Monthly Archives: June 2012

Editor’s Note

Editor’s note

It’s summer! Hello and welcome again to our 8th edition of this quarterly.

In this issue we are presenting four essays by Doug Ward as a reminder that prior to becoming a theatrical Jack-of-all-trades (producer, director, actor, playwright and administrator) Doug was a journalist. He wrote primarily for “The Daily Worker” a socialist/Left wing paper. But as you will see his articles weren’t directly political. In fact they cover a wide variety of topics from movies and movie-going to interesting remembrances of playwright Lorraine Hansberry and athlete, singer, actor and political activist Paul Robeson…Also included is the last article Doug wrote for “The Daily Worker”. This was for his column “The Pitch”.

So without further ado let’s go to the articles.

Gus Edwards, Editor

Travis Mills, Assistant Editor

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Lorraine Hansberry

This is a scan of the first page of the published original. A copy of the entire article follows below it.

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Memories of Paul

Memories of Paul

by Douglas Turner Ward

Mine was the first generation to come to maturity after World War 11, also the first draftable to fight the Korean War…Paul Robeson would influence our lives.

I first saw and heard Paul in 1948 at a huge stadium rally in Detroit during the Progressive Party’s Presidential campaign for Henry Wallace. If memory serves, I had taken a bus from Ann Arbor where I was in the process of dropping out of the University of Michigan. If memory is faulty, I was already in the Big D after flunking out…Anyway, there is no doubt about the thrilling excitement  of Paul Robeson’s presence.

Earlier as a youth growing up on New Orleans, LA, I was aware of Robeson merely as a world-famous singer, and being a dedicated athlete myself, acquainted with his legendary career as a great all-around sports star, especially his gridiron exploits which had earned him laurels as a two-time Walter Camp All American. But it wasn’t long before my peers and I were looking towards Paul as the model – antithesis grinning, dark skin movie buffoons causing us to grit out teeth while they cut the fool up on the Big Screen.

But let me interject here to counteract a current day revisionist notion afloat, that we who objected to the odious stereotypes foisted upon us were not some hincty bourgeoisfied Negroes flinching from what was perfectly acceptable to mass black taste. To the contrary, we were the sons and daughters of hard, working-class parents. Particularly, we were early-to- mid-age teens sitting in the peanut-gallery balconies of segregated movie houses, instinctively aware that the Stephin Fetchit antics served up by white folks for their own hilarity and our base defilement were truly offensive to our desire to be depicted humanely. Our spontaneous derision spurred us to hurl popcorn and spittle down from our protected aeries above onto exposed heads of whites attending below. A most memorable object of our Screen contempt and hurtful to our ears was listening to the high pitched screeching of Butterfly McQueen… “Miss Scarletting” through Gone with the Wind (1939)…Only to be topped by hoot-calls shouted at the burly black servant rescuing his mistress from drunken, carousing Negro Carpetbaggers in the same film. (Down South it was no laughing matter to witness the lynching beast aroused by scenes of lily-white besmirchment.)


More specifically, we were Second World War African-American youngsters being shaped by a juncture of history that revealed the contradictions of our un-freeness at home as our fathers, brothers and uncles were CeeBee constructing and Red Ball Express trucking, fighting and dying abroad to protect our country for freedom and democracy. In essence when attitudes, images and representations were subject to overt challenge and contestation; contrasted to our present time where illusions of immunity from harm of misrepresentation along with a ‘post-modern’ acceptability of offensive disparagement proliferate. All the while racist power structures are as much in control of our lives as ever before.

(Back then it was humorists and comedians like Pigmeat Markham, Moms Mabley, Dusty Baker and a young Red Foxx on the all-black circuit, who were truly liberating; addressing their brother/sister constituency unflinchly, never shirking the cathartic, bracing comic effects of subversive exaggeration, parody, satire, self-mockery and no-holds barred self-criticism…a much different can of peas that gratuitous self-degradation and pandering to the insistensies of majority-derived carractures.)

Following the devastating wake of the Depression, my generation was lucky to tip into teenagehood  parallel to the United States’ entry into World War 11. It assured that our puberty would be supported by the stable employment of our fathers and mothers and allotment checks from our brothers and uncles. It wasn’t class status bolstering our attitudes, but economic security.

Despite all the efforts of powers-that-be to maintain the status-quo, docility was not acceptable to us. The war ended as we were graduating from high school. We were primed to be intransigent about our rights.

Our ranks swelled with the return of slightly older peers discharged in droves from the Armed Services. They were even less willing to put up with any waste matter. The Establishment, especially of the South, was determined to continue where it had left off before the war. Fresh conflict was inevitable.

