If you have dropped by this spot before, you know I have a thing for black and white photography, and black and white historical images of African Americans in particular. There is a subset of these images that are of hardship, struggle, pain. Yet many images are still what I would characterize as beautiful—sometimes startlingly so.
Such is the case with these photographs, more from Flickr’s incredible collection of public domain photographs, The Commons.
These may not be famous works of photographic art from their periods, but they masterfully capture important slices of history. But beyond that, they are beautiful works of art.
As was the case of the people in my post “My People and Other People’s Children,” I do not know who the subjects of these photographs are. But I claim them, proudly, as my own ancestors. I am grateful to them, for enduring, and to the photographers who captured their beauty.
They say everybody loves a parade.
If true, then everybody would especially love the annual Circle City Classic Parade.
This year’s musical theme (like the theme of Black Expo) was Michael Jackson. “Pretty Young Thing”—a jam even on a bad day—is even better when played by a full marching band and fronted by an MJ impersonator. You have not seen a “Thriller” line dance until you have seen it performed by about 60 young people carrying band instruments and batons and giant colorful flags. Almost every marching band from middle schoolers to college had an MJ homage.
And Gary Roosevelt High School was one of the main bands representing their hometown hero with a musical tribute.
As I have already said here, my kid got a chance to meet Olympic swimmer, Cullen Jones.
Our governor also came over and said a few words to her, patted the top of her Blues Clues cap, and told her to stay in school. She looked at him strangely (“Why wouldn’t I stay in school, Mommy?”) and asked me who that man was. I told her she had just spoken with the governor of our state. She was not impressed. I guess he is no Cullen Jones.
I must be old. I did not know that Master P and his son Romeo (I guess no longer lil) passed by until a group of young female fans started squeeling and begging to be put in the video they’d be filming at halftime of the game.
All the Black Greeks were in full force, wearing their colors proudly and stepping.
Wendy Williams rode by and was flattered when That One Section (the one who is so organized every year, with their chorus of personal hellos to the passing dignitaries) said in unison “How you doin!”
The Madam CJ Walker impersonator rode by waving a hot comb.
All the beauty queens in their princess gowns waved their beauty queen waves.
Overheard from a first timer from out of town, “I had no idea Indianapolis had this many Black folks.”
Overheard from every other child: “Mama/Nana/Daddy can I get a t-shirt/candy/hat?”
Everybody loves a parade. The firetruck from the Black Firefighters Association rode by, signaling the end of this one, at least for this year. The bands—the Tuskegee University Marching Crimson Piper Band and the Alabama A & M Marching Maroon and White—would meet each other again on the field of Lucas Oil Stadium at halftime for the famous “Battle of the Bands.”
Oh yes. There was also a football game on either side of the halftime show.
See you downtown next year!
In another part of the country, a mother buries her Black daughter. This mother probably thought this daughter, killed steps from a college library, would be safe. She probably aches from the thought that she could not have protected her better. All over the country, mothers of Black daughters in her age group (15-24) ache for their dead daughters—dead from “unintentional injuries” (#1 cause of death) and homicide (#2 cause of death).
No one else seems to ache for their daughters. There does not, for example, seem to be a national feminist organization, or a national Black civil rights organization, whose mission it is to ache—and advocate for—these Black daughters.
So we mothers of Black daughters must advocate for our daughters, for our selves.
Sometimes I am cynical about what my daughters’ world will be. I look around and see signs that do not fill me with hope. I look around and see who we cry for, who we call into radio programs to show support for, who we march in the streets for, who we file amicus curiae briefs for, who we garner our righteous indignation for. And those whos do not, in most cases, seem to be Black daughters.
The First Lady must advocate for her First (and Only) Daughters. As must we all. Our nation’s First (Black) Daughters are our symbols. They are our symbols for what it will be to be a Black daughter in this still-new century. Will it be more of the same? Or a New Day? Will the new day be a good new day, or will it surprise us with the creativity and inventiveness of its new-found horrible-ness?
