The African American Heritage Mural is located at the corner of Maryland Avenue and Route 50 in Cambridge, Maryland.
Oooo I didn’t plan to capture this beauty today. I saw photos of it about a year ago, circulating online after its unveiling. But when it appeared to the right of me as I was driving by, I just had to pull over || Here is a description found on muralist, Michael Rosato’s website: “A mural highlighting Cambridge, Maryland’s rich African-American history, culture and heritage, particularly in the community around Pine Street, which is one of the oldest African-American communities in the country that dates back to the mid-1800s. Acrylic on board || I plan to look up the history of Pine Street. …Hey! There’s my girl Gloria Richardson !!in the yellow dress. Read about her while taking an African American history class at Georgia State University. It amazed me how Richardson was instrumental in a civil rights movement that spilled over into small town Maryland during the 1960s. I included Image 4, to give you a bit of context. Many are familiar with that picture of Richardson ~ “The Historian”
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Photo by Joel Buglewickz
Adapted from New Yorker Magazine Article
“The Promise: Life, Death, and Change in the Projects”
Reporter Meribah Knight has produced a six-part series podcast on Nashville, Tennessee’s public housing development, James A. Cayce Homes. This story follows the razing and redevelopment stages of Cayce Homes. Knight described yearly household incomes of Cayce’s original residents as being somewhere around $8000 per year.
Redevelopers have coined the revitalization project “Envison Cayce” and the podcast “The Promise” gives an inside look at the enthusiasm and skepticism felt by Cayce’s longtime residents. After the razing of Cayce Homes’ original structures, the contemporary version welcomes a diversified community consisting of young professionals, while giving those who’ve been there for years the choice to remain. Only this choice comes with a no pet policy, at least 50+ security cameras, and “nowhere to sit outside and talk”
Pictured is Big Man, one of the podcast’s interviewees. A longtime resident of James A. Cayce Homes, he signed on to remain in the community to see if the revitalized “Envision Cayce” housing development will turn out to be the imagined safe place for him and his family to live.
[source: Sarah Larson, New Yorker Magazine]
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Knowing history is key to shaping the future. As the adage goes, how do you know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been? My visit to the African-American Civil War Museum just off Vermont Avenue, just off DC’s U Street Corridor, was a first for me. The good folk at The Merging Lanes Project asked me to tag along as part of a case study, focused on people learning about African-American history outside of academia. I’m honored whenever anyone wants to use my opinion in the public sphere so agreeing to attend was easy.
Individual knowledge of African-American history varies from person-to-person within the black community. It falls somewhere between limited solely to established academic curriculum and reading outside the lines of established discourse. The buck stops at school for many of us while the rest will follow our intuition, doing additional research on what our true history is. The museum centers on the American Civil War but also chronicles black history leading up to the war and afterward. The first standout point was learning of the seven black men who were part of the 41st and 42nd United States Congress’ during the Reconstruction period and the first black people to hold those positions. The second was finding out what is West Africa today was once known as “Negroland” – Mind blown. This newfound information moved me the same way I was upon walking into the defunct Hue-Man Books in Harlem 13 years ago and seeing a poster of a book entitled Germany’s Black Holocaust: 1890-1945. I was grateful for the exposure but also disappointed at becoming privy to this information as an adult.
Whether 125th Street in 2005 or Vermont Avenue NW in 2018, each moment of enlightenment contributes to knowing self and how to move in a room full of vultures. I look at the daily social media conversations and arguments surrounding social injustices. The intentions, be they good or bad, of most people engaging in these discussions are clear. I’m concerned, however, that only a few of us contributing to these discussions know our history well enough to be so vocal. I mean, when’s the last time you fact-checked a meme?
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In November of 2017, I interviewed Mr. Richard Stewart, owner and operator of Petersburg Virginia’s Pocahontas Island Black History Museum. During that time, he asked had I heard of neighboring cultural site, “Nat Turner Land”. I hadn’t. A couple of days after that interview, while spending time with one of my mentors in D.C., he shared that he and a large group of people had just gotten back from visiting “Nat Turner Land”. I knew it was a must for me to place the site on my “Places to Document” list.
