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Category Archives: Influential African Americans Who Passed Away

Amiri Baraka Dead: Controversial Author And Activist Dies At 79

Portrait of American writer Amiri Baraka, USA, 17th March 2013. (Photo by Mick Gold/Redferns)Portrait of American writer Amiri Baraka, USA, 17th March 2013. (Photo by Mick Gold/Redferns)

 

By HILLEL ITALIE

NEW YORK (AP) — Amiri Baraka, the militant man of letters and tireless agitator whose blues-based, fist-shaking poems, plays and criticism made him a provocative and groundbreaking force in American culture, has died. He was 79.

His booking agent, Celeste Bateman, told The Associated Press that Baraka, who had been hospitalized since last month, died Thursday at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center.

Perhaps no writer of the 1960s and ’70s was more radical or polarizing than the former LeRoi Jones, and no one did more to extend the political debates of the civil rights era to the world of the arts. He inspired at least one generation of poets, playwrights and musicians, and his immersion in spoken word traditions and raw street language anticipated rap, hip-hop and slam poetry. The FBI feared him to the point of flattery, identifying Baraka as “the person who will probably emerge as the leader of the Pan-African movement in the United States.”

Baraka transformed from the rare black to join the Beat caravan of Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac to leader of the Black Arts Movement, an ally of the Black Power movement that rejected the liberal optimism of the early ’60s and intensified a divide over how and whether the black artist should take on social issues. Scorning art for art’s sake and the pursuit of black-white unity, Baraka was part of a philosophy that called for the teaching of black art and history and producing works that bluntly called for revolution.

“We want ‘poems that kill,’” Baraka wrote in his landmark “Black Art,” a manifesto published in 1965, the year he helped found the Black Arts Movement. “Assassin poems. Poems that shoot guns/Poems that wrestle cops into alleys/and take their weapons leaving them dead/with tongues pulled out and sent to Ireland.”

He was as eclectic as he was prolific: His influences ranged from Ray Bradbury and Mao Zedong to Ginsberg and John Coltrane. Baraka wrote poems, short stories, novels, essays, plays, musical and cultural criticism and jazz operas. His 1963 book, “Blues People,” has been called the first major history of black music to be written by an African-American. A line from his poem “Black People!” — “Up against the wall mother f—–” — became a counterculture slogan for everyone from student protesters to the rock band Jefferson Airplane. A 2002 poem he wrote alleging that some Israelis had advance knowledge of the Sept. 11 attacks led to widespread outrage.

Decades earlier, Baraka had declared himself a black nationalist out to “break the deathly grip of the White Eyes,” then a Marxist-Leninist out to destroy imperialists of all colors. No matter his name or ideology, he was committed to “struggle, change, struggle, unity, change, movement.”

“All of the oaths I swore were sincere reflections of what I felt — what I thought I knew and understood,” he wrote in a 1990 essay. “But those beliefs change, and the work shows this, too.”

He was denounced by critics as buffoonish, homophobic, anti-Semitic, a demagogue. He was called by others a genius, a prophet, the Malcolm X of literature. Eldridge Cleaver hailed him as the bard of the “funky facts.” Ishmael Reed credited the Black Arts Movement for encouraging artists of all backgrounds and enabling the rise of multiculturalism. The scholar Arnold Rampersad placed him alongside Frederick Douglass and Richard Wright in the pantheon of black cultural influences.

“From Amiri Baraka, I learned that all art is political, although I don’t write political plays,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist August Wilson once said.

First published in the 1950s, Baraka crashed the literary party in 1964, at the Cherry Lane Theater in Greenwich Village, when “Dutchman” opened and made instant history at the height of the civil rights movement. Baraka’s play was a one-act showdown between a middle class black man, Clay, and a sexually daring white woman, Lula, ending in a brawl of murderous taunts and confessions.

“Charlie Parker. All the hip white boys scream for Bird,” Clay says. “And they sit there talking about the tortured genius of Charlie Parker. Bird would’ve not played a note of music if he just walked up to East 67th Street and killed the first 10 white people he saw. Not a note!”