My Black daughters came to me in a pair. And people tend to think of them as a pair. Venus-and-Serena. Sasha-and-Malia.
Yes, my daughters are individuals, not an interchangeable unit. Yet I like their paired-ness. Hopefully the dashes sandwiching the and between their names will remind them that they will have to advocate for each other. To be their own best friends.
Their own most ardent defenders.
I stand in solidarity with other mothers of Black daughters. Many of these mothers are Black daughters themselves. But some are not. Some are White daughters, or identify racially as other than black or white. Some mothers are “actually” grandmothers, or aunts, or older cousins. Some are not even female, but they “mother” their Black daughters just the same. Black daughters are yoked to their mothers by biology and by adoption and by social contract. By necessity and by convenience and by happenstance.
These varied Black daughters might struggle to see themselves in other Black daughters. And we as their mothers must release ourselves from whatever bulky and heavy bags we still tote around, filled with random items of wrinkled shit of our own histories with other Black daughters.
It ain’t gonna be easy.
But it is for our daughters, so we will find a way.
I feel a special concern for other Black mothers of Black daughters. There is a saying in Black communities: We love our sons and raise our daughters. I often do see evidence of this. With all respect, some of us need to do more forcing our sons to grow up, and ensuring our daughters do not grow up too soon. I have seen the consequences of some Black mothers’ “loving” of their Black sons.
And it is not a pretty sight.
Mothers of Black daughters: Love your daughters. Fiercely and completely. Love them as much as you do—or should—love yourselves.
One of the greatest gifts I have given my Black daughters is a man in their life—in this case, their biological father—who loves and cherishes them beyond any other. Even beyond me.
It sounds retro, old fashioned to say it. Maybe “conservative” and “anti-progressive.” Certainly anti-feminist. But.
My Black daughters need at least one man in their life who feels this way about them. All Black daughters do. Black daughters who do not have such a man in their lives as children may struggle as grown women. Many of these grown Black women—straight or lesbian or bisexual or otherwise—will waste years of their lives trying to find a glimmer of themselves as wonderful beings in the eyes of men, never knowing what it is in those eyes that they should be looking for. They may mistake possessiveness for protection. Violence for passion. Sex for love.
Thinking back, I was probably not the Black daughter at adolescence that my own mother hoped for. How can one young woman (i.e., me) be so arrogant and contrary about everything—from spirituality to my bedroom decor, from music to academics, from my treatment of my little sister to the meaning of life?
I try to remember my own saltiness as I enter new relationship phases with my own mother, and as my daughters move from little girls to pre-teens. I try to remember—as my mother’s words flow from my mouth, and my daughters hear these words with my former ears—that this is just a stage, just one way station on a long path.
But it is a journey that must be navigated with sensitivity if I want to arrive at the next stage with daughters who respect me.
And who will not cringe when, one day, they hear my own words come out of their mouths.
…Sometimes I am cynical about what my daughters’ world will be. I look around and see signs that do not fill me with hope….
Then other times, I think otherwise. I may be standing in a hot shower, five minutes past my alarm clock siren and 30 minutes before my first sip of coffee, and my mind chains together several links of good—or at least, not-so-bad—Signs; and in a moment of clarity I realize how much power I have to ensure that my daughters’ world will be a gift and not a curse.
It is important to hold onto those moments, even in times of hopelessness and cynicism.
Especially in times of hopelessness and cynicism.
…When we come to it
When we let the rifles fall from our shoulders
And children dress their dolls in flags of truce
When land mines of death have been removed
And the aged can walk into evenings of peace
When religious ritual is not perfumed
By the incense of burning flesh
And childhood dreams are not kicked wide awake
By nightmares of abuse
…When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it.
~Maya Angelou, “A Brave and Startling Truth”
I have a new image set at my Flickr site. The images are in color (!) and are intended to be used as desktop wallpaper or as a screen saver. (View the set as a slideshow to see the screen saver effect.) As are all of my images, these are licensed under a Creative Commons license that allows for non-commercial use and adaptations, with attribution.
