Category: History

Aretha Franklin Estate Reaches Agreement with Producer to Release Documentary ‘Amazing Grace’ After 46 Years

by Chris Willman via Variety.com

Forty-six years after an Aretha Franklin gospel concert film was shot and abandoned, amazement is truly in order. The Franklin estate and producer Alan Elliott have reached an agreement to release the perpetually delayed Amazing Grace project, Variety can exclusively reveal. Although no distribution deal is yet in place for a planned general release in 2019, the film will premiere next Monday at the DOC NYC festival, followed by week-long Oscar-qualifying runs this month in Los Angeles and in December in New York.

“In recent weeks, Alan presented the film to the family at the African American Museum here, and we absolutely love it,” said Sabrina Owens, the late star’s niece and executor of her estate, in a phone interview from Detroit Sunday. “We can see Alan’s passion for the movie, and we are just as passionate about it. It’s in a very pure environment, very moving and inspirational, and it’s an opportunity for those individuals who had not experienced her in a gospel context to see how diverse her music is. We are so excited to be a part of this.”

The premiere is a very late addition to the long-since-announced DOC NYC festival; tickets for the Nov. 12 screening at the SVA Theatre go on sale this afternoon. “Amazing Grace” is then set for a qualifying run at the Laemmle Monica Nov. 20-27, followed by a week at Manhattan’s Film Forum Dec. 7-14. Official premiere events for L.A. and Detroit are in the early stages of being planned for next year. The Franklin family and Elliott believe a distribution deal will come quickly but wanted to get the film ready for awards consideration first, then cross that bridge.

Very quietly, the film had already snuck onto the Oscars’ voting-member viewing site, and Elliott has been receiving calls of congratulation from Academy members who’ve streamed it there. The producer said he’d gotten advice from agents and prospective publicists that they should wait to put it out for another year, to allow time for a multi-million-dollar Oscar campaign — but he and Owens hope it will contend now, without that, as a word-of-mouth underdog, and not just in the documentary category but for best picture.

The film was originally scheduled to premiere at the Telluride and Toronto festivals in 2015, before Franklin’s lawyers were granted an injunction in court in Denver halting the showings. Her attorneys argued the singer had the right to deny the use of her likeness in the movie, while Elliott maintained that all rights had been granted when he bought the uncompleted footage from Warner Bros. Following the Telluride standoff, Elliott and Franklin’s team agreed to negotiate in good faith with the aim of making the singer a partner in the movie; as Variety reported, separate distribution deals with Lionsgate and Concord were on the table before talks stalled as Franklin grew more ill.

The legal wrangling created the appearance of enmity between camps, and the late singer was not always an easy read when it came to business matters. But in the midst of the imbroglio, Franklin told the Detroit Free Press that she “loved” the movie, a DVD edit of which Elliott had sent her years ago. The quality of the film itself was never at issue, as it straightforwardly documented what many Franklin buffs consider to be her greatest performance, a two-night stand of pure gospel music recorded with an ace band of Atlantic Records musicians and the Rev. James Cleveland’s choir at a South-Central L.A. church in January 1972 — as released in audio form later that year on what is still the bestselling gospel album of all time.

Elliott had been friends for years with Owens, who invited him to Franklin’s funeral in Detroit Aug. 31. Two weeks later, he went back to the Charles Wright African American Museum to screen the movie for Franklin’s family and their friends, who were all seeing it for the first time. The reaction there, they both say, was jubilant, with a feeling of urgency coming out of the screening about getting it before the public sooner rather than later.

“I think the movie stands by itself, so it would have a good run whether it’s next year or it was two or three years ago,” says Elliott. “But obviously, her singularity and her absence are really felt right now, so I think there is that energy toward rediscovering things that she did. And I feel that this performance is really her crowning achievement — and I think she felt that way too. As much as anything, I wish she had been here to be a part of it, especially since she said she loved the movie.”

Elliott hopes for a Detroit premiere in April, with plans to involve the Poor People’s Campaign and Clean Water for Flint on a charitable level. “Detroit is a powerful home base, I think, for ‘Amazing Grace’,” he says, “even though I think it’s a Los Angeles thing. too. We’ve been working with Superintendent Mark Ridley Thomas to get historical status for the New Missionary Baptist Church (where the album and film were made).”