Less than a year after the March on Washington, Baraka pronounced the dream dead, a delusion. The war of words commenced. The Village Voice gave it an Obie award for the top off-Broadway show. Norman Mailer called it the “best play in America.” Jean-Luc Godard lifted some dialogue for his film “Masculin Feminine.” New York Times critic Howard Taubman was impressed, and, apparently, terrified.

“If this is the way the Negroes really feel about the white world around them, there’s more rancor buried in the breasts of colored conformists than anyone can imagine,” Taubman wrote in his review.

When Philip Roth, writing for The New York Review of Books, criticized the character development in “Dutchman,” the playwright answered: “Sir, it is not my fault that you are so feeble-minded you refuse to see any Negro as a man, but rather as the narrow product of your own sterile response.”

Baraka was still LeRoi Jones when he wrote “Dutchman.” But the Cuban revolution, the assassination in 1965 of Malcolm X and the Newark riots of 1967, when the poet was jailed and photographed looking dazed and bloodied, radicalized him. Jones left his white wife (Hettie Cohen), cut off his white friends and moved from Greenwich Village to Harlem. He renamed himself Imamu Ameer Baraka, “spiritual leader blessed prince,” and dismissed the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as a “brainwashed Negro.” He helped organize the 1972 National Black Political Convention and founded the Congress of African People. He also founded community groups in Harlem and Newark, the hometown to which he eventually returned.

The revolution, Baraka believed, would be set to music. In “Blues People,” he traced the role of blues and jazz as forces of nonconformity in American culture from slavery days to the present. In essays and interviews, he supported such jazz artists as Sun Ra, Albert Ayler and Archie Shepp, chastised Sly and the Family Stone for including whites in the band and scorned the Beatles as “a group of middle-class white boys who need a haircut and male hormones.” He welcomed rap as “mass-based poetry,” but worried that corporate power was turning performers away from the mission of “struggle and democracy and political consciousness.”

The Black Arts Movement was essentially over by the mid-1970s, and Baraka distanced himself from some of his harsher comments — about Dr. King, about gays and about whites in general. But he kept making news. In the early 1990s, as Spike Lee was filming a biography of Malcolm X, Baraka ridiculed the director as “a petit bourgeois Negro” unworthy of his subject. In 2002, respected enough to be named New Jersey’s poet laureate, he shocked again with “Somebody Blew Up America,” a Sept. 11 poem with a jarring twist.

“Who knew the World Trade Center was gonna get bombed,” read a line from the poem. “Who told 4,000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers to stay home that day?”

Then-Gov. James E. McGreevey and others demanded his resignation. Baraka refused, denying that “Somebody Blew Up” was anti-Semitic (the poem also attacks Hitler and the Holocaust) and condemning the “dishonest, consciously distorted and insulting non-interpretation of my poem.” Discovering he couldn’t be fired, the state eliminated the position altogether, in 2003.

Baraka was born Everett LeRoy Jones in 1934, a postal worker’s son who grew up in a racially mixed neighborhood in Newark and remembered his family’s passion for songs and storytelling. He showed early talents for sports and music and did well enough in high school to graduate with honors and receive a scholarship from Rutgers University.

Feeling out of place at Rutgers, he transferred to a leading black college, Howard University. He hated it there (“Howard University shocked me into realizing how desperately sick the Negro could be,” he later wrote) and joined the Air Force, from which he was discharged for having too many books, among other transgressions. By 1958, he had settled in Greenwich Village, met Ginsberg and other Beats, married fellow writer Cohen and was editing an avant-garde journal, Yugen. He called himself LeRoi Jones.

He was never meant to write like other writers. In his “Autobiography of LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka,” published in 1984, he remembered himself as a young man, sitting on a bench, reading “one of the carefully put together exercises The New Yorker publishes constantly as high poetic art.”

And he was in tears.

