In April, we covered the Civil Rights movement and the fight against racism in “The Fire This Time.” This month, we explore the lasting impact of the Harlem Renaissance in “The New Negro,” as our guests take us on a journey through art, culture, and politics. Author A’Lelia Bundles shares how her ancestors Madam C. J. Walker and A’Lelia Walker used a self-made haircare fortune to support Civil Rights activism and a Black cultural and creative renaissance in Harlem. Jazz composer and musician Craig Harris reflects on his collaborations with the poet Sekou Sundiata in the wake of the Black Arts Movement in NYC. And Brooklyn-based novelist Kaitlyn Greenidge talks about the new generation of Black writers and artists depicting African American history. The episode is presented by your host, Claire Potter, co-executive editor of Public Seminar and professor of history at The New School for Social Research.
Here are some links and references mentioned in this podcast:
- Author and journalist A’Lelia Bundles worked as an executive and producer with ABC News and NBC News, and now works as a brand historian for MCJW Beauty Culture. She has written biographies of both her great-great grandmother, the self-made millionaire and donor-activist Madam C. J. Walker; and her grandmother, Harlem Renaissance host extraordinaire A’Lelia Walker.
- Bundles mentions that Madam Walker purchased the “Villa Lewaro” mansion in Irvington, NY. The mansion can be seen in the photo below.
- For more context on Madam Walker’s feminist independence and determination to support herself, Claire recommends Darlene Clark Hine’s journal article “Rape and the Inner Lives of Black Women in the Middle West,” which is about women escaping sexual violence during the Great Migration.
- A’Lelia Walker hosted writers, musicians and artists during the nineteen-twenties at her Dark Tower salon on West 136th Street in Harlem. The salon was named after the poem “From the Dark Tower” by Countee Cullen, which A’Lelia Bundles read in this episode of Exiles.
- Composer and musician Craig Harris spoke about his time in the Sun Ra Arkestra, his own musical journey, and his friendship and collaborations with poet and performance artist Sekou Sundiata.
- Harris kindly provided permission for Exiles on 12th Street to include clips from his musical collaborations with Sekou Sundiata on this episode. They are, in order of appearance: “Foreplay Two,” “Foreplay Three,” and “Foreplay Four,” from the album 4 Play by Harris’s band Cold Sweat (JMT Productions, 1991).
- The fourth excerpt featured here is Sundiata’s poem “Space: A Monologue,” from his album The Blue Oneness of Dreams (Mouth Almighty/Mercury Records, 1997), used with the kind permission of the estate of Sekou Sundiata. The monologue was part of Harris and Sundiata’s theater piece “The Circle Unbroken Is a Hard Bop.” Reviewing a 1993 production at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, the New York Times described the short play as “so rich it often seems about to bloom into full-scale opera.”
- Harris and Sundiata were friends with writer, teacher, and political activist Amiri Baraka. Baraka was a founder of the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School, and a prominent member of the Black Arts Movement.
- Harris mentions Gylan Kain, a poet who influenced Sundiata’s work. Kain was an original member of The Last Poets, a group of poets and musicians who helped lay the groundwork for hip hop.
- Writer Kaitlyn Greenidge talks about her debut novel, We Love You, Charlie Freeman. The book follows an African American family who raise a chimp as a member of their family — all the while under the scrutiny of white scientists.
- Greenidge said that the novel was influenced by her work at a number of Black history museums, including the Boston African American National Historic Site and the Weeksville Heritage Center in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
- Greenidge lists the Well-Read Black Girl book club, the Free Black Women’s Library, and rapper Noname’s book club as spaces designed to facilitate and appreciate the creative work of Black artists. She also mentions the work of visual creators Issa Rae and Lena Waithe.
Episode image courtesy of A’Lelia Bundles.