We wartime beneficiaries first-in – family graduates from High School flocked into college, joined by our subsidized GI-Bill-of Rights veterans. A cadre of non- bourgeois blacks was being educationally equipped. Subsequentially, a majority may have settled into the safe niches of societal advancement, but a significant number became radicalized, both through struggle and intellectual stimulus…To the latter Paul Robeson was exemplar non-pariel.

My main goal in entering college centered primarily on athletics. Even with my knowledge of Paul Robeson’s stellar accomplishments, it was the Midwest Big Ten Conference that occupied my focus. Buddy Young at Illinois, George Taliaferro of Indiana, et al. Only UCLA where Kenny Washington and Jackie Robinson had cavorted out West could compete. However the University of Michigan stood above all. As early as the mid thirties Michigan had featured a black football star and just recently had produced had produced the All-American Guard Julius Franks. It was there where I wished to excel. After a one-year detour at Wilberforce University in Ohio, I realized my dream and enrolled, determined to emulate my football predecessors. (Incidentally, it was at all-black Wilberforce where my knowledge of Paul Robeson deepened. Wilberforce, almost unknown for the time, offered courses in Negro History…in itself not so surprising since Dr. Charles Wesley, a leading historian and disciple of the great Carter Woodson, was the school’s President.)

Only 17- years old I found myself at the University of Michigan as a walk-on candidate for the freshman football squad during a season when the varsity led by black All-Americans Len Ford and Bobby Mann with Gene Derricotting as backup halfback, would go undefeated and win the National Championship. Another African-American, National Champion shot-putter Chuck——, captained the track squad.

Quickly, my stint on the freshman team revealed my terminal athletic limitations, and almost as rapidly, my naïve illusions about Michigan’s non-segregated purity in athletics were shattered. It became clear that (more accurately, only blacks with super bluechip abilities) were welcome on the football and track teams, but needed not apply for basketball team membership or possible places on other less high-profile sports squads.

Racism, evident in many other areas of campus life, combined with segregation throughout the surrounding city of Ann Arbor, heightened my disillusionment. But as my disenchantment advanced, my politization increased. My southern conditioning made me a ripe candidate for radicalization. Civil rights activism and contact with campus Marxists, outside black trade unionists and African-American left-wing political leaders from Detroit contributed to my education and enlightened me about social issues and world affairs. Before the first semester I was scrapping my athletic ambitions and becoming persuaded that that further stay in academia was useless. The advent of the Progressive Party’s presidential campaign further convinced me that my interests lay elsewheres. By the time I was hearing Robeson in Detroit, I had already decided to quit college and travel closer to the action…That meant New York.

It is hard to describe the euphoria of the Wallace-for- President Campaign compared with the pallid Third Party efforts ever after. Then, almost to the end, victory seemed possible or at least a massive showing that would entrench an Alternative Political Presence upon the American body politic forever. This expectation was rudely squelched when Truman eked out his victory over Dewey; only consolation being that Truman had been pressured by the Progressive Party threat to co-opt important elements of its civil rights platform as his own. A tactic which siphoned off support from Wallace and by election day Truman had garnered almost a unanimous vote from the African- American electorate. This vote proved decisive in a contest fought out between a wide range of candidate and philosophies, from Dexiecrats to Progressives…But this denouement lay ahead, when I arrived in Harlem that summer of ’48.

One stroll down 125th Street confirmed to me that Harlem was indeed the Capitol of black America; and I doubt if there was any other place where Paul Robeson was revered more. In addition, Harlem electorally, had an established record backing candidates of radical political pedigrees…maverick Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Communists Councilman Ben Davis, American Labor Party Vito Marcantonio and others.

Parading through Harlem streets in the Youth-for-Wallace brigades was like a great big festive holiday. Where ever Paul Robeson appeared, he was cheered wildly. Campaigning within uptown boundaries, being greeted with such ecstatic acceptance, deceived us about the depth of commitment to the Progressive Party and the size of the vote to be expected on election day in November….For me on a more personal level, as much as political engagement was exhilarating, the total panorama of Harlem life was even more transfixing to my newly-arrived eyes and invigorating to my sensuous sensibilities. Especially the music. To me, an ardent bebopper, it was paradise.

I was too young and inexperienced to anticipate the surprising revelation that pragmatism often impels the Afro-Electorate to abandon candidates they most admire in favor of those whom they rate to have a real chance of winning.

Truman’s victory shocked us back to earth.

Little did we realize that the Wallace challenge would be the peak point of Left Wing optimism for decades to come; that Reaction would pick up momentum and push progressivism more and more to the margins, making Paul an immediate target in their bullseye sight…Early in 1949 a Robeson speech in Paris had brought down the wrath of the Cold War high command. More precisely, it would provide the occasion for it cynically to craft a campaign designed to stifle Paul’s voice and damage his creditability, deflate his lofty standing among his people. However, instead of silencing or intimidating Paul, it aroused him to stronger defiance.