“I realized that there was something in me so out, so unconnected with what this writer was and what this magazine was that what was in me that wanted to come out as poetry would never come out like that and be my poetry,” he wrote.

Baraka’s many works included the poetry collections “Black Magic” and “Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note,” the plays “Slave Ship” and “Arm Yourself or Harm Yourself,” and a novel, “The System of Dante’s Hell.” Admittedly a hard man to work with, he wrote for numerous publishers and published some books himself.

“He opened tightly guarded doors for not only Blacks but poor whites as well and, of course, Native Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans,” the American Indian author Maurice Kenny wrote of him. “We’d all still be waiting for the invitation from The New Yorker without him. He taught us all how to claim it and take it.”

Baraka divorced Cohen in 1965 and a year later married Sylvia Robinson, whose name became Bibi Amina Baraka. He had seven children, two with his first wife and five with his second. A son, Ras Baraka, became a councilman in Newark and is running for mayor of that city. A daughter, Shani Baraka, was murdered in 2003 by the estranged husband of her sister, Wanda Pasha.

Amiri Baraka taught at Yale University and George Washington University and spent 20 years on the faculty of the State University of New York in Stonybrook. He received numerous grants and prizes, including a Guggenheim fellowship and a poetry award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Baraka was the subject of a 1983 documentary, “In Motion,” and holds a minor place in Hollywood history. In “Bulworth,” Warren Beatty’s 1998 satire about a senator’s break from the political establishment, Baraka plays a homeless poet who cheers on the title character.

“You got to be a spirit,” the poet tells him. “You got to sing — don’t be no ghost.”

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Scholar Saw a Multicolored American Culture Albert Murray Dies at 97; Fought Black Separatism

 

 

By MEL WATKINS

Albert Murray, an essayist, critic and novelist who influenced the national discussion about race by challenging black separatism, insisting that the black experience was essential to American culture and inextricably tied to it, died on Sunday at his home in Harlem. He was 97.

Lewis P. Jones, a family spokesman and executor of Mr. Murray’s estate, confirmed the death.

Mr. Murray was one of the last surviving links to a period of flowering creativity and spreading ferment among the black intelligentsia in postwar America, when the growing force of the civil rights movement gave rise to new bodies of thought about black identity, black political power and the prospects for equality in a society with a history of racism.

As blacks and whites clashed in the streets, black integrationists and black nationalists dueled in the academy and in books and essays. And Mr. Murray was in the middle of the debate, along with writers and artists including James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Romare Bearden and his good friend Ralph Ellison.

One of his boldest challenges was directed toward a new black nationalist movement that was gathering force in the late 1960s, drawing support from the Black Panthers and the Nation of Islam, and finding advocates on university faculties and among alienated young blacks who believed that they could never achieve true equality in the United States.

Mr. Murray insisted that integration was necessary, inescapable and the only path forward for the country. And to those — blacks and whites alike — who would have isolated “black culture” from the American mainstream, he answered that it couldn’t be done. To him the currents of the black experience — expressed in language and music and rooted in slavery — run through American culture, blending with European and American Indian traditions and helping to give the nation’s culture its very shape and sound.

With a freewheeling prose style influenced by jazz and the blues — Duke Ellington called him “the unsquarest man I know” — Mr. Murray challenged conventional assumptions about art, race and American identity in books like the essay collection “Stomping the Blues” and the memoir “South to a Very Old Place.” He gave further expression to those views in a series of autobiographical novels, starting with “Train Whistle Guitar” in 1974.

Mr. Murray established himself as a formidable social and literary figure in 1970 with his first book, a collection of essays titled “The Omni-Americans: New Perspectives on Black Experience and American Culture.” The book constituted an attack on black separatism.

“The United States is not a nation of black and white people,” Mr. Murray wrote. “Any fool can see that white people are not really white, and that black people are not black.” America, he maintained, “even in its most rigidly segregated precincts,” was a “nation of multicolored people,” or Omni-Americans: “part Yankee, part backwoodsman and Indian — and part Negro.”

