Forgotten No More: Edmonia Lewis

Native Americans and African Americans shared ancestors include Edmonia “Wildfire” Lewis (1844-1907) whose father was Black and her mother Chippewa (Ojibwa) Indian.

When I lived in DC, the Smithsonian American Art Museum was one of my sanctuaries. I spent countless hours with The Death of Cleopatra before I knew the sculpture was created by Lewis.

On January 26, 2022, the United States Postal Service will hold Edmonia Lewis Commemorative Forever® Stamp First Day of Issue Dedication Ceremony, the 45th stamp in the Black Heritage Series.

The U.S. Postal Service said:

As the first African American and Native American sculptor to earn international recognition, Edmonia Lewis challenged social barriers and assumptions about artists in mid-19th century America.

Born in Greenbush, NY, Lewis spent most of her career in Rome, where her studio became a must-see attraction for American tourists. In addition to portrait busts of prominent people, Lewis’s work incorporated African American themes, including the celebration of newly won freedoms, and sensitively depicted her Native American heritage as peaceful and dignified.

The Edmonia Lewis Black Heritage Stamp will be available for purchase in panes of 20 at post offices and online.

Happy Birthday, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. “was born on the fifteenth of January” in 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. King’s fearless leadership powered the Civil Rights Movement and inspired artists who have kept his legacy in public memory, including Nina Simone, Max Roach, Otis Spann, Art Blakey, Herbie Hancock, Christian McBride, Grant Green and Stevie Wonder.

To celebrate Dr. King’s heavenly birthday, the National Museum of African American History and Culture has on display an original draft of the iconic “I Have a Dream” speech delivered at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

The speech will be on view in the Defending Freedom, Defining Freedom exhibition through February 27, 2022. To learn more, go here.

Brandi’s Wharf

Holton Brandi opened Brandi’s Wharf, a restaurant-ballroom located on the Delaware riverfront, circa 1970. Drummer Buddy Rich was a regular.

Duke Ellington performed here for one night on February 12, 1971.

Brandi’s Wharf hosted jazz greats of the era, including Maynard Ferguson, Stan Getz, Della Reese, Lionel Hampton, Erroll Garner, George Shearing, Morgana King, the Kingston Trio, and Carmen McRae.

Brandi’s Wharf closed in the late ‘70s.

Women of the Movement

Last month, the U.S. Department of Justice closed its second investigation into the brutal murder of Emmett Till by two white men in August 1955. The Justice Department said they could not corroborate the claim that Carolyn Bryant recanted the lie she told about her encounter with 14-year-old Emmett. It has been more than 66 years since Emmett was killed and we are still looking for justice.

ABC’s limited series, “Women of the Movement,” tells the story of Mamie Till who transformed a mother’s grief into a lifelong fighter for justice.

I attended a special virtual screening of the first six episodes hosted by the National Civil Rights Museum. “Women of the Movement” is a powerful drama based on the true story of Mamie Till-Mobley. The series captures the exuberance of Emmett’s youth and a mother’s love and sorrow. A mother’s determination to show the world “what they did to my baby” was a catalyst for the modern Civil Rights Movement.

“Women of the Movement” premieres on ABC on Thursday, January 6, 2022, 8/7c.

The Sound of Jazz

“The Sound of Jazz” aired on CBS on December 8, 1957.

The Sound of Jazz - Feature

Recorded live from CBS Studio 58 in New York City, the one-hour program was hosted by New York Herald-Tribune media critic John Crosby. “The Sound of Jazz” was the first major program featuring jazz to air on network television. A who’s who of blues and jazz greats performed, including Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Jimmy Rushing, Thelonious Monk, Henry Red Allen, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Jo Jo Jones, Gerry Mulligan and Roy Eldridge.

Stop Driving Us Crazy

In the coming months, we will make an announcement about legendary trumpeter and Philadelphia native Lee Morgan.

It’s driving me crazy that I can’t share the good news now. Instead, I will share Stop Driving Us Crazy, an animated safe driving PSA produced by the General Board of Temperance of the Methodist Church. Released in 1959, the soundtrack was scored by another Philadelphian, Benny Golson, and performed by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers featuring Lee Morgan on trumpet.

Gospel Roots of Rock and Roll

Muddy Waters famously said, “The blues had a baby and they named the baby rock and roll.”

The architect of rock and roll, Little Richard, credits gospel legend Marion Williams for making him a star. During the 1993 Kennedy Center Honors, he said, “If it weren’t for you, I never would have been a star. I got that whoop from you.”

A new documentary traces the gospel roots of rock and roll.

“How They Got Over” is now playing in theaters and virtual cinemas. For ticket info, go here.

Native American Heritage Month 2021

November is Native American Heritage Month. The contributions of Native Americans were erased by the false narrative that Christopher Columbus “discovered” land on which Indigenous People have lived for thousands of years. Public memorials to Columbus are sites of resistance. The movement to remove Christopher Columbus statues gained momentum in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests. According to a Washington Post and MIT Data + Feminism Lab analysis, at least 40 monuments to Columbus have been removed since 2018, the majority of which were taken down in 2020 and 2021. Their data show that 130 memorials are still standing, including two in Philadelphia – the Columbus Monument at Penn’s Landing and the Christopher Columbus statue in Marconi Plaza.

Indigenous People joined Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. Native Americans and African Americans have a shared history of resistance. Indigenous People and African Americans also share ancestors. Notables of Afro-Indigenous ancestry include sculptor Edmonia “Wildfire” Lewis, jazz trumpeter Doc Cheatham and Jimi Hendrix.

This shared history and heritage came to mind when I read George Bochetto, attorney for Friends of Marconi Plaza, asked, “Why can’t they put up another statue right here to honor Indigenous People?” In an op-ed published in The Philadelphia Inquirer, I proposed a third way:

Rather than remove the Columbus statue in Marconi Plaza, George Bochetto, attorney for Friends of Marconi Plaza, recently suggested erecting an additional statue to honor Indigenous People? You let everybody celebrate their ethnicity,” he said. My response: Why not? Why not tell the full story of the ancestral land of the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania, on which the Columbus statue sits, and the layered histories of Marconi Plaza?

Native Americans and African Americans have a shared history of resistance to slavery and white supremacy. Indigenous People and African Americans are descendants of people whose land was stolen and people who were stolen from their homeland. Formerly enslaved people lived alongside Indigenous People in maroon communities in Louisiana and other Southern states. (Although some tribes enslaved Black people, I and other historians believe this form of slavery was much less brutal than American chattel slavery.)

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