Celebrating the Lives of Norman Jordan and Samuel Allen

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[by Matthew Broussard]
[editor’s note: see bottom of post for press release of Norman Jordan’s Memorial Service]

The world lost two great minds in the month of June: Norman Jordan and Samuel Allen (aka Paul Vesey).

Norman Jordan (1938- 2015)
Samuel Allen (1917-2015)

Norman Jordan was born in Ansted, West Virginia in 1938, but moved to Cleveland, Ohio as a youth to attend school. Unable to stay away, Jordan returned to Ansted in 1977, earning a bachelor’s degree from West Virginia University in theater, and then later a master’s degree in African American studies from Ohio State University.

Samuel Allen was born in Columbus, Ohio in 1917. He attended Fisk University where he studied with James Weldon Johnson. Allen went on to study law at Harvard, and had an extensive law career that followed, serving as Deputy Assistant District Attorney in New York City, a civilian attorney with the armed forces in Europe, working his own private practice, and then later working as a law professor at Texas Southern University.

Norman Jordan was a poet and a playwright, with his works anthologized in at least 42 books of poetry, making him one of the most published Appalachian poets. His poems have appeared in The Poetry of the Negro, Black Fire, Make a Joyful Sound: Poems for Children by A.A. Poets, In Search of Color Everywhere: A Collection of A.A. Poetry, and Wild Sweet Notes: Fifty years of West Virginia Poetry 1950-1999. A voice and leading force in the Black Arts Movement, Jordan’s work also appeared in journals dedicated to the movement such as Journal of Black Poetry and Black World.  Jordan had also written two books of poetry: Destination: Ashes (1967) and Above Maya (1971). In 2008, Jordan was inducted into an exclusive group of poets named the Affrilachian Poets. Jordan was also a collaborator, editor, a storyteller, and had taught at West Virginia University, among other schools.

While living in Ohio, Norman Jordan became a leading force in the Cleveland Poetry Movement, and he worked closely with the Karamu House, the oldest African American theater in the United States, which served as a spring board for many African American artists, including Langston Hughes and Ruby Dee. Cleveland became a notable point of circulation of ideas during the Black Arts Movement.

In addition, Jordan was the president and founder of the African American Arts and Heritage Academy (AAAHA), as well as the founder and director of the African American Heritage Family Tree Museum in Ansted. Jordan was very active in the community, especially with youth, serving as a director of a youth camp at Camp Washington-Carver for Culture and History for many years.

At the 21st annual day of observance of New River Gorge, which seeks to commemorate African Americans who lived in the valley and worked the railroads and coal mines that helped to fuel the industrial revolution, Jordan remarked that “as they pass away, it becomes even more important to look at what they represent.” A racial advocate, a mentor to our youth, and a voice for many, this is how we will choose to remember Norman Jordan.

A memorial was held for Norman Jordan on Saturday, July 11th in Ansted, West Virginia.

***

Samuel Allen would often write under the pen name Paul Vesey in order to keep his law career and writing career separate. Allen underwent a career shift in 1968 when he was named the Avalon Professor of Humanities at the Tuskegee Institute, and in 1971 he became a professor of English at Boston University. Straying from the law path, the academic setting of Allen’s second career allowed him more time to work on his writing.

Like many blacks during the post-World War II Civil Rights Era, such as Richard Wright and James Baldwin, Allen spent much of his time in Paris, and he was better known in Europe for much of his life than in the United States. Allen’s poems were first published by Richard Wright in the French journal Presence Africaine in 1949, an influential journal in the Pan-Africanist and Negritude movements.

Allen began to gain wider recognition in the United States by the mid-1960s as his poems were included in numerous anthologies, including those compiled by Langston Hughes and Arna Bontemps. Allen’s poems have now appeared in more than 200 anthologies. Some of Allen’s books of poems include Elfenbeinzahne: Gedichte eines Afroamerikaners, Ivory Tusks and other Poems, Paul Vesey’s Ledger, and Every Round and Other Poems. Additionally, Allen completed many French translations of others’ works, such as Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Orphee Noir” and Leopold Senghor’s Anthologie de la Nouvelle Poesie Negre, making these important works available to non-French-speaking readers.

In 1992, Allen attended the prestigious African Americans and Europe International Conference that took place in Paris, France. The conference attracted many of the major African American scholars and writers and was the largest gathering of its kind.

Allen’s father was an African Methodist Episcopal bishop, and Allen was known to merge African and African American culture in his poetry, drawing on oral tradition, African survivals, and the Southern Black Church.

We celebrate the accomplishments of Norman Jordan and Samuel Allen.

Click here and here to read short selections of Norman Jordan and Samuel Allen’s poetry.

***
News Release
Memorial for Norman Jordan
     On Saturday July 11, 2015, the family of Norman Jordan will host a Memorial Service to celebrate the life of this internationally recognized poet, playwright, and arts and museum administrator.
     A native of Ansted, West Virginia, Jordan passed from his earthly existence on June 27, 2015.  He was the author of five books of poetry the most recent being Sing Me Different in which he introduces a new form of poetry called “Stick Poetry.”  Jordan is most associated with the Black Arts Movement of the 1970s and is anthologized along with other notable poets of that era such as Nikki Giovani, Haki Mahabuti, Amiri Baraka, Gwendolyn Brooks and Sonia Sanchez to name a few.  He is founder of the African American Arts & Heritage Academy for teenagers established over thirty years ago, and the Co-founder and Director of the African American Heritage Family Tree Museum in Ansted.    
     The Memorial Service will be held at the Tamarack Arts & Crafts Center in Beckley, West Virginia on July 11, 2015.  This celebration of Norman’s life will begin at 1:00 p.m. in the Gov. Hulett C. Smith Theater.  An open-mike portion of the event will allow for brief comments or tributes to Norman.  If you plan to participate in this way please contact Eric Jordan at (304) 685-4059 or email him at eric.jordan@mail.wvu.edu . 



We wish to thank Eugene Redmond and Joanne Gabbin for their contributions to this post.