Fokelore and ‘Fakelore’

The book also challenged what Mr. Murray called the “social science fiction” pronouncements of writers like James Baldwin, Richard Wright and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who he said had exaggerated racial and ethnic differences in postulating a pathology of black life. As Mr. Murray put it, they had simply countered “the folklore of white supremacy” with “the fakelore of black pathology.”

“The Omni-Americans,” the novelist Walker Percy wrote, “may be the most important book on black-white relations in the United States, indeed on American culture,” published in his generation. But it had fierce detractors. Writing in The New York Times, the black-studies scholar and author J. Saunders Redding called the essays contradictory, Mr. Murray’s theories “nonsense” and his “rhetoric” a “dense mixture of pseudo-scientific academic jargon, camp idiom and verbal play.”

For many years Mr. Murray and the novelist Ralph Ellison, who met in college, were close friends and literary kindred spirits. In “King of Cats,” a 1996 profile of Mr. Murray in The New Yorker, Henry Louis Gates Jr. wrote that the friendship between the two men “seemed a focal point of black literary culture.”

“Both men were militant integrationists, and they shared an almost messianic view of the importance of art,” Mr. Gates wrote. “In their ardent belief that Negro culture was a constitutive part of American culture, they had defied an entrenched literary mainstream, which preferred to regard black culture as so much exotica — amusing perhaps, but eminently dispensable. Now they were also defying a new black vanguard, which regarded authentic black culture as separate from the rest of American culture — something that was created, and could be appreciated, in splendid isolation.”

Disliked the Term ‘Black’

Like Ralph Ellison, Mr. Murray proposed an inclusive theory of “the American Negro presence.” (He disdained the use of the term “black” and later spurned “African-American” — “I am not an African,” he said, “I am an American.”)

Mr. Murray contended that American identity “is best defined in terms of culture.” And for him, American culture was a “composite,” or “mulatto,” culture that owed much of its richness and diversity to blacks.

Yet Mr. Murray was not always sure that whites understood this shared legacy when they embraced black artists. He could be suspicious of whites, asking whether they, even in their applause, nonetheless continued to regard black culture “as so much exotica,” as Mr. Gates put it. Thus Mr. Murray asked whether the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Toni Morrison in 1993 was not “tainted with do-goodism,” and whether the poet Maya Angelou’s readings at President Bill Clinton’s first inaugural echoed a song-and-dance tradition in which blacks entertained whites.

The essential bond between American culture and what Mr. Murray called Negro culture is the shared embrace of a “blues aesthetic,” which he said permeated the works of black musicians, writers and artists and was being increasingly adopted by whites. The blues were to Mr. Murray “the genuine legacy of slavery,” Laura Ciolkowski, a professor of literature now at Columbia University, wrote of Mr. Murray in The New York Times Book Review in 2002.

“For him, blues music, with its demands for improvisation, resilience and creativity, is at the heart of American identity,” she wrote.

Mr. Murray himself wrote: “When the Negro musician or dancer swings the blues, he is fulfilling the same fundamental existential requirement that determines the mission of the poet, the priest and the medicine man. He is making an affirmative and hence exemplary and heroic response to that which André Malraux describes as la condition humaine.”

Albert Lee Murray was born on May 12, 1916, in Nokomis, Ala., to middle-class parents who soon gave him up for adoption to Hugh Murray, a laborer, and his wife, Matty.

“It’s just like the prince left among the paupers,” said Mr. Murray, who learned of his adoption when he was about 11. The Murrays moved to Mobile, where Albert grew up in a neighborhood known as Magazine Point. In “Train Whistle Guitar,” his largely autobiographical first novel, he called it Gasoline Point.

An Alter Ego in Novels

Through the novel’s protagonist, Scooter, his fictional alter ego, Mr. Murray evoked an unharrowed childhood enriched by music, legends, jiving and jesting, and the fancy talk of pulpit orators and storefront storytellers.

