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Black History

A Fully Illustrated Edition of James’s Baldwin’s “The Fire Next Time” with Photography by Steve Schapiro

LOS ANGELES SENTINEL — In 1963, two of James Baldwin’s most influential essays were fused to form a bestselling book titled “The Fire Next Time,” cementing him as a central voice in America’s reckoning on race relations during the civil rights movement. Nearly 60 years later, Baldwin’s words on Black resilience, White ignorance, and false social progress ring as true as ever.

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By Imani Sumbi

In 1963, two of James Baldwin’s most influential essays were fused to form a bestselling book titled “The Fire Next Time,” cementing him as a central voice in America’s reckoning on race relations during the civil rights movement. Nearly 60 years later, Baldwin’s words on Black resilience, White ignorance, and false social progress ring as true as ever.

Two years ago, in recognition of the continued relevance of those words, Taschen published a glossy, gorgeous new edition of “The Fire Next Time,” interspersing between its paragraphs over 100 images taken by photojournalist Steve Schapiro.

From the ashen remains of a bombed building, to a crowd of Black worshipers kneeling with Dr. King on the steps of a church, to a smiling James Baldwin attending the March on Washington, Schapiro’s photographs span not just the duration of the civil rights movement, but a great range of people and emotions associated with it. The pictures show people both well-known and unknown, and document hope and unity just as much as violence and persecution.

Like Baldwin’s writing, these photographs are both documentary and instructive, providing a clear record of a tumultuous time in American history while showing the next generation the power of imagery to effect change. The fact that Baldwin’s extraordinary essays pair so well with equally striking visuals by a White photographer proves his belief that “we, the Black and the White, deeply need each other here” in order to make America practice the ideals of freedom and equality it preaches.

The 2019 edition builds on the intimacy and emotional depth of the original with a foreword by renowned civil rights leader John Lewis, a short essay by Steve Schapiro on his experience photographing the civil rights movement, and an afterword by Baldwin’s sister Gloria Karefa-Smart. These additions illuminate the paths Baldwin and Schapiro took to become two of the most important recordkeepers of the civil rights movement and bring to their work a sense of current importance as this country continues to struggle with widespread racial inequality.

At a time when racism is less overt but no less prevalent, we would do well to learn the lessons they left behind as we take up their fight.

This article originally appeared in The Los Angeles Sentinel.

Black History

Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie: First Black Grammy’ Winners

Two Black performers left the event that night with Grammys in hand: Ella Jane Fitzgerald (1917–1996) for Best Vocal Performance, Female, and Best Jazz Performance, Individual; and William James “Count” Basie (1904–1984), for Best Performance by a Dance Band and Best Jazz Performance, Group. Recognition for the pair was well overdue as their roads to the Grammy were storied.

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Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie, the first two African Americans to win Grammy awards, 1958. Photo courtesy of 9gag.com/gag/aQREN3K

It was the late spring of 1959. The music industry’s elite converged inside the Grand Ballroom of Los Angeles’ Beverly Hilton. Others were gathering at a function held simultaneously in New York City.

That night, the Grammy Award’s first show took place, and no one knew then that it would become a historic event for African-American performers.

Two Black performers left the event that night with Grammys in hand: Ella Jane Fitzgerald (1917–1996) for Best Vocal Performance, Female, and Best Jazz Performance, Individual; and William James “Count” Basie (1904–1984), for Best Performance by a Dance Band and Best Jazz Performance, Group. Recognition for the pair was well overdue as their roads to the Grammy were storied.

Fitzgerald was a teen when her mother died. Her aunt then took young Ella from her home in Yonkers, N.Y., back to Newport News, Va. Shortly after, Ella’s stepfather died. These events brought on depression. Ella began failing school and frequently skipped classes. After getting into trouble with the police, she was sent to a reform school. There she endured beatings by the caretakers. The brutality forced her to escape.

At age 15, she was alone and struggling to make a life for herself. But things would change when she was in New York City about five years later.

In 1934, young Ella performed at the Apollo’s Amateur Night. The crowd booed her; shouted “What’s she going to do?” A frightened Ella decided to sing. She asked the band to play Hoagy Carmichael’s “Judy,” one of her mother’s favorites. Her voice silenced the audience, and by the song’s end they begged for an encore.

Two years later, Ella made her first recording, “Love and Kisses,” under the Decca label. The rest was music history.
Later dubbed “The First Lady of Song,” Ella was the most popular female jazz singer in the United States for more than half a century. On June 15, 1996, she died in her Beverly Hills home. She’d taken home 14 Grammys throughout her career.

Basie, born in Red Bank, N.J., was one of the all-time great jazz band leaders. Dubbed the “King of Swing,” his career started in clubs and speakeasies in Asbury Park and Long Branch, N.J., then New York City (1924) and later Kansas City (1927).

His music served as inspiration for artists including John Lewis, Thelonious Monk, and Oscar Peterson. Along the way, he faced discrimination but overcame barriers to become one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century.

“Every day, we used to say, ‘Not one drop of my self-worth depends on your acceptance of me,’” musician and producer Quincy Jones said of the racism that he and Basie experienced back then. “It was horrible. It ain’t much better now.”

Basie wrote in a letter: “I can’t remember when I did not experience discrimination … And I didn’t let it bug me.”
The Count won nine Grammy awards over the course of his career. He died on April 26, 1984, in Hollywood, Fla.

