Category Archives: history

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In His Own Words: B.B. King (1925-2015)

Compiled by Arturo R. García

I would sit on the corners, and people would walk up to me and ask me to play a gospel song, and they’d pat me on the head and say, that’s nice, son – but they didn’t tip at all. But people who ask me to play the blues would always tip me. I’d make $40-50. Even as off in the head as I am, I could see it made better sense to be a blues singer.
The Telegraph, 2009

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Why History Supports The #DiversifyAgentCarter Campaign

By Arturo R. García

It’s telling that, within minutes of ABC quelling weeks of suspense and announcing that Marvel’s Agent Carter was getting a second season, many of the well-wishes were mixed with a call for the show to introduce more characters who weren’t cis-white hetero, a campaign that quickly gained traction under the tag #DiversifyAgentCarter.

It’s also telling that “fans” of Marvel Entertainment and/or the show quickly rolled out the same tired, insidious arguments against it becoming more diverse: that it would be “diversity for diversity’s sake;” or even worse, that it would be “historically inaccurate.”

We say “fans” because, even if you don’t question their enthusiasm for the show or for star Hayley Atwell, you have to wonder what kind of fandom they inhabit when they insist that people of color would be “unrealistic” in what Anna Cabe rightfully described last week as a show that was originated by the fight between a chemically-enhanced US serviceman and a German antagonist with his own altered skull exposed to the world.

You also have to wonder about their particular worldview when they argue that seeing of people of color would be “unrealistic” in New York City at any point in recorded history — let alone the period following post-World War II.
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JAMES AUSTIN KERR, HAYLEY ATWELL, NEAL MCDONOUGH, EDDIE SHIN

Unburied but Forgotten: Asian Bodies in Agent Carter

By Guest Contributor Anna Cabe

Like many feminist-cum-superhero fanatics, I eagerly awaited the Marvel Cinematic Universe mini-series, Agent Carter, the company’s first real attempt at a female hero-driven property. In many ways, it delivers. The show makes good use of its 1940’s setting with strong costume and set design and snappy period music. The cast are mostly wonderful and show great chemistry—with the standout, of course, being Hayley Atwell, the titular Strategic Scientific Reserve (S.S.R.) Agent Peggy Carter.

Agent Carter Premiere Poster

Agent Carter Premiere Poster, via Marvel Cinematic Universe Wikia.

As Agent Carter, Atwell kicks multiple men’s (and one equally badass woman’s) asses, wrings tears from viewers’ eyes, makes us laugh with an archly delivered quip, and looks smashing in an evening gown and red lipstick. She flips the script of the superhero’s girlfriend—She doesn’t die! She isn’t always being rescued!—and has her own adventures after her boyfriend, Captain America, “dies.” When I finally finished the season (I live overseas with sketchy Internet so I’m slow to catch up to broadcast shows), I sang its praises all over Twitter and Facebook.

That said, Agent Carter has not escaped criticism for limitations when it comes to both race and gender, namely a painfully white and very male cast. Defenders of the casting have deflected this criticism in the name of “historical accuracy,” as though American history is exclusively white unless the subject is slavery, immigration, and the Civil Rights Movement. And of course, this is a show set in an alternate timeline in which superhuman Captain America is the United States’ first line of defense against a Nazi supervillain named Red Skull. A few substantial brown characters hardly seems a stretch of credibility or a distortion of history by comparison. Continue reading

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Did Paramount Cost Selma The Golden Globes?

By Arturo R. García

How to describe the reaction to Boyhood winning the Best Picture (Drama) award over Selma at Sunday’s Golden Globe Awards? Let Lance Reddick sum it up:

And it’s hard to argue. At a time when Ava DuVernay’s look at the Civil Rights Movement is resonating almost eerily with the atmosphere surrounding social justice fights today, it lost out to a Coming-Of-Age Story. David Oyelowo, who led the film’s ensemble cast as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., lost the Best Actor (Drama) award to Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of Professor Stephen Hawking in The Theory Of Everything.