As rendered in Mr. Murray’s inventive prose, the adolescent Scooter and his friend Buddy Marshall could imagine themselves as “explorers and discoverers and Indian scouts as well as sea pirates and cowboys and African spear fighters not to mention the two schemingest gamblers and back alley ramblers this side of Philmayork.”

After graduating from the Mobile County Training School, where he earned letters in three sports and was voted the best all-around student, Mr. Murray enrolled at what is now Tuskegee University, where he discovered literature and immersed himself in Hemingway, Faulkner, Joyce and Mann. He met Ralph Ellison, an upperclassman, as well as another student, Mozelle Menefee, who became his wife in 1941. She survives him, as does their daughter, Michéle Murray, who became a dancer with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

Mr. Murray received a bachelor of science degree in education in 1939 and began graduate study at the University of Michigan. But the following year, he returned to Tuskegee to teach literature and composition.

He enlisted in the military in 1943 and spent the last two years of World War II in the Army Air Corps. After the war, the Murrays moved to New York City, where he used the G.I. Bill to earn a master’s degree from New York University and he renewed his friendship with Ellison. In 1951, a year before Ellison published his classic work, “Invisible Man,” Mr. Murray rejoined the military, entering the Air Force.

He served in the military, peripatetically, for 11 years — teaching courses in geopolitics in the Air Force R.O.T.C. program at Tuskegee in the 1950s, taking assignments in North Africa and studying at Northwestern University, the University of Chicago and the University of Paris.

After retiring from the Air Force as a major in 1962, he returned to New York with his family and settled in an apartment in the Lenox Terrace complex in Harlem. He began writing essays for literary journals and articles for Life and The New Leader, some of which were included in “The Omni-Americans.”

He also became a familiar figure on campuses, holding visiting professorships at the University of Massachusetts, Barnard, Columbia, Emory, Colgate and other schools. And he resumed exploring the streets and nightclubs of Harlem with Ralph Ellison.

From 1970 to the mid-1990s, as if compensating for his slow start, Mr. Murray published nine books. His second, “South to a Very Old Place” (1971), recounted his return to his Southern homeland. The book later became part of the Modern Library. In “The Hero and the Blues” (1973), a collection of essays based on a series of lectures, Mr. Murray criticized naturalism and protest fiction, which he said subjugated individual actions to social circumstances.

The Joy in the Blues

In “Stomping the Blues” (1976), he argued that the essence of the blues was the tension between the woe expressed in its lyrics and the joy infusing its melodies. He saw the blues, and jazz, as an uplifting response to misery.

“The blues is not the creation of a crushed-spirited people,” Mr. Murray said years later. “It is the product of a forward-looking, upward-striving people.”

He next began a long collaboration with Count Basie on his autobiography, “Good Morning Blues,” which was published in 1985, a year after Basie’s death. Along with the writer Stanley Crouch and the trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, Mr. Murray was actively involved in the creation of Jazz at Lincoln Center, the institution’s first permanent jazz program.

In 1991 he returned to his fictional alter ego, Scooter, depicting his college years at Tuskegee in the novel “The Spyglass Tree.” Four years later, as he neared 80, Mr. Murray published two books: “The Seven League Boots,” the third volume of his Scooter cycle, and “The Blue Devils of Nada,” another essay collection. Still another collection, “From the Briarpatch File: On Context, Procedure, and American Identity,” which explored in part the “existential implications of the blues,” was published in 2001.

Mr. Murray published the fourth and last novel in his Scooter cycle, “The Magic Keys,” in 2005. The book, which received tepid reviews (it “feels plotted rather than lived,” John Leland wrote in The Times), brings its narrator, whose real name is never learned, to graduate school in Manhattan, where he befriends a thinly disguised Ralph Ellison and Romare Bearden.

Mainstream recognition was slow to come for Mr. Murray. But by the mid-1990s, the critic Warren J. Carson had called him “African America’s undiscovered national treasure,” and in 1997 the National Book Critics Circle gave Mr. Murray its award for lifetime achievement. The next year he received the inaugural Harper Lee Award as Alabama’s most distinguished writer.