Apart from mainstream black leaders who were armtwisted into denouncing Paul, residents of Harlem were supportive. They saw through the cold warriors’ script. Needing help, Reaction drafted Jackie Robinson as star witness to Counter Paul and bestow legitimacy upon itself. ..For an umpteenth repeat we were treated to the sorry/sad spectacle of a compliant black seduced or pressured into doing the dirty work of established power; enlisted to subvert the views of a more uncooperative figure, slavishly parroting the orders of an officialdom proverably inimical to black interests. Usually, the credentials of such puppets rest solely on the fact that they are also black.

An added twist to Jackie Robinson vs. Paul Robeson was the pitting of great athletes from epoch against another from a different period. Only the pattern was reversed: it was the conformist youngster used to cut the radical elder down to size. So much for the notion that rebelliousness is an exclusive property of the young.

The Un-American Activities Committee’s ploy didn’t work. It played well in Peoria but flopped in Harlem. The patent transparency of such Uncle Tom ventriloquism was so obvious that it cancelled out whatever critical testimony Jackie Robinson offered against racism and left him stripped of his heroic mantel. Reactionary manipulators whose positive record of Civil Rights couldn’t fit the size of a fingerprint had hoped to piggyback upon the enormous esteem Jackie Robinson had reaped by his pioneering Major League baseball breakthrough and brilliant on-the-field achievements…But the effort failed. Harlem was furious. Despite media distortions of Paul’s Paris thesis, African- Americans agreed with its essence. Like many decades later when another great black athlete would proclaim pithily: “I don’t have nothing against  them Viet Cong”, Paul’s earlier comment echoed similar sentiments. Abjuring the trappings of official jingoistic patriotism, he merely asserted the priority of one’s own fight for freedom and the determination to first and foremost achieve it at home. The gist of this is what really incensed the cold warriors.

Blacks sensed the truth intuitively. They didn’t fault Paul for distorted interpretations trumpeted by the press and even more generously, gave Jackie Robinson the benefit of the doubt. They understood his precarious vulnerability. They criticized him for allowing himself to be used, but they didn’t abandon him. He was not rejected, just regretted…Paul was just as giving as he refused to be drawn into any argument with or about Robinson.

Among youths of radical persuasions, we were not so forgiving. It took a long time to view the episode with kinder objectivity. Our mood grew angrier when the crucifixion of Paul Robeson escalated, climaxing at Peekskill.

I was not at Peekskill but assisted at a command post on 125th Street, helping out every way possible to aid Paul and those trapped with him as news filtered back from the beleaguered site. One impressible memory remains of a conference at that Harlem headquarters devoted to finding a way to dissuade the Harlem gangster Bumpy Johnson from sending his henchmen up to Peekskill “to get Paul out of there…”

The anti-communist hysteria that triggered the Peekskill atrocity outraged Black America and elicited more sympathy for Paul than his persecutors could imagine. Even Ralph Bunche of United Nations’ fame was active behind-the-scenes in attempting to protect Paul that infamous night.

Peekskill, if not a conscious plot, was no accident. It was the enviable result of US cold-war strategy and its demonization of Paul. While the American Communist Party was selected as the main organization to bear the brunt of cold-war assault; no individual was pilloried more than Robeson. Yet, we marveled, the more embattled he became the more combative his response. Like a magnificent counterpuncher he returned blow for blow. Excepting those black leaders whose self-complicity wedded them to the System, admiration for Paul among the black mass majority never faltered. Even more timid souls in the community shook their heads while complimenting him with “he’s a better man than me…” Amid black youths the attitude remained more consensus pugnacious.

Before long Korea would transform the US propaganda offensive into involvement in an actual shooting war. The stakes for dissent were upped. Dissidence could get you incarcerated… Thus, my own fate.

Less than one month past my 21st birthday I was arrested and whisked away South in chains, indicted on a phony Draft charge…Now I really needed Paul in the worst way. Not literally, but to bolster my stamina and boost up my morale. Only a giant would do. Despite my youthful revolutionary bravado, I had not suffered any real personal hardship to prepare me for my sudden non-theoretical tribulations. When reality dawned, imagining how Paul managed to endure was invoked to help calm my churning apprehensions.  Shortly I would even share a form of the gulag he was sentenced to experience by his passport seizure. My boundary would enclose slightly more prosaically since I wound up confined to a tri-state radius comprising the federal district crossing through Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

My two year enforced stay in New Orleans was wracked by a constant nightmarish fear that at any moment I was liable to punishment anew under hastily-passed draconian Louisiana anti-communist  statutes that demanded mandatory 20- year jail sentences! I was in jeopardy by just being in the state!.. Against my will!..Through no choice of my own!

