Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Deep River [a Patton poem] by Habe Conlon

To whom it may concern-

Two September’s ago, during my first sophomore year of high school, my first assignment in my Honor’s English class was to pen out a poem. I wrote “Deep River” in approximately 4 minutes, and to this day I attribute this ease of the pen to Patton. Being only 15 at the time, I had known and heard Patton in song and had delved into his history, and I have realized how profound it really is. I am very thankful to have discovered Charley Patton and the rest of the Delta Blues denizens and the world they lived in relatively early in life. And I am very thankful for the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund and all involved in preserving the message, for research is respect indeed.

Deep River 
by Habe Conlon

               — along the palms of God’s hands, 
                   Dockery Plantation
                   (between Cleveland and Ruleville, MS)

Yesterday I found myself biding time
where billows of great aerial rain
comes down, hot stew and potatoes

I am here with sugarcane, and peas and so forth grow
shed by a beacon of lone smoke, stemming from
my pipe, a teepee sentinel worth dreaming of

The shanty rooftops, barns and even
the stills out back do little justice, on the sparks and
flames that seem to channel from the bottoms

of his feet, for a quarter you’d see and hear
him all night, it’d be dusty, the air glazed, stirred up
This man is a soldier, traveler into the blue, he flows like

a deep river, plantation desperado thinks to himself
simple thoughts, as the banty rooster only
stirs up more dust, the Delta sun quaking

Imitation train whistles echoing closer and
closer does this quaking not cease, with a
tighter grasp on moving on, and with that

our vagabond with guitar in hand weaves
a patchwork dream in hand, and into the night
he’s vanished, masked marvel out with the lantern flame

Some say he’s headed to the North, to play in the fiery bands
He’ll shake it and brake it in the palm of God’s hands.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Johnnie Billington: He taught the character of the Blues

Photo by Lou Bopp
By T.J. Wheeler

I was musing today about my old friend and Blues in the school com-patriot Mr. Johnnie Billington. Thinking over what a divine soul and teacher he was, as well as remembering all the good times we had conducting BITS (Blues in the School) programs together down in Jackson Mississippi, I decided to feature him for this month’s TBA Musing the Blues column.

Figuring I should include some basic bio info for the article, I did a quick Google search of his name. I scrolled down a litany of sites that immediately popped up from various Blues Societies he had dome BITS and concerts for, interviews, and old video links of such performances. Instead of a bio though, I was hit suddenly with a short and simple obituary. Unbeknown to me, he had died last year; April1, 2013 at the age of 77. The OB stated that he had died due to “complications from a heart attack” at a hospital in Clarksdale MS. They did mention that he called the music of his ancestors his passion and his calling. Today I’ll write this short musing about him, and then have a libation in his honor, making sure I pour some of it to the ground for him and those very ancestors that gave us all this music we call the Blues.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Bowling Green Seminar To View `Black Oratory' [1968]

Monday, Sept. 30, 1968 
(Fremont, OH) News-Messenger page 9 

Martin Luther King Jr. delivers his "I Have a
Dream Speech" on the National Mall in 1963.
For the first time Bowling Green State University is offering Black and white undergraduate students classroom time to exchange ideas on contemporary racial problems. An experimental liberal arts course entitled "Black Oratory" is being offered under the direction of Dr. Raymond Yeager, speech professor. 

A casual, relaxed seminar is planned and Dr. Yeager says he would be disappointed if “we didn’t have some lively discussions.” 

Although Black history and culture classes have been offered on a number of other campuses, Bowling Green’s course is unique in that it deals with speeches made by Black leaders, according to Dr. Yeager.  

The textbook, “Rhetoric of the Racial Revolt” includes a collection of speeches made by African American leaders beginning with Civil War-day speaker Frederick Douglass, father of the protest movement, and concluding with modern-day orator Martin Luther King Jr., martyr of the peaceful agitation movement. 

Other African Americans to be discussed include Booker T. Washington, advocate of the “separate but equal” principle, Marian Anderson, one of the world’s foremost contralto singers; Dr. Ralph Bunche, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and Elijah Mohammad and Malcolm X, militant leaders of the Black Muslim movement. 

Booker T. Washington
Through the oratorical approach, Dr. Yeager hopes the biographies and personalities of these speakers as well as the temper of the times in which they lived can be studied. 

Six contemporary films also are slated for the course. Dr. Yeager plans to bring a number of prominent Negro leaders to speak to his class. Cleveland's Mayor Carl B. Stokes and Julian Bond, Georgia politician, are two who have been asked to visit Bowling Green. 

“Black Oratory” stems from the success of a similar graduate course taught last year by Dr. Yeager. At that time many undergraduate students expressed a desire to sit in on the sessions. 

“The course is being offered in anticipation of what students want…not in response to student demands,” Dr. Yeager said. 

Malcolm X
Although the decision to offer the class came too late to make this year’s catalogue, students learned about it through word of mouth and about 20, equally divided between white and black, enrolled. 

Dr. Yeager doesn’t pretend to be an expert on the subject of African American history. 

“I should think many of the Black students will know as much about it as I do. I certainly hope I can learn from them,” he said. 

“I envision my role as a listener as well as a director. I would hope that the students could become the teachers and I would only act as a ‘master teacher.’”

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Nelson Street: Behind the Catfish & Cotton

By T. DeWayne Moore
Filling in the Silences: Part 2

In the first quarter of the twentieth century, the black schools in Greenville schools were the best in the state. While most state politicians virulently opposed the education of blacks and some districts spent as little as sixty-eight cents a year per black student, the Queen City allocated an annual seventeen dollars for the education of each black child enrolled in public school, which offered not only reading, writing and arithmetic, but also courses in foreign languages. Senator Leroy Percy and his allies may have allocated the funds that made it possible, but the principal of Greenville’s main black school, Lizzie Williams Coleman, provided the vision, determination, and hard hand required to shape a curriculum that endowed young blacks with pride, self-respect, and intelligence under the racial stigma of Jim Crow.[1] Possessing great pride in herself and her own black heritage, she was known to exclaim, “I don’t believe in the melting pot.”[2]

The staging at Heathman Plantation for Southern Living magazine invokes a bubolic fascination with the South, a mythic version of a bygone era. Notice the silences, and how space is filled with nostalgia and longing. What don't you see?

An African American family of sharecroppers
in the Delta circa 1935
Born to “pure negro parentage”[3] in Yazoo County around the end of the Civil War, she had moved to Greenville, married the formerly enslaved Jerry Coleman, and started her career as a teacher in the 1890s.[4] Lizzie Coleman possessed an excellent memory and command of mathematics that served her well in teaching elementary students, but over the years she realized the need for a broader educational agenda, which required a deeper commitment to teaching standards and fundraising. After becoming principle of the Number Two School in the 1920s, she required that aspiring teachers attend summer instruction programs, pass the state examination, and observe experienced instructors for a period of time before setting them loose on their own. She taught them to push students to excel in their studies, and she made it mandatory that each teacher raise over one hundred dollars for the school each year, which, along with the city funding, ensured that black youths got the best education in the state.