downtown Jacksonville, Florida there sits a huge building. The locals don’t see it as much as an outsider. Its there but it’s not there.
The building sits in beauty amongst greenery and fine vintage objects like a Harriet Tubman bust, fluegelhorns and trumpets and trombones and piano innards, mannequin parts, tall tin plates emblazoned with architectural slogans by Mies van der Rohe and Frank Lloyd Wright, and human-faced suns in factory cogs.
An outsider wouldn’t know that this building has historical value. However, an insider may know, especially a black insider.
This building sits in Jacksonville’s downtown district area and looks as if it should be a museum.
When my sister asked me what area I wanted to photograph one morning during my stay down there, I described this building.
“Take me to the building with the broken mirror pieces in the door. You know, the one that is surrounded by green shrubs and have objects in the walls. The one that takes up the span of one block”. I told her.
“Oh, that’s the building Mother Seabrooks used to go to on Friday nights back in the day before she was saved!!
“Yeah, apparently, that’s where everyone went. She said it was the hot spot for musicians and dancers. It was the center of night life in Jacksonville.
“Yeah, even Ray Charles and other famous African American musicians. Attached is a hair salon that is closed now. Everyone black would go there to get their hair done.”
“What is it now?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think it’s much now. It’s never opened.”
Before I returned home, I began to do research on the building.
My visit to the Ritz Theater and Museum let me know that the entire neighborhood (that housed the building) was called La Villa. La Villa, I gathered was like Harlem in Jacksonville.
Bishop, the young and knowledgeable tour guide who met us at The Ritz gave my sister and I fundamental education about African American history in Jacksonville.
‘You see, the downtown area is really OUR La Villa, he began, La Villa is the name of the very affluent African American neighborhood in which everything happened. We ran shops and stores, we built schools and churches. Everyone who was black and somebody in that time, existed in La Villa”. I listened closely to Bishop as he walked me slowly through the museum and schooled us on Jacksonville’s history.
Then, in the 1990’s Mayor, Ed Austin, destroyed much of La Villa during his term under his ‘urban renewal’ plan. A lot of the blacks moved out the neighborhood changed and not to many people stayed behind to stop the city from coming in and bull dozing our neighborhood. People probably left before that. Now, La Villa, which was once a plantation, turned popular neighborhood among the blacks, became a ghost town. Currently, in LaVilla, stand the old Brewster Hospital, three shotgun shacks, the Ritz Theatre and Museum, and the Clara White Mission. That’s it. And we don’t know how long before something else is taken down.
He showed us photos and told stories of business owners, principles, inventors, preachers and even photographers. It’s where I found out about Augusta Savage, an amazing African American sculptor who should be celebrated much more for her art work.
The visit to the museum helped me to put missing pieces together. It set up a mental stage for me. La Villa was the place where working and middle class African American’s lived. They were all successful in keeping the dollar in the black community and lifting up each other.
Now I know about La Villa. What about this building.
Why is it closed?
After typing the address and the original name of the place, I came across an article dated 2016. I found out the place was called The Whetstonian and was owned by an African American man named Walter Whetstone.
“If Smithson can have his Smithsonian,” he explained, “then Whetstone can have the Whetstonian.”
The second article I came across was more detailed and written by Jacksonville professor, Tim Gilmore. This article reaffirmed the little my sister did know about the place, “Blind Blake and Jelly Roll Morton played at the Whetstonian. So did just about any jazz or blues musician you can think of from the 1930s through the 1950s” it states.
Walter Whetstone , experienced his father driving an ice truck and collecting all sorts of things from the trash as a child and pretty soon he picked up the same habit.
Each item he saved was something special. When the city of Jacksonville decided that it would deface the building, he brought it. Then, it became his own museum if you will. The space where his junk from the trash would be stored. Each item placed in a particular spot.
Mr. Whetstone specialized in collecting historical African American artifacts. He knew exactly what to pick and how to use it to create art. With this niche, he created the Whetstonian, a home for all of his collections.
There’s a lot of black history around here, including me. He told the interviewer.
When this article was written, Mr. Whetstone was already 80 and still fighting to keep it alive and well from the city’s grasp.
I am currently still doing research on this building. I hope it would soon become a landmark and one day open up as an museum.
That Saturday while in Jacksonville, I walked down A. Philip Randolph Boulevard and saw some amazing wall murals.
This was my second time in Jacksonville but my first time venturing places alone and learning of the city where James Weldon Johnson and Zora Neale Hurston once lived.
Every block I walked, I inhaled the amazing culture. I took in the sights of my people Bar-B-Queing on their front lawns and of them walking in and out of shops owned by them. I took in the sounds of R & B, Hip-Hop, Jazz, and Gospel all hovering under the hot still sun. Each couple of blocks I walked, it was a new sound track. I took in the southern hospitality, the smiles and how-do-you-do’s.
