NYU Black Renaissance Noire Winter 2014 - Page 110

In 1968 Abraham Chapman released Black Voices. This anthology of black literature would become a very popular book in the curriculum of newly created black studies programs. In Black Voices, Chapman includes 9 poems by Brown. Here we find the poems “Southern Cop” and “The Ballad of Joe Meek” two poems in which police violence is the central theme. In 2014 these poems seem to echo the sad news we continue to hear across the country in which incidents take place between police and black youth. At the same time it illustrates that Brown’s work remains timely and extremely important. 108 Sterling Brown was one of several elders who changed my life between 1969 and 1984. The others were Stephen Henderson, C.L.R. James, Arthur P. Davis and Leon Damas. There are a few memorable moments during my student days at Howard that involved Brown. One took place when I was selling copies of The Black Collegian magazine. I remember going into Brown’s third floor office in Founders Library and asking if he wanted a copy. Brown purchased 4 issues. It would be much later that I realized he was helping me out- he was being supportive. He was placing money in my pocket. This small gesture speaks loudly of a generation of black men who are in fact pillars of their community. I also liked Brown’s style. He was a poet who wore a jacket and tie. Like Leon Damas — one of the founders of the Negritude Movement — these men dressed the part of intellectuals. They were men of letters. How they smoked a pipe or cigarette was often done with a jazz musician’s cool. Think of Miles or Lester Young. Think of Brown’s friendship with Duke Ellington. It was Brown’s pipe that in May 1972 was the reason for Steve Jones’ and my visit to Brown’s Northeast home. Jones who resided next door to me in Cook Hall dormitory was close to Margaret Burroughs who ran the DuSable Museum in Chicago. Burroughs instructed Jones to visit Brown to see if he might donate something to her museum. In the early ‘70s I was working in the African American Studies Reading Room and had access to video tape equipment. On May 4 and 14, 1972 (not 1978 as mentioned in Robert O’Meally annotated bibliography) I recorded Brown. These early recordings of Brown and the documenting of his life would have a significant impact on my mentor Stephen Henderson. Henderson, who had taught at Morehouse in Atlanta and had also been connected with the Institute of the Black World, came to Howard around 1970. He joined the Department of Afro-American Studies and taught two courses that I took, “Blues, Soul and Black Identity” and “Problems of the Black Aesthetic.” Henderson had just published his groundbreaking anthology Understanding The New Black Poetry and had a deep respect for and interest in Brown’s work because of its connection to the blues. