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Gloria Naylor, Author of “The Women of Brewster Place,” Has Died

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By Britni Danielle, Ebony

Gloria Naylor, a writer known for illuminating the stories of Black women, died of a heart attack on September 28 in the Virgin Islands, her sister, Bernice Harrison, confirmed to Ebony. She was 66.

According to Harrison, Naylor had been sick for some time and had a weak heart, but her family was not aware of the extent of her illness. Naylor suffered a coronary last Wednesday morning, and medical officials were unable to revive her.

“She was a wonderful person, very generous, kind, and thoughtful,” Harrison said via phone on Monday. “And she will be greatly be missed.”

Naylor, who was a novelist and artist, is best known for her award-winning book The Women of Brewster Place. Published in 1982, the novel went on earn Naylor the National Book Award the following year. In 1989, it was adapted for the screen and made into a miniseries by Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions.

Born in New York, Naylor earned a bachelor’s degree at Brooklyn College before going on to receive her masters in African American Studies from Yale University. Throughout her career, Naylor taught literature at several institutions, including New York University, Cornell, and Boston University, and her beautiful and complex portrayals of the lives of Black women inspired a generation of writers.

American Book Award winning writer Tananarive Due said Naylor’s novel Mama Day, “gave me permission to write my truth,” and writer and journalist Rosemarie Robotham called her “a true literary light.”

Best selling author Bernice McFadden told EBONY Naylor gave her “permission to write my truth.”

“Gloria Naylor gave me permission to write my truth. To rejoice, scream, cry and pray on the page,” she said. “To embrace my Blackness – my womanhood and to hold both in high esteem and guard it with my life.”

Additional praise for the novelist and her work poured in on Twitter.

A pioneer, Naylor fearless explored issues of race, sexuality, and spirituality in her work, opening the door for a wave of contemporary Black fictions writers like Bebe More-Campbell, Eric Jerome Dickey, Tina McElroy Ansa and others.

At the time of her death, Naylor was living in the Virgin Island doing what she did best—writing. Harrison said her sister will be cremated on Tuesday, and they will return to the mainland on Wednesday.

Read more at EBONY.

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IN MEMORIAM: Robert Farris Thompson, Renowned Professor of African American Studies

Prolific Professor Robert Farris Thompson truly embodied the term ‘Maestro de Maestros.’ He was an absolute giant in the field of Afro-Atlantic history and art, respected by his peers for his groundbreaking work and multiple major articles and publications, particularly the seminal “Flash of the Spirit” (1984) and “Faces of the Gods” (1993).

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Robert Farris Thompson. Yale University photo.
Robert Farris Thompson. Yale University photo.

TRIBUTE

By John Santos

We’ve lost a Rosetta Stone.

Prolific Professor Robert Farris Thompson passed in his sleep Monday morning due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease and having been weakened by a bout with COVID-19 at the beginning of the year. He would’ve completed his 89th year on December 30.

Born on Dec. 30, 1932, Thompson was a White Texan who spectacularly disproved the fallacy of White supremacy through his pioneering and tireless elevation and clarification of African art, philosophy and culture. He removed the blinders and changed the way that generations of international students see African art.

A U.S. Army veteran, he went to Yale on a football scholarship and earned a B.A. in 1955. He joined the faculty in 1964 and earned his Ph.D. in 1965. He remained on the faculty until 2015.

‘Master T,’ as his students and friends often referred to him, was the Col. John Trumbull professor of the History of Art and professor of African American Studies at Yale University.

Thompson was also an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the Maryland Institute College of Art.

He curated game-changing national exhibitions such as “African Art in Motion,” “The Four Moments of the Sun: Kongo Art in Two Worlds,” and “Faces of the Gods: Art and Altars of Africa and the African Americas.” The latter had a run at U.C. Berkeley in 1995 when local practitioners of African spirituality and musicians — including myself – demonstrated the powerful knowledge of tradition.