The picture was locked for its would-be Telluride premiere three years ago, but late last week, Elliott was back in a Hollywood studio working on separate stereo and 5.1 mixes of the audio with Jimmy Douglass, a well-known engineer and mixer. Douglass is most renowned nowadays for his work on hip-hop albums like Jay-Z’s “4:44” and as Timbaland’s long-time right-hand man, but he started out in the early ‘70s working on rock, pop and R&B albums at Atlantic, where one of his first assignments was helping mix the “Amazing Grace” album.

Douglass worked on the movie, like a lot of participants, on his own dime a few years ago. Is he surprised to be working in 2018 on something he started in 1972? “I’m never surprised,” Douglass laughs, taking a break while Franklin’s perspiring image appears frozen above the mixing board. “Am I happy I’m working on it one more time? Of course I am. Always. Alan tracked me down years ago and showed up with this amazing project, and as far as I was concerned, I was the only person on the planet who should have my hands in it. There’s nobody else around who was as close to that whole school that’s actually still out there slaying the beast and still making hits that should be touching this. I was like, ‘That’s mine, I’m sorry.’ And here we are.”

(photo via Detroit Free Press)

Viewers might quibble over whether it’s technically a concert movie or a church service movie, but it’s foremost a music movie. “Aretha says six words in the movie,” Elliott points out. “She says,  ‘What key is it, E?’ and then she says, ‘Water.’ So, obviously getting the music right is the thing we can do best by her legacy, I think.”

Douglass has worked on the movie over a period of about eight years. Elliott, considerably longer. “I’m really excited for people to get it because I think it is the premiere document of American popular music that was ever filmed,” says the producer, “and I could never figure out why we never got to see it. And it started 27 years ago when Jerry Wexler (the album’s late producer) said to me, ‘By the way, we filmed “Amazing Grace”.’ Twenty-seven years is a long time to wait to see a movie.”

Years before director Sydney Pollack’s death in 2008, he encouraged Elliott to buy and complete the footage he had shot in 1972; the filmmaker went to Warner Bros. and gave them his blessing to sell Elliott the film, which had languished in storage for decades after problems synching visuals and audio make it impossible to edit with the existing technology. The film is going out without a directorial credit, after years of debate about whether Pollack would want to be credited on a project he wasn’t able to see through after the initial shoot.

For Owens, the film “shows Aretha in a very different light. She’s very youthful, very shy, and her voice is just beautiful throughout, at an age when her voice was absolutely crystal-clear and very pure. It’s very moving and inspirational, and I enjoy it as a fan of the church and gospel music beyond just the fact that it’s my aunt singing. This just seems like the best time, because I think any time an artist passes, they’re fresh on people’s minds and hearts. But also, I think people want something in a very spiritual mode, and I think this is a feel-good movie that could be very uplifting in a time of turmoil in our country.”

Source: https://variety.com/2018/music/news/aretha-franklin-estate-amazing-grace-film-premiere-1203019833/

Texas A&M University Project Will Document Post-Civil War “Freedom Colonies” that Existed Throughout Texas

(image via texasfreedomcoloniesproject.com)

via jbhe.com

Andrea Roberts, assistant professor of urban planning in the College of Architecture at Texas A&M University, has started a project to provide comprehensive documentation of the so-called “Freedom Colonies” in Texas. Freedom colonies were self-sufficient, all-Black settlements that former slaves established after they were freed at the end of the Civil War.

“Africans became hash marks on census reports when they reached America and were enslaved, leaving them, ultimately, without an understanding of their heritage or connection to their homeland,” Dr. Roberts said. “These self-sufficient freedom colonies were established under the most difficult of circumstances by industrious, intelligent and organized people acting much like current-day city planners — and some of their descendants are performing the work of preservationists today.”

Andrea Roberts (photo via researchgate.net)

Dr. Roberts has identified more than 550 freedom colonies established by the almost 200,000 newly freed African-Americans living in Texas just after the abolition of slavery. Today, some of these freedom colonies still exist as communities and host festivals and celebrations while maintaining connections with the past. However, little evidence remains that some of these colonies ever existed. The project, The Texas Freedom Colonies Project, aims to help African-American Texans reclaim their unrecognized and unrecorded heritage and empower city planners to plan and preserve communities.