In 2000, Mr. Murray published “Trading Twelves: The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray,” which he edited with John F. Callahan. That same year he appeared as a commentator in Ken Burns’s multipart PBS documentary “Jazz.”

The critic Tony Scherman wrote of Mr. Murray in American Heritage, “His views add up to a cohesive, elegant whole, making him a rarity in today’s attenuated intellectual world: a system builder, a visionary in the grand manner.”

He could also write on a personal scale: his first book of poems, “Conjugations and Reiterations,” appeared in 2001. And he was candid in writing about advanced age.

“I’m doing more than ever,” he wrote in an Op-Ed essay in The Times in 1998, two years after undergoing spinal surgery, “but it’s harder now. I’m in constant pain. At home I use a four-pronged aluminum stick to get around. I need a stroller when I’m on the street. At receptions and in airports I need a wheelchair to get down the long aisles.

“But nothing hurts quite like the loss of old friends. There are ways to cope at the time they die. But weeks and months later you realize you can’t phone them and talk: Duke Ellington, Romare Bearden, Ralph Ellison, Alfred Kazin, Robert Penn Warren, Joseph Mitchell. It’s hard to believe they’re all gone.”

William McDonald and Daniel E. Slotnik contributed reporting.

 

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‘Strange Fruit’ Actress, Educator, Author Dorothy Carter Dies in NY

By Associated Press

Dorothy Carter dies at 94

Photo Credit: Bankstreet College of Education

NEW YORK (AP) — Dorothy Carter, a former stage actress who starred in the adaptation of the groundbreaking novel “Strange Fruit” on Broadway and later became an educator and a children’s book author, has died after battling bladder cancer. She was 94.

She died Sept. 14 in New York, family friend Mary Zaslofsky said Friday.

Carter, born in 1918 in Kissimee, Fla., studied drama at Spelman College and later was taught by Stella Adler in New York. She made her Broadway debut in 1945 in Lillian Smith’s adaptation of her novel “Strange Fruit,” an interracial love story.

The show, directed by Jose Ferrer and starring Jane White and Earl Jones, closed after 60 performances but got a positive write-up by then-first lady Eleanor Roosevelt in her syndicated column.

Carter, who was black, became part of the American Negro Theater under the direction of Abe Hill and played Ruth Lawson in its 1946 Broadway production of “Walk Hard.” She also appeared in Lou Peterson’s “Take a Giant Step” in 1953.

 

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Michael Clarke Duncan, 54, Dead from 2nd Heart Attack in 2 Months

Acclaimed black actor carried hit urban films and an Oscar-nominated picture

 

Michael Clarke Duncan, the unmistakable screen and voice actor in many hit urban and mainstream films, including an Oscar-nominated performance in “The Green Mile,” died Monday morning in Los Angeles, his fiancé, reality TV star Rev. Omarosa Manigault, said in a statement released by their publicist. Duncan, 54, suffered a fatal heart attack. The actor was hospitalized for another heart attack in mid-July and never fully recovered, according the statement. Duncan was best known to African American and wider audiences for his roles in “The Players Club,” “Planet of the Apes,” and “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.” Before turning to acting full-time, the muscular 6-foot-4 Duncan worked as a bodyguard for rapper Notorious B.I.G. and actors Will Smith and Jamie Foxx.

 

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Renowned actor, professor Al Freeman Jr. dies at 78

 

WRITTEN BY DEBBIE VARGUS
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Albert Freeman Jr., the veteran actor who played Elijah Muhammad in Spike Lee’s epic film, “Malcolm X,” has died. He was 78.

Al-Freeman-Jr
AL FREEMAN JR.


Howard University in Washington, D.C., confirmed his death Friday night but details weren’t immediately available. Freeman taught acting there for years and served as chairman and artistic director of its theater arts department.

“He was a brilliant professor, a renowned actor and a master director who made his mark in the classroom as well as on stage, screen and television. … He has mentored and taught scores of outstanding actors. He was a resounding voice of Howard and will be missed,” university spokeswoman Kerry-Ann Hamilton said in a statement.