Thompson truly embodied the term ‘Maestro de Maestros.’ He was an absolute giant in the field of Afro-Atlantic history and art, respected by his peers for his groundbreaking work and multiple major articles and publications, particularly the seminal “Flash of the Spirit” (1984) and “Faces of the Gods” (1993). If he did not coin, he certainly standardized the term ‘Black Atlantic.’ He was a brilliant presenter, writer and teacher. But unlike many if not most academicians, he was also loved, revered and respected by the musicians, artists and communities about whom he wrote.

Initiated in Africa to Erinle, the deity of deep, still water, Thompson was hip, quirky and totally immersed in African and African-based music, dance, language, art and history. His lifetime of research, immersion and visionary work formed a bridge between Black America and her African roots.

Countless trips to Africa, the Southern U.S., the Caribbean and Central and South America informed his passionate work. He wrote about sculpture, painting, architecture, dance, music, language, poetry, food, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, African history, stolen antiquities, African spirituality, African retention, Brazil, Haiti, Cuba, Black Argentina, New York, México, mambo, tango, jazz, spirit possession and so much more. He recorded African drumming. He befriended giants of African diaspora music such as Julito Collazo, Babatunde Olatunji and Mongo Santamaría.

I first saw his writing around 1970 on the back of the classic red vinyl 1961 Mongo Santamaria LP, Arriba! La Pachanga (Fantasy 3324). They are inarguably among the deepest liner notes ever written.

He told me that he used our 1984 recording, Bárbara Milagrosa, by the Orquesta Batachanga, to demonstrate danzón-mambo to his students. I nearly burst into tears when he invited me and Omar Sosa to address and perform for his students at Yale, his alma mater, where he was a rock star. It was an unforgettable occasion for me.

He wrote wonderful liner notes on our 2002 Grammy-nominated production SF Bay, by the Machete Ensemble. He went out of his way to support and encourage countless students and followers like me. I was highly honored to count him as a friend as well as mentor.

He will be missed.

John Santos is a seven-time Grammy-nominated percussionist and former director of Orquesta Batachanga and Machete Ensemble and current director of the John Santos Sextet.

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IN MEMORIAM: Celebrating Wenefrett P. Watson

Her greatest contribution was as a parent to James, a father and successful actor, Cynthia, a mother and contributor of many social and political events, Janet, a dedicated daughter who assisted her in the travel agency, Geoffrey, who followed in his father’s footsteps as a father and a dedicated and revered physician and Gary, an entertainment lawyer in Hollywood. As a world traveler, Wene invited and hosted international exchange students in her home to educate them and her children about the world.

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Wenefrett P. Watson will be laid to rest at Mountain View Cemetery on Friday, November 26, 2021, with services held at the Church By the Side Of the Road, 2108 Russell Street, Berkeley, CA at 1:00 P.M. (COVID-19 Protocols Observed). For more details and in-person/Zoom registration go to www.CBSOR.org/announcements.
Wenefrett P. Watson will be laid to rest at Mountain View Cemetery on Friday, November 26, 2021, with services held at the Church By the Side Of the Road, 2108 Russell Street, Berkeley, CA at 1:00 P.M. (COVID-19 Protocols Observed). For more details and in-person/Zoom registration go to www.CBSOR.org/announcements.

October 29, 1921- November 9, 2021

Wenefrett P. Watson, Wene, born in Marshall Texas, October 29, 1921, graduated from Bishop College where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature. She went on to the University of Southern California in Los Angeles securing a degree in Library Sciences (the same university where her daughter, Cynthia went on to become the first African American “Helen of Troy” at the Rose Bowl Parade). Ambitious and wanting to expand her horizons, Wene applied for and received, sight-unseen, a position with the Department of Agriculture in Washington D.C. Exposed to a bright life in Harlem, New York, she met powerful Black artists. They inspired her. In Los Angeles, on a dare, she sang for Duke Ellington and was shocked when “The Duke” offered her the gig of going on the road with his band.