“This [project] is about changing the dynamics so that we’re focusing on accountability, and helping people define and reclaim their communities,” Dr. Roberts said. “It’s also about realizing that African-Americans built their own communities, and they should see themselves as part of urban planning, an important field where they are more commonly considered the subject.”

More: https://www.jbhe.com/2018/10/texas-am-university-project-will-document-freedom-colonies-throughout-texas/

Columbia University’s Wallach Art Gallery Debuts “Posing Modernity,” an Exhibition on The Evolution of Black Women Models in Art

Frédéric Bazille – Young Woman with Peonies, 1870. (Photograph: National Gallery of Art/Image courtesy National Gallery of Art)

by  via theguardian.com

In 1863, the French artist Édouard Manet painted Olympia, a reclining nude prostitute, shedding a scandalous light on Parisian brothel culture. But while much of the attention has been on the white model in the painting, Victorine Meurent, the black model beside her, Laure, has been largely overlooked by art historians.

Curator Denise Murrell (photo via 92y.org)

“People have told me, ‘It’s not that I didn’t see the black maid in the painting, I just didn’t know what to say about her’,” said the curator Denise Murrell. “I always felt she is presented in a more stronger light than maids usually are, and I wondered what could be said about her, even though art history said very little.”

This one painting then sparked the exhibition which Murrell has curated, Posing Modernity: The Black Model from Manet and Matisse to Today, opening at Columbia University’s Wallach Art Gallery in New York on October 24th.

From photography to painting and sculpture, as well as film and print correspondence, this exhibit traces how the black figure has been key to the development of modern art over the past 150 years. Many of the artists here bring to light much of what art history has ignored.

“I’m looking for angles that are more relevant than just the standard narrative of the art world,” said Murrell. “I’m giving a number of different narratives that can be discussed around the black figure; there is a wider variety of black models, especially the black female figure, in broader, social roles.”

Henri Matisse, Dame à la robe blanche (Woman in white),1946. (Photograph: Courtesy of Des Moines Art Center)

Among the artists in the exhibit, there are works by Henri Matisse, including “Dame à la robe blanche (Woman in white),” from 1946, showing a black model in a white dress. The painting was made after the artist’s visit to Harlem in the 1930s, where he met local artists as part of the Harlem Renaissance, a black arts movement which celebrated African American culture.

Laura Wheeler Waring, one member of the group, was a painter who made portraits of African American civil rights figures, like author W.E.B. Du Bois and singer Marian Anderson.

“It shows the historical weight and significance of what Harlem artists were doing at the time,” said Murrell. “African American slavery or enslaved individuals were stereotyped and caricatured, and one thing Harlem Renaissance artists wanted to do was give dignity to black female figures, or to black figures, period.”

The other Harlem Renaissance painters in the exhibit include William H. Johnson, who captured the everyday lives of African Americans, whether it was groups of friends in urban settings to rural families, all of which tell “the critical story of modern portrayals of black figures”, said Murrell.

There are also works by Charles Alston, who was known locally for painting murals in Harlem hospitals, but was also recognized as a painter for his portraits of musicians, groups of cotton workers and family portraits. Alston is widely recognized for his bust of Martin Luther King Jr., which today sits in the White House. “He shows African Americans as the urban middle class,” said Murrell. “All aspects of life, high and low, are captured in his paintings.”

The more recent artworks in the exhibit, made over the past 50 years, are different from those, say, 100 years ago. “It’s more empowered because we now have a presence, artists of color,” she said. “You have black portraits by black artists, which broadens the range of artistic styles and strategies.”

Mickalene Thomas – Din, une très belle négresse, 2012. (Photograph: shootArt Mobile/Courtesy of the artist)

There are paintings by female artists such as Mickalene Thomas, who recently captured Cardi B for the cover of W Magazine’s art issue. In “Din, une très belle négresse,” from 2012, is a portrait of a black woman painted colorfully in retro garb.

“She takes 19th-century black women portrayals, but shows them in expressive ways, with rhinestones, afro wigs and a 1970s look,” said Murrell. “They’re women portrayed as sensual but in control of their sensuality, in a manner that shows a black woman who wants to be herself.

“And it’s not just black women, but women period, as sensual but in control of their sensuality and not just for the gaze of the presumed viewer, the white male,” adds Murrell, “You see that perspective unfolding to a more diverse group of artists and subjects of art.”