Earlier, before I had disappeared behind the Pelican curtain, Paul Robeson, through his weekly journal Freedom, had publicized my case through an interview by Lorraine Hansberry, recorded during what turned out to be my final trip to New York before magnolia exile. The article would serve as my last public statement for a long time. Until a year so ago I also was ignorant of the fact that Paul had made

a lengthy (to me) mention of my plight at a public rally back then. I came upon the quote in a published collection of his speeches. I could not have been more thrilled; or cherish a mention more.

My original contact with Paul with Paul Robeson had been mainly a few inclusions in the squadron brought together to escort and protect him during public rallies. It was only after I became friend and associate with Paul Jr. and Marilyn Robeson that I saw Paul Sr. up close socially. At their Harlem apartment on 128th Street off Convent he was just another doting grandfather playing with his newborn grandchild. In conversation he was warm, affable, unpretentious, considerate and did everything possible to put you at ease. He was almost lifesize. But the truth was fleeting. I could never shake my awe of him. To me he would always mesmerize back into monumentality. The formidability of his impression upon me refused to relieve my reticence, break down my reserve. No matter what, I was unable to relax. Part of my inhibition, of course, was traditional…we were not of the same generation, respectful deference was warranted. But most of my unease was just plain hero-paralysis. This was neither his wish or intent. In our current time of fierce self-promotion and egregious public-image inflation, it is a wonder to remember how naturally Robeson attracted worship and adulation without striving to induce it.

Paul was the embodiment of charisma before the word gained currency. In all my years since, I have never witnessed again the hold Paul held over audiences even before he was speaking…Even consummate great orators like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X could never duplicate Paul’s spell-of-anticipation overran audience. It was as if the entire assemblage held its collective breath waiting in suspense for his first word. As his inhalation signaled the onset of a sound emitting, a universal relieved gasping sigh would escape from the crowd. Paul couldn’t even utter his “Well” before the house would erupt with applause…It wasn’t just the voice, in all its marvelous, splendid luster, but the promise behind the voice, the anticipation of honesty, sincerity, passion, sympathy, intelligenceand meaningful content.

In 1953 I returned to New York. A no-comment unanimous Supreme Court decision threw out my bogus 3-year jailterm Draft conviction. Freed of my two-year out-on- bail hiatus I left New Orleans a little older, warier, and more seasoned but no less determined in commitment.

Compared to my entry in ’48, New York was more somber. The Rosenbergs has just been given their final rejection by the Supreme Court and were scheduled to be electrocuted within weeks. Ironically, this judgment had been delivered along with the same batch of Court rulings, one of which had exonerated me. I had learned of my good fortune an early Sunday morning before hearing about the other decisions. My elation, shared with my overjoyed and relieved parents was shortlived upon the news about the Rosenbergs. Though conflicted I gladly would have sought an opposite resolution of our two cases. Three years in prison for me in exchange for their lives was a bargain I would have made without regret.

The Rosenberg case highlighted so many different issues relating to America’s postwar hegemony and ethos, nationally and internationally. The crusade to prevent the Rosenbergs from being sacrificed captured world attention and global support. Once more Paul was in the forefront. His voice took on greater passion and urgency  as he counseled us to understand that injustice done to the Rosenbergs eclipsed all other injustices, including his own victimization.

The fight to save the Rosenbergs failed and Reaction followed up with only slightly horrific agonies. Paul’s defiance continued without cease. His efforts to maintain an artistic presence, despite a virtually complete lockout from all mainstream concert and performance venues, pioneered the search for alternative outlets of creative expressions.

It was during one such appearance  of his at the Renaissance Casino in Harlem that I had a spontaneous, untutored intuition about the vacuum suffered by Paul’s exclusion from the one art form which could have given full use of his multiple gifts. Paul sang and acted an excerpt from Mussoursky’s opera Boris Goudonov. Although I was totally ignorant about and previously uninterested in opera, the stunning force, beauty and impact of his rendition, combined with the depth of his emotional interpretation convinced me that opera was indeed the perfect medium combining his multitudinous endowments for harmonious expression in a single art form. Many decades later, having been trained and experience myself in theatre, I still find no reason to change my assessment, even after learning that Paul chose voluntarily not to perform opera because of other valid artistic preferences.  Without slighting his wider-ranging prolific and prodigious creative achievements, I still believe it to be the 20th Century’s loss not to have seen or heard Paul Robeson match his larger-than-life gifts with a medium that is in itself larger-than-life.

The campaign waged against Paul Robeson and the Left after World War 11 was the precursor of McCarthyism. Unfortunately, this victimization and demonization was insufficiently grasped in time. What was happening only involved the dreaded Reds. By the time the nation had awakened, the plague had spread across the board. The virus had penetrated into the citadels of establishment institutions and infected the fabric of routine American existence. Targeting the radical Left had been merely a trail run. Next, the witch- hunt sought unsuspecting victims. Fifty years later we’re still counting the toll.

