Over the Martin Luther King, Jr. day weekend, I felt super cold, super bless and super special.
I was super cold because it was super cold! I went to Amherst, Massachusetts to view Our Voice: Celebrating the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Awards at the Eric Carle Museum and got caught in a terrible snow storm.
I felt super blessed for many reasons…
Okay, now I am beginning to think that feeling blessed and feeling special are the same feelings…anyways…I felt this good feeling because my sister, April, knew how badly I wanted to visit the Eric Carle Museum and when I told her I was going that weekend, she willingly accompanied me and did everything in her power to make sure I enjoyed myself…minus her trying to keep me from exploring cold Boston alone…that’s another funny story.
I also felt special because the education coordinator at the museum, Courtney, heard about our long trip there and while Onawumi gave me some lesson plan ideas, she went into the museum shop and got me a free copy of In Plain Sight by Richard Jackson and Jerry Pinkney, which is one of the books Onawumi suggested I use in the classroom.
While we were all conversing, Ms. Custard, an assistant principal at Ahmerst Reginal High School, came in the room to check on Onawumi and joined the very intimate conversation about race and education in America.
After the discussion, I viewed the amazing art work on the walls (the exhibition celebrated illustrators who won the Coretta Scott King Award. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the children’s book award. ) and I realized I either owned a copy of the books or knew of the books before hand. However, some I did not have…such as….
Ray Charles by Sharon Bell Mathis and George Ford – Most of the teachers in my school teach the children Fifty Nifty States which is a tune written by Ray Charles. This is a grand opportunity to introduce the Rhythm and Blues singer to the children.
I purchased The Creation by James Weldon Johnson and James E. Ransome at the museum. I did not know it was made into a children’s book. If you remember, I had read the poem at the Ritz Museum in Jacksonville, Florida. I shared it with the Little Flock (the children at my church) and the response was lovely.
I was surprised to see Jan Spivey Gilchrist and Eloise Greenfield’s Nathaniel Talking, which is a poem my sisters and I memorized growing up, on the wall. This poem was in our school readers growing up. Our teachers skipped over the poem which made the poem even more exciting to read. We took the book home and memorized it…just so we could rap.
Most times it is very difficult to teach children about the lives of musicians without a children’s book which is why I plan to buy:
Bryan Collier and Troy Andrews Trombone Shorty, Frank Morrison and Katheryn Russell-Brown’s Little Melba and her Big Trombone and Jerry Pinkney and Bille Holiday’s God Bless the Child .
I should also purchase, Kadir Nelson’s We are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball because I was never into sports so I am really horrible when it comes to teaching the history of sports……It just so happens that I have a little boy in my class to loves to talk about baseball since he lives right next to Yankee Stadium.
I also purchased, N. Joy and Nancy Devard’s The Secret Olivia Told Me at the museum. I always thought silhouette art was the bomb and so does my students!
Lastly, I want a copy of Benny Andrews’ Poetry for Young People: Langston Hughes. I must admit that I was a bit surprised to see the same artist work in two different exhibits in two different cities for two different reasons. I learned about Benny Andrews at the Brooklyn Museum when I viewed, Soul of a Nation. When I saw his work at the Eric Carle museum, I had to double checked to see if it was the same person, which it is.
I think one of the fascinating moments in New Oreleans was hearing Japanese trumpet player, Yoshio Toyama, play ‘What a wonderful World’ and actually sound exactly like Armstrong!! Everyone who was standing near the venue and could hear Toyama stopped talking!
I knew nothing about Toyama before going and after hearing him and reading an article about how he and his wife return to New Orleans often to donate new instruments to the schools.
I made a video to post but it isn’t uploading!! Anyway, here’s another video I made.
You can always look him up on youtube.
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.
I was told to take a photo of this wall mural but never saw it until we were in a taxi on the way to the station to leave. We had no time to stop the car and take a photo.
I texted all the people I met there and they texted me their versions of the mural….
Then about three days later, randomly, my mentor Casey texted me and we spoke about what we were doing for the summer.
I’m currently in New Orleans working on a project. She responded.
Really Casey? I just left!
We were so shocked that we both had ventured to the same city for the summer. I was extremely happy that she had texted me because I knew she would capture the image in the look I was going for…and sure enough before she left, she sent me this photo of the wall mural.