The exhibit features works by black female artists like Faith Ringgold, known for her quilts portraying black figures like Aunt Jemima, alongside Ellen Gallagher, who has cut up old advertisements of black women to offer her own perspective.

“You can see the evolution as the black figure comes closer to subjectivity, or agency, portrayed by women artists,” said Murrell, “or by showing black women in a way that’s closer to their own modes of self-representation.”

Though the black female figure in art has changed over the past 150 years, there is still progress to be made ahead. “There’s still an underrepresentation of black women artists, and black artists, in the contemporary art world,” said Murrell.

The exhibit is complete in one way, but incomplete in another. “I hope it gives a sense of history to the kind of art we look at today,” said Murrell. “There was a black presence in modern art, we see that in this show and I hope we start seeing more of it.”

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/oct/22/matisse-to-modernity-the-evolution-of-black-female-models-in-art

Turkey Renames Street Where New U.S. Embassy Will Reside to ‘Malcolm X Avenue’

Malcolm X thegrio.com
Portrait of American political activist and radical civil rights leader Malcolm X, July 9, 1964. (Photo by Express Newspapers/Getty Images)

by Blue Telusma via thegrio.com

City authorities in Ankara, the capital of Turkey, have officially renamed the street where the new U.S. Embassy is being built to Malcolm X Avenue after the famed Black Muslim civil rights leader, CNN reported this week.

According to state-run media agency Anadolu, Turkish leaders announced that the city assembly had accepted the name change unanimously.

The move comes at a time when relations between Turkey and the United States have been tense because of the Trump administration’s decision to supply Kurdish group that support the Syrian opposition with weapons.

This change coincides with other politically-charged name changes to streets in Ankara. The new signs are likely meant to be seen as an olive branch to American diplomats, but is both a symbolic and controversial move. Malcolm X is still seen as a polarizing figure in U.S. history; with many applauding the Black Muslim civil rights leader as an activist while others continue to regard him as divisive and responsible for inciting racial tension, violence and anti-American rhetoric.

“The street was given the name of U.S. Muslim politician and human rights defender Malcolm X, about whom President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said ‘we will make his name live on in Ankara,” Ankara’s municipality said in a statement published over the weekend.

Erdogan met Malcolm X’s daughters during a visit to New York last month and his spokesman Ibrahim Kalin shared the story about the name change on his Twitter account on Sunday.

The U.S. State Department reports that construction of the new American Embassy, which will sit three miles from the current embassy, is expected to be completed by June 2020.

Read more: https://thegrio.com/2018/10/16/turkey-renames-street-of-their-new-us-embassy-to-malcolm-x-avenue/

Brown University Renames Building to Honor Inman Edward Page and Ethel Tremaine Robinson, Two Early Black Graduates

With a location in the heart of campus, the newly renamed Page-Robinson Hall will honor the central role that Brown’s first black graduates played in the University’s history. (photo via news.brown.edu)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — In honor of two trailblazing black graduates, Brown University will rename one of the most heavily-trafficked buildings in the heart of its College Hill campus as Page-Robinson Hall.

The six-story academic and administrative facility currently known as the J. Walter Wilson building, will be renamed for Inman Edward Page — who, with a classmate, became one of the first two black graduates of Brown in 1877 — and Ethel Tremaine Robinson, who earned her degree in 1905 as the first black woman to graduate from the University.

Inman Edward Page, Class of 1877; and Ethel Tremaine Robinson, Class of 1905. (photo via news.brown.edu)

“Inman Page was born into slavery, sought liberty and opportunity and found them at Brown — and he saw the power of education to cultivate the innate ‘genius’ in everyone,” Brown President Christina Paxson said. “Ethel Robinson broke a color barrier and a glass ceiling when she graduated from Brown in 1905. Together, these two pioneers embodied the faith in learning, knowledge and understanding that has animated Brown for generations.”

Given the historical and academic significance of this renaming, the University undertook a deliberate process in determining the right building to bear the new designation, Paxson said. “We wanted a building at the heart of campus that every student, faculty member and staff member uses on a regular basis,” she said. “And one that serves as a center of classroom activity, teaching and learning — the core of the Brown experience.”

The target date for formally implementing the Page-Robinson Hall name change throughout various campus maps and business systems will coincide with the start of the Spring 2019 semester at Brown.