What a way to make a statement rolling down Fall Creek Parkway!
This year’s Expo, however, belonged to the dearly departed King of Pop.
MJ was everywhere. A DVD of one of his concerts graced all of the screens outside of the Best Buy exhibit. The roller skating crews and the youth dance groups and even the gospel performers skated, danced and sang to Michael Jackson. Every third person had an MJ t-shirt on. And in case you forgot your MJ gear, just about every vendor had MJ-related gear for sale.
Michael Jackson has not been this big since…well, since he was last this big—many, many moons ago.
All manner of law enforcement always have booths, giving away plastic state trooper or police force hats and stick-on badges and pop corn and safety coloring books with crayons.
Peace officers roam the exhibition halls—making sure no trouble breaks out, but also serving as ambassadors to the Black community.
The children loved the troopers, police officers, fire fighters, and EMTs. One female police officer was especially the object of young girls’ fascination and respect.
What happens between police and Black youth in the space of 5 years old and 15? Between Hall B of the Convention Center and the intersection of 10th St. and MLK Drive?
Of course, Expo wouldn’t be Expo without celebrities. If you are touring, or trying to make a comeback, or just released a book/album/movie, you must make a pilgrimage to the Hoosier state’s biggest summer celebration. Al B. Sure! promised to bring real music with real lyrics back to Black radio. Some radio personalities promised to bring President Obama to next year’s Expo.
I cannot decide which is the biggest longshot.
So, as the blog says: What about our daughters?
Will they be destined to travel our same paths, stumble over the same exposed roots and boulders we did? Will they be able to be all their selves with each other? Will they decide to identify as feminists, womanists, multi-ists, or nary-ists? Will they be more than their hair, their skin tone, their names? Can they be yoked romantically to men, other women—to no one in particular—without being defined solely in terms of these connections or lack of them?
…The Family Reunion is an ideal natural environment to gain insight into these questions. The aluminum foil is peeled back from the homemade mac and cheese and the pork ribs. The card decks and dominoes are slapping table tops. Frankie Beverly and Maze is echoing across the green grass of the public park, and the living is easy.
Hugs and greetings of long-losts have been exchanged and now the sub-groupings have been formed. Loosely based on age and gender, but not completely.
A group of Girl Cousins, from 3 to 10 years old, has coalesced around a shared love of babies and homemade ice cream and a cooler full of juice in pouches. At some point I take them across the field to the portable potty. In-depth discussion: toilet paper and hand sanitizer, who is doing number one versus number two, the merits of High School Musical underpants versus plain white or pink, the odd looking “cookie” in the urinal (“where men go pee-pee; see, their penises fit inside there”) beside the toilet. After all this—and of helping with lining the dirty seat with paper and fastening snaps and belt buckles and buttons—I am ready to head back to the picnic site.
But the Girl Cousins are not.
They have found a sewer drain, full of water from three straight days of rain. The sewer drain is actually a pot of stew, and a discarded stick has become a wooden spoon. Beans are required from amongst the pebbles of the adjacent baseball diamond. Leafy greens are needed from the dandelion plants and grass. Seasoning in the form of sand from the pitcher’s mound gives it extra flavoring.
Braids and twists and puffs top the heads. Inside the heads minds work to create a state-of-the-art kitchen. The conversation is focused and intense. No, that’s a little too much salt. Yeah, great idea—Get the brown beans up under the lighter ones. Please let her add her greens next. Look at what I found—we can use it for a measuring cup! OK, OK, we all gonna get a chance to stir! Mmm, it’s almost done; Y’all wanna taste?
The Girl Cousins are from the inner city and the suburbs. They participate in vacation bible school and swim practice and drill team. They sing all the words to Kidz Bop and Beyonce and Keke Palmer and Alicia Keys and Hanna Montanna. Their parents are married, never married…their siblings are theirs by biology and social agreement.