So in the aftermath of the show, when people were wondering how Selma could have been shut out of the major awards, it was interesting to get this nugget from Vox culture editor Todd VanDerWerff:

VanDerWerff followed it up by saying this was a rumor. But just the thought is mind-boggling: If the theory holds up, Paramount Pictures basically punted on its own potential Golden Globes contender for the sake of taking a shot at the Oscars.

So now, when the movie is getting raked over the coals for being “historically inaccurate” — because James Cameron’s Titanic and Ridley Scott’s Gladiator were documentaries, don’t you know — it’s already losing ground in the Academy Awards horse race to Boyhood.

The lone bright spot for the film on Sunday was Common and John Legend’s win in the Best Original Song category for their collaboration on “Glory.” The victory was capped off by one of the best acceptance speeches of the evening.

“As I got to know the people of the Civil Rights Movement, I realized I am the hopeful black woman who was denied her right to vote,” Common said. “I am the caring white supporter killed on the front lines of freedom. I am the unarmed black kid who maybe needed a hand, but instead was given a bullet. I am the two fallen police officers murdered in the line of duty. Selma has awakened my humanity.”

The speech, as posted online, can be seen below.

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New Fundraising Campaign Seeks To Preserve Sacred Land Of Pe’ Sla

Just over two years after the first fight to save sacred Native land in South Dakota, a new fundraising drive seeks to complete the drive to keep Pe’Sla — “the Heart of everything” — in indigenous hands.

The campaign, organized by the Indian Land Tenure Foundation, seeks to raise $500,000 by Nov. 30 for the purposes of buying the last 438 acres of Pe’Sla land under outside ownership. The foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, is working with the Oceti Sakowin Nations for the fundraiser, and this video is a quick introduction to its mission:

In 2012, the Oceti Sakowin Nations, working together with the foundation and Last Real Indians, successfully raised enough money to purchase more than 1,900 acres of Pe’Sla land after they were put up for auction.

From the current fundraiser’s Indiegogo page:

If this purchase falls through, the opportunity to save these sacred lands could be lost forever.

The Black Hills, including the sacred site of Pe’ Sla, were reserved for the exclusive use and occupation by the Oceti Sakowin (Great Sioux Nation) by the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 with the U.S. government. But once gold was found in the Black Hills (by an illegal expedition into these sacred Native American lands) the U.S. illegally seized the lands despite the treaty agreement.

The U.S. government has yet to give these lands back to the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota nations. Even though the gold is gone, they still hold great natural, cultural and spiritual value to us. Now, we have no choice, but to buy our sacred lands at Pe’ Sla back from the current occupants. There’s no time for further contesting the illegal taking of these lands. We need to raise the money by November 30, 2014 or Pe’ Sla may be lost forever to Indian people.

Donations can be made at the link above, or the embed below.

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Live From Facing Race — Roots and Wings: Southern Histories, Legacies and Innovations for the Future

The second day of Facing Race kicks off at 10:15 a.m. EST with a plenary session describing current activist movements in the American South, a region many people still feel stopped being a hotbed of civic organizing during the Civil Rights Movement. The three speakers featured in this session have played active roles in forging a new legacy of activism for the region:

  • Bishop Tonyia Rawls, founder and executive director of the Freedom Center for Social Justice, as well as a member of the governing board for the North Carolina Council of Churches and the founding pastor of the Freedom Temple Ministries and Sacred Souls Community Church. The Freedom Center launched a legal center focusing on the LGBTQ communities and an employment program helping the southern trans community — both the first of their kind for the region.
  • Cristina Tzintzún is the executive director of Workers Defense Project/Proyecto Defensa Laboral. Besides being featured in national news outlets like USA Today and the New York Times, Tzintzún’s work has led to her winning the national Trabajadora Community Leader award from the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement. Last year, Southern Living Magazine named her one of its Heroes of the New South.
  • Chokwe Antar Lumumba played a vital role in the development of the People’s Platform in Jackson, SC, where his father, longtime activist Chokwe Lumumba, was elected mayor in 2013 on a platform emphasizing community development and the elimination of the gender-based pay gap. Antar Lumumba’s drive to help his community was also instilled in him by his mother, Nubia Lumumba, and he went on to become the managing partner at Lumumba & Associates, a law firm following those principles, as well as a member of the leadership team for Free Christian Church Ministries.