Lives of distinction

Born in Virginia, Page graduated from Brown in 1877. He was elected class orator, giving a speech at Commencement that was noted in the Providence Journal for its intellectual power and eloquence. Robinson excelled in her studies, graduating with honors in 1905 with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy degree and winning the Class of 1873 Prize Essay competition.

After their respective graduations from Brown, both Page and Robinson proceeded into lives and careers as influential educators.

Page dedicated his life to promoting higher education opportunities for African Americans in the American South. He served as president of four historically black colleges and universities: the Agricultural and Normal University in Langston, Oklahoma; Western Baptist College in Macon, Missouri; Roger Williams University in Nashville, Tennessee; and the Lincoln Institute in Jefferson City, Missouri.

In 1918, then-Brown President William H.P. Faunce conferred upon Page an honorary master’s degree, citing him as a “teacher, organizer, college president, whose constructive work is… not forgotten by his Alma Mater.”

While in his 70s, Page served as principal of Oklahoma City’s Frederick Douglass High School, where he greatly influenced novelist Ralph Ellison, a student there at the time. According to Brown records, after Page’s death in in 1935 at age 82, one newspaper editorialist wrote: “Old Man Ike, as his pupils endearingly referred to him, was a terror to the disobedient and the mischievous. This was not because of any cruel penalties he visited upon them, but because his students abhorred the thought of their idol knowing of their delinquency. It was this peculiar hold that he had upon youth which wove out of the fabric of their lives virtue and strength of character.”

Though Robinson’s life is not as well documented as Page’s, she paved the way for many other black women at the University, including her younger sister Cora, who graduated in 1909. Returning to her hometown of Washington, D.C. after earning her Brown degree, Robinson taught English and literature at Howard University. In 1908, she mentored Howard student Ethel Hedgeman Lyle in her efforts to found the nation’s first black sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, which now has nearly 300,000 members.

After leaving Howard University, Robinson married Joaquin Pineiro, a member of the Cuban diplomatic mission to the United States, in 1914. The couple then moved to France, where Pineiro was appointed chancellor of the Cuban Consulate in Bordeaux, coming home to the United States in 1916 after the start of WW-I. Upon her husband’s death, Robinson returned to Providence, where her sister Cora’s descendants still live.

Continue reading “Brown University Renames Building to Honor Inman Edward Page and Ethel Tremaine Robinson, Two Early Black Graduates”

Henrietta Lacks, Source of Famous HeLa Cells, to be Honored with Building at Johns Hopkins University

Henrietta Lacks (photo via nbcnews.com)

by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

According to the Associated Press, Johns Hopkins University and the family of Henrietta Lacks announced a new building on the school’s campus in East Baltimore will be named after the woman whose cells were taken without her consent and widely used in revolutionary cell research.

News outlets report the building will support programs promoting research and community engagement. Lacks died of cervical cancer in 1951 at the university where researchers soon discovered her cells reproduced indefinitely in test tubes.

For decades, it was not widely known that a black woman who was a patient at Hopkins was the unwitting source of the famous HeLa cells. It was only once Rebecca Skloot’s book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, was published in 2010 that Lacks’ story gained national attention. Oprah Winfrey subsequently produced and starred in a 2016 HBO biopic of Lacks’ life.

The announcement was part of the 9th Annual Henrietta Lacks Memorial Lecture, NBC 4 reports. Lacks’ granddaughter, Jeri Lacks, says the honor befits her grandmother’s role in advancing modern medicine.

Last year, the city of Baltimore designated October 4 as Henrietta Lacks Day to recognize the contributions of the woman behind the HeLa cells.

WNBA President Lisa Borders Leaves League to Become 1st CEO of Advocacy Group Time’s Up

Time’s Up CEO Lisa Borders (photo via thegrio.com)

by Jay Scott Smith via thegrio.com

Lisa Borders has spent the last three seasons leading the WNBA but just announced on Tuesday that she is stepping down from her post to become the first president and CEO of the advocacy group Time’s Up.

The league, which is a subsidiary of the NBA, made the announcement in a tweet on Tuesday morning.

“It has been an honor and my absolute privilege leading the WNBA and being part of what it stands for,” Borders said in a joint statement with the NBA. “I want to thank [NBA Commissioner] Adam [Silver] for giving me the opportunity and support to help grow this league.