In Washington D. C., she met Dr. James A. Watson at Howard University. While he expanded his medical practice, they married and started a family. In those early days, with a new husband and three young children, Wene, like most young mothers, was somewhat overwhelmed. Suddenly, her life was much different, compared to the slower and much more sheltered life she had known in Marshall Texas.

Spontaneous and zestful, she enjoyed entertaining friends at home. She liked to play cards, dance and go to the movies. When the good doctor wasn’t available, she would get a babysitter and sneak out to take her six-year-old son, James Jr.), to the movies! She visited with her friend, Jackie and Mrs. Robison, while Jackie was training at Howard University. As a kindness, Jackie taught James Jr. to swim! Jackie, Mrs. Robinson, and Wene had been friends during their shared college years, Wene at USC, while they were at UCLA.

After eight years in Washington D.C., the Watsons traveled to California, where Dr. Watson was a Captain and chief of staff at Edwards Airforce Base hospital. Meeting surgeon Doctor Robert Taylor and Mrs. Estella Taylor, the Watsons moved to Oakland where Dr. Watson helped to build a large medical practice at the Arlington Medical Center with Dr. Taylor and Dr. Benjamin Majors. Dr. Watson’s son, Dr. Henry Geoffrey Watson, now runs the center, serving the Oakland and Berkeley communities.

Most people know Wenefrett for her many notable, social and civic contributions in Oakland. With five children, James, Cynthia, Janet, Geoffrey and Gary, Wenefrett Watson was actively involved with five PTA organizations! Next was her involvement with the Links, Incorporated, an upper-middle class organization that networks their resources to look out for Black families who need support within the commonwealth, highlighting the education and social grace of young girls growing into young women. Eventually she became president of the Oakland Bay Area Chapter of the Links, Incorporated.

During her membership, Wene chaired the Links’ annual grand event which is the debutant ball. This event announces the “coming-out” of these young girls becoming young adults, ready to give back to the community. Simultaneous to these activities, Wene worked with the Oakland Bay Area Chapter of Jack and Jill of America, Inc. organization to make sure her five kids, their friends, and all Black preteen children enjoy socially appropriate activities like dances, hayrides, summer camp, going to the ballet and other fun activities. She was also the founder and president of the San Francisco Chapter of The Smart Set.

In time, she worked with city officials to help Oakland partner with Sekondi-Takoradi, Ghana in 1975 as a sister city. Supporting the direction of the city, she and her husband mentored Mayors Redding and Wilson, helping them to get elected. She was appointed to the Oakland Museum Commission and made serious contributions to its development. Wene supported the arts and organized “The Black Filmmaker’s Hall of Fame Awards” at the Paramount Theater in February 1977.

As a working actor in Hollywood, James Watson, her eldest son, was a co-host with Diahann Carroll. This event propelled the NAACP to begin the Image Awards. In 1984, Wene began and ran WenTravel Agency for eleven years. She worked with many large corporations creating jobs and generating wonderful experiences as well as providing a service. She and her husband traveled the world many times and brought back much enlightenment from their exciting travel. Continuing her many works, Wene served with the NAACP and the YMCA. She continued to support political candidates for the city and state. She met Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, George Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, twice!

Her greatest contribution was as a parent to James, a father and successful actor, Cynthia, a mother and contributor of many social and political events, Janet, a dedicated daughter who assisted her in the travel agency, Geoffrey, who followed in his father’s footsteps as a father and a dedicated and revered physician and Gary, an entertainment lawyer in Hollywood. As a world traveler, Wene invited and hosted international exchange students in her home to educate them and her children about the world.