Freeman earned an NAACP Image Award for playing Malcolm X’s mentor in Lee’s 1992 biography.

He also received an Emmy nomination for his role as Malcolm X in the 1979 miniseries “Roots: The Next Generations.” He won a best-actor Daytime Emmy that year for his work as Capt. Ed Hall on the soap opera “One Life to Live.”

 

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Roy S. Bryce-Laporte, Who Led Black Studies at Yale, Dies at 78

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Roy S. Bryce-Laporte, a sociologist who led one of the nation’s first African-American studies departments, at Yale University, and did research that advanced understanding of blacks who came to the United States voluntarily rather than as slaves, died on July 31 in Sykesville, Md. He was 78.

Colgate University

Roy S. Bryce-Laporte

 

His brother, Herrington J. Bryce, said that the cause was undetermined, but that he had had a series of small strokes.

Professor Bryce-Laporte was named director of Yale’s new department of African-American studies in 1969, when colleges and universities were recruiting black students and searching for ways to include their culture, history and other concerns in the curriculum.

Students participated in the selection of Professor Bryce-Laporte. One of them, Donald H. Ogilvie, praised him as “not all academician and not all activist,” adding that Professor Bryce-Laporte was “still angry.”

Professor Bryce-Laporte taught a core course in the new program, “The Black Experience: Its Changes and Continuities,” which spanned the history of New World blacks from pre-slavery recruitment in Africa to 20th-century slums. He emphasized that black studies must address hot-button topics like racial stereotyping while retaining academic rigor.

“Black studies is the way by which respect is to be given to blacks and to knowledge about blacks,” he said in an article in The New York Times in 1969.

In an interview on Tuesday, the Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., who has written influentially on the black experience, said that as a Yale freshman he was inspired by Professor Bryce-Laporte to become a professor himself. “A different model was available to me,” he said.

Professor Gates said Professor Bryce-Laporte had urged students to involve themselves in activities like writing for the college newspaper and joining secret societies as steps to acquiring influence in the larger society. He said Professor Bryce-Laporte told students, “You’ve been chosen, you’ve been blessed.”

Sidney W. Mintz, chairman of the committee that created Yale’s black studies curriculum, called Professor Bryce-Laporte “the first manager of the futures” of the outstanding black students drawn to Yale. He advised them to cultivate discipline, no matter how eager they were to change the world.

“You have to be adults,” he said, according to Professor Mintz, now research professor of anthropology at Johns Hopkins University.

Yale’s program went beyond that of some colleges by studying blacks in the entire Western Hemisphere, an approach that meshed with Professor Bryce-Laporte’s research focus. He wrote articles and contributed to books on the African diaspora in Latin America and the Caribbean. He examined how some sought new lives in the United States, and how some of them returned to the places in the Western Hemisphere they had left. The bulk of earlier research had concerned blacks brought unwillingly to the United States as slaves.

In 1986, when the centennial of the Statue of Liberty was being celebrated, Professor Bryce-Laporte curated an exhibit at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Manhattan that focused on black immigration. He collected old photographs, diaries and certificates of nationality given to laborers. “If there is a forgotten or overlooked fact of black history, it is migration,” he said in an interview with The Times.

Roy Simon Bryce-Laporte was born in Panama City on Sept. 7, 1933, and earned an associate’s degree from the University of Panama. He moved with his family to the United States and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. He next did advanced studies at the University of Puerto Rico, then went to the University of California, Los Angeles, to complete a Ph.D. in sociology.

Before moving to Yale, where he taught for three years, he was an assistant sociology professor at Hunter College of the City University of New York. After his time at Yale, he led a varied career that included being a Woodrow Wilson International Scholar and the first director of the Research Institute on Immigration and Ethnic Studies at the Smithsonian Institution.

