The People Who Disappeared by Temujin the Storyteller

“The master, the overseer, and the driver looked after them as they flew, beyond the wood, beyond the river, miles on miles, until they passed beyond the last rim of the world and disappeared in the sky like a handful of leaves.  They were never seen again.  Where they went I do not know. . .”

The passage above comes a story titled “All God’s Chillun Had Wings”, which was first recorded by the Federal Writers’ Project, an organization committed to, among its other projects, documenting the stories of African-Americans that had been passed down to them by their ancestors. “All God’s Chillun Had Wings” was published in Drums and Shadows: Survival Studies among the Georgia Coastal Negroes, which was produced in the early 1900s.

The story appeared in The Book of Negro Folklore, a collection of folktales compiled in 1958 by Langston Hughes and Arna Bontemps.  The late Virginia Hamilton re-worked the story as a children’s picture book called The People Could Fly which was published in 1985.

The story I have to tell is about 53 enslaved Africans, including 28 adults and  25 children who could not fly; instead they disappeared. My story begins during a time when slavery existed in all 13 colonies.  A man named John Neville purchased his first two slaves, Harvey and Joe, in 1767.  John Neville also purchased the land that would become the site of my story plus 14,000 more acres of land in 1774 in what was then Western Virginia, later becoming Western Pennsylvania.   One year later in 1775  the enslaved Africans living there began to develop the land and to construct Woodville, the first manor house.  Neville served as the commander of Ft. Pitt (Ft. Dunmore) on behalf of the Virginia colony. When the American Revolutionary War broke out, he fought until 1780.

During the time John Neville was away at war, the enslaved Africans on his plantation continued developing the land and building the Woodville manor house. When Neville, now a general,  returned home in 1780 to what had become Western Pennsylvania, due to the survey done by Mason and Dixon, he was compelled to register 21 of the enslaved Africans–nine females and twelve males–under the Pennsylvania Gradual Emancipation Act of 1780.  Were it not for this state boundary, the enslaved Africans held in bondage by the Neville family might not have been freed at that time and could well have remained enslaved for the rest of their lives.

In the 1790s Bower Hill, a second manor house was built by the enslaved Africans on Neville’s estate. It was perhaps the greatest Pennsylvania mansion west of the Allegheny Mountains.  The Africans enslaved by the Neville family on the Woodville and Bower Hill plantations had a wide range of skills and trades.  They served as lumberjacks, distillers, carpenters, joiners, husbandmen (“ranchers”), and  engaged in other of the farm trades. Those who were skilled in the art of distilling manufactured whiskey, the cash crop on the Neville plantations. The Bower Hill Plantation boasted a 500-gallon still, the largest in Western Pennsylvania.

Not only were Neville’s enslaved African given the tasks of development and construction, the defense of the lands, buildings, everything else was also in their hands. John Neville armed his enslaved Africans, as did many frontier plantation owners. Therefore skilled marksmen could be added to the list of things at which the enslaved Africans on the Neville plantations were talented.

A small proof of this is found in the story of two of the enslaved children on the Bower Hill plantation.  In November of 1784, 11-year old Will and his 8-year old brother Putnam got permission to hunt a wolf that had been attacking the sheep. These two boys successfully killed a 100-pound wolf; their exploits are a matter of record.  Ten years later, in 1794,  these young marksmen would employ their firearms skills in defense of the Bower Hill manor house.

When I first read about the Battle of Bower Hill and the fact that enslaved Africans who lived there participated in the defense of the property, I was puzzled.  In time I learned that the plantations at Woodville and Bower Hill were not the full-time homes of the Neville family, who actually resided in the city of Pittsburgh. The plantations were a source of income while the manor houses were, for lack of a better word, vacation homes.

The plantations at Woodville and Bower Hill were, however, the full-time homes of the 53 enslaved Africans.  They had built the Woodville house and other buildings, developed the land, planted the crops, and distilled the whiskey, the cash crop, while the Nevilles, both John and his son Presley, fought in the revolution.

The enslaved Africans had lived on the Woodville plantation and later Bower Hill since 1775, a span of 19 years. They had taken mates and raised children there.  Woodville and later Bower Hill were much more their homes than they ever were the homes of the Neville family.

