Instruments of Termination

Posted on Posted in Guest Blogger, HBW

[Jerry W. Ward, Jr.]

Mass media and social media do seem to serve the purposes of the Trump administration well. Despite its commitment to inform the public, mass media use half-truths and lies to frustrate the process of thinking in the United States of America. Its agencies profit from the enterprise.  Its agents take delight in toying with issues and ideas, providing scant evidence one might use to make judgments.  They perform scripts and entertain; they do not tax themselves to specify frames of reference.  The audience is saturated with whatever can be easily  improvised.

Social media, on the other hand, is more transparent about its artifice.  Driven by legions of passion, users eschew collective responsibility.  Responsibility, particularly the ethical variety, does not fit well with the orgasm of expression.  Subjective, highly individual reductions of the actual to the real flourish.  No explanation is needed, because all of us who use social media are secure with our tribal identities, and we blithely assume the individual is the herd.

Reading Gustave LeBon’s sociological classic, The Crowd (1895), intensifies belief that both mass and social media treat ideas as “the daughters of the past and the mothers of the future, but throughout the slaves of time.”  Slaves of time?  Yes.  LeBon’s words blacken our eyes so that we might see better. A concentrated gaze exposes just how female and feminist the United States of America has become in 2017.  Yes, the trace of sexism is most visible.  The possibility energizes President Trump to deploy the tweet with maximum force, to use it as his primary instrument of termination.  And what does he desire to terminate?  Democracy as we once pragmatically understood it.  And he wills to replace democracy with new and improved fascism, the necessary and sufficient condition for making his nation great.  Mass media and social media massage us to be comfortable with the blessings of a want-to-be dictator.


March 14, 2017

Remembering Robert “Bobby” Sengstacke

Posted on Posted in HBW

Famed Chicago Defender photographer Robert “Bobby” Sengstacke passed away March 7, 2017. His photos of Black life and culture are widely revered, collected, and published.

Courtesy of Chicago Defender

We celebrate his life and work:

The History Makers: Robert Sengstacke

Prominent Photojournalist and Former Chicago Defender Editor, Robert A. Sengstacke Dies At 73

National Association of Black Journalists (Chicago Chapter): Remembering Famed Photographer Robert “Bobby” A. Sengstacke

Images of Black Chicago, The Robert Sengstacke Archive

The Robert Sengstacke Photography Archive Now Available in LUNA

Getty Images

Video: Andre Guichard Interviews Bobby Sengstacke

Video: The Sengstacke Eye

Video: The Quintessential Black Woman

For more information about memorial services and memorial contributions, please visit

Remembering Jerrie Louise Cobb Scott

Posted on Posted in Guest Blogger, HBW

[Dr. David E. Kirkland]

Usually seeds aren’t planted into the ground in the stubborn cold of February. But what other month could capture such seeds as the ones that our dear friend Jerrie planted in her lifetime. For February stands out not only for the shared history that we commemorate but the campaign of Black books that Jerrie so awesomely pushed.

The African American Read-In was always more than a Caucus event, it was central to Jerrie’s cause, inspired by her deep love and yearning for all people—not just Black people. She understood even then that our world could be no better than the books we study. So she championed the cause of studying stories of Black life and Black lives, which, for her, have never ceased to matter.

I met Jerrie some many years ago, perhaps in 1996 at my first NCTE Black Caucus meeting. We were in Detroit back then. She stood with a humble, southern-articulate grace. Her heavy hands heaved the miraculous and tender stories of a history too often defiled. I believe she was expressing the humble histories of our cause, speaking of Black language in Black language and getting everyone to read books by Black authors and/or about Black people. And though she stood close to the floor, her presence had the rhythm of the wind which leapt to the ceiling. Stilted, she rose like the unfolding arms of sun rays or the brisk, comfortable laughter and bellows of Black bellies soaring past our bondage. Her energy matched creation; her smile was a distant constellation. She has always been one of our stars!

When I began co-chairing the Caucus, Jerrie approached me. I believe her smile, which that day itself mimicked a nebula, caught me in its awesome gravity. She began to speak of things, of past struggles and triumphs. She spoke of a place of meeting, which has been one of the reasons for our Caucus, and she spoke of many other things that today I vaguely recall. But I do remember is that voice, always reassuring, the still quietness of it all. She spoke of leadership and persistence. Our Caucus must remember her, and strive!

To our dear friend, Jerrie Cobb Scott: I will always remember you, and your message to love Black people and Blackness, I shall never forget.
David E. Kirkland


David E. Kirkland, PhD, JD is Executive Director of the NYU Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools and Associate Professor in English and Urban Education at NYU

Lorenzo Thomas (1944-2005)

Posted on Posted in HBW, Jerry W. Ward

[Jerry W. Ward Jr.]

Lorenzo Thomas (1944-2005)
As I reread a few of Lorenzo Thomas’s essays and poems, I recall  the first line of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” —
     “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving
               hysterical naked….”

The single word in the beginning of Ginsberg’s semi-autobiographical, derivative tribute to Walt Whitman that captures attention is “minds,” although the current visibility  of mental illness and homelessness in the USA might derail that focus.  Madness, which isn’t identical with insanity, and the companion images of hysteria and lack of food and clothing invite aesthetic adventures which are tangential ( and perhaps beside the point).  Over the past thirty years, criticism and theory have encouraged more concern with the material body than with the abstract operations of the mind. Enthralled by such emphasis, many a fine poet has plunged into innovation, outing, and  shock-value.  The dullness of post-WWII America may have justified Ginsberg’s wanting to approach the surrealism of Bob Kaufman to protest how poetic expression was imprisoned.  The jury is still out on that possibility.  Reading Thomas against the sweep and gestures of “Howl,” I am intrigued that as one of the best minds of my generation Thomas chose to dismiss the limits of protest and to map new territories for African American creative work.  Thomas invested heavily in language, history, and the mind.