I did not expect to see much art though and was surprised when I looked on the side of the Man Cave Barbershop building on the corner of A. Philip Randolph Boulevard and Pippin Street! I saw a colorful wall mural with seven figures. My first instinct was to try to connect with the historical figures. I could only name two.
I knew who Zora was from her trademark hat and I knew James Weldon Johnson. But the rest… I was struggling with. I photographed the mural in different angles. Trying to get past the two cars in the lot.
I found out later through WJCT.org that the mural was painted by the locals, students and artist together. It’s called the “Locals and Legends” mural and it features famous African American’s celebrated throughout history as well as local African Americans celebrated for their work in Jacksonville.
2. The second one is my heroine Zora Neale Hurston, a writer and anthropologist who is best known for the novel, Their eyes were watching God. I love how she traveled through the south collecting stories from everyday people so that our rich culture would not be lost. She even recorded the southern vernacular. ( I am looking forward to reading her new book that just came out this year Entitled Barracoon: The Story of the Last Slave, it tells the true story of the last known survivor of the slave trade… it’s on my birthday list).
3. The third figure is someone named Clarence Williams, who once owned the building where the art lies.
I had to call around to find out more information about him and spoke to Ms. Pickett who is the curator of street art in Jacksonville (isn’t that a hot job title?) She told me the purpose of the wall murals is to bring in visitors into the East Side of Jacksonville. One of their goals after the painting is done is to set up wall mural tours.
She told me that Clarence Williams was a citizen of Jacksonville in the Eastside. He was an entrepreneur and business owner and passed away a few months before the mural was completed.
4.The fourth figure is Pearlie Graham, the long time owner of nearby Spot Rite Cleaners and the only living subject in the mural. She also owns the building that has the mural of the girls graduating.
5. The fifth figure is James Weldon Johnson, a writer, actor, activist, and most popular for writing the Black National Anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing.
I just finished one his books, The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man. This book should be placed on every high school summer reading list or read closely during the school year. After visiting his city I found myself reading more of his work to figure out who he really was. I love love Johnson. If you don’t have much time to read, then you should start with his poetry. His poem, ‘The Creation’, sits on the wall in The Ritz Museum in Jacksonville. It is a lyric that retells how the world came to be. The fourth grader who was with me named MJ had just as much fun as I had reading it aloud.
6. The sixth figure is Bullet Bob Hayes, an athlete….I read about him on wiki.
7. The last figure, A.L Lewis, was the president of the (Afro- American) Life Insurance Company, and he also started American Beach, a Nassau County vacation spot for African-Americans during segregation.
And down the street there’s another mural (which I already posted) in progress depicting an old school in Jacksonville for African-American girls which I learned a little history about.
This building is owned by Pearlie Graham. However, the school that this mural represents is closed. It was called The Boylan Haven Mather School and was the first school for African American girls on the East Side. It started out as a school to train girls to be servants.
The school was founded in 1886 and was named for a benefactor, Ann Boylan DeGroot, treasurer of the Newark Conference. She’d hoped to atone for, and change the image of, her family, which had operated two large plantations. In 1901, the school established a nurse training department, which later became Brewster Hospital – the first for African Americans in Jacksonville. (taken from Wikipedia)
I must say here that their modest dressing was what made me take the photo. Believe it or not, this is how I dressed in high school. My mother got the uniform company to make my sisters and I long skirts. Can you spot me in the photo below?
Do NFL team owners (who act like they’re NFL “player” owners) have lawyers? If so, they should’ve been told about the 1943 West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette case wherein the Supreme Court declared that a government official (e.g., a fake president directly by issuing an executive order or indirectly by politically intimidating…
An excerpt from my Journal Entry
19 June 2014
After we left La Boca we traveled to San Tamo which was a rich neighborhood in the late 1800’s. As war and sickness hit the neighborhood, the rich moved out and the poor moved in. This gave the immigrants and poor workers a chance to move elsewhere. Tango was created around this time and surprisingly to me, it was a dance between two men and later on women joined the scene.
I also learned the correct phase of the house we stayed in- It’s called a chorizo- casa choriza, which means sausage house. I am not sure exactly why though.
When the tour was done with Simon, we went to the University of Buenos Aries to listen to two more lectures.
The first lecture was by Lea Geler titled: Black Journalism in the White Nation: Afro-Argentines of Buenos Aires at the end of the 19th Century.
