March, as Women’s History Month, is a wonderful time to celebrate Black women emerging as mainstream arts leaders in Phoenix. The Emerge News Collective hosted Chanel Bragg, Seretta Presswood, and Danayshia Smith in a conversation on the role of Black Women in our Arizona Arts and Culture scene.
“The use of violence in our struggle is both impractical and immoral. Therefore I would strongly urge… a cessation of the violence and lawlessness presently existing and recognize the power of nonviolent resistance.”
–Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., in the wake of the 1964 Rochester Rebellion
We were hoping that this discussion would be election wrap-up but it looks like it will be more like ongoing analysis. Anyway, if you have time this evening, check it out. I’ll be providing historical analysis on how Arizona became a battleground state.
What: Yi-Fu Lecture on Civic Colonialism: Race, Gender, and the Politics of Municipal Annexation in Arizona
When: Friday, March 6th, 2020 3:30pm
Where: Science Hall Room 180
University of Wisconsin
Madison WI 53706-1404,
Scholars have overlooked how urban annexation drove the development of the metropolitan Sunbelt in the American Southwest after World War II. A case study on civic life in 20th century Phoenix shows how Anglo elites utilized municipal annexation to maintain colonial relationships with racialized communities in the surrounding agricultural hinterland. Working-class Anglo settlers, along with racial minorities and non-white immigrants, were largely excluded from participation in civic activities as Anglo elites fought to remove these residents to the metropolitan periphery.
Still, civic elites could only extend their political control as far as the city borders, so after Phoenix voters approved major postwar municipal bonds, civic elites annexed surrounding areas so that Charter (the municipal political machine) could dictate development along the metropolitan periphery. While metropolitan Phoenix enticed affluent homeowners with modern amenities and tolerable taxes, city officials engaged in ruthless chicanery to convert, cajole, or coerce consent for annexation petitions from right-wing populists.
In contrast, Charter disenfranchised racialized residents to reduce resistance to annexation in segregated communities. By 1960, just as in dozens of other Sunbelt cities across the nation, municipal annexation allowed civic elites to amalgamate the metropolitan periphery into their municipality. Metropolitan Phoenix, along with the broader American Sunbelt, exists due to municipal annexation. This talk shows how this policy should be understood as a facet within a longer a historical continuum of settler colonialism in the U.S./Mexico Borderlands.
For those who enjoy a good, free read may soon have books available closer than before.
Glendale parks and recreation staff is looking into the cost and feasibility of adding Little Free Libraries to some city parks or community centers.
Little Free Libraries are small, mailbox-like wooden boxes where free books are left for passers-by to take home with no check-out process. The libraries operate on “an honor-system ‘take it, bring it back’ type program” said Glendale Recreation Administrator Paul King.
Glendale’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission gave staff unanimous approval to investigate the cost and feasibility of the libraries to see if the commission would like have some installed. If pursued, the commission would likely start with two or three Little Free Library locations and consider expanding the program after that.
Any such program would likely include the city partnering with a nonprofit that could potentially sponsor the small libraries.
Staff and the commission would also need to decide what to call the libraries, as Little Free Library is the name of an organization that helps install the libraries around the world.
The idea was brought to the commission by Glendale resident Anthony Pratcher II, who
installed a Little Free Library in his neighborhood
in Arrowhead Ranch, near Dos Lagos Park at Utopia Road and 63rd Avenue.
Mr. Pratcher’s suggestions for new libraries were one at Desert Garden Park, at 71st Avenue and Ocotillo Road, and at least on in north Glendale, at Chapparal Park 57th and Grovers avenues and/or at Utopia Park, at 75th Avenue and Utopia Road.
Mr. Pratcher said the libraries are an amenity that benefits any type of neighborhood.
“Little Free Libraries, they do two things,” he said. “One: They’re supposed to help promote literacy, right? So, that’s there benefit for lower-income neighborhoods. Two: You’ll often see them in upper-income neighborhoods. So, to me at least, there’s a correlation between Little Free Libraries and property values. I don’t know how tight that (correlation) is, but places that have the highest property values seem to have Little Free Libraries.”
Staff is investigating funding sources for creation and installation of the wooden boxes as well as for an ongoing maintenance, repair and replacement program.
Mr. King said staff will strategically look for locations that are in both well-populated areas and in spots that would be less likely for the library to be vandalized, such as a well-lit area of a park or other public grounds or inside a public building such as a community center.