Due to public resentment about an excise tax on both homemade and commercial whiskey , an armed revolt would be fomented.  On July 16th at least 30 Mingo Creek militiamen  surrounded  Bower Hill, Neville’s fortified home. General Neville was a tax collector and a federal marshal who had been serving writs on those who had not paid their taxes. He had taken refuge there. With the Bower Hill house being situated on a hill, Neville saw the militia coming and immediately called the African men to arms. I am quite sure that the African defense force included Will and his brother Putnam, the wolf slayers, who were now 21 and 18 respectively.

The Mingo Creek militiamen demanded the surrender of the federal marshal whom they believed to be inside. General John Neville responded by firing a gunshot that mortally wounded Oliver Miller, one of the “rebels”.  The rebels opened fire. They were surprised by in turn being fired upon from the slave quarters. When the call to arms was given, at least 14 African men, perhaps even more, took up arms and fought a two-day battle against the Whiskey Rebels.  Since we have no idea how many male children of the 25 children had grown to adulthood by 1794, there could have been a sizable force of African musketeers at the battle of Bower Hill, perhaps 20 or more.

The rebels were unable to dislodge Neville and the other defenders. The rebels then retreated to nearby Couch’s Fort to gather reinforcements and spent a good part of their time on the 16th and 17th getting drunk. They  returned to Bower Hill on July 17th. Their numbers had swelled to nearly 600 men, now commanded by Major James McFarlane, a veteran of the Revolutionary War.  Neville had also received reinforcements which included ten American soldiers from Fort Lafayette in Pittsburgh under the command of Major Abraham Kirkpatrick, a brother-in-law of Neville’s wife.  Before the rebel force arrived, Kirkpatrick had Neville leave the house and hide in a nearby ravine.

After some negotiations, the women and children were allowed to leave the house; both sides then began firing. After about an hour, McFarlane called for a cease-fire.   According to some, a white flag had been waved in the house.   As McFarlane stepped into the open, a shot came from the house, and McFarlane fell, mortally wounded. The enraged rebels then set fire to the house and Kirkpatrick surrendered.

The number of casualties at Bower Hill is unclear, and there is no mention of the numbers of the African defenders who were wounded or killed in the fray; defenders who had stood their ground and fought so bravely during the fierce two-day battle. McFarlane and one or two other militiamen were killed; one U.S. soldier may have died from wounds received in the fight.  The rebels sent the American soldiers away and then  proceeded to destroy more of Neville’s property, dividing up all of the remaining whiskey from the 500-gallon still.

I can only assume that the Africans escaped down the wooded hillside that led to the Woodville manor house since none were captured. I am convinced that had any of the African defenders surrendered, it would not have gone well for them. After all, they had been involved in killing or attempting to kill White men.

General Neville made his way to Philadelphia to report what had happened at Bower Hill. A militia force was called up from New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, and eastern Pennsylvania. in 1794. Headed for Pittsburgh, this federalized militia force of 12,950 men was a large army by American standards of the time.  The rebels who had attacked Bower Hill had no desire to fight such a force of Revolutionary War veterans. In essence, the Whiskey Rebellion in the Pittsburgh area had come to an end.

The Bower Hill house was never rebuilt, and the enslaved Africans who defended it are not mentioned again, although they must have continued to reside at the Woodville plantation.  About five years later, as a partner of Andrew Montour,  General Neville acquired Montour’s Island in a land dispute and moved there.  The island, which was named for the Native American interpreter, Andrew Montour, became the place where Neville spent his final years. We can only assume that the enslaved Africans moved there with him.

These enslaved Africans on John Neville’s landholdings unfortunately became invisible to history after the battle of Bower Hill. In fact, quite a few historians don’t even write about their valiant participation  in the battle of Bower Hill, as though they had not been there.  They remained invisible to history for nine years between 1794 and 1803 when General John Neville died.

John Neville died on July 29, 1803; his dying request to his son, Presley Neville, and his son in-law and plantation overseer, Isaac Craig, was that the enslaved Africans  be manumitted–and they were.  Presley Neville and Isaac Craig looked after them as they rode and walked, “beyond the woods, beyond the river, miles on miles, until they passed beyond the last rim of the world and they all disappeared like a handful of leaves in the wind.  They were never seen or heard from again.”  Where they went, no one knows. . .