“I am most proud of the players for their amazing talents on the court and their dedication to making an impact in their communities. I look forward to continuing my support for the W in my new role with Time’s Up. I will always be the WNBA’s biggest advocate and fan.”

Time’s Up was formed in January after a series of sexual harassment allegations in the entertainment industry involving Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Brett Ratner, Louis CK, Matt Lauer, and others. The organization advocates for safer and more equitable work environments for women in Hollywood and in other industries.

The organization is also pushing for Hollywood to reach gender pay equity. Borders had overseen the WNBA since 2016 after serving as Coca-Cola’s Vice President of Global Community Affairs.

“We are extremely grateful for Lisa’s leadership and tireless commitment to the WNBA,” Silver said. “This is a natural transition for Lisa knowing what a champion she is for issues involving women’s empowerment and social justice and fortunately for us, she leaves the league with strong tail winds propelling it forward.”

Under Borders, the WNBA inked a new jersey deal with Nike, signed an agreement with Twitter to stream games on the social media platform and helped bring women to into the NBA Live video games for the first time through a deal with EA Sports.

NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum will serve as interim WNBA president while the search for a new president begins.

TIME’S UP is actively working with various industries including advertising, entertainment, healthcare, press, tech, music, venture, and advocacy groups representing farmworkers, restaurant workers, domestic workers to ensure safer workplaces and economic parity for women.

Under Border’s stewardship, TIME’S UP will continue its focus on creating solutions that increase safety and equity at work for women of all kinds.

Source: https://thegrio.com/2018/10/03/wnba-president-lisa-borders-steps-down-to-become-first-times-up-ceo/

College Student Kalan Haywood Jr., 19, Becomes Youngest State Legislator in History of Wisconsin

Kalan Haywood, 19,  in front of Fiserv Forum, in downtown Milwaukee.
(Photo: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

by Ricky Riley via blavity.com

At only 19 years old, Kalan Haywood Jr. will be the youngest state legislator in Wisconsin. He may also be the youngest legislator in the nation, according to political experts.

Haywood will represent Milwaukee’s 16th District after a hard-fought primary against five Democratic challengers, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. That battle would be his last. There was no Republican challenger.

“Being young is going to play well with some people, but there will also be people who doubt me because of my age, which is fair — it’s new,” Haywood told the Journal Sentinel. “My age is my biggest asset,” Haywood added.

While he won’t be sworn in until January of 2019, he is likely the youngest person to serve in any state legislature in the nation. The Cardinal Stritch University student has been involved in politics since he was very young. When he was 13, he worked on Democratic Representative David Bowen‘s campaigns learning the tricks of the trade.

Then, Haywood served on the Milwaukee Youth Council at 14 and ultimately was elected president of the council. He spent the majority of his teenage years working and building a political career.

As a newly elected state representative, he wants to improve voting rights and the conditions of people’s lives in his city.  “Adding the requirement of registering to vote is very important, especially in my district where we get a very low [voter] turnout compared to a total population,” Haywood said.

His father, real estate developer Kalan Haywood Sr., believes, along with his son, that the state legislature needs young people to generate new ideas. “The state legislature as a whole — they are missing a young person’s perspective,” he said. “I want to make sure MPS (Milwaukee Public Schools) gets proper funding — I am a proud MPS graduate.”

Source: https://blavity.com/this-19-year-old-will-make-history-as-the-youngest-state-legislator-in-wisconsin

Denzel Washington Headlines Event in Pittsburgh Marking Renovation of August Wilson Home

Denzel Washington greets August Wilson’s daughter, Sakina Ansari-Wilson, at the groundblessing for August Wilson House. (photo by Nate Smallwood via Tribune-Review)

by Wes Venteicher via triblive.com

Actor Denzel Washington headlined a rainy ceremony Wednesday afternoon in Pittsburgh’s Hill District to mark the start of renovations at playwright August Wilson’s childhood home.

Washington led a $5 million fundraising effort to restore what is now called the August Wilson House. Renovations are expected to be completed in 2020, when the house is set to become a center for art and culture in the neighborhood.

“It is a privilege and an honor and a responsibility … and a joy to play a small part in keeping him alive,” Washington told an audience that huddled under umbrellas in the yard of the house at 1727 Bedford Ave.

