NYU Black Renaissance Noire NYU Black Renaissance Noire V. 16.1 - Page 104

102 In 1997, Dent published Southern Journey: A Return to the Southern Civil Right Movement. In preparing this book he drew on a lifetime of contacts in the Movement, playing the personal and political changes of history in a version of the quintessential American epic: the road trip (echoing earlier road narratives by black writers returning to the South, John A. Williams’ 1964 This Is My Country Too and Albert Murray’s 1971 South to a Very Old Place). Even as he revisited many communities to which his work had taken him two decades before, Dent’s goal was not personal revelation but the exposure of ongoing political, social, and economic inequalities in the southern United States, inequalities that endured beyond the very real but limited successes of the “cinematic” Civil Rights Movement. Dent began his 1991 journey in Greensboro, North Carolina, site of the first lunch counter sit-ins by North Carolina a & t students on February 1, 1960. Like all epics, Dent’s story begins in a significant middle. Greensboro, he writes, “presents an ideal geographic bridge between the upper South and the lower South, and a historical bridge between the earlier legal and individual forms of protest against racial segregation, and the more activist mass-movement phase.” The local immediacy of his first-person account is combined with a sense of global connections, as he scans the airwaves, driving west on Interstate 85 from Durham: “Lord knows how this trip will work out. I’m listening to the reports of the bombing of Baghdad, Iraq, by the u.s. Air Force on Cable News Network radio. It seems as if the u.s. government has jumped headfirst into war in the Persian Gulf.” The opening salvos of Desert Storm are immediately juxtaposed with the postmodern mosaic of city and country, exurbia and agro-business, industry and consumer outlets built — like New Orleans’ Superdome — atop the ruins of earlier and now almost obliterated social formations. The environment itself, an historical palimpsest, is a propulsive force, and Dent is “propelled along faster than I want to drive; if I slow down, I’ll be run off the road. I’m in the midst of the industrial South, not the sleepy South: textile mills, tobacco factories, clothing outlets, and all the related products.” “GLENDORA, MS, JANUARY 2015” PHOTOGRAPHS BY LADY PEREZ. LARGE FORMAT ANALOG TO 35MM DIGITAL TRANSFER. This group, which called itself Umbra, likewise sought to politicize culture rather than aestheticize politics, and took an active interest in social experimentation rather than clichéd agitprop. Hired by Thurgood Marshall to work as public-relations director for the naacp’s Legal Defense Fund, Dent then began a slow return to his southern origins, but also toward a future form of cultural activism in a very different context than the Lower East Side. In 1982 Dent recalled, “Coming back to the south, after those experiences, brought me back to New Orleans with an extremely radical perspective toward what should happen in New Orleans and with the Free Southern Theater, and what kinds of exposures were absolutely necessary if some kind of Black cultural movement were going to begin in New Orleans and be relevant. Had I not had the Umbra experience, I couldn’t have had anything to offer. I think of it as planting seeds.”