The Glendale Public Library system would assist in the creation of its smaller sister program, donating any books it could no longer hold to the Little Free Libraries.
“They don’t like to throw anything out,” said Jim Burke, director of Public Facilities, Recreation and Special Events. “When they get to the point where books might get to that level (of wear), they’d rather donate them to this and let it be part of it. But it’s not going to be an ongoing donation and replacement. It will just be a little seed money, little seed books, to get started.”
Mr. Pratcher worked with Southwest Human Development on the box he installed in his neighborhood, a group he suggested as an option for the city to work with on the project. He also suggested Habitat for Humanity as another option. It cost Southwest Human Development $100 to create the box for the library, Mr. Pratcher said. He said he made a donation of $500 to the nonprofit which covered the cost of the labor. It took two hours to install the library, he said.
Mr. Pratcher is a professor at at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh in the University’s Center for African-American Urban Studies and the Economy in the Department of History who spends half the year in Glendale. He said Little Free Libraries are a great way to promote reading and literacy, especially in neighborhoods where books might not be as common.
“At the very least having a little free library in the neighborhood has put this sort of avenue for literacy in everyone’s path,” Mr. Pratcher said. “And you can see it as kids are walking to the park with their parents or as students are going to school, walking down the street, they can just look real quick and see if there’s anything in there that’s interesting to them. Maybe, maybe not.”
In addition to giving people access to books they might not normally have access to, the libraries allow readers to share some of their favorite books with the community, Mr. Pratcher said, by adding it to the library for others to pick up.
Mr. Pratcher told the commission that the library he helped install near Dos Lagos Park has not had any issues with vandalism nor anyone leaving inappropriate books, such as obscene or pornographic material. There had been no books even really politically charged at that library, he said, but there had been some religious texts left.
The libraries had a way of self-policing any inappropriate material that shouldn’t be there, Mr. Pratcher said.
“Every time someone opens it, if they see something they think is inappropriate, then they kind of have that onus on that to decide whether to remove it or not. I think it does a good job of that,” he said.
The library at Dos Lagos Park is not the only Little Free Library in town. Others include one near Greenbriar Park near 69th Avenue and Bell Road and one at the Velma Teague Library in Murphy Park downtown, installed by Girl Scout Troop 2402 and the Little Free Library organization in 2017.
So, it’s Black History Month, and it feels time to revisit some ideas from my time at EMCC.
The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense is most famous of the black radical groups that emerged during the sixties. The Panthers “patrolled the police” to ensure that Oakland PD (which has had a longstanding reputation for odious community-law enforcement relations) did not trample the rights of citizens in their interactions with black residents.
Huey Newton, one of the group founders, left us with an interesting revolutionary ideology. He publicly exercised his 2nd amendment rights and argued for armed self-defense against state agents who victimized the black community. Maoism (a third-world variation of socialism) influenced the Panthers’ politics and they successfully related civil concerns of Black Americans with the North Vietnamese fighting American imperialism.
Our library was limited, and I did not want to burden students with book expenses, so we used underground resources to learn about the Black Panthers. These sources are no longer accessible, as seen in these dead links below. This fifteen-minute clip is from “Eyes on the Prize” but PBS blocked it on copyright grounds:
We used a copy of Revolutionary Suicide from an anti-imperialism website published in American prisons. That being said, it also has been taken down due to copyright.
I leave these dead links here not to disdain intellectual property, but show what barriers make it difficult to teach radical history in marginalized communities. My students were young, colored, or both, so I wanted to impress that the Black Panthers were just like them. I asked my students to focus on the 10-point plan and discuss these ten points in depth and ask questions like: why these issues; why this language; is it feasible, etc? But I also focused on how education played a role in the formation of the Panthers. We used these materials because it was what our community could afford to provide. Similarly, the Panthers created a liberatory praxis with the tools their community could provide. Our ingenuity to learn reflects their ingenuity to develop revolutionary resistance.
So, it’s Black History Month, and it feels time to revisit some ideas from my time at EMCC.
This idea comes from a lecture on the “short” civil rights movement, from 1960-1965.
The lynching of Emmett Till, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and the Civil Rights Act of 1957 helped lay the foundation for the youth sit-in protests which began in 1960. By this time, the three predominant activist Civil Rights organizations were the NAACP (especially with their legal strategy) the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (led by MLK) and the Congress of Racial Equality (a pacifist organization from WWII-period).