Geler studies included looking through the press of Argentina during the late 19th Century (1880’s). Dr. Anderson told us this was something exceptionally well to do considering how old documents are kept in Argentina, especially Afro-Argentines documents. Geler was able to write her paper surrounding what she found in these documents. I enjoyed her lecture because she gave actual quotes from this time period about what the black of Argentina thought about their social status. Geler found that the press being the fourth largest press in the world, was linked to progress and used for social change.
Unsurprisingly, the Afro-Argentine press did not spark interest for the outside community and they mostly wrote about themselves. The journalist thought it was their job to bring social change in their community and called for change. The term barbarianism was used as something to rid them of and they blamed social inequalities on individuals within the community. This mentality that the journalist were carrying reminds me of Marcus Garvey and his attitude toward the black community. He not only wanted all to return back to Africa but he called for a changed in the blacks mien. He wanted them to change their way of life and spoke mainly about their social life. I found it disturbing that they would use a term like barbarianism on themselves. They, like Garvey, blamed themselves for poverty and lack of success. All of this is included in the press!
Finally, (unlike Garvey) they thought new comers, like immigrants, improved the community and all were welcome. This was the thought throughout the entire state of Argentina and they were not keen to the idea of their children going to different schools in the state since schools were free in the first place. Till this day, (from what I’ve been told) their children (Afro-Argentine’s) still receive the short end of the stick within the education system.
The second Lecture was by Nicolas Fernandez Bravo and titled: Race and Ethnicity at the “Interior” of the nation: uses and abuses of the Cabescita Negra in comtemporary Santiago Dell Estero.
Now, the Cabecita Negra is an idea that is being challenged and has been changed. His article was based around social identities within history.
First cabecita negra was a term referring to those who worked in the fields then it became racial slang used by upper and middle class Argentines. Then in the 1940’s, the term became associated with people who were Peronist.
Till this day, the term cabecita negra is a term that casts people out insead of inviting them in. It implies not being enough of something –whether white enough or lacking that true European origin.
Next, we saw some art by Ricardo Santoro …I later saw the same art at the Museum.
This is when the history and all that is going on in Argentina gets really confusing. I never thought a nation would be more caught up in the image of the country more than America! Identify and politics intertwine in a way that becomes confusing that I would not be surprised if the Afro-Argentines are sometimes confused on why the other would or wouldn’t mistreat them. Argentina’s own government is so worried about its image and statistical qualification, that they are putting down their own and destroying themselves in the process. No matter how far she (Argentina) tries to get away from herself, she will always see her true image looking back at her in many colors.
At the end of the lecture, I asked a question about ethnic mixture- Who, really, are the Afro-Argentines? Who are the Blacks? Who’s African and who is Indian? Well, if this doesn’t get any more confusing, not all of them are cabecitas negras but they all are claiming rights to what? I don’t know. Maybe to their county. This shows how race in Argentina is not just white against the negro. There is no race problem alone, it’s always race and class that is the problem.
I showed up at the Center for Architecture at 336 La Guardia Place on a Wednesday night. I went there to volunteer instead of going to Wednesday night service.
I paid the taxi driver 45 dollars to drive me from the Bronx to Manhattan…and realized that he could not read in English. So he had a time finding the cross street, Broadway….because he was going to WORK for his 45 dollars!
I entered the building in the all black outfit we were required to wear. My first stop was by the security and they directed me to the main table where I met the one running the show, Ms. Liu.
Your job is to check people in as they enter. We don’t want the lobby area to get too crowed.
She gave me a chart and apologized for having to go.
Ask Henry to explain everything.
I never had to ask Henry, it was pretty straight forward. As people enter, ask them their names and check them in.
The party goers showed up:
Pretty ladies with long dresses, handsome men with neat hair cuts, cut out dresses, skin tight dresses, suits, shirts and ties, short stout men, tall women, mother and daughter teams, daughters in jean while mothers in expensive jewelry and heavy make up, couples, blazers, couples of every sort, one man in a beard and dress, women with spring flowery print skirts, sweet perfume and strong cologne, high heels, stilettos, flats, sandals, ugly men, old men with grey and black hair, cute old men who still had it going on…whatever that means…graceful old women who carried themselves as the wise and prudent…
All walking with poise and forgetting that all flesh really is grass. I watched everyone come and everyone go. I worked the coat check and this allowed me to interact with them.
We, the volunteers, were not familiar with each other, so we worked in silence until someone asked the other for his name.
I met Henry, Kylie, Hannah, Babs and Marilee. By the end of the night we were laughing out loud at inside jokes and bonded while sharing our stories about growing up in America. By the end of the night, we vowed to meet up again.
I’ve been going to Crown Trophy for three years now.
Its a trip I enjoy taking (even though I wait till the last minute sometimes).
Every year I would rush to the shop to pick up the spelling bee trophies and while there talk to the owner, Mr. Greg.
