Tag Archives: journalism

Black airmen, then and now

21 Nov

Ebenezer Ray's grandson Lamman Rucker, "Black Angels Over Tuskegee" Photo: MarkGlennStudio.com

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.”

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.

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt with C. Alfred “Chief” Anderson, a pioneer black aviator and respected instructor at Tuskegee Institute. (U.S. Air Force photo)

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.

The cast of "Black Angels Over Tuskegee"

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.

The New York Age, January 12, 1935

‘The Negro is a marked race’

6 Nov

“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.

The New York Age, March 23, 1935

Printer’s ink, the life blood of democracy

30 Aug

With current assaults on the press, including in South Africa, of all places, this column is validation that the fight continues.

The New York Age, December 8, 1934

My father, Mr. Laby and Blumstein’s Department Store

31 Jul

When I was growing up in Pittsburgh, my sisters and I were forbidden from buying anything from Mr. Laby’s corner store. Mr. Laby, who was Jewish, ran the store with his wife (who was much nicer than her husband). There was no issue of him not hiring black clerks, because the store was strictly a family run operation.  Mr. Laby treated his neighborhood  customers with disdain  – there were no white people in the neighborhood, so we were the store’s customer base. My sister Ellen-Marie told me that Mr. Laby also was known for shortchanging children! One day, I  ventured into the store with my friend and neighbor  Freda Williams. (I was not buying anything myself, so technically was not disobeying my parents.)  After buying her candy, Freda asked Mr. Laby for a bag for her purchases. He refused, she insisted.  I had a feeling this was a not the first time this ritual had played out. Mr. Laby proved no match for Frieda and, finally, exasperated, he  handed Frieda the bag, which she immediately crumbled into a ball and threw back at him!  We ran from the store as he yelled at us in Yiddish.
Like all the other rules in our house, I thought the Laby’s store prohibition was instituted by my mother. But given my father’s strong feelings about Blumsteins  — did he really call them “Hitlers?” — I think Ebenezer may have initiated our family boycott.

The New York Age, July 14, 2010

What happened in 1927?

30 Jul

There are some interesting bits of historical information, such as Marcus Garvey’s wife’s divorce complaint and his eventual deportation and  the acquisition of the Schomburg collection by the Carnegie Corporation. Schomburg has particular meaning to me, as it was at the 135th Street library that I found these columns. Didn’t know the Amsterdam News tried to go daily  – for a day. I didn’t know anything about Florence Mills, a well-regarded singer, dancer and comedienne who died of tuberculosis.
Why my father chose June 30, 1934 to reprint a list of 1927 events from another publication is beyond me.

The New York Age, June 30, 2010

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 662 other followers

%d bloggers like this: