Saturday, February 07, 2009

I am watching one of my favorite films,Le Divorce and thinking about Isabel's relationship with Uncle Edgar. Ohh Uncle Edgar! I had my own Uncle Edgar...but he wasn't rich (that I know of), he was a graduate studebt, but he was 41, hot, and Russian. A post-communism Russian, totally capitalistic, he used to ask me "Brandon, why are you so in love with Angela Davis?" haha...

Friday, February 06, 2009

What's Love Got To Do With It?

Tina Turner

You must understand
Though the touch of your hand
Makes my pulse react
That it's only the thrill
Of boy meeting girl
Opposites attract
It's physical
Only logical
You must try to ignore
That it means more than that

What's love got to do, got to do with it
What's love, but a second-hand emotion
What's love got to do, got to do with it
Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken

It may seem to you
That I'm acting confused
When you're close to me
If I tend to look dazed
I read it some place
I've got cause to be
There's a name for it
There's a phrase fits
But whatever the reason
You do it for me


I've been taking on a new direction
And I have to say
I've been thinking 'bout my own protection
It scares me to feel this way


What's love got to do, got to do with it
What's love, but a sweet old fashioned notion
What's love got to do, got to do with it
Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken
If this country falls apart it will not be the fault of Barack Obama.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Poem For Josephine Baker

Sizzling hot chocolate
and coffee with a dash of liquer.
A snowfall
winter in paris
chocolate chaux en hiver
ballet slippers hanging from
the ballet bars
a grammophone left playing
while no ones in the room.
See that lady in luxurious white fur
her coffee colored skin enchanting as she makes
her way down the boulevard
a leopard in diamonds
her voice rouses a nation
the swivel of her hips enchant the world.
See that star bursting open into the firmaments?