Nevertheless, the ongoing tradition of dissidence and struggle sustained throughout the darkest days of the forties and fifties sedimented traces of antidotes for later use. The ‘Old Left’ which had recorded its admirable record of almost lonely resistance, despite its own grievous errors and dogmatisms, by the onset of the sixties had gone into decline, battered into submission; fatigued; ideological differences leading to fractures and uncertainties; but its intransigent legacy would transmute into other forms of protest.

Paul’s passport victory in the late fifties earned him much-delayed relief from the odiferous fumes wafting across US shores. He was able to vacate. Yet, during his absence his spirit remained, his influence continued…even when only subliminally.

It is quite predictable that America’s dissident tradition always will be suppressed, evaded and devalued by a hegemonic Establishment, totally true to its nature…but history will persist in so many embodied ways. It is always available for recuperation; always there to inspire and instruct future generations as long as we have generations to inspire.

Even though the Left of my youth and Paul’s prominence took a lethal hit, Montgomery, Alabama peered above the horizon and a host appeared behind it. Much of the vanguard resistance and combativity of Paul Robeson and those like him migrated into mass attitudes and gigantic protest activisms. Whether those who followed after him knew it not, they had picked up Paul’s banners.

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Doug Ward and the Daily Worker

Here are a couple scans from the last issue of the Daily Worker that Doug wrote for, including his final article. October 31st, 1957. The article is reposted below these images. Doug was writing these articles under his real name Roosevelt Ward Jr.

The Pitch

By Roosevelt Ward Jr.

Over the past year during the approximate existence of “The Pitch” in this space you have heard many moans, bleats and plain old unadulterated complaints about how difficult some of these columns have been to write…Well, today I can state unequivocally that the present offering is by far the hardest, most difficult and most painful of all to get down on paper…Because it happens to be my last one.


There is no need to outline the difficulties of this paper in its fight for survival…You are well aware of its financial straits, the four page reduction, staff cuts and other retrenchment measures…These are the obvious, stone cold facts of life which can’t be avoided. In view of this situation and faced with conflicting aims and interests of my own, I am leaving voluntary.


A few words in summing up.

Before taking leave I wish to declare proudly and sincerely that my more than two years’ association with The Daily Worker has been greatly rewarding…In a way I feel guilty because it is my honest opinion that I have benefited more than I have contributed…Coming to this paper as a green-as- grass beginner, I whether the rich technical and professional experience could have been duplicated elsewhere…My relationship with the humane, highly skilled members of this staff have been warm, happy, enriching and enlightening experiences.


As for my tour of the journalistic beat, especially sports row – I never had it so good…A ringside seat at the championship fights…a press box view of the baseball and basketball scene, including World Series and tournament title playoffs…dressing room chats with champions, winners and losers alike…the good spirits and helpfulness encountered among fellow scribes…Well…What could be better?…Honestly, many times I felt like paying for the opportunity.


To all you bedraggled readers I feel I owe something in the nature of an apology…To all of you who suffered through a lot of banal, superficially conceived , sometimes facetiously written offerings in this space and also type marred, syntax fractured, misspelled, headachy copy which saw the light of print – I humbly apologize and refuse to dredge up any excuses.


The Reporters beat and sports chair have not been the place to offer opinions on the many controversial issues argued in this paper in the tumultuous months of the past…However, in departing, I take this opportunity to say a few brief words…respecting any differences or disagreements of yourselves.


Without reservations I am proud to have been associated with this paper in its fight around the important issues affecting our country and its citizens. The fight for the rights of the Negro citizens of this land, my people; the struggle for Labor and working people’s rights; the untiring efforts for world peace and coexistence of our nation with the rest of mankind; the fight to restore civil liberties from the ravages of McCarthyism and Eastlandism; and a thousand other national and local issues facing the people.


I’m proud to have been associated with this paper during the days when it first sought new definitions, redefined positions and a more humane and independent path toward the goal of democratic socialism…I am proud to have been aligned with those of its editors who repudiated much of the tarnish placed on socialist ideals by the heritage of Salinism and dogmatism… I am proud it took positions on international developments as it saw them, no matter how right many think those positions might have been…I am proud of its role in championing the fight against dogmatism in the area of political action and theoretical ideas.


The question of democratic socialism first and foremost in this country and in the world at large, is much more complex than I thought in my younger years…In this country, as I see it, it goes far beyond any specific party or any group or theorist…No one holds a monopoly on being creative or correct…But I am proud of this paper’s role in unlocking some of the doors.