–Temujin Ekunfeo

Temujin  Babalosa Obalorun Temujin Ekùnféo (Temujin The Storyteller) was initiated in1978 by Afro-Cubans and African Americans as a Priest (Babalosa) in the Lukumi Yoruba tradition which was established in Cuba by captives brought to Cuba during the days of the slave trade. Temujin has performed throughout the country since 1968.   His list of talents includes lecturer, workshop developer, musician, and instrument maker. As both a scholar and performer of African culture Temujin feels a strong commitment to researching African Folklore from the Americas as well as from the continent of Africa and shares it by means of family-oriented, audience-participatory storytelling programs and experiential “Playshops” for youths and adults.

Celebrating NABS Folk Art Creator – Carolyn “Kooki” Davis

With the curtains closing on Women’s HerStory Month 2015, as with Black History Month, one contemplates that one short month is far from sufficient to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of either women or contributors to the African diaspora
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Upon further thought, one also becomes aware that the great ones who have traversed our lifepaths extend far beyond the courageous global sisters depicted on a couple of my favorite t-shirts depicted here, but also to those who have crossed and blessed our contemporary everyday existence.  Whether it be the grandmother who taught us the art of storytelling, the teacher who guided us to see and explore our deepest potential, or the sister friend whose awe-inspiring personal art or literature enhances our lives, we learn that history is not always remote or of bygone eras but is also an ongoing sometimes very personal unfoldment of life-lifting events and people.
My friend, Rev. Hasifa Rahman, frequently honored me by labeling me a “living ancestor”; however, there are innumerable living ancestors throughout our world, if we only have the vision to behold.  NABS is replete with such diversely talented ancestral contributors, beginning with our co-founder, Mama Linda Goss.
 On the occasions when I have been blessed to chat with this walking storehouse of history and folklore, the conversation has soared far beyond an ordinary chat to one of rich sharings of literary, art, and folklore resources, as well as a plethora of information on outstanding contemporary contributors right in our midst.
Now for a bit of griot “indirection”, my grandson has been enthralled with mermaids ever since he has been able to talk.  Although he has a “gazillion” toys both at home and at Grandma’s place, his most profound play time seems to revolve around the fringed bookmarks I ordered from the Asamoah family kente weavers of Ghana; a few of them comprise his “mermaids” of varying personalities (and sometimes “attitudes”!)  As time has moved on, my interest has also expanded from collecting Seminole memorabilia for my Black Seminole lectures and exhibits to collecting Black mermaid jewelry and literature,  inspired largely by the Mama Linda sharings and the Black Mermaids group I joined on Facebook.
In addition, I have come to deeply appreciate the great folkloric art, particularly the Black mermaid creations, of one the contemporary great NABS contributor, Carolyn (“Kooki”) Davis of Seattle, Washington.Kooki's pics--bio  A Caribbean-born storyteller as well as wearable art and ancestral doll creator, Kooki is renowned for her show-stopping coats, vests, and jackets, several of which have been purchased right off her back; (only to reveal an equally gorgeous piece layered underneath).
Mama Linda amusingly relates how one of these colorful traffic stoppers  initially  brought her and the renowned Black quilters historian and anthologist, Gladys-Marie Frye together, when she so admired Kooki’s captivating coat creation that she felt that she immediately  had to get contact information for this artist from Mama Linda, who was subsequently shocked to find that the person so taken with her garment was the great ancestral contributor whom she would later come to affectionately call “Mama Frye”.  The rest, of course, is decades-long “herStory.”
 Having accomplished the phenomenal task of creating 75 commissioned Mother Mary dolls for NABS’ other beloved co-founder, Mother Mary Carter Smith, Kooki has continued to create a body of work–wearable art and dolls–which is in the collections of proud owners across the nation.  She poetically relates that her inspiration for her work flows from “…every flower, every tree, every woman I see.”
I am particularly proud of her stunning mermaids which have recently swam into my world and of the grandma quilter doll (with her own mini quilt) which reigns in a spot of honor in my ancestral hallway, a tribute to the many talented quilters who have crossed and blessed my life.  Then there is the kente-clad “wisdom seeker” with knowledge keys for hands.  Lastly, just check out, if you will, the piercing gaze of the fur-bedecked mid-aged doll whom I call “the mermaid diva”.  What a story this fiercely proud sister mermaid has to tell.  She has evidently paid her dues!
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 (Kooki Davis photo above- courtesy Carolyn “Kooki” Davis; Yemaya doll in blue – photo credit:  Jeanette (Moonsong) Mallory Hill 2015;  collage/ancestral tribute at Hampton photos:  Linda Cousins-Newton 2015; (the mermaid necklace in the bottom left collage photo is a Deb DiMarco creation.)  The closing photo (bottom left) depicts NABS co-founder, Mama Linda Goss, an ardent tree lover, paying tribute to the ancestors with other griots at the Emancipation Oak at Hampton University, Hampton, VA during the NABS Conference & Festival pilgrimage there in Nov of 2013.  She wears an ancestral tree-bedecked garment designed for her by Kooki  in honor of the occasion.) 
Collecting of the work of this great living ancestor and supremely talented folklore artist, Kooki Davis, is an artistic life enhancement, as I’m sure many NABS members and “Kooki creation collectors” would agree.  I am so pleased that I have learned to recognize that historymakers and contributors are not always of the distant past but oftentimes those like this skilled folkloric artist who actually grace our contemporary world.
–Linda Cousins-Newton

