NYU Black Renaissance Noire Fall 2015 Volume 15.2 - Page 140

We analyzed the metaphors about our awakening from centuries of self-ignorance, talked about the dense residue of slavery, how it operates to keep the status quo of the Southern plantation alive, well into the twentieth century. The Black Power movement turned us into weapons of mass revelations, atomic bombs of thought blew up negative stereotypes, which still are the prison walls that the harrowing experience of chattel slavery erected around the black psyche. We were the astronauts of black thought sojourning to worlds of imagination and dreams of freedom. When reciting poems, our style of speech was a simulation of John Coltrane’s soprano saxophone solos; our sound bore waves of images. Ours was the telling of the story in words and images, which necessarily reminded black folks of themselves and their weary existence in this perilous, racist nation. 138 When I was a child growing up in Watts, it was a community of mostly black folk who had migrated from the South, hoping to avail themselves of the opportunities they believed existed in the “Promised Land” of the west coast. During that time, the black masses mostly dwelled in areas east of the Harbor freeway. My father who was a Baptist preacher conducted revivals in Watts. When he took us to a church that was south of Imperial Ave it was like crossing the border into another country. It was as if the rural South had been transplanted to the urban west coast. Instead of asphalt streets and concrete sidewalks there were dirt roads and narrow paths through the verdant terrain. There were acres of fenced off pastures where horses and cows grazed. There were huge fields, which were the remnants of the farms the us government confiscated from the Japanese during World War II. Traveling from greater Los Angeles to this transplanted South was akin to going into a wormhole and exiting into a different time and space. k Kamau Daoud (left), Eric Priestley (center), and Ojenke (right). As I became a man, I realized Watts was the wasteland of metropolitan Los Angeles, the urban slave quarters where the progeny of the African slaves were warehoused like the displaced people in a refugee camp. l.a. had a weird housing covenant that restricted black folk to a narrow section of Los Angeles. The Harbor freeway was the western wall of the economic prison black people were confined to. A black poet, Ahmos Zu-Bolton, who visited the workshop once, read a poem which contained the line, “The further west you went, the negroes got lighter.” That line was an accurate description of l.a. demographics. Watts is located on the south east edge of Los Angeles. The further east you go, until Alameda Street, the negroes got darker. In 1965 light skinned black people tended to live on the “Westside.” This was a Manichean world, where the closer to white folk you could get, the better off you were. Nadine Gordimer, the Nobel Prize winning novelist from South Africa, visited l.a. and commented that the city of angels was more of an apartheid than her native land. The Watts Writers Workshop wedded light skinned black folk to their darker skinned brothers and sisters. Before 1965, many light skinned folk rarely came “down” to Watts; to these well educated and economically successful black folk, Watts was too country and too impoverished. The prolific poet K. Curtis Lyle, for example, could certainly have passed the “brown paper bag test.” He grew up on the Westside. The workshop was a cocoon that united his spirit and intellect, which found expression in his melodical poems. If he had not come to the Eastside, he might have continued writing about daffodils instead of down-home-soulful poems like his classical piece, “Harmonize My Black Mule.” Witnessing the amazing transformation of people as they read/spoke their own original poetry was most enlightening. When K. Curtis Lyle first wandered into the poets’ circle, he rambled down poems about corny stuff. The barrage of criticism the circle leveled on Curtis was overwhelming; keeping his composure under this onslaught of ridicule about his “Lord Fauntleroy” poetry was no easy feat. Weathering the aggressive criticism of the poet’s circle, Curtis went home and wrote a poem that was so powerful that everybody had to give him five on the black hand side.