Category Archives: Reference Materials

Clifford Brown, 1930-1956

“U.S. jazz trumpeter and principal figure in the hard-bop idiom. Born in Wilmington, Delaware, he became the most influential trumpeter of his generation, inspired by Fats Navarro to combine technical brilliance with lyrical grace in his playing. After touring with Lionel Hampton’s big band in 1953, he worked with Art Blakey; in 1954 he and drummer Max Roach formed a quintet that became one of the outstanding groups in modern jazz. He died in a car crash at age 25.”

Excerpted from: Stevens, Mark A., Ed. Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Encyclopedia. Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, 2000.

Chester Himes, 1909-198

American novelist. Himes began writing while serving in Ohio State Penitentiary for armed robbery. His account of the terrible 1930 Penitentiary Fire that killed over three hundred men appeared in Esquire in 1932. From his first novel, If He Hollers Let Him Go (1945), Himes dealt consistently with the social and psychological burdens of being black in a white society. The Third Generation (1954) is an ambitious fictionalized history of oppression from the time of slavery to the mid-20th century. Beginning in 1953, Himes lived as an expatriate in Spain and France, where he met and was strongly influenced by Richard Wright. It was in France that he began his best-known series of novels—including Cotton Comes to Harlem (1965) and Run Man Run (1966)—featuring the two Harlem policemen Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson. As with Himes’s earlier work, the series is characterized by violence and grisly, sardonic humor. The Quality of Hurt (1972) and My Life of Absurdity (1976) are autobiographies.”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.

“By Any Means Necessary” in Context

“That’s our motto. We want freedom by any means necessary. We want justice by any means necessary. We want equality by any means necessary.”

Malcolm X, Speech at rally of Organization of Afro-American Unity, New York, N.Y., 28 June 1964

Excerpted from: Schapiro, Fred, ed. The Yale Book of Quotations. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006.

He Knew Rivers, Both Literally and Metaphorically

“I’ve known rivers as ancient as the world and

older than the flow of human blood in human veins.”

Langston Hughes, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” l. 1 (1921)

Excerpted from: Schapiro, Fred, ed. The Yale Book of Quotations. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006.

Cultural Literacy: Harlem Renaissance

Thankfully, the literature on the Harlem Renaissance is deep and wide. That said, I highly recommend historian David Levering Lewis’s When Harlem Was in Vogue as one of the standouts of what is generally a distinguished body of literature. For a more general reference book, The Black New Yorkers (as well, presumably, as its companion volume, The Black Washingtonians, with which I am less familiar) is also excellent.

For my part, I offer this Cultural Literacy worksheet on the Harlem Renaissance, which is, as these things are, a short introduction to the topic.

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806)

“American astronomer, compiler of almanacs, and inventor. He was born a free black in Ellicott’s Mills, Maryland, and owned a farm near Baltimore. He taught himself astronomy and mathematics and began astronomical calculations in 1773. He accurately predicted a solar eclipse in 1789. In 1790 he was appointed to the commission that surveyed the site for Washington, D.C. From 1791 to 1802 he published annual almanacs; he sent an early copy to Thomas Jefferson to counter a contention that blacks were intellectually inferior. He also wrote essays denouncing slavery and war.”

Excerpted from: Stevens, Mark A., Ed. Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Encyclopedia. Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, 2000.

The Fire Next Time (1963)

“A two-part essay by American writer James Baldwin. Variously employing biblical allusions, the rhapsodic rhetorical style of the black pulpit, as well as his own personal ‘witness’ Baldwin admonishes America to ‘end the racial nightmare.’ The first essay, ‘My Dungeon Shook,’ is a letter to his nephew James, on the one hundredth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. In ‘Down at the Cross,’ Baldwin describes growing up in Harlem, his experiences with the Nation of Islam, and offers a warning and a plea for white and black American to work together.”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.