The Black Storytellers APP: The Cowtail Switch – A symbol of Authority, Prestige and Prominence

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African American Storytellers are most familiar with the cowtail switch through a story that has been declared a requirement in a Black Storyteller’s repertoire. “The Cow-tail Switch,” as collected from West Africa by Harold Courlander, is a tale in which we learn that as long as we call out the names and tell the stories of our ancestors, we keep them alive. In the story, the child who earns the cow-tail switch is the one who inquires as to the whereabouts of his father after a long absence, as opposed to the other children who apply their talents to aid in the father’s return after he was found.

The story brings to light ancient symbolism of the cow-tail switch, sometimes referred to as the fly whisk. Its significance has been deemed both authoritarian and spiritual. A King’s whisk upon the shoulder could mean a change of circumstance, and the Yoruba Orisha, Oya’s irukere (cowtail switch) is known to cause wide spread transformation through her forceful winds. Centuries old and laden with stories, the importance of the cowtail switch is legendary until this day.

Many African presidents and tribal chiefs carry a fly-whisk as a badge of authority to processes with his switch at traditional ceremonies. This past December,”Who will Inherit Kajwang’s Fly-whisk,” was a newspaper headliner. The winner of the Kenyan political campaign was marked by his ability to work his fly-whisk:

It was Raila’s turn next. Waving a black fly-whisk, he knew how to work the crowd. He demanded obedience and acceptance of his newly appointed ODM officials, those previously labeled Jubilee moles and rebels who were excelling in singing “Raila for president”.

In total control, waving the black fly-whisk and singing “Mapambano”, Raila was the inheritor of Kajwang’s mantle. – Business Daily, December 8, 2014.

nana opoku collageWhen visiting Ghana last May, I had the honor of interviewing, Nana Opoku one of the Asantehene of Kumasi’s protectors and orators. To the left you see Nana rendering all the names and attributes of the King while the Asantehene, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, stands before him holding his symbol of authority – the white-tailed cowtail switch. To the right is a photo of Nana during our interview.

Here in America, it is the National Association of Black Storytellers, Inc. (NABS) that carries on the empowering tradition. We continue, perpetuate and promote “In the Tradition…” the customs and rituals of the National Association of Black Storytellers, Inc. which are rooted in our African Heritage.

Mother Mary Carter Smith, the co-Founder of NABS brought the cowtail switch to the NABS. During the 1980’s she used the cowtail switch as she told the Cow-tail Switch story.   In 1992, the cowtail switch was ceremoniously bestowed upon the third president of NABS, Baba Jamal Koram during the 10th Anniversary of the Annual National Black Storytelling Festival in Baltimore, MD. Since then, it has been known as the “Passing of the Cowtail Switch Ceremony.” However, the cowtail switches were either borrowed or belonged to that President.