They are a diverse bunch.
After the stew is made, the oldest calls for everyone to join hands and bow heads for a prayer. Her words give thanks for this food and the hands, Lord, who has prepared it. She asks for the continued safety of our family, Lord, and the love that we share for each other today and all days. The other Girl Cousins nod, their eyes tightly closed in reverence.
At the end of the prayer they all say amen and begin to eat their meal.
Eventually we head back to the picnic area. The Girl Cousins run ahead, leaving me to snap a few more photographs.
I pray that if there is a God, she or he listens to and answers the prayers of little children over make believe stew.
The woman painting my nails, several miles to the north of the National Underground Railroad Museum and Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, told me she had never been to the museum. But she thought it was a good idea. She was Black. I had no words to tell her what visiting the museum had meant to me. I did want to scold her for living a stone’s throw from the building but never having been there. Then I thought it inappropriate for many reasons, not least of which was because there I was on my Memorial Day weekend, celebrating my freedom by getting a $40 manicure. Who was I to scold. So I said nothing. She asked me how much it was to get in. I told her I could not recall, but that children and seniors get in for a reduced rate.
I chose A Ouibit of Red for my nails.
Did anyone visiting that day catch the symbolism of this view from the museum’s grand hall? Across the vast, open space I could see the Ohio River, and beyond that, Kentucky. Once, a river separated enslavement from freedom. A few generations separated me from feeling the relief ancestors must have felt looking back from the Ohio side. Behind me as I was getting this shot a group of field tripping high school students—Black, White and Hispanic—were relating to their museum guide what they learned about the major cash crops the enslaved Africans harvested. They recited words by rote memory and the guide, a young Black woman, praised each answer—even the incorrect ones.
I went through the museum reading the posted plaques. I opted against the recorded self-tour after being somewhat put off by the actors’ voices portraying US slavery-era Blacks. They sounded like cartoon characters. The woman who took our money and gave us our tickets (reduced price for children and seniors) had given us the children’s tour. I wondered if the voices on the adult self guided tour sounded any different.
I was somewhat annoyed by the juxtapositions of new and shiny and gleaming, and old (or, in many cases, replications of old). I walked inside the slave pen. Inside the pen was myself and (I am assuming by their dress) an Amish family. There were seven of us inside the log walls of the pen. I tried to imagine the pen filled with three, four, five times that number for days, weeks, months at a time. I could not imagine.
I was cataloging my reactions—for later retelling to friends and family back home and to visitors to this blog. “Antiseptic” was a word I kept using in my head. The actual artifacts were walled away in protective glass in a protective enclosed atmosphere in order to preserve them for future generations. The replicas were made to look old, but I have seen enough episodes of home shows on HGTV to know how they were likely artificially aged. Everything was clean. Antiseptic.
This time line marched history along a curved wall in perfect, orderly, well-lit fashion. The years in between were lost. The vastness of those years was also lost.
I imagined a walk outside the grounds of the museum and throughout the city’s downtown. Each decade would be a half mile or so on the path, with markers all the way telling of the key events and figures and laws and battles and speeches. People would walk along the path, hopefully growing tired before they even reached the Civil War.
Yet… That would probably still be fairly antiseptic. There would probably be several Dippin Dots kiosks along the time line path.
I thought a lot about the field trip groups making their way through the museum. Several of the exhibits were life sized. This allowed the children to literally place themselves into the exhibits.
A group of preteen boys that I followed through several rooms were having an extended discussion about what weapons they would have used to break free from slavery. Here, two of the boys caressed the barrel of the rifle and said they would have over powered this single guard and stolen his weapon and killed him and ran away “up North.”
One of the boys decided that he would have hidden a knife in his pants. Then another boy became enthralled by a long machete depicted in another exhibit and decided he would rather wield that weapon.
I longed to tell them all to STFU, but their chaperon was only steps behind me. She, a White woman, was listening to the self-guided tour. She appeared to be crying.
