East Of Eden
James Baldwin, left, and Bobby Kennedy. (Google Images)
By the time Robert F. Kennedy was killed in 1968, he had come to be viewed by many as a politician who cared deeply about Civil Rights, poverty, and oppression.
But it wasn't always that way. In fact, just five years earlier, at a private dinner party he hosted in NYC with some of Black America's most elite, he was decidedly unwoke.
In Lawrence O'Donnell's new book, Playing With Fire: The 1968 Election and the Transformation of American Politics, he recounts some of the events of the ill-fated shindig:...
There's a lot I've just found out about Albert Einstein. For example, who knew old Al was quite the ladies' man, a master at science and charm?
But another fact that I somehow missed about Einstein was his stance on civil rights. He so abhorred racism, he publicly spoke out against it. From Snopes:
In May 1946, Einstein made a rare public appearance outside of Princeton, New Jersey (where he lived and worked in the latter part of his life), when he traveled to the campus of Pennsylvania’s Lincoln University, the United States’ first degree-granting black university, to take part in a ceremony conferring upon him the honorary degree of doctor of laws. Prior to accepting that degree, he delivered a ten-minute speech to the assembled...
Billie Holiday the d’Orly airport, Paris, photographed by Jean-Pierre Leloir, 1958. (Photo Image and Caption via Abongond)
I was listening to "On The Media" a couple of weeks ago and the episode was on the topic of America's long and costly War on Drugs. One of the segments focused on Harry J. Anslinger, the first commisioner of the US Federal Bureau of Narcotics. One of the hosts, Brooke Gladstone, interviewed Alexandra Chasin, author of Assassin of Youth: A Kaleidoscopic History of Harry J. Anslinger’s War on Drugs. Here's part of the interview transcript:
BROOKE GLADSTONE: From the late 19th century into the 20th, most opiate addicts were middle-aged middle and upper class women but, as would happen...
(Image Source: Inverse)
It's mind boggling to me, but back in the 1930s, during the height of the Great Depression, the federal government paid a then-unknown, and very young Orson Welles to put on a play... featuring an all Black cast. But this did indeed happen, although it's not well-remembered (and when it is, it's more in the context of what made Welles a wunderkind on his way to "War of the Worlds" and "Citizen Kane" greatness).
Founded in 1935 as a part of the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935, the Works Projects Administration was an arm of the New Deal with one task: put millions of unemployed Americans back to work. While the WPA was more expensive than...
John Lennon, Yoko Ono and Dick Gregory. (Image Source: Yoko Ono's Twitter account)
Dick Gregory, comedian, entertainer, and civil rights activist, died last Saturday, August 19th, at the age of 84. There are many, many, many... MANY stories to be told about Gregory. His barrier breaking success as a Black comedian popular with White audiences over fifty years ago; his friendships with Civil Rights Leaders Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X; his vegetarian and nutritional lifestyle that helped him beat cancer. But today, I just wanted to highlight his contribution to John Lennon's "Imagine", one of the most famous songs in Pop Music History.
From The Beetles Bible:
Widely regarded as John Lennon's signature song, Imagine...
Kathleen and Eldridge Cleaver in the early 1970s. (Image Source)
I'm currently reading "PTL:"The Rise and Fall of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker's Evangelical Empire" by John Wigger. Spoiler alert: my next entry in "The Preachers" series is on the long, tumultous ministry of Jim Bakker. While reading about some of the PTL's guests from the late 1970s, I came across a passage about Eldridge Cleaver, former Black Panther. While I knew he had made a huge swing to the Political Right in the 1980s, I wasn't aware that had come about years after a jailhouse Born Again Christian conversion in the 1970s, including hobnobbing with various Evangelical notables of the day.
To fully appreciate the magnamity of Cleaver's 180, let's briefly go back to the...
Yet... away from the heat and burning in the Northeast and Midwest, out in San Francisco, things were much cooler... things were groovy.
From The Week:
How did the Summer of Love begin?...
Noble Johnson (Image Source)
A few months back, I shared the story of Madame Sul-Te-Wan, the Black actress who got her big Hollywood start in "The Birth of a Nation" in 1915. Madame was one of the few actors in the film playing Black characters who were actually Black; the main characters of color were actually White actors in blackface.
Today, I want to talk about Noble Johnson, another Black actor who starred in films at the same time and enjoyed a long, successful career in Hollywood. Interestingly (although not surprisingly), Johnson was able to skirt the race issue by playing characters who were not Black. In a reverse of the "Birth" White actors, Noble gained fame and film credits, and became part of Hollywood...
Clockwise from top right, Elvis Presley, Bobby Darin, and Flip Wilson. (Google Images)
According to Kevin Cook's "Flip: The Inside Story of TV's First Black Superstar", a biography of comedian Flip Wilson, Flip once found himself holding hands with singers Bobby Darin and Elvis Presley, backstage at the Las Vegas casino, the Sahara. With hands clasped, and heads bowed, Elvis led the men in prayer. It was definitely an interesting moment. But let's backtrack for a moment to set the scene. From the book:
Flip had never played any of the Strip showrooms when he agreed to open for Bobby Darin at the Sahara in 1966. The showroom manager balked at the last minute, as much for Flip's inexperience as for his skin tone. Then Darin, a...
(Image Source: NJ.com)
I heard the story countless times growing up. My grandmother had warned my grandfather they shouldn't go into Newark that Sunday in July of 1967. Not *that* Sunday. But my Papa, veteran of WWII and the Korean War, was not one to scare easily, and was also equally determined not to miss Sunday services. So off they and their four kids went, ranging in age from 15 to 6. My dad was the 15 year old. He remembered sitting in his ironed suit in the back of the family car, riding in from nearby Linden, where they lived in a neat little pink cape cod, the family's first house after having moved over from packed apartment buildings in Brooklyn two years prior.