I offer this summation with the knowledge that I’m the last to make any claims of political acumen – politics just happens not to be my beat – but the issues at stake are crucial to the future of our nation and the world.


I would like to repeat that my leaving the staff comes solely and completely at my own volition.

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Reflections of a Moviegoer

Reflections of a Moviegoer

by Douglas Turner Ward

My mother and father, born around the turn of the century, can still take movies or leave em. Mostly leave em. But those of us midwife to life during the early 1930s were as hooked on films as kiddies and teenagers of today are hung-up on TV. It mattered little what we saw, but attend we did.

My initial introduction to the silver screen occurred when I was a four or five year old tot living on a plantation in the canebrake, rice-growing area of Louisiana. On Saturdays during summer, I was plucked regularly from our wooden shack, trundled five miles down a dusty road upon the shoulders of one or another of my teenaged uncles, transported by ferryboat across the muddy Mississippi and, ten minutes later, deposited in the balcony seat of a musty movie house. Infancy is treacherous to recall, but I still retain vivid memories of the bang-bang/clippitty clop-clop of Tom Mix, Buck Jones, Johnny Mack Brown, Charles Starrett, Bob Steele, The Three Mesquiteers and their legions of mustachioed villains; green- green colored Buck Rogers and his dagger bearded nemesis, along with snippets from a multitude of other more vague ten or fifteen chapter cliff hangers.

In the early forties the scene shifts to New Orleans where my parents had thankfully emigrated. No longer were theatre chaperones necessary. Now attending flicks against the “Japs”; Taking little notice of Lena Horne or the Deep River Boys being wedged into films as cuttable entities; merely happy they were there…Also, like everybody else  who laid eyes upon that Confederate opus Gone With the Wind, for months we went bounding around the neighborhood greeting each other with “Scarlett my dear, I don’t give a damn.” However even then, eleven year old or no, Butterfly McQueen’s piercing “Miss Scarlett” was too much to take.

At neighborhood theatres the movie fare was cheaper and cheesier. A similar program of the B to D films seen earlier during childhood. Excepting the few houses with slightly with slightly lower hanging peanut galleries, neighborhood movie houses were all-colored. Besides feature attractions of burlesque stage shows with blackout skits, risqué sketches and wonderful 15 minute shorts of popular rhythm –and- blues or jazz combos added for our viewing pleasure were the Tantone hilarics…handsome Herb Jefferies cavorting his version of sagebrush heroics in an all black West, presented in erratic sepia color; Sepiatone cops-and – robbers shorts replete with pomade hated villains, countryboy innocents and ‘stacked’ high- yeller jezebels…unintentionally rivaling  Chaplin, Keaton and Mack Sennett for laughs.

The only problem with the neighborhood theatres were their location in the wrong neighborhood, that is outside of our own turf. In order to attend we had to risk physical assault from our moppet-mafia contemporizes strong arming us with “Gimme a nickel you little n…r” demands. Downtown may have been segregated but it also was much safer.

As for the majority downtown first-run theatres which excluded us completely, sky high balcony or not, whatever was offered just had to suffer without our appraisal (except later when I served a stint in one of these lily white palaces and revenged myself and the race by watching more movies than scrubbing the toilets I was supposed to swab…By mid teens, juvenile innocence and ignorance vanished. Life and the movies came into harsh focus; consciences expanded and contradictions exposed themselves. Southern life is too brutal for naiveté, reality intrudes. Now, we niggers in the stall were responding like niggers toward what we were seeing. Sympathy shifted from the paleface to the redskin; the Jap was still the enemy, but it wasn’t hard to conclude that the grits-mouth cracker “japing” at him was the same bastard “niggering” at us in the face every day of our lives. Also, by this time, the sight of a simpering black maid or molasses- minded handyman was enough to drive us to murderous fury. In any event, our Sunday saris began to bypass regular jimcrow theatres in favor of the Star Theatre girlie show where big breasted chorus lines and scanty –clad burlesque queens pranced and strutted their wares. (Burley house impresarios were more interested in our coins than protecting Gypsy Rose Lee from our gaze.) If we had to sit in the peanut gallery we might as well serve our time indulging sex fantasies.

Soon after celebrating my sixteenth birthday, with alacrity I removed myself from the deep South, intent upon seeking success and equality up North. Crazy as it may seem, freedom to attend the movie of my choice was one of the privileges which beckoned…Sure nuff, three or four days after plunking down my string tied- valise, I headed to the flicks. Lo and behold, I discovered that students of the college where I had taken refuge were reassembling their picket line to desegregate the mother! I had travelled more than a thousand miles to stroll into a ground floor cinema, only to discover the same old ka ka. Was it ever worse, this little jive Ohio town only had two movie houses for the whole city! Eventually, the deseg campaign was won, but movies saw little of my presence during the ensuing two years of higher education in both Ohio and Michigan. Ardor for the habit had dissipated.

