Al Young and Great Teachers of Black Poetry

On NPR news this morning Renee Montagne did a good interview with Al Young, who is poet laureate of California and has a new collection of his poems called Something About the Blues. The write-up on the interview notes that:

Al Young  took to writing poetry, as he describes it in one poem, “to make out the sound of my own background music.” Though he’s lived in California for decades, the 68-year-old poet was born in rural Mississippi and had the good luck to find himself in one very special classroom in the second grade.

Young’s account of that very stimulating classroom decades ago highlights the great achievements of many African Americans under the extreme apartheid conditions that constituted U.S. segregation (a type of near-slavery for most):

In the segregated South of the 1940s, Young attend a black-only school. “At the Kingston School for Colored, we put a lot of emphasis on things that would be now called African American, on Negro literature and Negro culture,” he tells Renee Montagne. “So we memorized poems by people like Langston Hughes, of course, and Paul Laurence Dunbar.”

The reason the children read these poems and sometimes learned to be outstanding poets themselves was, of course, many fine teachers, almost all of them being African American. One of the sad tragedies of the early years of school desegregation in many areas of this country was the firing or exclusion of many of these excellent Black teachers (and principals) because whites who controlled the desegregation process wanted it that way — that is, they wanted the least desegregation possible and no education of their own children by such excellent Black teachers.

In 2004 there were numerous recollections and social science research discussions of the Brown school desegregation decision, by educators and activists across the land — and of the role of the Black civil rights movement in bringing change in U.S. schools, often for the better in terms of access to improved school socioeconomic resources. However, school desegregation has often been an overall failure in creating better learning settings for all children, and especially for children of color, mainly because white decisionmakers have made it such. Young’s account highlights the greatness of these previous generations of Black teachers.

The NPR account then accents how Young got to the West Coast and about his concerns in his poetry with all Americans:

Young moved to the San Francisco Bay area in 1960, “under the sway, all of the hullabaloo. The Beat Generation was sounding its horns … and there was just a lot of romance about it.” He had $15 and a guitar. Young’s poems touch on not only blues and jazz music but also, not surprisingly, life in California. In “Watsonville After the Quake,” he writes about the Mexican immigrants forgotten in the aftermath of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

(The website today has some of his poems to read.)

(Not) The End of Racism

I’m really trying to stay off this blog so I can finish the book, but this is difficult to do when good stuff like this pops up in my Google alert box.   David Neiwert, writing at Firedoglake, offers a lengthy analysis of the elections confirming what Joe’s been saying here.   He ends the post like this:

Too many white voters, especially in rural and suburban precincts, on both sides of the partisan aisle have absorbed these attitudes. Too many of them continue to believe that a black man, no matter how well educated, will ever have “the stuff” it takes to be president. And that’s why we’ve seen the racial voting trends in Democratic primaries that we have.

Indeed.   And, there’s a vibrant set of replies of the post (277 comments!) which is mainly a pretty good discussion.   Of course, my question (which I didn’t post because I just didn’t want to register at Firedoglake) is: what’s the source for the image? (Shamelessly copied here from Niewert’s post.)  Someone should do a follow-up on the good scholarship out there about whites in “lynching photographs” by analyzing images of whites in civil rights era photos.   I wonder where there’s an archive of such photos?

Until Google introduced me to him, I didn’t know Neiwert or his writing, so I spent far too long reading his really interesting blog, Orcinus.    Neiwert describes himself as a “freelance journalist” based in Seattle, but from where I sit, he sounds like a sociologist. Dale McLemore, a professor of mine at UT-Austin, was fond of saying, “Sociology is slow journalism.”  And, as we get deeper into what Henry Jenkins calls “convergence culture,” – his notion that old and new media are colliding in various ways – perhaps we’ll also see more convergence between sociology, journalism, and blogging.  For now, it’s back to the current old media endeavor – putting words, in paragraph form, for the printed page.