Essay-Memoir pt.1

“Go over there and tell them who you are.” Name recognition is something that I caught on to early. Kinship and family ties were entrenched into my psyche from the earliest part of my childhood. Invoking the name of John Archie DeRamus or Morgan Goodson when I was a child usually illicited kisses and hugs or pats on the head from perfumed older ladies or firm handshakes and knowing, generous smiles from the older men. The incantation of a name could open doors, make you allies, secure bank loans, cement one’s social standing. That said, much broader than the perks that come with being associated with a family name, the clan I come from is large and sprawling, like climbing roses and also like the climbing rose, it carries its own allure, attractiveness, and thorns. This essay is an attempt to explore my roots and my familial bonds. It is an effort towards clarity and an attempt to discover and rediscover for myself the interesting twinge of cosmos that is my makeup. I began this essay speaking of my maternal family, which has left the most prominent imprint on my childhood. However, I want to engage my paternal side as well which has been more elusive and much more foreign to me. My grandfather, Edward Carl Wallace, was a preacher’s son and as I have deciphered it, never did a legitimate days work in his life. My grandfather worked for the mob in Chicago for the entirety of his career. He was a superstitious man and would scare the bejesus out of me as a young boy whenever I would go over to his house with his talk of ghosts and his belief that his dead wife and daughter were coming to get him. I never wanted to stay at his house for too long. He bought holy water and blessed oils by the buckets and frequently made the rounds to churches that promised to cure his arthritis, gout, and other ailments. One story passed to me has it that once he carried my younger cousin with him to a ceremony where they sacrificed a live chicken and laid hands on him. My grandfather was always an enigma to me, a slightly odd picture one could never quite figure out. He had green or blue eyes, white skin, and was completely bald. He was an exact picture of James Carville aged thirty years. He was an opportunity Catholic, meaning that when the right opportunity came along to benefit his children, he became a Catholic. He liked to read my stories and always wanted me to send them to him in the mail or read them over the telephone. He died in my junior year of college. My grandmother, whom I didn’t know, was also the child of a minister. A Baptist her entire life, she went to Spelman College, became a teacher, and had thirteen children. Her brother was some kind of football star in Kentucky. From what I’ve read of the family history, some of her people, the Woodsons, her maternal line, were free people who founded towns in Michigan and other parts of the Midwest.
The two sides of my family met in Chicago with my mother and my paternal aunts all going to Catholic School together at St. Michael’s on the Northside. St. Michael’s was down the street from the famed Cooley High. The children of Cooley High were notoriously juvenile delinquents, bad asses known for their roughness. The poor children of St. Michael’s, who were obliged to share the El back to the Southside with the children of Cooley high , were given the options of running for it, staying and fighting, or getting the shit kicked out of them by the children of Cooley High.
My maternal grandmother moved to Chicago in 1965, the fourth of her siblings to do so. My grandmother arrived in the city after the Great Migration, as a result of a vendetta against her family, carried out after the death of her brother-in-law. My Uncle Archie moved to Chicago first in the early Sixties. He was followed by my Aunt Bertie, then my Aunt Johnnie, and later my grandmother. They all moved to the city for different reasons. My grandmother and Aunt Bertie were both fired from the Autauga County School system in 1963-64, following the death of my Aunt Bertie’s husband, Sterling McDavid, or Fess as he was called. He died in 1963. Fess was the most important Black man in Autauga County as the principal of Autaugaville, or the Autauga County Training School as it was called then. Autuagaville was then and still is the school for Blacks in Autauga County. Fess had been the principal of Autaugaville for nearly fifty years when he died. He was the principal when my grandmother and her siblings attended the school and was principal at his death. His funeral was a great occasion. Held in the gymnasium at Autaugaville, it was attended by many dignitaries. His portrait was hung in the auditorium, where it still hung when I was a child. People still speak of Fess McDavid with great admiration. Fess was widely respected and revered, but he was not loved by all. Many whites resented him because he was educated, had studied at Columbia, and even more so because he did what he wanted to do. Under Fess’ tenure, Autaugaville was the best school in the county, black or white. You can look at the number of medical doctors, lawyers, teachers, Phds, and other learned people that came out of those classes at Autaugaville and see what Fess McDavid inspired at his school. The white superintendents resented him because he had typewriters for his students and they did not. He brought academics and experts from Tuskegee to not only train his students, but to teach the local farmers and other people better techniques of farming, canning, and other industries. His first wife, Mary Foster McDavid, had been the President of the National Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers. What Fess wanted, he got. If he wanted typewriters, he got them. If he wanted new books, he got them, if he wanted a library, he got that. One of the biggest incidents that served as a rift between Fess and some of the whites in the county came when a young white girl from a prominent family got pregnant by a Black boy. Upon becoming pregnant, she was put out of school, as was customary during that time, but her family wanted her to finish her education. Fess was approached on their behalf and was asked to allow her to attend the Black school. His reply was a no. He told them that if she couldn’t go to their school then she couldn’t attend his and they weren’t going to push their problem onto his school. That ruffled a lot of feathers.
Unable to touch him while he was alive, they waited until after he died to get their revenge. My grandmother says that the day after his funeral, the white superintendent, Mr. Hodges, showed up at the door of the home my Aunt Bertie shared with Fess, which was situated on Autaugaville’s campus. She said he approached them at the door and told my Aunt Bertie, “You’re welcome to stay here in the house as long as you want. Just get your sister Thelma (my grandmother)to stay with you.” Now, it was known in the county that Mr. Hodges liked Black women . It was also known that several of the Black teachers slept with him in order to get jobs, or keep jobs, or get their husbands jobs. The insinuation was clear. My grandmother said my Aunt Bertie began packing that night and moved back in with her parents. The next week, she was fired from her teaching position. She later joined my Uncle Archie in Chicago. My grandmother was fired at the end of the year and my Aunt Earnestine was relieved of her principalship and placed back in the classroom. From their, my grandmother went to Mobile where she substitute taught and then went to New York where she received a permanent teacher’s certificate. She finally settled in Chicago and taught there for the next twenty years. She later brought my mother to Chicago with her.
