CHRIST CHURCH, BARBADOS, May 24, 2012 — Zuri, my sister-in-law Tracy and I are in Barbados for a little R&R after a whirlwind Spelman Commencement Weekend. It also happens to be my father’s birthday. He would be 115.
In a column he published shortly after his 43rd birthday in 1940, he uses the occasion to commemorate Empire Day, the birthday of Queen Victoria, with whom he shared a natal day:
“It is difficult if not at all impossible for ye paragrapher to forget Empire Day, though we may be many years removed from the British Empire, because it was on that day our late beloved mother told us we ‘came from somewhere in a box.’ Most readers of this column think we should have been left in the box.”
Tomorrow, I have an appointment with a specialist in Barbados genealogy who is going to try to help me get to the bottom of that box.
For today we’ll take a tour of the island, hit the beach and pour a ibation in honor of Ebenezer’s birthday.
I don’t yet know what my father thought of Langston Hughes‘ work in general, or whether their circles crossed in Harlem. But just after Christmas Day in 1940, Ebenezer had some choice words for one of Hughes’ most controversial poems, titled Goodbye Christ. Here’s the poem:
You did alright in your day, I reckon—
But that day’s gone now.
They ghosted you up a swell story, too,
Called it Bible—
But it’s dead now,
The popes and the preachers’ve
Made too much money from it.
They’ve sold you to too many
Kings, generals, robbers, and killers—
Even to the Tzar and the Cossacks,
Even to Rockefeller’s Church,
Even to THE SATURDAY EVENING POST.
You ain’t no good no more.
They’ve pawned you
Till you’ve done wore out.
Christ Jesus Lord God Jehova,
Beat it on away from here now.
Make way for a new guy with no religion at all—
A real guy named
Marx Communist Lenin Peasant Stalin Worker ME—
I said, ME!
A little more than a year ago, thanks to the wonders of the web, I stumbled upon my father’s name in a college honors thesis. In 2001 Amy Katherine Defalco Lippert, then at the University of California at Berkeley, submitted an honors thesis for her bachelor’s degree in history titled “The Rationalization of Righteousness: Nazi Ideology, the Holocaust and the African-American Community in World War II.”
On page 94, she wrote:
“From the very beginning, black leaders, writers and educators worked to foster an understanding of the Second World War as a fight for their country and a fight for freedom—for their own, as African Americans, and for others as well.
“As Ebenezer Ray wrote in June of 1940, ‘It is a war of liberty versus enslavement. Of course, here and there comes a voice from this race of ours that the war isn’t America’s, ‘least of all it is the Negro’s.’… Methinks this is America’s war, since it is a war for liberty and freedom, and against racial and religious intolerance. If it is America’s it is the Negro’s. What’s true of the whole is also true of the part.’”
In the footnotes: Ebenezer Ray, “The War ‘N’ Us!” New York Age, 15 June 1940, p. 12.
And the rest, as they say, is history, or at least this blog. Continue reading