At Colgate University, Professor Bryce-Laporte was John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur professor of sociology and anthropology, and director of the Africana and Latin American Studies Program. He taught a course called “Total Institutions” in which he compared plantation slavery with social life in prisons and asylums.

Professor Bryce-Laporte, who had dual American and Panamanian citizenship, was married to Dorotea Lowe Bryce, who died in 2009. In addition to his brother, he is survived by his companion, Marian D. Holness; his sons, Robertino and Rene; his daughter, Camila Bryce-Laporte Morris; his sisters, Celestina Carter and Yvonne St. Hill; and three grandsons.

 

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Sherman Hemsley dead: ‘Jeffersons’ star dies at age 74

An iconic actor claimed a landmark African-American role in the world of sitcoms in the ’70s and ’80s.


BY / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

<br />	“The Jefferson’s” made Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford household names. The show ran from 1975 to 1985.<br />

“The Jefferson’s” made Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford household names. The show ran from 1975 to 1985.

 

Sherman Hemsley, who as George Jefferson ensured that black folks would never again be invisible on television, died Tuesday at his El Paso home. He was 74.

Police said Hemsley was discovered by his nurse and apparently died of natural causes.

Hemsley played Jefferson for two years on “All in the Family,” from 1973-75, then starred opposite Isabel Sanford from 1975 to 1985 on their own spinoff, “The Jeffersons.” Isabel Sanford died in 2004 at age 86.

George Jefferson was not the first black character on television, but he remains one of the most indelible.

Because he first played in counterpoint to Archie Bunker, and because both had the exaggerated personalities of sitcom characters, George Jefferson shared many of Archie’s traits.

He was cranky, impatient and prone to speaking without thinking — though he was also more clever and calculating than Archie.

This made him one of television’s first angry black characters, and while some of that anger was blunted with a comic edge, his legitimate frustration over America’s racial situation was hard to miss.

He became a more effective answer to Archie’s bigotry not because he was noble and perfect, but because he also had dimension, quirks, strengths and weaknesses.

SHERMAN25N_1_H26_WEB

Isabel Sanford and Sherman Hemsley played the bickering, loving couple on “The Jeffersons” from 1975 to 1985.

Like all good sitcom men, he was also subject to regular deflation by his wife, Louise, known as Weezy.

She once told their son Lionel to go to his room so George wouldn’t hit him. Lionel wanted to know why Dad would hit him, and Weezy said it was because she didn’t know where she’d throw him.

Hemsley was born in South Philadelphia and served in the Air Force before graduating and taking a job with the Post Office while he studied acting.

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JEFF KRAVITZ/FILMMAGIC, INC

Sherman Hemsley stayed active in TV. Here he is seem during the 1998 TV Land Upfront at Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles.

After moving to New York and working with the Negro Ensemble Company, he landed his first Broadway role in 1971 with “Purlie.”

“All in the Family” creator Norman Lear saw him there and offered him the role of George Jefferson that same year.

Hemsley declined, saying he didn’t want to give up the security of Broadway for television. So Lear held the part open for two years, while “Purlie” finished its Broadway run and then did a road tour.

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Mr. Nanny, was another taste of stardom for Sherman Hemsley, seen here with Hulk Hogan in 1993.

Lear kept the role warm by creating a Jefferson brother, Henry, who disappeared when Hemsley agreed to play George in 1973.

Over the years, the George Jefferson character softened somewhat and the show segued from sharper social commentary to a more traditional family sitcom.

Hemsley kept working after it ended, notably in a five-year run on the NBC show “Amen” and as the voice of the triceratops on ABC’s “Dinosaurs.”

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Sherman Hemsley debuted his role of George Jefferson in the legendary show, “All in the Family.”

He and Sanford reunited several times over the years, on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and in commercials for Old Navy and the Gap.

He was also a musician, releasing an album called “Dance” in 1992, though his own taste ran more toward 1970s rock bands like Genesis and Yes.

Off the stage, he led a quiet, largely private life in out-of-the-way El Paso. But he left a towering image on the small screen.

dhinckley@nydailynews.com

 

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