In May 1961, CORE initiated the Freedom Rides. The rides tested to see if federal desegregation laws would be enforced in interstate transportation in states where segregation was the local practice. They quickly found out that the answer was NO:
The mixed success of these efforts led to future fruit. SNCC representatives like Bob Moses came to MS and soon were involved in the 1964 Freedom Summer. As northern students volunteered to register black voters, the deaths of three activists in Philadelphia, MS forced a national spotlight on the horrendous political conditions in the south and, along with the 1965 Selma protests, helped create the political capital to pass the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
As for Dr. King and the SCLC, their efforts to force change in Albany, GA floundered when national media could not be attracted to watch the protests. So, in 1963, the “Project C for Confrontation” led to the abuse of child protestors by Police Chief Bull Connor and helped develop the national consciousness for the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
The 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act are some of the most important pieces of legislation passed in American History. However, almost as soon as this legislation passed, black uprisings in the urban north soured many white moderates on additional Civil Rights legislation. This sentiment could not stop the impending social revolution. But still, the Civil Rights Movement crested at a federal level around this time.
So, it’s Black History Month, and it feels time to revisit some ideas from my time at EMCC.
This post emerges from a Harlem Renaissance lecture. In Philly, I was introduced to Guy Debord and his consumer spectacle framework. In Society of the Spectacle, he claims:
“Separation is the alpha and omega of the spectacle. The institutionalization of the social division of labor, the formation of classes, had given rise to a first sacred contemplation, the mythical order with which every power shrouds itself from the beginning.
The sacred has justified the cosmic and ontological order which corresponded to the interests of the masters; it ha[s] explained and embellished that which society could not do…
The modern spectacle, on the contrary, expresses what society can do, but in this expression the permitted is absolutely opposed to the possible. The spectacle is the preservation of unconsciousness within the practical change of the conditions of existence.”
So, the “sacred” which had previously been used to justify and normalize social relations is replaced in secular 20th century western society with the “spectacle:” the mass media-driven productions which justify and normalize contemporary social relationships. This is noticeable through the promotion of select Black celebrities by mass media sources.
Louis Armstrong is very prominent black entertainers of the early 20th century. Armstrong initially made his name as a blues trumpeter in Chicago, Eventually, he transitioned into film and became a star in Hollywood. Louis Armstrong was dogged his entire career by accusations of Uncle Tom-ism for his cozy relationship with whites–even when he had to accept perceived racial slights to retain access to institutions (like the movie industry) antagonistic to black Americans. In many ways, his power arose from his acceptability and entrenchment within white power circles.
Jack Johnson literally drove distraught white Americans to incite race riots after beating white boxer James J. Jefferies during the “fight of the century” on July 4, 1910. His domination of the boxing world was seen by many as a threat to white supremacy. He was eventually sent to prison for travelling across state lines with his soon-to-be second wife (his white girlfriend) under the terms of the Mann Act. The lengths which white authorities went to imprison Johnson reflects his notoriety among white American boxing fans.
So, despite efforts of black publishers like T. Thomas Fortune to report on the educated entrepreneurs and professionals who increasingly began to comprise the black elite, the most well-known black celebrities in the white community at the turn of the 20th century were musicians and athletes. These roles reflected the limited opportunity for black Americans to break into the white-dominated culture industry–Armstrong was an exceptional talent who played limited roles in films because the culture industry rarely developed starring roles for black talent; Johnson drew thousands of additional spectators to boxing because he was caricatured as a dangerous threat to racial order that white boxers had to defeat; their public personas justified and normalized the subjugation of the black community to the desires of whites and the American state.
In some ways, the Harlem Renaissance challenges this characterization of black culture within the spectacle of mass media as describe by Debord. At a time when most blacks lacked formal education, the literary figures who rose to prominence during the Harlem Renaissance were erudite and cosmopolitan; however, the Renaissance was split between those who sought to demonstrate the best of respectable black society and those who claimed to represent the authentic experience of the black working class.
However, just like contemporary black artists who work within the culture industry, these two viewpoints were put in competition with one another once within the narrative framework of the larger societal spectacle. Elite artists who sought to prove black respectability were horrified by what they deemed to be vulgar, uncouth artistic renditions of black cultural life. On the other side, elite artists who sought to accurate reflect a broader experience of black life bristled at the rigidity of their peers who could not see the value in including base representations of Blacks in the broader culture.