In Chicago, my grandmother was one of the first three teachers to integrate the Northside of the city. My grandmother says that when they told my Aunt Earnestine that she would be teaching in a white school for the first time she cried like a baby. She said when her principal told her to go to the Northside, she just said her prayers and went on. She and the other Black teachers stuck together. During that first winter term, some white teenagers decided that they were going to throw snowballs at the Black teachers as they made their way to the train to take them back to the Southside. They had huge piles of snowballs prepared to throw them. My grandmother says that the three of them thought to turn back towards the school , but instead she walked up to the ringleader and told him “I did not get up at 4:30 in the morning to come over here and let you throw snowballs at me! Not one snowball better touch me or any of these teachers or else I will tear this school down and the whole of the Northside with it!” With that, she and the other teachers made their way on towards the train. That is my grandmother’s temperament. One time while my grandmother was teaching in Opp, Alabama, my grandmother and another teacher were taking their classes out into the schoolyard for recess. There was a huge peach tree in the yard that was filled with worms and my grandmother warned her students not to play under the tree because she was afraid of worms and she wouldn’t be able to come and get them. Now, my grandmother, who does not like animals (she likes dogs and other animals, in their place) is deathly afraid of any kind of bug. The other teacher, who had heard my grandmother admonish her students not to play under the tree, decided that the thing to do was to go and break a limb off of the tree and wave it in front of my grandmother’s face. After several attempts to make the woman stop, my grandmother picked up a great big stick and struck the other teacher across the face with such force that she tore the woman’s earring out of her ear. The other woman, clearly stunned, decided to continue. She told my grandmother, “Oh Thelma, you know I wasn’t going to put those worms on you. Just for that I’m going to put them on you.” My grandmother told her “Woman, if you touch me again with those worms, I’ll strike you so hard you’ll hear thunder.” At the end of her career, her principal apparently irritated her so that she took all of her unused sick leave and vacation time and moved back to Alabama, making the principal pay her salary and a substitute for the entire next year until my grandmother decided to file for retirement. Thank God for the Chicago Teacher’s Union.
My grandmother is not the only one in her family with that temperament. Actually, all of her brothers and sisters and everyone on the maternal side of her family share the exact same temperament (with the exception, perhaps, of my Aunt Earnestine, who was more DeRamus than Goodson). Her grandfather, Morgan Goodson, the son of a full blooded Cherokee woman named Pee-Wy and a mulatto slave named Philip Goodson, had the reputation of being the meanest man in Autauga County. They said he knew more about the law than anyone else around and if you had a question concerning the law, go to Morgan Goodson. They also said he had red eyes and could tell the future. He is said to have told the exact day and hour of his death. When Morgan Goodson took his cotton to the cotton gin to sell it, the owner of the gin is to have said, “ You hurry up and you get Morgan Goodson out of here and make sure his accounts are correct because he is a crazy nigger and you just don’t know what he might do.” Morgan was a dark-skinned man and married a quadroon, my great-grandmother Mattie Roper, who was indistinguishable from a white woman. He was said to not allow any white people in his home except for his mother-in-law. He also said that he didn’t raise his children(meaning particularly his girls, of which there were seven or eight) to work in any white man’s kitchen. He built a church, raised fifteen children to adulthood, and left four hundred acres of land. One of his sons, Macaulay, received his Phd and also served as a principal in Autauga County. One day he was fussing and yelling so his wife told him, “Morgan, if you continue fussing at me my heart is going to overflow.” She got up to use the restroom and fell over dead. His daughter, my great grandmother, Sadie, shared his temperament. She would fuss excessively and would often only be quieted when her husband, my great-grandfather John Archie, would speak to her and say , ”Sadie, that’s enough.” When she had gotten old and had lost her mind, they had to keep her hands tied to the bed and a bridle in her mouth to keep her from biting people.
My Uncle Lawrence, their son and my favorite uncle, also had this temperament. He was renowned for it. The seventh child of my great-grandparents, Sadie and John Archie DeRamus, Lawrence skipped several grades and finished at Alabama State University after returning from Korea. He began teaching fifth grade in Enterprise, Alabama, where he settled and married. Lawrence DeRamus was a resourceful and intuitive man. He loved to read and had long intellectual discussions and debates with his brother and one of his cousins, and had a deep interest in African History and Black culture. When he saw a need, he filled it. Early on in his career, he started a Head Start program and a credit union for teachers in Coffee County. He had a hardwood floor installed in the gymnasium. He started a spelling bee and a boy scout troop. He also had his students start savings accounts and put money in it each day. The white principal did not like this. My Uncle said that one day the principal came into his classroom set on intimidating him. That man did not know Lawrence DeRamus. He said that he was at his desk in front of his students and the man came up in front of him and demanded of him “Who do you work for?” My uncle replied, “Who do you think I work for?” My uncle said he always kept a hunting knife in his desk drawer and after several more words had been exchanged, he made like he was going for his drawer and he told that man, “The next time you come up in here and talk to me like that in front of my children I’m going to have my foot so far up your butt you won’t be able to walk out of here.” He said that man ran out of that room as fast as he could. Later, when my uncle was working for OCAP, the head of the Ku Klux Klan called him and asked him, “I hear you have a white secretary.” My Uncle replied, “yes I do.” He said, “ Don’t you drive up such and such a highway at night on your way home?” My uncle said, “Yes I do.” The man asked him “Well, aren’t you scared?” My Uncle said, “No, I’m not because I always carry a gun right near to my hand and if you want to do something to me then you better come on and bring Jesus with you because I tell you if I have to go I intend to take some of you with me.”Lawrence Deramus was a good and generous man, but he was a dangerous man. He had a violent temper and god help the soul who ever felt it (thank god I never did). When he died in 2002, the Governor of Alabama sent a letter of condolence to his family. Several dignitaries attended his funeral. He also received many accolades for his work over the years including founding the Coffee County chapter of the NAACP, starting the Head Start program in the Blackbelt region, starting a Credit Union, and his work at Fort Rucker implementing anti-discrimination policies.