Me and Brother Ray – Part 1: Reverse Integrations

Ray Charles Rock and Roll Hall of Fame pictureThis is the lead post for a series of five video lectures on Ray Charles…on me and Brother Ray, I should say.  Not that I’ve ever met him personally—except to see him in concert—but Ray Charles, a titanic figure in American culture, has also figured titanically in one small American life: mine.  Listen and watch Part One below.

Not only did Ray Charles and his music lead me to the core issues of my academic life as a professor, it also helped me to understand how minority people like me and millions of others could think about integration, about how integration isn’t just about assimilating into American culture, but also re-making it ourselves from both outside-in and inside out, so much so that we can also speak about American culture integrating into us.

The entire series should be considered one piece not only dealing with issues of music and race and culture, but also with a way of writing that integrates personal history with cultural and social analysis.  The five parts below, then, belong to one, entire, five-part essay, each part moving back and forth between history, analysis, and personal narrative.  Though thoroughly researched and already presented in several venues, including academic conferences, it departs from the usual conventions of academic or college research papers.  I have taken to assigning this type of essay to my students over that traditional, linear, academic research paper whenever I can—which seems to happen more and more.

—Links go live as episodes become available—

  • Me & Brother Ray – Part 1: Reverse Integrations (IT’S BELOW)
  • Me & Brother Ray – Part 2: The Genius Hits the Road
  • Me & Brother Ray – Part 3: Tell the Truth
  • Me & Brother Ray – Part 4: Signifying
  • Me & Brother Ray – Part 5: A Message from the People
  • Watch the full-length “lecture” containing all five parts.

Go to the Teaching Diversity main page

Go to the main Ray Charles post, which lists all things Ray on this site.

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James David Corrothers: The Closed Gate of Justice

Illustration of James David Corrothers "In the Manner of Two Men"As a young man James David Corrothers (1869-1917) entered the ministry and stayed in it his whole life.  He also wrote poetry and in his day was, among Black poets, second in popularity only to Paul Laurence Dunbar.  Like Dunbar he wrote many popular dialect poems, most notably “An Indignation Dinner,” and, like Dunbar, several classic poems about Blacks, whites, and racial injustice.  At left is a panel from the Graphic Classics series, Volume 22: African-American Classics—Great Stories and Poems from America’s Earliest Black Writers, illustrating Corrother’s poem “In the Matter of Two Men.” Corrothers says that because the white man “seeks the soft, fat place,” the black man grows stronger as he works and studies so hard.  Because of this Corrothers says, “I know which man must win at last, / I know!  Ah, Friend, I know!”  Such confidence was matched by a keen sense of injustice, as in his most quoted poem “At the Closed Gate of Justice,” which I included in my book Black Writing from Chicago.  It begins:

To be a Negro in a day like this
Demands forgiveness. Bruised with blow on blow,
Betrayed, like him whose woe dimmed eyes gave bliss,
Still must one succor those who brought one low,
To be a Negro in a day like this.

The next two stanzas name other things that being “a Negro in a day like this” demands: “rare patience” and “strange loyalty.”  The next, and final, stanza has the speaker passing by the still-closed gate of justice.  It shines with gold and amethyst, but remains a “goal unwon.”

James David CorrothersBesides two books of poetry (the 1907 Selected Poems, and the 1914 The Dream and the Song), Corrothers published an autobiography, In Spite of Handicap, in 1916.  The handicap was race, of course, but also more complicated than that.  No less than W.E.B. DuBois wrote in his obituary for Corrothers that he was “a man whom not only white people, but the colored people themselves did much to deprive of a real chance; yet he made his rugged way.”  DuBois pronounced Corrothers’ passing as, “A serious loss to the race and to literature.”

In his autobiography Corrothers speaks disparagingly about what is for me perhaps his most interesting book, The Black Cat Club, a collection of humorous sketches which originally appeared in Chicago newspapers.  He says he regrets its publication, which he allowed only because “expenses had to be met.”  The fictional club met to read poems and discuss issues of the day, and in Black Writing from Chicago I included an excerpt of “De Eddicated Cullud,” which satirizes the pretenses of the educated.  The Black Cat Club shows yet another side Corrothers’ wide-ranging, sometimes contradictory, output.  While “In the Matter of Two Men” valorizes education, “De Eddicated Cullud” seems to ridicule it.  As the title suggests, it was also written in dialect, making the insult to education even more intense.  Yet in many ways Corrothers was seeking to put education in its place, to warn the race that it needed more than a diploma.  It needed to sharpen its street smarts.  It needed financial power.

