Monday, December 17, 2007

Blacks History Month every month

On Saturday, I went to a holiday tea for the Read Aloud Program, which was held at the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library. I had never been there before. Drive by it all the time, but I had never stopped in. The third floor features a museum about Denver's black history and the history of blacks in the West that was fascinating. For example, Madam C.J. Walker, this country's first female millionaire, got her start here in Denver.

One of the exhibits includes the manumission papers of Robert Smith. It's a handwritten letter that documents "that the Negro slave named Robert" has been "manummitted, emancipated and set free." The letter also describes Robert Smith as a "man of yellow complexion, about five feet five inches high and lame in the left ancle [sic]...and is about thirty years old." Robert Smith went on to open a barber shop in Five Points and purchase his family out of slavery.

This exhibit was especially moving for me because one of the characters in my current novel believes in communicating with her ancestors. This exhibit reminded me that "the ancestors" were once living, breathing individuals, not a faceless, nameless mass. I believe it will give my story more depth.

It could be a good exercise for writers to explore your history and let where and who you come from influence your work.

On another note, artist Raymina Mays, who emailed me this lovely picture of collards in her garden, and Paula Johnson are working on a project to photograph black women in their gardens. If you're interested in participating, shoot me an email (carleenatcarleenbricedotcom)and I'll hook you up with Raymina.

Raymina also forwarded me this link to the the Anne Spencer Garden. And a link to this video about folk artist LV Hull, also known as "the shoe lady."

Much food for thought here!


Sherry said...

I read the book about Madam C.J. Walker (chemo brain has me pulling a blank on the title at the moment!!) this year and I loved it. It was quite an incredible story..she was quite an incredible woman!

iyan and egusi soup: said...

nice post carleen. and what an interesting project raymina mays and paula johnson are undertaking.

Lisa said...

What an inspiration Madam C.J. Walker was. There's so much here in Denver that I didn't know anything about, and I LOVE LOVE LOVED the video of The Artist. Having descended from sheep thieves run off from England and Ireland (or so my father always said) who came to this country at the turn of the last century, my personal roots in America are pretty stunted, but you've really got me thinking more about the rich history that's here for all of us to study. This is an excellent post.

Sustenance Scout said...

Lisa, if a history of sheep thieves in a family doesn't make for fascinating history, I don't what does, lol!! Carleen, I've had so many people tell me to get to that museum but never took the time. Thanks for the reminder! Love that photo of Madame Walker. K.