Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Portrait of This Artist as a Young Man

Watching and waiting/
Layers of life still to live/
Wound up in fabric.   

 James Baldwin (1924-1987), by Van Vechten, 1955.

Fun fact about Baldwin: he went to high school (DeWitt Clinton in the Bronx) with Richard Avedon--both worked on the high school paper!

In this clip from James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket, the 1989 American Masters documentary made about his life, Baldwin discusses his early life in Harlem.

 Click below for comprehensive information on Baldwin--biographical background, literary criticism, a bibliography, e-text excerpts, and more. You can also go to his Wikipedia entry by clicking here.

All best,

Monday, July 30, 2012

Genius of James Baldwin Week

Thursday, August 2nd, marks the 88th birthday of the late, great American (and LGBT hero) author James "Jimmy" Baldwin (b. 1924-1987). His brilliance, his foresight, his compassion, and his spirit pervade my life more strongly now than ever. I will post images, video, and short excerpts from some of Baldwin's oeuvre during this week, in hopes that those of you who may be unfamiliar with this genius will be encouraged to get to know him. I am loath to write about Baldwin (or perhaps just intimidated by the idea) since his work so eloquently speaks for itself, so I hope that the choices I make in posting this celebration offer a fitting tribute.

Jimmy’s eyes declare/
He is smart and beautiful/
He says, "You are, too." 

James Baldwin (1924-1987), by Van Vechten, 1955

Today, I would like to highlight a clip from Take This Hammer, a 1963 documentary produced by KQED in Los Angeles for National Education Television.* In this scene, Baldwin discourses on the origin, use, and meaning of the word "nigger" in its uniquely American and oppositional context. His searing eloquence combined with an amazing ability to throw serious yet subtle shade as he schools the unseen narrator (while working that fabulous bandanna) is awesome.

"No matter what you've done to me, I can say to you this, and I mean it...I know you can't do anything more, and I've got nothing to lose, I know, and I've always known...and really always...that's part of the agony...I've always known that I'm not a nigger."

I hope this invites you to look at more of this history, as we are coming up on the quinquagenary of many civil rights era advances, including the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, organized by another black gay man (Bayard Rustin).

All best,


*The entire documentary is available for viewing in sections on YouTube.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


"Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear - not absence of fear." --Mark Twain
Through their bravery/
These freedom riders gave me/
My ride to freedom.

 I love these smiling faces.

Clarence Melvin Wright

John Lewis

Helen Singleton


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

American Interpreter

What he taught us was/
When you sing for your supper/
Make sure you sing well. 

 Bobby Short (1924-2005), by Van Vecthen, 1962.  

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Burning of NYC's Colored Orphans Asylum

I am re-publishing this post from last year, in hopes that more folks will look at the links I have provided to gain more understanding of American history. The events below took place on this weekend 149 years ago. For the sesquicentennial of this tragic event--the worst civil disturbance in the history of our country--I will attempt to write more.

Colored Orphans Asylum, NYC, 1861. 

Racist fears of the/"Colored Orphans" and others/
Caused New York to burn.
From July 13-17, 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, the worst race riot in American history took place in New York City. Among other buildings, the Colored Orphans Asylum (pictured above) was burned to the ground. There are several good histories of the riot, its causes, and the immediate aftermath--I recommend In the Shadow of Slavery: African Americans in New York City, 1626-1863, by Leslie M. Harris, for its overview of the riot. I have provided a link to the book here, but there is a wealth of additional information available. The Virtual New York site, produced by CUNY, has a comprehensive discussion of the riot here. The New-York Historical Society offered an amazing look at Northern slavery with its recent (a couple of years ago) Slavery in New York exhibit, which is permanently online here

The photo at right is an interior photo of a classroom at the Colored Orphans Asylum. Also available on line is a report, formally titled Report of the Merchants Committee for the Relief of Colored People Suffering from the Late Riots in the City of New York, generated by a relief society formed to aid the African American community in the immediate aftermath of the riot--here. 

This is American history that many folks are not aware of--but it is important for us to know.

All best,


Thursday, July 5, 2012


Diana again/
The “torturing loveliness”/
Larsen had in mind.

Diana Sands (1934-1973), by Van Vechten, 1963.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Good Die Young

Strong-willed and fearless/
The brevity of this life/
Her spark gone too soon.

Diana Sands (1934-1973), by Van Vechten, 1963.

Diana Sands's performance in the original movie version of Lorraine Hansberry's classic drama, A Raisin in the Sun (1961), is a knockout--she portrays a young woman struggling, in a disarming way, to find her own voice and fulfill her own dreams in the midst of the 20th century American civil rights movement.

However, it is with her performance as Fanny in 1970's The Landlord (based on the novel by Kristin Hunter--adapted by Bill Gunn) that the true depth of her dramatic range comes to the fore. Nuanced, wise, and showing true pathos. See the brief clip below.

All best,