Georgia and Alabama’s “cancer” seems to be spreading its tendrils in Brooklyn. The sooner its growth is checked the better for all concerned – Negroes especially.
Construction of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, located at 112th St. and Amsterdam Ave. and dubbed a house of worship “for all people,” began on Dec. 27, 1892, when the first cornerstone was laid. But it took decades for the church to be completed. My father published this column Feb. 23, 1935, and it would be more than six years before the opening of the full length of the Cathedral. (The opening celebration took place Nov. 30, 1941, and a week later the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Construction was halted during World War II and did not resume until the 1970s.)
The grand design inspired this response to those who warned that the Apocalypse was imminent:
“I am far more interested in the present rise in food prices, the prolonged depression, and the likely invasion of Abyssinia by the Italians than in any tornado of fire sweeping these hemispheres and leaving their inhabitants in ashes. Yet there remain a few devout persons who occasionally try to scare my reluctant soul into submission with this bogey, which, they say, will be followed by that great Judgment Day when I will have to account for even taking a lump of sugar when Mother wasn’t looking. When they come around again I will tell them that while they in their puny knowledge look for world destruction, learned theologians are erecting structures of granite to stand forever.”
“The Episcopal Church might find an antidote for its racial ills by first cleaning house, and then by directing its evangelistic and missionary activities toward those barbarians in the South who ruthlessly violate the constitutional rights of Negroes, denying them fair and impartial trials when accused of offences they seldom commit. Toward this appalling condition, the Episcopal Church has been noticeably apathetic,” Ebenezer writes.
Here is a link to information on Rev. Alexander McGuire, who founded the African Orthodox Church in response to racism in the Episcopal Church.
In the middle of this column, under the heading “The Goodwill Flight “Ebenezer talks about a goodwill flight to the Caribbean and South America that was undertaken by Dr. Albert Forsythe and C. Alfred Anderson. They were dubbed the “first transcontinental Negro flyers.”
A New York Times obituary on Forsythe in 1986, said: “In 1933, Dr. Forsythe and C. Alfred Anderson became the first black pilots to complete a cross-country flight, traveling from Bader Field in Atlantic City, N.J., to Los Angeles. The flight, along with trips to Montreal and the Caribbean in 1934, was made in an attempt to break down the color barrier in aviation.”
An obituary of Anderson, who died in 1996, recalled: “He and Forsythe made the first land plane flight from Miami to Nassau in 1934. They island hopped throughout the Caribbean, to the Northeastern tip of South America. They overflew the Venezuelan straits and landed in Trinidad as national heroes.” It described Anderson as a mentor to Tuskegee Airmen.
I also found a 1933 Time magazine story about their trip.
The itinerary did not include a visit to Barbados, which was a disappointment to those, including my father, with connections to the island. The column and the letter make it sound like the pilots were black Americans, but according to his obituary, Forsythe was born in the Bahamas. Perhaps there was a little bit of Caribbean rivalry.
The connections here are a little uncanny. Lamman Rucker, Ebenezer’s grandson, is co-producer of Black Angels Over Tuskegee, a play about the Tuskegee Airmen. Lamman, who plays Elijah in the production, is a founding member of the company, The Black Gents of Hollywood, an all-male ensemble devoted to redefining the images of African American men in entertainment.
In a few weeks I’ll be headed for Barbados, my father’s birthplace. I’ve been there only once, back in 1984 and only for a couple of days. I’m looking forward to reconnecting with the place, perhaps beginning the journey of finding family. It is interesting that while in his thirties, my father’s emotional connection to the island still seemed very strong. My impression was that later in his life, by the time he was married and living in Pittsburgh, that connection seemed to be lost, or at least frayed.
I can’t tell whether “The little Englander” my dad quotes is him or someone else. (Editor’s update 8/3/11: It’s possible it is his brother, Noel, who worked at the Barbados Advocate.) Perhaps I can find the archives of the Barbados Advocate while I am there.
‘To expect a white teacher to place unusual interest in a stubborn delinquent Negro youth is like expecting a peacock to exhibit a great interest in an unpretentious chicken’16 Nov
My father argued that black students would be better served by having black teachers who are more likely to “exhibit greater sympathy and interest in them.” He added that “white teachers who openly carry that air of superiority over this darker race of ours should not be included on staffs of schools where the students are Negroes; neither should those who think that all Negro girls are ‘cut out’ to be maids and nurses — for other people’s children, and that Negro boys will get little further than manual labor. . . “To expect a white teacher to place unusual interest in a stubborn delinquent Negro youth is like expecting a peacock to exhibit a great interest in an unpretentious chicken. That white superiority complex is there, whether you think so or not and an already acquired knowledge further enhances it over those who seem less inclined to reach a similar position. “
Ebenezer also riffs on the 1934 version of Imitation of Life. He called it an “imitation of a certain type of life — particularly foreign to me. A white woman is so sympathetically interested in her Negro business partner’s personal troubles she goes out with her in quest of a solution. Yet that white woman rides alone in the rear seat of the car, while her Negro partner rides in front with the chauffeur. The acting is good, otherwise — to hell with it!”
“Not many generations out of slavery, and forging our own existence despite heavy odds, the Negro is a marked race, hence our activities share the spotlight of constant scrutiny. when we reach the height of success none will be able to deny us our rightful share of recognition and applause. We should strive to leave great footprints in the sands of time,” my father writes below.
But I cannot help but think that 75 years later it’s still not so easy. In this so-called “post-racial era,” the struggle continues. I’m sure my father could not have imagined that in his children’s lifetime America would have a black president. And though Barack Obama has reached the “height of success” by any measure, he continues to be a member of a “marked race.” Conservatives cry that they “want to take their country back,” which is code for we want to take the country back to a time when having blacks in power was only a dream. They call him elitist, which is code for “uppity Negro.”
I also found the last item, about the assaults on domestics by the men they work for, interesting. That’s one subject that was not broached in The Help.
As he did when he wrote about the illegal numbers, or so-called “policy games,” Ebenezer expressed sympathy for prostitutes, who he referred to as “pavement pounders.” He argued that the lack of legal means available for these men and women to support themselves made it almost impossible for folks to avoid “easier money.”
“When social and economic agencies move to protect their youngsters vice crusades will not be necessary; when they do not – vice crusades will be ineffective,” he said.
P. S.: I’m still trying to find a source of information on the Mills brothers and the incident my father notes regarding their being barred from watching white baseball players play in Detroit.