From the program description:

For the many of us- people of color, immigrants communities, LGBTQ people – who populate and call this region home, we experience and understand “the South” as not only the place where race, power, and revolution is best understood but also where history and legacies give way to 21st century innovation for our movements. Our dynamic plenary speakers, spanning the Southern region, will offer their insight on some of the challenges and opportunities facing the region and our movements to achieve racial justice and equity. From the continuing legacy of youth organizing and direct action in Florida; the role of faith in building inclusive communities and organizing for social change in NC; the realities of shifting demographics and the opportunities for worker organizing in Texas; and implementing community centered methods to build real economic, political and community power in Jackson this plenary will highlight how the South continues to build on its history and towards freedom.

The plenary, as posted online, can be seen in the livestream below.

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Live From Facing Race: Keynote Address Featuring Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, Toshi Reagon, and Tashawn Reagon

This year’s keynote session for Facing Race starts at 4:30 p.m. EST and will be a multi-generational affair featuring Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, Toshi Reagon, and Tashawn Reagon.

From the program description:

Bernice Johnson Reagon, a scholar, singer/songleader, and activist for over half a century, has been a profound contributor to African American and American culture. Born in Southwest Georgia, her singing style and traditional repertoire are grounded in her experiences in church, school, and political activism. As a composer, she has created a narrative of her social and political activism through her songs and larger compositions. She performed as a member of the SNCC Freedom Singers during the sixties; founded an all women a capella ensemble, The Harambee Singers, during the Black Cultural Movement; and founded and led the internationally acclaimed Sweet Honey In The Rock for thirty years until retirement. Paralleling her work in music, Reagon is one of the leading authorities in African American Cultural History.

Her strongest musical collaborator is her daughter, Toshi Reagon. Described as “a one-woman celebration of all that’s dynamic, progressive and uplifting in American music,” Toshi is a composer, producer, founder, and leader of her own ensemble, Toshi Reagon and Big Lovely. Taking the stage at 17, singer, songwriter, guitarist Toshi Reagon moves audiences with her cross genre offerings of blues, rock, gospel, and incredible original songs. Collaboratively, these two socially conscious women artists have masterfully created two operas, “The Temptation of St Anthony” and “Zinnias: The Life of Clementine Hunter.”

Tashawn Nicole Reagon is a Sociology and Gender Studies major and an Intergroup Relations minor at Skidmore College. Tashawn has co-facilitated a two-credit, intergroup dialogue between students of color and white students on race, and interned in the Gender Rights and Equality Unit of the Ford Foundation, where she wrote a report entitled Student Activism for Gender Equity. Tashawn helped to establish the Justice Project at Saint Ann’s high school that examined issues of race and other identities.

The full session, as posted online, can be seen live below.

Jeff Chang/Who We Be. Image from

Who We Be Examines the War on Multiculuralism

“Color is not a human or a personal reality, it is a political reality.” – James Baldwin

This is not a book review, because Who We Be isn’t really a book. It’s more of a thoughtful examination of how the United States arrived at this point in racial history.

Long time friend of the blog Jeff Chang is the author of the American Book award winning Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Generation and editor of the anthology Total Chaos: The Art and Aesthetics of Hip Hop. To say we’ve been waiting for Who We Be is an understatement.

But in the introduction, Chang frames the core of the most recent case of racial backlash. Explaining the outsized reaction by some whites to President Obama, Chang notes:

In the 1830s white minstrels had put on blackface, creating space for the white working class to challenge the elite, while keeping Blacks locked into their racial place. Obama now appeared as a dual symbol of oppression. Because of his Blackness, he was even more of an outsider—and in that sense, even more American—than them. But he was also the president. His Blackness did not just confer moral and existential claims, it was backed by the power of the state.

And there went everything.

As much as we like to talk about the inevitability of America being majority-minority in 2042, the events playing out across the nation show that most places are outright hostile to the idea that people of color are equal Americans, with the same rights, privileges, representation, and agenda setting power bestowed to whites. Chang turns his critical eye to shifts in culture which becomes documentation of rise (and fall?) of multiculturalism. Continue reading