Another school group came through as I was lining up these shots. One of the boys ran over to the seated men and exclaimed, “Oh, lookit! I’m a slave!”
His classmate, a girl, looked at him with disdain and said, “You retard! Being a slave wasn’t a good thing!”
The boy stood up, glancing at me as he did. I suppose I gave him a look, or perhaps it was his rebuke by the girl (who he had probably been trying to impress). But he stopped smiling and laughing and walked quickly away from the exhibit.
I thought the girl’s choice of words could have been better. Hers were not more enlightened than the rifle-choosing boy who told the potential knife wielder that his own choice of weapon was “so gay.”
But at least she had words. Apparently I just had a look.
I sat next to one of the life-sized seated men and took my shot.
One of the exhibits appeared at first to just be a darkened room with a large clear center column containing what looked like thousands of colored glass beads. I walked through quickly, in search of my children who I thought had gone on ahead of me. I found one with her grandfather, then returned through the room to search for my other child. I found her looking at the time line with her father.
I walked back through the darkened room. I stopped this time to look. The plaque said that the room was dedicated to all the Africans who did not make the Middle Passage with their lives. The colored beads were meant to represent them, because their names have—like their lives—been lost. I walked back through the room and suddenly burst into tears. I stood in a corner and silently cried for a few moments before catching up with my daughter and my father-in-law.
I amended my mental blog post to remove the word antiseptic.
My children also cried. One cried while reading the account of Margaret Garner, the woman on whose account Toni Morrison’s Beloved is based. She told me through her tears…it was so terrible…why would a mother do something like that?
I tried to explain that this shows how horrible slavery was, that a mother would rather her children be dead than return to be slaves. Could she imagine how horrible that must have been? She told me she hated slavery, and I was glad.
Both cried during a short film that used actors to portray a mother, her young daughter, and teenaged son about to be separated as the young man prepared to run away from his family and the plantation.
I almost did not go into the little theater, prepared to be annoyed at the actors. But I, too, cried. We hugged each other and remained seated for a few moments after the film credits ended. I asked my daughters if they wanted to ask me anything about the film. One said, “It was all just so sad.” I was happy that she was sad. All I said was that I agreed.
My other daughter wondered if the young man in the film made it. I reminded her that this was just a reenactment, but that some Blacks made it and some did not.
They wanted to go upstairs to the fourth floor to the genealogy center to “look up all of Paw-Paw’s brothers and sisters.” But it was nearly time for us to leave. We went through one other exhibit, then headed for the gift shop.
One daughter chose as her souvenir a fair trade beaded bracelet made somewhere in South America. She opted for no bag, immediately put it on her wrist, and remembered without me telling her to say “thank you” to her grandparents for buying it for her.
One daughter chose a finger puppet of Harriet Tubman. She picked Tubman over the finger puppet of Frederick Douglass, someone who I think was supposed to be Che Guevara, and several other figures I could not readily identify. The puppet was affixed with a magnet so that, I suppose, after you are finished putting your finger up through Black Moses’s skirt and lodging it into her head, you can use her to put your shopping list up on the refrigerator.
I was troubled by this thought and tried to convince my daughter to look at the free trade bracelets that her sister had already chosen from. But she was having none of it. She wanted the Harriet Tubman finger puppet with a passion.
Her grandparents bought it for her. She opted out of the bag, immediately putting the puppet on her index finger. She thanked her grandparents and ran out of the gift store. All the way to our car in the parking garage she extolled us, with the Tubman puppet held up high, to follow her to freedom. She managed a surprisingly accurate quoting: I freed a thousand slaves; I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves…
Although…her finger puppet Harriet Tubman’s words sounded much like Professor Minerva McGonagal talking to Harry Potter about the adequacy of his incantations at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Before I could become annoyed, I told myself that at least my daughter knew the words. That’s a start.
And mows the lawn and trims the bushes for the very first time in her life.
All hail the suburban city woman.