Part of my quest while traveling in Ghana was to bring back a cowtail switch that would be the permanent property of NABS. But first, it had to be regaled to reflect its authority, prestige and prominence. The journey began in Accra where the switch was purchased. A few days later, I traveled to the historical bead market of Koforidua, where Yoseda Hasan helped me search for brass beads to symbolize our co-founders – The Sankofa (Mother Mary Carter Smith) and the Asante Stool (Linda Goss, NABS 1st President). Understanding the royal nature of the switch, Yoseda extended its handle. Upon my return to the states, the switch was shipped to Pittsburgh, PA where Temujin Ekunfeo masterfully beaded the switch using red, black and green glass beads to represent the national collective consciousness of our people and cowry shells to exemplify wealth. Butterflies were added in memory of Brother Blue (Hugh Morgan) and to symbolize the transition between presidents. The esteemed switch received its distinguished finishing touches from Nashid Ali of Philadelphia, PA, who jeweled NABS brass acronym and logo.

The NABS Pnabscowtailswitchresidential Cowtail Switch is one-of-a-kind and considered high ceremonial regalia. It will be exhibited and stored at the National Great Black and Wax Museum in Baltimore, MD. Illustrious yet functional, the President will carry the switch during special occasions, for it symbolizes:

Honor: Honoring the incoming President and giving him/her the authority to preside over of the NABS’ Board, and to represent the organization, as witnessed and recognized by the membership of NABS.

Respect: Honoring the collective works and continuing efforts of the NABS association family, including contributions by the elders and ancestors.

Wisdom: Using African/Universal wisdom to guide and uplift our youth. “To know is good. To learn is better. To teach and share is best of all.”

Remembrance: Remembering our ancestors: “The ancestors are alive as long as we remember to tell their stories.

It is a great honor to be the bearer of the National Association of Black Storytellers’ Presidential Cowtail Switch.

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queenheadinwhiteKaren “Queen Nur” Abdul-Malik is the 14th President of the National Association of Black Storytellers, Inc. and a lauded National Storyteller, Teacher Artist and Cultural Worker with a Masters in Arts in Cultural Sustainability from Goucher College. She is the winner of MidAtlantic Artists-As-Catalyst Awards, NSN Brimstone Grant, and featured in the book Legendary Locals of Willingboro.   She is the founder and executive director of In FACT, Inc. , a cultural sustainability organization.

Resources: Cowtail Switch and Other Stories by Harold Courlander; Business Daily; Smithsonian Institute Collections; Look for Me In the World Wind by Makeda Kemit; The Yoruba Religious Concepts.

Living the Kwanzaa Principles Year-Round

 Kwanzaa kinara--Virgin Islands

Imani (Faith): To believe with all our hearts in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

Black people have always leaned on their faith when faced with the horrific conditions of enslavement, Jim Crow, and the Red Summer of 1919.  The Red Summer took place when Black soldiers returned home from their tour of duty after World War I.   It was very ironic that Black soldiers fought and died for a country that denied them basic human rights. Many times they were subjected to segregated and inhumane conditions while serving in the United States military.

After their exposure to other cultures in the world and experiencing the horrors of war, Black soldiers returned home as different people. They wanted equal treatment under the law and the same rights as all other Americans.  Many Black soldiers were lynched. Sometimes these lynchings were even committed while they were still wearing their uniforms. Racist White people wanted to protect the idea of “white privilege”. Whites killed so many black soldiers upon their return home that it was called the “Red Summer”.

Our faith gave us courage and hope that things would get better over time. The Civil Rights Movement, as well as many of our schools and colleges were all birthed in the Black church. We are now standing on the faith of our ancestors who fought for us to have a better life. Because of that faith, President Barack Obama is the first African-American President of the United States. He now resides in the White House which our enslaved ancestors helped to build. Now that’s faith!