Paul Ellis, Wilson’s nephew, led an effort to restore the nearly 200-year-old building to its 1950s-era look, matching how it appeared when Wilson lived there with his mother and five siblings. Wilson, who died in 2005, last visited the house in 1999.

Denzel Washington speaks at ground blessing of August Wilson House in Pittsburgh’s Historic Hill District (photo by Nate Smallwood via Tribune-Review)

When renovations are complete, the building — which is now on the National Register of Historic Places — will house displays and artifacts from Wilson’s life and plays. Wilson said he wanted the building to be “useful,” not only a museum, Ellis said. It will incorporate artist studios and will continue to host plays in its yard.

Duquesne University has launched a program to award fellowships to emerging writers who will live and study at Duquesne and spend time working at the House, Duquesne President Ken Gormley said.

Washington, who starred in a 2016 film production of Wilson’s play “Fences,” called Wilson one of the world’s great playwrights and talked about a familiar feeling in visiting the Hill District house. “I love August Wilson,” Washington said. “He touches my soul, our souls, in a way that no one else I know has. This is just like coming home.”

He identified some of the project’s big-name donors, noting Oprah Winfrey and actor Tyler Perry each gave $1 million and writer and producer Shonda Rhimes, director Spike Lee and actor Samuel L. Jackson all contributed.

Washington is producing nine more of Wilson’s plays — the rest of the 10 plays in the playwright’s Century Cycle.

Duquesne University has already selected its first fellow, former U.S. poet laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Natasha Trethewey. Trethewey read her poem “Pilgrimage” at the ceremony, which included short performances of Wilson’s work by student Jamaica Johnson and Pittsburgh actor Wali Jamal.

Read more: https://triblive.com/local/allegheny/14120687-74/denzel-washington-headlines-event-marking-renovation-of-august-wilson-home

Minnesota Finally Gets an African-American Museum Thanks to Co-Founders Tina Burnside and Coventry Cowens

Minnesota African American Heritage Museum and Gallery co-founders Tina Burnside, left, and Coventry Cowens. Above, the museum’s fourth-floor interior and some of its exhibits. (photo by Leila Navidi via startribune.com)

by Alicia Eler via startribune.com

A reproduction of a 19th-century purple dress with white lace collar is positioned on a stand, as if waiting for its owner to slide it on. A copy of the Green Book, an historic guide that helped steer travelers toward black-welcoming businesses, is gently perched under a glass case. Large panels explaining the history of African-Americans in Minnesota stand in front of floor-to-ceiling windows.

This isn’t a scene from the Minnesota History Center or even the Minneapolis Institute of Art. It is the new Minnesota African American Heritage Museum & Gallery in north Minneapolis.

Co-founded by civil rights attorney Tina Burnside and writer/education administrator Coventry Cowens, the museum addresses a long-standing gap in the Twin Cities. “Minnesota is one of the few states that does not have a museum dedicated to the African-American people in the state,” said Burnside.

For 30 years there have been repeated attempts to remedy that. Why has it taken so long? “I couldn’t tell you why,” she said. “Perhaps it’s a question for the people of Minnesota.”

The museum is entirely volunteer-run. At its soft opening Sept. 8, more than 200 people packed into the spacious fourth-floor gallery it shares with Copeland Art and Training Center in the new Thor Construction headquarters at Penn and Plymouth avenues N.

Like a mini-history center, it is similar to places like the Hennepin History Museum or the Somali Museum of Minnesota. Parking and admission are free.

The inaugural exhibition, “Unbreakable: Celebrating the Resilience of African Americans in Minnesota,” which runs through December, focuses on early settlers in the 1800s, black female heroes, the Great Migration from the South, and war veterans who fought abroad yet faced racism at home. Exhibitions will rotate every three to four months. The next one, opening in January, will focus on the civil rights movement in Minnesota before the 1960s, with a focus on the development of the NAACP in the Twin Cities and Duluth in the early 1900s.

While Chicago was a major destination on the Great Migration north, some continued on to Minnesota. A 2017 census report put the black share of Minnesota’s population at 6.5 percent, about half as much as Illinois. Continue reading “Minnesota Finally Gets an African-American Museum Thanks to Co-Founders Tina Burnside and Coventry Cowens”

The Good Things Black People Do, Give and Receive All Over The World
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