Creating Great African Americans

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  • When I was a kid, my parents had a coffee table book, “Great Negroes: Past and Present.”  Day after day, I would pass through the living room, (because there was no living in the living room) and didn’t really pay attention to the books that lived in the living room.  One weekend before I had a book report assignment due, my mother suggested that I look through the Russell Adams book for some ideas, especially since we were approaching Negro History Month.  Please tell me someone remembers before we were African American, we were Black and before we were Black, we were Colored or Negro and before we were Negro, we were–well, you get the idea.

    So, with my mom, I sat on the living room floor and went through “Great Negroes: Past and Present.”  There were well over 100 Great Negroes. And this was just Volume One–a very long, long, long time ago. There were so many Great Negroes! From Mary Mc Leod Bethune to Alexandre Dumas.  The story that caught my eye was that of Gordon Parks. As his autobiography, “The Learning Tree,” indicated, his story was no where similar to my upbringing, but his love of photography is what grabbed my attention.  He loved taking pictures just like I did.  The only difference was, my “photographs” came from a Brownie camera. Mr. Parks’ photos were a bit more advanced.  “American Gothic” is a classic. But the connection was made.  Although I never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Parks, I have remained a fan of all his endeavors—from his autobiography, to his photography to his work behind a movie camera as a director of films like “The Learning Tree” to the original “Shaft” and others.

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