Kuumba (Creativity): To always do as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

I was asked by the Sunday School Superintendent of my church to develop and chair a Black history program for the students. Having always been involved with the arts, I was happy to be asked to create the program. I developed the program with two purposes in mind: 1. To share African American history through stories, poems and songs and 2. To help build the self-esteem of the children.

One of the parents shared with me that her son was mentally challenged and would not be able to participate on the program. Sharing. with the mother that I would work with each child individually, I told her I would not remove him from the program because I knew he could do it. She said that she would also work with him at home. As we prepared for the program, I treated him just like the rest of the children. Well the day arrived and all of the children’s presentations were wonderful. The children took to the stage to share their poems or songs. The concerned mother’s son recited his poem from memory. She was so proud and thanked me for keeping him in the program.

Over the years other parents have shared concerns about their children’s abilities. My philosophy is always the same. I don’t focus on what they can’t do. I know I will find some way to help the children to accomplish their goals. I thank God for giving me the opportunity to witness the children’s self-esteem spread wings and take flight. I have watched them soar like eagles into adulthood. Creativity is wonderful!

Kay L. Merrill

Kay L. Merrill

 

Kay L. Merrill is a member of the Griot’s Circle of Maryland, the National Association of Black Storytellers, the Arena Players , NAACP and the National Action Network  Ms. Merrill is a former member of the NABS Board of Directors, having recently served as the board’s secretary. She is also an actress, writer, activist and storyteller. The Official Griot for the Baltimore City Branch of the NAACP,  Kay L. Merrill was named as  Baltimore’s own Madame C. J. Walker and has been a regular guest storyteller on the  Larry Young  Radio Show and  the Anthony McCarthy Radio Show.

 

Youngest Featured Teller Ever

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Onam Lansana at age 15 is the youngest Featured Teller in the 32 year history of the NABS “In The Tradition…” Festival & Conference. No stranger to the national performance stage, Onam is a member of the Rebirth Poetry Ensemble, a Chicago based teen poetry group that competed in the HBO famed Brave New Voices.

You could say that Onam has performance in his blood. He is the son of Quraysh Ali Lansana, nationally-recognized poet and published author, and Emily Hooper Lansana, one half of the dynamic storytelling duo, In The Spirit. Check out our interview with Onam to learn more about this rising young talent.

What does it mean to you to be a Featured Teller at the NABS “In The Tradition…” Festival & Conference?

It means that I am developing into a strong storyteller. My dream when I was just a little kid coming to the NABS conference has come true a lot earlier than I thought it would and I am thankful and grateful for the opportunity to be able to perform.

How did you get started performing?

I started performing because I wanted to get out of the house. I followed my mom to every show and wanted to try it myself. I started storytelling with the Ase youth group when I was six years old.

What do you see as the difference between a storytelling vs. spoken word artist?

The only difference to me is the fact that as a spoken word artist I have every word planned out but as a storyteller I am less focused on the words and more focused on ideas. In both types of performance I am trying to tell a story. I am working to develop many ways of making stories come to life.

What advice would you give the NABS on how to recruit more youth to be active in the organization?

My advice to NABS to have more youth involved is to let the leadership transition so young people see people they can easily relate to in positions of impact and they can see a goal to reach toward. Also we should have more youth performing throughout the conference not just on the Saturday conference.

What is your most memorable performance and why?

My most memorable performance was performing at the Cadillac Palace Theater in downtown Chicago. This was most memorable to me because it was an opportunity that I have been working toward for most of my life and I performed a poem that meant the world to me because it honored a friend.

 

~TAHIRA

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TahiraPhoto Credit: I Creatively Understand Photography
TAHIRA’s name is legally spelled with all capital letters to serve as a reminder that a storyteller has a HUGE responsibility to the community. TAHIRA, a Featured Teller for the 2014 National Association of Black Storytellers, Inc. “In The Tradition” Festival & Conference, she is also the current treasurer and past president of Keepers Of The Culture, Inc., a NABS affiliate. To find out more about TAHIRA visit her website at www.TAHIRAproductions.com