People who knew Wene enjoyed her sparkling humor and joy for life. Friends and strangers alike, also could find themselves on the short end of her very candid rebuke or opinion. She was an honest and direct person when she spoke to you. Wene Watson was a bright and gregarious woman. Everyone who knew here felt better about themselves because of her. She was a devoted wife and mother. In the film “It’s A wonderful Life”, Jimmy Stewart’s character wonders if being born made any difference or gave anyone value. To everyone who knew Wenefrett Watson, imagine that she had not been in your life. Her value is in the love and appreciation you feel when you think of her. Thank God she was here.

Wene is survived by three sons and a daughter, James Watson, Cynthia Arnold (Larkin), Henry Geoffrey Watson (Carolyn), and Gary Watson. She is also survived by five grandchildren, Catherine (Max), Sara, Bryan, Angela, and Richard, and two great grandchildren and a niece and nephew, Jackie Jackson (Warren) and Wendell Phillips, along with a myriad of other family members, loved ones, and many friends. Wene was preceded in her heavenly journey by her husband James A. Watson, M.D., daughter Janet Watson David, her granddaughter Tiffany Washington (Cynthia) and her grandson Henry Geoffrey Watson, II (Geoffrey & Carolyn).

Wenefrett P. Watson will be laid to rest at Mountain View Cemetery on Friday, November 26, 2021, with services held at the Church By the Side Of the Road, 2108 Russell Street, Berkeley, CA at 1:00 P.M. (COVID-19 Protocols Observed). For more details and in-person/Zoom registration go to www.CBSOR.org/announcements.

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IN MEMORIAM: James E. Peterson, 75 

Born in Birmingham, Ala., on June 5, 1946, James Peterson’s life was dedicated to public service. His civil rights work began in the 1960s when he was the associate director of the Poor People’s Campaign in Wash., DC. He proudly served under Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his close friend, Dr. Ralph D. Abernathy.

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Memorial services for James Peterson will be held on Nov. 20, 2021, at 2:00 p.m. at Chapel of The Chimes, 4499 Piedmont Ave., Oakland, CA 94611
Memorial services for James Peterson will be held on Nov. 20, 2021, at 2:00 p.m. at Chapel of The Chimes, 4499 Piedmont Ave., Oakland, CA 94611

On Oct. 28, 2021, the world lost a powerful champion for civil rights when James Peterson passed away in Berkeley, California.

Born in Birmingham, Ala., on June 5, 1946, Patterson’s life was dedicated to public service.

His civil rights work began in the 1960s when he was the associate director of the Poor People’s Campaign in Wash., DC. He proudly served under Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his close friend, Dr. Ralph D. Abernathy.

In 1969, he moved to Berkeley and graduated from Cal with a bachelor’s in Philosophy. He also got his master’s degree in Urban Studies and Planning from Antioch University.

He served on the Alameda County Human Relations Commission, Alameda County Democratic Central Committee, and the Berkeley Zoning Adjustment Board. He ran for Berkeley City Council, as well as for the Peralta School District Board.

In 1971, he served on the original staff of Congressman Ronald V. Dellums. James also was an advisor to the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Small Business and two former U.S. presidents.

From 1980 to 1990 he worked closely with Dr. Abernathy, forming the Foundation for Economic Enterprise Development (FEED), which focused on job development and transportation issues for youth in the Atlanta area.

Throughout his life, Peterson’s consultancy work was highly sought-after. Most recently, Patterson worked in healthcare serving as a lead consultant to the James A Watson Wellness Center, refinancing the building and procuring COVID 19 grants and community outreach programs.

He is survived by his brother; Walter Knox of Birmingham, Ala.; sister, Gwendolyn Peterson Galloway (David) of Charlotte, N.C.; brother Ronald L. Peterson (Kemi) of Van Buren Township, Mich.; brother Isaac Peterson and sister Alveritta Peterson, both of Birmingham, as well as a host of nieces and nephews, and many beloved friends.

Memorial services for James Peterson will be held on Nov. 20, 2021, at 2:00 p.m. at Chapel of The Chimes, 4499 Piedmont Ave., Oakland, CA 94611.

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