After chucking the college scene in ’48 I entrained once again for the golden grail of Northern freedom, this time New York City. Whatever else it lacked the Big Apple city did revive my movie interest. And what a revival! I had already learned that novels could reflect reality; radical philosophy had also informed my vision of the world. But I hadn’t bargained up on the startling impact of foreign movies. I never knew they existed, but soon was awed by their achievement…The searing power of Italian neorealism: Open City-1945, Paisan-1946, Shoeshine1946, Bitter Rice-1949, The Bicycle Thief-1948 etc along with the prewar French drolleries, poetics and surrealisms of Jouvet, Bauer, Renoir, and Cocteau, combined with the gigantic, panoramic revolutionary epics of Russia: Ivan the Terrible-1944, Alexander Nevesk-1938y, Potemkin-1925, Ten Days that Shook the World- 1928, the Gorky Trilogy (The Childhood of Maxim Gorky-1938, On His Own-1939 and Moi university – 1941), the Depuy-1926, Chapayev-1935 and numerous others whose titles I have long since forgotten…Three of four years on a continuous movie binge, making up for lost and wasted time, four or five films crammed into one week. The Apollo on 42nd Street, the Stanley, Thalia, Irvin Place, like second homes…In the main I went alone. Inviting a date to a foreign movie during those years usually provoked a pouting: “I don’t wanta go to those old movies where you hafta read.”

During this period, time and protest also were forcing American cinema to develop a “new look” in its treatment of Negroes. Gross stereotypes more or less were being abandoned; the Stephen Fetchits were increasingly relegated to movie oblivion (and future TV libraries). Hollywood began to wrestle with Negro subject matter and characters… First came the wave of color syndrome films…a la Pinky- 1949, Lost Boundaries-1949 etc. with light skinned heroes and heroines (Usually portrayed by reigning white stars) wring hands and gnashing teeth over their cursed bad luck in being born pretty near pure white (Out, damn invisible hue!), or else breaking into impotent sweat every time that famous epithet was spat their way (See: Home of the Brave-1949). Protracted viewing of these films usually led one to shout: “Aww, why don’t you go on and pass.” or “Stop sweating, punch em eff in the mouth and get it over with.” They also made you suspect that every Negro wakes up in the morning rubbing his skin in pain rather than sleep from his eyes.

After this masochistic era had run its course Hollywood and allied satellites began to pursue the Negro image in earnest. The successes and failures of their efforts over the last twenty years can almost be traced through the advent and career of Sidney Poitier. No doubt Sidney’s stardom and the roles he has performed constitute a significant breakthrough contrasted with the past, but ignoring historical and sociological progress, what about the movies he and others (rarely) been featured in?

Looking backward and progressing forward in loose chronological order I’m left with the following capsule, nonprofessional critics’ impressions of some of the better known films. No Way Out-1950 and Blackboard Jungle-1955…melodramatic and self-conscious in their treatment of Negro subject matter, though possessing individual scenes of power and insight.


A Man is Ten Feet Tall (Edge of the City)-1957…well made, acted and packed with dramatic force, but weak Freudianized central plot overcomes stronger Negro subject matter.

The Defiant Ones -1958…Remembered more for providing the fuel for Godfrey Cambridge’s acid parody “Bye-bye baby” than for its own well-meaning brotherhood message.

Porgy and Bess-1959…a heavy-handed disaster made in surprising ugliness.

Paris Blues-1961…turgid and meandering, a good example of what happens when a banal white plot is puffed up to central importance while slighting the original novel’s main theme, Negro exile.

Anna Lucasta-1958…a maudlin soap-opera disaster.

Something of Value-1957…a vicious travesty of the Mau Mau rebellion, so historically untruthful and artistically false until it amounts to an insult, its non-violent, brotherhood message coming too late and directed at the wrong people.

A Raisin in the Sun-1961…a prime example of how not to film a stage play; ugly lit, claustrophobically cramped and over histrionic.

Lilies of the Field-1963…charming, well done, unpretentious; also slight, barely escapes saccharinely.

To Kill a Mockingbird-1962…heart in the right place, but devastated by that stunning good-white-father scene and monument to paternalism: Stand up Scout, your father’s passing.” …Indeed!

Nothing But a Man-1964…excellent cameo simplicity, but I still have a nagging feeling that I like it more for the maudlin pitfalls it manages to sidestep.

The Cool World-1964…Negro environment and subject matter serves as an excuse for irritatingly excessive ‘new cinema’ camera orgies.

Sweet Love, Bitter- 1967…erratic, stilted and unrealized, yet wields a certain fascination; another example of a weak white storyline getting in the way of the more natural Negro subject matter.