When I first went, I was surprised and impressed to see, he was the owner. Like, I said many times before, most of the shops I go to are owned by Spanish employers.
While some may say it does not matter who own the businesses in your town, I found out that the latter is not true. It matters a whole lot.
When a child see majority of his people owning restaurants, day cares, car washes, sign shops, party stores and so many corner stores that the phrase corner store is interchangeably used with bodega, then that child inwardly feels a sense of self pride (without much begin said).
Seeing Mr. Greg own the trophy shop helps me to puts this race thing into perceptive.
When I first met Mr. Greg, he spoke to me about his daughter who is a dancer in California. Like most proud fathers he boasted of her while telling me of her achievements and how the road raising her was not easy at all but she some how made it.
This time, he spoke about his daughter again but the focus was not so much on him as it was on her. His tone was more serious. This time he was not so much raving about her as he was sharing her testimony. I felt like while he was talking, he felt her hurt.
She’s grown now. I’ve watched her transform from Daddy’s little girl into a full grown women. She has matured in every way. She has learned that your hair has to be a certain texture and your skin a certain tone for you to be fully accepted in the industry. While she was growing up, I provided the best way I could for her to be comfortable and go after what she wanted. I couldn’t explain all of that to her. When you are great at your craft and there are 30 other people in the room great at the same craft, how are you going to make them choose you?
When he was done talking about his daughter, I thought how beautiful it is when parents talk about their children! And if you are a good listener, you can tell that the conversations shifts as the parent and the child grows. The tone and diction the parents use changes as life changes for them.
My church has a tradition.
Every January the saints gather and eat a dinner called the sacrifice dinner.
It’s cooked by the church cook.
The recipe is passed down from the saints of old.
Beans, fatback, potatoes, bread, water and Jello…the red jello to be exact
The beans are called great northern beans.
The fatback is there as the meat. It’s the only meat some of them growing up in the south had. They would kill the hog, hang it in the barn and then, eat the fat.
The potatoes are the white potatoes. No special way to cooking them. Boil and season them. Sometimes depending on who is cooking they may be fried with onions.
The bread is called fritters. It’s made with cornmeal that comes in a yellow bag. It’s mixed with water and eggs.
The water, it’s usually taken from the faucet. This year the saints were served bottled water.
The jello. Well, it wasn’t always sold in a box. They used to make their jello and the tapioca. Coming up, there was always a dessert on the side.
Then the church made rules for the dinner:
The Senior Missionaries Cook.
The Junior Missionaries Serve.
The Brotherhood Clean.
All sisters, not on the choir, wear all white.
We eat in silence. No talking or laughing.
We eat and remember the saints of old.
How they were poor and did not have much
How they prayed on cold wooden or stone floors
How education did not come freely
How the church family did not have a church building to keep them warm in the winter or cool in the summer
How they had to walk miles to worship or learn
How they had to labor a bit longer and harder than us
How they had to endure
How some had to carry seats on their head because there were no chairs
How their life journey took all the smiling and laughter away from their aged stricken bodies
We think about their names: Mother Longjourney, Mother Havingahardtime, Mother Lukus, Mother Nixon, Mother Chisem, Mother Hammond, Bishop Goodwin, Bishop Johnson, Bishop Dixon, Mother Woods, Mother Frazier, Minister Richards, Mother Claudia Dixon, Mother Gussie, Mother Virgeous Bridgett, Sister Amy Hurley, Sister Rose Jones, Bishop Belton Green, Bishop Melvin Samuels
We are told it was started in Bishop Johnson days and then it was discontinued
Then, it was started under Bishop Goodwin sometime during the 80’s by Mother Lukus, Mother Claudia Dixon and Mother Virgeous Bridgett
Then, we think about us and how blessed we are.
We say peace be and go home.
~Thank You to Mother Virgeous Bridgett for helping me with the history
A week ago during the snow storm, I left my warm apartment and went to Harlem and volunteered with i, Too, Arts Collective which is a non-profit organization committed to nurturing voices from underrepresented communities in the creative arts. They are responsible for renovating the Harlem renaissance poet, Langston Hughes, home.
When I was in college, I went on a date with a young man who grew up in New Orleans. He was crazy about the Harlem renaissance because of his high school teachers. I, who grew up in New York, was crazy about Harlem because of the books I read alone (my high school curriculum skipped majority of my history…really America’s true history). In any case, he took me to Harlem for a date and I remember us standing outside of Langston Hughes home taking about his poems. Then we spoke about what it would take for his home to become a museum. Then, we stopped talking so the conversation pretty much died like a raisin in the sun. However, the dream didn’t because I am now apart of a team of people who are preserving Mr. Hughes legacy by opening up his space and reserving it for writers and other artist to gather.