Lorenzo Thomas, Sonia Sanchez and Amiri Baraka. Credit: C. B. Claiborne (1994)
One small instance of Thomas’s superior mind occurs in an interview Charles Rowell conducted with him in 1978  (“Between the Comedy of Matters and the Ritual Workings of Man” ).  When Rowell suggested that Thomas might “probably agree with W. H. Auden’s “In Memory of W. B. Yeats” — that “poetry makes nothing happen,” Thomas finessed the moment by saying that Auden’s assertion was right, but that Black poets are interested in Yeats as “a nationalist and an activist and a mythologist as well.”  It was not Yeats’s making of poems and theater pieces that made anything happen, “but their presence in people’s consciousness is what made things happen.  In a few simple words, Thomas accurately contextualized and deconstructed a reprehensible stereotype by using plain ancient Egyptian common sense rather than complex, deceptive European-derived jargon.  Whether they are experimental or traditional, poets are not ethnic commodities in pre-future cargo ships.  Thomas stood on the shoulders of Langston Hughes.  He understood clearly the aesthetic kinship of poets and musicians and what ought to count as valid in matrices of creative expression.  There is lasting relevance in the point Thomas made regarding what was problematic in the Black Arts Movement  and is still problematic in the reception of American poetry: “The concept of the poem functioning as a political entity —as rhetoric that was to be acted upon –was and is a mistaken notion.  The poem creating consciousness, which will then inspire people to act, is valid.”  I attribute Thomas’s excellent insight to his possessing  a unique blending of African Diaspora, Central American, and New York sensibilities.
Challenge my high regard for how Thomas mapped territory by going to the sources, by reading his eloquent essays in Extraordinary Measures: Afrocentric Modernism and Twentieth-Century American Poetry  (2000) and Don’t Deny My Name: Words and Music and the Black Intellectual Tradition (2008). Challenge your own literacy by reading his major collections of poetry —The Bathers (1981),  Chances are Few (1979; and the expanded second edition, 2003), and Dancing on Main Street (2004).  Try to avoid being  complicit in allowing your mind to be “destroyed by madness” in 2017.


 March 23, 2017

Early Women Faculty at University of Kansas

Posted on Posted in HBW, Shelia Bonner

[Shelia Bonner]

Too often, stereotypes and misinformation—images, stories, and historical records presented to others—obscure existing representations of black women.

The previous passage is taken from the “Preface” of Sister Circle, the 2002 collection that celebrates works produced by Black women scholars. In the celebratory fashion of Sister Circle and as we close out Women’s History Month, today’s blog space is dedicated to women of color who were among the early faculty members at the University of Kansas.

Mildred Watson earned a B.S. from Lincoln University, a historically black college in Missouri, in 1942 and a Masters in 1954. She devoted 13 years of service to KU as an Assistant Professor and later as an Associate Professor of Social Work from 1963 – 1976. In 1984 she was appointed as the first female commissioner of the juvenile division of the Jackson County Circuit Court. She died as the age of 82 July 1, 2005, in Florissant, Missouri.

Watson with members of the Social Work department. The photograph was published in Transitions: The Emergence, Growth, and Development of the School of Social Welfare. It was edited by Shirley Patterson and Ben Zimmerman, and published by The University of Kansas Printing Service in 1987.

In 2004, Mary Townsend was recognized for her 21 years of service to KU by The Emily Taylor Center for Women and Gender Equity. At the university from 1969 – 1987, Townsend served the college community in several capacities. While she started as a secretary, she would later become a tenured professor in 1971 and later the Director of Minority Affairs, now known as Office of Minority Affairs. By the end of her career at the university, in 1987, she was an emeritus professor.


HBW would like to thank Deborah Dandridge at Spencer Research Library for her research assistance while drafting this piece.  

A Conversation with Sharan Strange

Posted on Posted in HBW

This interview is part of Black Poetry of the Black Arts Movement, an institute sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities and under the auspices of Project on the History of Black Writing at the University of Kansas. Webinar with poet Sharan Strange conducted October 28, 2015.


Strong Readers Reading the Difficult Long Poem

Posted on Posted in Guest Blogger, Jerry W. Ward

A metronome does not measure the pleasure of reading a long poem. The pleasure exists, outside of time, in a reader’s total aesthetic experience of bringing something to the poem and taking away much more than she or he arrived with. Only strong readers survive, and some of them opt to transform knowledge gained into actions. Others hoard their intellectual wealth. In American time-and-capital-driven cultures of reading, one might argue that becoming a strong reader is often a luxury enjoyed mainly by the incarcerated, for they are condemned to live in “abnormal” time. While they may open their readings to the sufferings of history, they do so without the Kabbalistic gestures Harold Bloom ascribes to strong readers in A Map of Misreading(1975). They employ fierce independence and common sense.

Mackey, Nathaniel. Blue Fasa. New York: New Directions, 2015.

In Discrepant Engagement: Dissonance, Cross-Culturality, and Experimental Writing (1993), Mackey provided theoretical foundations for grasping why his poetic practice diverges from the orthodox frames of referentiality described in Stephen Henderson’s groundbreaking Understanding the New Black Poetry (1973). Nevertheless, attentive readers of this book can detect that Mackey’s practice is not alien in the tension-marked dynamics of modern African American poetry. The relatively uncanonized works of Russell Atkins and the canonized ones of Melvin B. Tolson, for example, are prototypes of what conservative academic critics might judge to be the transgressions of Mackey’s poetics. They provide evidence that difference and difficulty are inherently normal in our poetic tradition, normal to the extent printed poetry can replay music.