TALK THAT TALK – The Bible of Black Storytelling

This article expandTalk That Talks on Question #15 from the NABS Storytelling Board Game, created by the organizational co-founder, Mama Linda Goss. The answer to that particular question, (“What book is considered the bible of blackstorytelling?”):   Talk That Talk: An Anthology of African-American Storytelling edited by Linda Goss and Marian E. Barnes, (Simon & Schuster, 1989). Not only is Talk That Talk a collection of stories, tales, sermons, poetry and rhymes as told by African Americans, but the work defines the concept of “Blackstorytelling”*, placing it in an historical context. The commentaries following each section support the concept that “blackstorytelling” does not exist in a vacuum, but is part of our cultural collective experience. Mama Linda acknowledges that Talk That Talk was influenced by four previous publications: Book of Negro Folklore by Langston Hughes and Arna Bontemps, Mules and Men by Zora Neale Hurston, Black Fire by Amiri Baraka and The New Negro by Alain Locke.

In looking for stories in the pre-Google Internet search days, many storytellers consulted the reference books: A to Zoo: Subject Access to Children’s Picture Books by Carolyn and John Lima (numerous editions) and The Storyteller’s Sourcebook by Margaret Read MacDonald (1st and 2nd editions). While both of the books were very resourceful, they were limited in their listings of African and African American stories. Thus, African American storytellers began to consult and collect works by many of these authors: Harold Courlander (A Treasury of Afro-American Folklore; A Treasury of African Folklore; Fire on the Mountain; Cow-tail Switch); Augusta Baker and Ellin Greene (Storytelling: Art and Technique); Virginia Hamilton (A Ring of Tricksters; When Birds Could Sing; Herstories; The People Could Fly; Many Thousand Gone); Zora Neale Hurston (Mules and Men; Go Gator and Muddy the Water; Every Tongue Got to Confess); Roger D. Abrahams (Afro-American Folktales, African Folktales); Daryl Cumber Dance (Shucking and Jiving: Folklore from Contemporary Black Americans; Honey Hush: An Anthology of Black Women’s Humor; From My People: 400 Years of African American Folklore); Julius Lester (This Strange New Feeling; To Be A Slave; Long Journey Home; Black Folktales; Tales of Uncle Remus; Knee-High Man); William J. Faulkner (The Days When the Animals Talked); Bessie Jones and Bess Lomax Hawes (Step it Down: Plays, Songs and Stories from the Afro-American Heritage); Jackie Torrence (Jackie Tales); Nelson Mandela (Nelson Mandela’s Favorite African Folktales); Ashley Bryan (Beat the Story Drum, Pum-Pum; Lion and the Ostrich Chicks; Ox of the Wonderful Horns and other African Folktales).

We cannot overlook the contributions made by NABS, Inc. and its members to the literature of storytelling. In 1995 Linda Goss and Clay Goss edited Jump Up and Say! A Collection of Black Storytelling, and in 2006 Sayin’ Somethin’: Stories from the National Association of Black Storytellers edited by Linda Goss, DylanPritchett and Caroliese Frink Reed, was published by the Association. Our roster of members who publish and promote “blackstorytelling” include Karima Amin, Baba Jamal Koram, Rex Ellis, Linda Goss, Eleanora Tate, Larry Coleman, Mary Carter Smith, Rita Cox, Jackie Torrence, Len Cabral, Bobby Norfolk, David Anderson, Lyn Ford, Diane Williams, Willa Brigham, Linda Cousins-Newton, Gladys Marie-Fry, Temujin, Janice Curtis Greene, Mitch Capel, Charlotte Blake-Alston, Dylan Pritchett , Alice McGill, Brother Blue, Paul Keens-Douglas and many others. NABS, the authentic voice of “blackstorytelling” , continues to raise the bar in “spreading the word” through print and media sources.

My experience as a librarian and commitment to storytelling led me to establish The Storytelling Resource Center as part of Zawadi Books, 2460 Main Street, Buffalo, NY. This Center holds approximately 1,200 books by and about storytelling and storytellers including history and techniques. Many of the books referred to in this article are from that collection. My mission is to support local storytellers as they define and refine the art of storytelling by giving access to resources. Talk That Talk, the bible of Black Storytelling, is a step on that journey.

