NYU Black Renaissance Noire NYU Black Renaissance Noire V. 16.1 - Page 109

That night we were the only guests in Clarksdale’s Riverfront Hotel, purchased in the 1940’s by the grandmother of the current owner, Zee Ratliff, from the black physician who had run it as the g.t. Thomas Afro-American Hospital. This was the place where blues queen Bessie Smith had died. We slept in the room favored by Muddy Waters on his many stays there, when there was no other accommodation for black performers traveling the Delta. I thought of a guitar strap made of chain. All night long the building dipped and rose like a ship, rocking in that wind, and there were thick quilts against the chill. n note The quotation from Albert Murray is from South to a Very Old Place (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1971), p. 46. The Robert Farris Thompson quote can be found in Flash of the Spirit: African and Afro- American Art & Philosophy (New York: Vintage, 1984), p. 134. Tom Dent’s description of driving from Durham to Greensboro is taken from Southern Journey: A Return to the Civil Rights Movement (New York: William Morrow, 1997), pp. 5-6. The full audio interview with Dent, conducted in Houston on Feb. 15, 1982 with fellow Umbra veterans David Henderson and Lorenzo Thomas, can be found in the Tom Dent Papers, 1861-1998, Amistad Research Center, Series 4, Sub-series 5, Box 181, items 6-7. For navigating Dent’s unpublished material in the Amistad Research Center, many thanks to Christopher Harter, the Center’s director of library and reference services, and to Chianta Dorsey, reference archivist. Support for the research and writing of this article was provided by the Research Foundation, The City University of New York, and CUNY’s Professional Staff Congress, with special thanks to Richard Markgraf, the PSC- CUNY Research Program administrator. Special thanks to Lady Perez, photographer and co-pilot. BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE Till, I said over and over again, working the different permutations of that name, playing their changes in my mouth. To cultivate, as Tom Dent had said, some of that hidden anger as one tills a field, turning over the black earth. Until something is done beyond silence, which is exactly the dream deferred that Dent had witnessed on his southern journey, featureless exurbia and agro-industry, stripped of voices or stories, filled with the distant echoes of smart bombs broadcast through his car radio. I thought of his “image of a boat. A traveling boat, which is moving territorially & chronologically. Or driving. River road journey. The locked in history.” Till we meet again, I told that ghost, and broke open the lock. Standing witness to that palpable absence, the only real color around us was the bright green of moss growing on the old road as it crossed the bridge, closed to traffic, a promise of the spring flush and white summer heat that was still months away. I smoked a cigarette while Lady shot slowly, with blue fingers. It wasn’t just the cold that made us shiver there, against the wind. 107 It was a short drive to the church. From the parking lot it was maybe thirty yards to the bridge, two trestle spans, deeply rusted and overgrown with brush, as whip-thin and brittle as barbed wire. The flat, brown water of the Black Bayou spread out on either side, moss-draped cypresses almost indistinguishable from their own reflections. Till’s body had drawn the seventy pound ventilator fan through that water, stubbornly dragging itself out to the main channel of the Tallahatchie. There it surfaced, exposed itself, and was brought home to Chicago.