During the Harlem Renaissance, there were a couple thousand of college graduates in the country, yet the significant majority of participants in the Renaissance had college education. Whether their work was interested in respectability or not, works like “City of Refuge” by Rudolph Fisher reflect an interpretation of the black working-class which appealed to assumptions white Americans had about the nature of black Americans.
While some argue that Renaissance participants were unconcerned with creating art to please white OR black interests, but competition over resources necessitated that Black artists developed work which would be of interest to consumers of the mass media spectacle, and elite black artists often appropriated the voices of less visible members in the community to complicate the narratives shown within the segregated spectacle. In short, art created for a mainstream audience reflect the sensibilities of the clientele.
“The Civil Rights Act… was not a product of charity of white America for a supine black America, nor was it the result of [their] enlightened leadership. This legislation was written in the streets.”
In March 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., made this comment about the groundbreaking Civil Rights Act of 1964, often described as the crowning achievement of the Civil Rights Movement. We must remember that Black activists organized an interracial “coalition of conscience” to create laws for a more equitable society. On Friday, January 17th the University Club of Phoenix hosted presenters who spoke on Black activism and how it connects us all as we approach Black History Month.
Firstly, the event was preceded with a dedication to the life and legacy of community activist, Tameka Spence, who tragically lost her life in a crash in downtown Phoenix on December 22nd, 2019. The ASU graduate worked for the Arizona Coalition for Change as a black census organizer and was beloved in the community. Rest in power, Tameka.
The first presenter, Rashaad Thomas, father, USAF veteran, poet and essayist, provided rousing poetic musings that honored the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. His reflections and personal experience helped inspire those in attendance leaving a legacy and with his rhythmic cadence inspired reflection on their past, present and future.
Next, Channel Powe, Balsz School Board President, shared stirring stories of local activism by highlighting the Black impact of civic change throughout Arizona’s history. Additionally, Powe encouraged a persuasive call to action to become a part of progressive leadership by joining local school boards, serving on city council panels and participating in the various Black community events around the Valley.
The final presenter, J.T. Roane, Assistant Professor in African and African American Studies at Arizona State, delivered an educational keynote address on environmental activism and urban renewal in the Black community. The focus of rehousing poor and Black displaced people was work continued long after King’s assassination. Organizations such as Mothers for Housing, a collective of homeless and marginally housed mothers and MOVE, the esoteric black liberation group that combined revolutionary ideology and work for animal rights, were cited as movements that were designed to take Dr. King’s vision forward. Roane also lead a Q&A after his presentation that received many engaging questions from the group.
“This event was truly eye opening,” shared Robert V., a A.T. Still University student. “I feel like I learned a lot about the Black contribution to Arizona history and activist groups such as MOVE, which I’d never heard of. The speakers make me feel like I want to get more involved in the community.”
This powerful event was well received by the nearly thirty culturally diverse attendees and allowed them to take home pieces of history and perspective to reflect on and share long past Black History Month.
“I thought the presentations were both educational and thought provoking,” stated Jaime B., an IT specialist in Phoenix. “The call to action makes me want to be more personally responsible about my attendance within my community. I want to be an advocate, not just for us, but for everyone.”
Today, this legacy of Black civic engagement is strong in Phoenix. The demand for more events reminiscent of this is one will help foster more introspective gatherings to help shape the future and improve conditions in our Phoenix communities.
Phoenix Black Historical Sites:
415 E. Grant St.,
Phoenix, AZ 85004
George Washington Carver High School (formerly known as Phoenix Union Colored High School), was a segregated high school in Phoenix, Arizona. The school’s building was the only one ever built exclusively to serve African American high school students in Arizona and is now part of the Phoenix Historic Property Register.
1549 E Jefferson St,
Phoenix, AZ 85034
Eastlake Park has been the focal point of African American history in Phoenix for much of its existence. The park was the home of the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration, and has been home to many civil rights rallies, visits from civil right leaders and the starting point of all civil rights marches to the Capital. It is home to the Annual Juneteenth Celebration and the Phoenix Arts Commission Civil Rights Memorial.
1333 East Washington Street
Phoenix, AZ 85034
This non-profit Thespian group has been providing soulful entertaining theatre reflecting the African-American experience for over 30 years; Performances take place in the Helen K. Mason Center for the Performing Arts, and have included plays by August Wilson, Pearl Cleage, and Cheryl West encompassing productions like The Old Fiddler, Mahalia and Black Nativity.
617A North Scottsdale Road
Scottsdale, Arizona 85257
See exhibits that emphasize the contributions of African American and African cultures to the progress of humanity.