Most of the films cited above…along with others left unmentioned are well intentioned in the main; also sporadically interspersed with frames, vignettes, scenes and  Characters which hold our interest and quicken our responses. But, as this cryptic survey concludes, few of these movies have been fully satisfying. Perfection is not my goal, but a totally satisfying whole is…and few of these American made films approach the standard. Certainly, none can compare with two movies of foreign origin which, in my opinion, are model examples of successful Negro feature-film treatment….The first: Black Orpheus-1959, French-made Brazilian location, manages without self-consciousness to present the best in-depth, fully- realized portrait of Negroes seen on film to date. Technically flawless, surpassing in visual beauty, varied and truthful in a multitude of character studies, full of humor, lyrical tenderness, earthy substance and tragic irony, this superb movie captures the full grandeur, humanity and pathos of Negro slum-dweller existence going far beyond its Brazilian environment. Without any overt reference to racial conflict, it achieves a universality rarely encountered in films, and almost stands alone as an example of how Negro subject matter can be transformed into glorious artistic fulfillment…The second Sapphire – 1959, British- made, more modest in treatment and dimension, more limiting in its popular detective thriller format, triumphs in lesser fashion, in depicting wide representative gallery of Negro characters. Its broad canvas of types, classes, professions and circumstances provide a panoramic vision of Negro life never witnessed in US films. An added bonus is its trenchant exploration of the climate of prejudice as it exists in a more benign racist society like Great Britain.

At this writing, the failure of any American film to match Black Orpheus and Sapphire is not surprising.. Even during its ‘new look’ treatment, Hollywood and allied Independents have only proven that they never have been geared pragmatically, ideologically or artistically for the task. Gross movie stereotypes no longer may prevail (they bedevil us on the late-late shows on TV), but what has replaced them seldom encompass the reality of the present. The ‘new look’ has been merely over-praised. Obsessed with and dominated by insulting, derogatory images of the past, we have been over-anxious to greet any small step forward as the ultimate; reacting like blind men gaining half-sight in one eye, mistaking it for total vision.

It is time to realize that movies in America are only accidentally art; primarily Big Business. Overwhelming control resides in the hands of the most conservative element of our society. The monopolistic oligarchy which, instead of plumbing the unexplored riches of Negro themes and characters, continues to be much more interested in entertaining us with “Southern” Confederate epics with noble, honorable, gentlemanly Rebs dedicated to their ‘cause’, not withstanding the cause was slavery or Colonials…small regiments of British troops stiff-upper-lipping their way to victory over a million spear-carrying, lame brained natives.

Bringing these reflections to a close; Once upon a time during my movie going career, I would rush to view any and all movies claiming to deal with or feature the brother. Seeing enough bad ones have been educative. A responsibility has been lifted. For instance, taking my cue from another medium, TV; Bill Cosby’s elevation to series stardom didn’t prevent me from turning the knob on discovering that the first I Spy -1965,program was about some cold-war crap. Knowing that movies with “us” in ‘em can be as awful as the rest, relieves me of all optimistic expectations. I can take ‘em or leave ‘em. Even better…I don’t hafta even atten ‘em.

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Doug Ward – Update

Doug Ward – Update

I just got back from New York where as usual I spent a considerable amount of time with Doug. Some of that time involved shooting a video interview with Doug. Excerpts from this will be used at the “Texas State Black and Latino Playwrights Conference” under the Artistic Direction of Eugene Lee an NEC alumni. This conference will take place at Texas State University on the weekend of September 14 to the 16th. Doug will be the honored guest and I will be doing a presentation on the “History of the NEC”. And since I believe in showing rather than telling I will have Doug on screen telling us first hand about the way things were…It promises to be a lively and informative event. Hope you can come and celebrate with us. Here is a small clip from the recent interviews with Doug.

On Thursday (May 24) I was invited to join Doug and his friend painter and illustrator George Ford Jr. on their weekly jaunt through various parts of the city and boroughs in George’s car. Before I got there the skies darkened, thunder cracked and the rain came pouring down. But that didn’t deter anything. George arrived and we drove to a section in Queens called “Five points” and looked at buildings just across from the Museum of Modern Art that were covered with wonderfully realized illustrations and other examples of graph art. To me (and us) some of the best examples of street art anywhere. Our conversation was lively and full of laughs as the rain continued. Then as if by magic it suddenly stopped and the sun came out. So we got out of the car and treated ourselves to lunch. I can’t remember when I had a more enjoyable day. Thank you Doug, thank you George, Thank you stormy weather and thank you to all of the artists putting their talents so abundantly on display.

In August Doug will be coming to Arizona to act in an experimental film that I have written and will be co-directing called “Black Eros”…More on that and on the conference at Texas State U. in our Fall issue.

Till then, have a good summer.

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