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* “Blackstorytelling” has been written as one word in some of NABS historical archives and more recently by elder storyteller, Dr.  David “Sankofa” Anderson to show that this is one entity.  According to NABS member, Caroliese Frink Reed: “The distinction between Blackstorytelling (in America) and other storytelling traditions, is that it was and is continually being forged, honed and shaped by the conditions that brought it forth.” (from “The African Oral Traditions” by Caroliese Frink Reed in SAYIN’ SOMETHIN’ , edited by Linda Goss, Dylan Pritchett and Caroliese Frink Reed, NABS, 2006)

–Sharon Jordan Holley

 

Sharon Jordan Holley

Sharon Jordan Holley is a retired librarian and storyteller living in Buffalo, NY.  She is a co-founder of Tradition Keepers: Black Storytellers of Western New York and a lifetime member of NABS.  She is also a recipient of the Zora Neale Hurston  Award.

Photo Credit: Powellful Creations

Where is the Storyteller’s Voice in The Protest for Justice For Mike Brown?

Ferguson reacts to shooting of Michael Brown

Photo Credit:  Christian Gooden—St. Louis Post-Dispatch/Polaris

I know I am not alone in my feeling of angst and rage over the death of Michael Brown , yet another unarmed Black male slaughtered.  I also knew I was not alone as I searched and prayed and prayed and searched for the ONE THING I could do.

Over and over I tried to come up with something.  What is there  for me to do as an African?  What is there  for me to do as a storyteller?

Some have taken to the streets to express their anger and frustration.  Some are organizing and planning.   Where are the storytellers in this crisis?

I reached out to the storytellers’ storyteller,  my mentor, Baba Jamal Koram.   After talking to Baba I felt more settled.  I began to get some inkling of an idea of what story to tell. After talking to my other mentor, the one many of us call “the storyteller’s scholar”, Caroliese Frink Reed,  the idea was fleshed out some more, but not fully enough to articulate to anyone.

Then I went and read my internal artistic mission statement.

“Words are how I metabolize life. What is produced from that metabolism is stories, songs, and poetry that help me make sense out the senseless, heal from unimaginable pain, and love again and again and again. The sharing of those stories, songs and poetry helps my audience do the same.” 

To be a part of the healing around Mike Brown’s death and the thousands upon thousands of others, I do not know if I have to create a new story or song or poem.  I do not know if it is an old story or song or poem. I DO know my work to do is in words.

During the protests and outcry after the death of Trayvon Martin ,  I told an old story to middle school students in Philadelphia.  I set up the story by saying, “The story I am about to tell you is a hard story to tell. It is a difficult story to tell. You will find it hard to understand. You may remark ‘Things were crazy in the olden days!’ This is a story about four 18-year-old teenagers who risked arrest, assault and even their very lives on Feb. 1, 1960, when they made the choice to sit at a snack bar.”

Immediately, I could hear rumblings from the youth in the audience confirming for me that they thought the story was hard to believe. I then said, “Thirty years from now you will be about my age; and you will have to explain to some young people how a 17-year- old could be shot and killed near his home while talking on a phone to his friend and after simply buying Skittles and Arizona ice tea.”

What I heard next was a mixture of shock, understanding and disbelief all rolled together.  But I knew I had them!

And I knew this auditorium full of middle school students were ripe and ready to not only hear the story of the Greensboro Four, but now they could also probably see themselves at the counter.  Now they could possibly see themselves in the street protesting inequality not just then, but now.

I concluded the story by saying that any meaningful change that has ever happened in the world has happened when young people were organized and galvanized to fight for change.

I then sang the words of freedom fighter, Ella Baker, “I believe young people come first. They have the courage where we fail.”

Yeah, I do not know what has to come forth from my mouth at this time for this healing, but I do know that something will come. What say you, storyteller?

–TAHIRA

 

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Tahira
TAHIRA’s name is legally spelled with all capital letters to serve as a reminder that a storyteller has a HUGE responsibility to the community. TAHIRA, a Featured Teller for the 2014 National Association of Black Storytellers, Inc. “In The Tradition” Festival & Conference, she is also the current treasurer and past president of Keepers Of The Culture, Inc., a NABS affiliate. To find out more about TAHIRA visit her website at www.TAHIRAproductions.com