“It don’t do no good foh to ‘buse de Southern white folks; an’ to tell ‘em whut God’s goin’ to do to ‘em ef dey don’t stop lynchin’ de niggahs,” begins the most crucial section of the piece.  “Dat only makes ‘em mad.  De thaing foh to do is to be a genamun an’ git yo’ pocket full o’ check books, fust mo’gages an’ cash.

“Now, s’posen dey wuz a lynchin’ ‘bout to take place, an’ de curly-headed brunette whut was to be de pahty acted upon hel’ a fust mo’gage on de home uv evah man in de lynchin’ pahty. An’ s’posen mose o’ dem mo’gages wuz ‘bout due er ovah due; an’ s’posen jes’ ‘fo’ dey lit de fiah er strung ‘im up, de cullud man wuz to say: ‘Genamuns, ef you lynches me, ma son ‘ll fo’close all ma mo’gages t’morrer!   Dis am ma ultimatum!  Do you thaink dey would have any lynchin’-bee ‘at day?  No sah!  Now, whut could de college dahkey do?—Nothin’ but say his prayers.  All de big wo’ds in de dictionary couldn’t save ‘im!”

For sure Corrothers proposes a vision of self-sufficiency that has deep roots in the Black struggle to protect itself from the white world.  Owning properties and businesses would become a major goal of Blacks in the years to come, and it remains a vital goal today when ownership has often dropped in many areas of the country.  In 2007 I was invited to the great Haki Maddhubuti’s 65th birthday party.  As he rose to address us, his first words were: “We own this place.  Can’t nobody throw us out.”  The American Quarterly published an essay on Corrothers by Princeton’s Kevin Gaines in its September 1993 issue.  The title makes reference to Corrothers’ dialect writing, but also sums up the importance of Corrothers and his vision of a truly free black future: “Assimilationist Minstrelsy as Racial Uplift Ideology: James D. Corrothers’ Literary Quest for Black Leadership.”

Go to a list of Black Writers written about on this site, and/or the Teaching Diversity main page.

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2014 Fall Festival of Independent Film

CELLULOID logoOn Sunday, September 14th, we begin the FOURTH ANNUAL Fall Festival of Independent Film at North Central College.  The college’s student film club CELLULOID hosts the event, a partnership with the Naperville Independent Film Festival (NIFF), now in its 7th year.

 Go here to view or download a full 2014 Schedule.

NIFF shows most of its foreign films at the college, films which come from Paris’ European Independent Film Festival (the ECU).  To get to Paris, films have to have won an award at another festival.  They’re judged again in Paris, and we show some of the winners there—making most of our foreign film showings double-winners to begin with.

A still from "iminy," one of the films in this year's festival.

A still from “Jiminy,” one of the films in this year’s festival.

This year features 18 films from the U.S. and eight other countries.  All shows start at 7:00 p.m. in Smith Hall, on the second floor of Old Main, 30 N. Brainard St., on the North Central College campus in Naperville.  We don’t want money to be a big obstacle, so the ticket prices are low:  $3 an evening and $12 for the whole week for North Central College students, faculty and staff, and $5 an evening and $16 for the week for the general public.

Best Animated Short Film, "Drag Me," from Greece.

Best Animated Short Film, “Drag Me,” from Greece.

Among the films in this year’s festival Jiminy follows Nathaniel, who works as a repair man fixing brain implants called “crickets” that allow people for a probably-not-so-distant-future to switch into “auto mode” any time they choose.  Jiminy, a French film, took home the Best Director prize from Paris.  Heritage explores the extraordinary place of guns in Swiss culture, Switzerland—that icon of neutrality—currently being the third most armedcountry on the planet.  The Best Animated Short Film went to Drag Me, from Greece.  And Best Non-European Documentary went to a U.S. film, Not Anymore, the story of the Syrian revolution told through the experiences of two young people, a rebel fighter and a journalist.

"Not Anymore," a film about the revolution in Syria is featured in the 2014 Festival.

“Not Anymore,” a film about the revolution in Syria is featured in the 2014 Festival.



Revisit past festivals:  2012 Schedule, 2013 Schedule.


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