They knew pretty quickly upon entering Newark that things...
Forty years ago yesterday, New York City, which supposedly never sleeps, went dark. And then, went mad. From Time:
The blackout that hit New York on... July 13, in 1977 was to many a metaphor for the gloom that had already settled on the city. An economic decline, coupled with rising crime rates and the panic-provoking (and paranoia-inducing) Son of Sam murders, had combined to make the late 1970s New York’s Dark Ages.
Then lightning struck, and the city went dark for real. By the time the power came back, 25 hours later, arsonists had set more than 1,000 fires and looters had ransacked 1,600 stores, per the New York Times.
Opportunistic thieves grabbed whatever they could get their hands on, from luxury cars to sink...
Princess Diana was photographed in April 1987 shaking hands, sans gloves, with an AIDS patient, demonstrating that the disease could not be transmitted via casual contact. (Getty Images/ Source)
Next month will mark 20 years since Princess Diana's sudden and tragic death in a Paris car crash. There have been numerous articles, magazine spreads and documentaries being released to mark the anniversary. This post, however, will go back 30 years, to Princess Diana's visit with AIDS patients, and her decision to touch them. This was huge; the story and the accompanying photographs would be published around the world. At that time, many people so feared the disease, they refused even casual contact with those infected. People with HIV...
(Image Source: Vice)
Last week in the Anton La Vey post, I mentioned how Sammy Davis Jr. became a member of The Church of Satan for a while. This struck me as... well, pretty weird. I could see why the publicity-loving Jayne Mansfield would sign up to be Team Lucifer, but Sammy "Member of Sinatra's Rat Pack" Davis Jr.? He was so... laid-back and... cool. And Jewish. He most definitely had converted to Judaism. So what the what? Let's go to Helen O' Hara at The Telegraph for more:
Sammy Davis Jr, the singer, actor and Rat Pack member whose own philosophy of life drove him to try just about everything that presented itself - women, men, religion, drugs - became involved in 1968. He had noticed a gang of lively young...
Bespectacled Buddy. (Image Source)
Before his shocking death at only 22 in 1959, Buddy Holly managed to make major moves. A native of Lubbock, Texas, Holly began playing the guitar as a kid, and counted a number of Country Music singers as influences. As a teen he began listening to Rhythm & Blues over the radio late at night, and it wasn't long before he combined Country and R&B and began playing the hot new sound of the 1950s: Rock & Roll.
Amazingly, Holly's professional career really only took off when he signed with Decca Records in 1956, meaning he hit the top of the charts, toured the country (and even internationally), and packed theatres in 3 short years (along with his band The Crickets for part of that...
Sam Cooke (Image Source)
Earlier this spring, when rapper Kendrick Lamar dropped his critically praised album, "DAMN", it shot up to the top of the Billboard charts. Thing is, it wasn't just a hit in Hip Hop; it was a certified success in the realm of Pop, too. Slate boasted, "Kendrick Lamar’s New No. 1 Proves He’s Not Just Our Greatest Rapper. He’s One of Our Biggest Pop Stars."
Rappers can be Pop Stars, yes. Twenty years ago (!), the recently deceased Notorious B.I.G.'s "Hypnotize" spent most of May '97 atop the Hot 100 Charts until being bumped by Hanson's "Mmmbop" (!!). But it wasn't long before Biggie's producer/ B.F.F./ kind-of-a-rapper... kind-of... Bad Boy Records founder- buddy Puff Daddy knocked the blond brothers from...
In October 1951, Grace Kelly, just beginning to make a name for herself, decided to have a night out on the town at famous Manhattan nightclub, Stork Club. Also at the club that night was Josephine Baker, internationally renowned singer, dancer and famous ex-pat who was in the States to perform a series of concerts after years living in France.
Unfortunately, Baker wound up leaving the eatery after an hour of non-service; she stormed out claiming she had never received her dinner because of her race. Some dispute this, but one person who did not was Kelly. Observing the scene, she was shocked and left, too. From Mental Floss:
When the racist staff refused to wait...
(Madame Sul-Te-Wan, Image Source: BlackPast.org)
And no, I absolutely do NOT mean last year's controversial Nate Parker flick, "The Birth of a Nation". I'm talking the D.W. Griffith, 1915 film that celebrates the supposed end of the "treachery" that was Reconstruction and the birth of the Ku Klux Klan. From Wikipedia:
The Birth of a Nation (originally called The Clansman) is a 1915 American silent epic drama film directed and co-produced by D. W. Griffith and starring Lillian Gish. The screenplay is adapted from the novel and play The Clansman, both by Thomas Dixon Jr. Griffith co-wrote the screenplay (with Frank E. Woods), and co-produced the film (with Harry Aitken). It was released on February 8, 1915.
LBJ LIBRARY PHOTO BY KEVIN SMITH
I love the above picture. I love that in 1968, Eartha Kitt, singer, dancer, Catwoman, invited to one of those oh-so proper "Ladies who Lunch" type-lunches by THE First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson, wife of LBJ, at the White House, and kept it really-real on the Vietnam War. From The Hollywood Reporter:
Debuting on Broadway in 1943, Kitt, born dirt-poor on a South Carolina cotton plantation, built a multifaceted show business life that included stage acting, dancing, singing (a come-hither 1953 hit version of "Santa Baby") and movies. When she made the 1958 film Anna Lucasta with Sammy Davis Jr., THR said her performance "is best summarized by the word 'great.' " In 1953, Kitt was making $10,000 per week...
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