In January of this year, as I was traveling from Atlanta for a 3-month stay in D.C., I stopped for an overnight rest in Virginia. The next morning, I looked up “Nat Turner Land” and made an impromptu phone call, to see if I could stop in for a visit and a brief recorded Q&A. To my surprise the site’s founder, Baba H. Khalif Khalifah, said yes and we coordinated a good time for me to stop by. I went expecting to document the history of the landscape. That did not happen. Instead, left having documented something equally as valuable.
H. Khalif Khalifa (Master Printer)
My interview with H. Khalif Khalifa founder of United Brothers Communications Systems (UBCS) introduced me to the inner workings of book publishing and distribution. This resulted in over an hour of documented recordings, which can be viewed in the link above. The interview is raw and unedited. Still, it is a strong resource. Viewers will one, learn just how book publishing and distribution works and cases how it does not work. Secondly, there is an opportunity for enterprising individuals to learn about the ecosystem created by a collective of entrepreneurs, working the streets of New York, the books they sold and what became of their lives after that period in time.
H. Khalif Khalifa had a vision to create a consolidated publishing/distribution house, seeking to establish partnerships with black people “with means”. At first, no one signed on to support him. In time, a gentleman by the name of “Luther” of New York, reached out and offered to act as UBCS’s distributor. Luther had no interest in identifying literary works for print, writing or printing. He simply wanted to create channels of distribution. Khalifa on the other hand was interested in such work and had been doing so even before his dealings with Luther. So, once the two started working together that is what Khalifa continued to do.
According to Khalifa, Luther “developed a means to get them [self-published books] distributed…what he did was set up vending tables on the street, throughout New York City.” Mr. Khalifa said his career has proven that if you can get Black Literature to the marketplace, Black people and others bought it. This added value to the Black community because white bookstore owners would often times purchase a single order of Black literature, sell it, and not restock. This became a disadvantage to the Black community because they were unable to get their hands on previously written materials such as Carter G. Woodson’s “The Mis-Education of the Negro” in addition to the more recent titles being written at that time.
Luther’s business model can be described as having vendors come to him daily, to get a selection of books on consignment. These vendors were not required to pay any upfront costs. Vendors would return the next day, satisfy related costs from the day prior, then get another order of books to sell. He did the same for black bookstores, “he told bookstores if they would give the books shelf space, he would supply the books.” No down payment or upfront costs needed. Khalifa expressed his reservations about this to Luther. Stating it that “was a bad business move.” Khalifa shared that he had seen where Black bookstores would sell books, profit, then restock by going to a competitor. [Sidenote: I wish I would have asked why they would have went to a competitor. Was it pricing? Also, did they at least satisfy any outstanding payments with Luther before doing so?] Yet, Luther’s vision actually worked for a long period of time.
It wasn’t until Luther left New York to spearhead an operation in Chicago, leaving the New York business in the care of his brother, that the NY distribution operation began to fail. Khalifa shared that Luther did not take his advice when he suggested that Luther purchase a brownstone in New York to establish his own brick and mortar. Instead, Luther’s brother took the operation to another side of town, resulting in $14,000 a month in overhead costs, eventually leading to the collapse of the New York distribution business. Luther was able to continue operating in Chicago.
H. Khalif Khalifa, Re-Establishes Family and Business in Virginia
The Nat Turner Library which is located in Dreweryville, VA has served as a repository of information for the liberation of Black people. Khalifa says he doesn’t know anyone who sells more books about Nat Turner than him. He has written three, himself. He also sells books written about Nat Turner by other people. After reading William Styron’s Nat Turner: Ten Black Writers Respond which was a response to Syron’s The Confession of Nat Turner, Khalifa affirmed two things. One, he would someday meet John Henrik Clark who had edited William Styron’s Nat Turner: Ten Black Writers Respond, he also committed his life as a Master Printer, to the sole production of Black literature. He achieved both.
“Nat Turner Land” will celebrate its anniversary on April 28th, 2018. Festivities are planned. I encourage you to visit. For whatever reason, Mr. Khalifa did not share much about the historical significance of his property with me the day I met with him. Nor, did he go into detail about the tours and festivities that take place there Year after Year. Honestly, I don’t think I even realized the value and depth of our conversation until spending time alone with the recorded materials. Nat Turner Library and the story of Baba H. Khalif Khalifah drips black, Red, and green. Each droplet prepared to quench the thirst of the minds and hearts of those looking to learn more about Black Liberation.
My goal is to revisit “Nat Turner Land” whose actually name is Khalifah Kujichagulia Village to gather details about its history and public programming, within the year.