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Bay Area

New Assemblymember Mia Bonta to Caucus With 3 Legislative Groups

The 18th Assembly District includes a large portion of the city of Oakland and the cities of Alameda and San Leandro. Bonta was elected in a special election on August 31, defeating fellow Democrat Janani Ramachandra.

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Assemblymember Mia Bonta, (third from left), with (left to right) Senator Steve Bradford, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurman, U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee, assemblymembers Isaac Bryan Reggie Jones-Sawyer, and Kevin McCarty.

Soon after Assemblymember Mia Bonta (D-Oakland) was sworn in last week to represent California’s 18th Assembly District — which covers parts of East Bay — she signed on as a member of the California Legislative Women’s Caucus (CLWC), the California Latino Legislative Caucus (CLLC), and the California Black Legislative Caucus (CLBC).

Bonta is the 11th member of the Black Caucus and the only lawmaker representing a district in the Bay Area. In the Latino Caucus, she is the 30th member, and out of 120 lawmakers in both houses of the state Legislature, she is the 39th woman.

“Special congratulations to our newest member @MiaBonta, who was sworn into the Assembly this morning! #AD18 has chosen a fantastically fearless representative, and I look forward to working with you Assemblymember Bonta! #CALeg,” wrote Assemblymember Akilah Weber (D- San Diego).

Mialisa “Mia” Tania Bonta, who is Puerto Rican of African descent, earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Yale University in 1993 and a Master of Education (Ed.M.) from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 1996. Bonta also received a J.D. from Yale University Law School in 1999.

Her work experience includes over 20 years working with nonprofits, including serving as CEO of Oakland Promise, a college and career prep program for Alameda County high school students.  She was also president of the Alameda Unified School District Board from 2018 to 2021.

“Congratulations to @MiaBonta on her election to the Assembly, which not only made her the first Afro Latina in the Legislature, but also raised the number of women in the Legislature to an all-time high,” California Lt. Gov., Eleni Kounalakis stated on Twitter.

The 18th Assembly District includes a large portion of the city of Oakland and the cities of Alameda and San Leandro. Bonta was elected in a special election on August 31, defeating fellow Democrat Janani Ramachandra.

“I am deeply honored to represent the 18th Assembly District. Our district has a long history of bold, progressive, leadership and I plan to continue this work in our diverse district,” Bonta tweeted September 7. “I’m ready to fight for bold solutions to issues like homelessness, housing affordability, climate change, and criminal justice reform for AD-18 and all Californians. I am ready to get to work.”

Bonta steps in to replace her husband, Rob Bonta, who vacated the AD 18th seat in April after Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed him California Attorney General, replacing Xavier Becerra, who is now United States Secretary of Health and Human Services.

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Art

David Drake: A Potter Who Inscribed His Work With Poetry

It was August 16, 1857. David Drake (c. 1800– c. 1870s), an enslaved African American, had just completed a 19-inch greenware pot. On it he inscribed: “I wonder where is all my relations / Friendship to all and every nation.”

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A pot created by David Drake. Wikipedia photo.

It was August 16, 1857. David Drake (c. 1800– c. 1870s), an enslaved African American, had just completed a 19-inch greenware pot. On it he inscribed: “I wonder where is all my relations / Friendship to all and every nation.”
According to some collectors and scholars, this message demonstrates “Drake questioning his heritage and personal history … signifies [his] positivity despite facing the many brutalities of slavery, including the loss of personal identity.” Further, by etching what is clearly a personal expression, Drake defied a South Carolina law forbidding Blacks to read and write.
South Carolina’s Negro Act of 1740, prohibited educating enslaved Africans, punishable by a fine of 100 pounds and six months in prison. Most Southern states in the early 1800s restricted Black literacy.
Drake’s date of birth is unclear. It is said that it was during the first half of 1800. The first legal record of him (June 13, 1818) describes “a boy about 17 years old country born … mortgaged to Eldrid Simkins by Harvey Drake.”
The (Harvey) Drake family owned a plantation in Edgefield, S.C. The term “country born” refers to enslaved Blacks born in the United States rather than Africa. David Drake lived and worked in Edgefield’s pottery factories for almost all his life.
David Drake was first enslaved by Harvey Drake, who alongside Abner Landrum, owned a large pottery business. Known to be a religious man, Landrum was the publisher of a local newspaper, The Edgefield Hive. Scholars speculate that he taught Drake to read the Bible, even if doing so was a punishable offense.
After Harvey Drake’s death, David Drake was enslaved by Landrum. In 1846, Landrum passed away. Drake was then purchased and enslaved by Landrum’s son Franklin, who was abusive. While owned by Franklin, Drake never inscribed his works. But Drake’s life, his works, blossomed in 1849, when he was sold to Lewis Miles.
Miles owned the pottery factory, Stony Bluff. There Drake created his best works once again inscribed with poetry. The number of pieces produced increased from one every few years to seven in 1859. Having produced alkaline-glazed stoneware jugs between the 1820s and the 1870s, Drake is recognized as the first enslaved potter to inscribe his work. He became a free man when the Civil War closed (1865).
According to Drake scholar Jill Beute Koverman, Drake created “more than 40,000 pieces over his lifetime.”
When Drake was alive, his pots sold for around 50 cents. Today they fetch as much as $50,000 and have auctioned for as much as $369,000. A butter churn with the inscription “This is a noble churn / fill it up it will never turn,” sold for $130,000.
Various collections including his work can be viewed at museums including the Smithsonian collection of the National Museum of American History in Wash., D.C.
It is thought that Drake died in the 1870s because according to scholars, “he is not found in the 1880 census.”

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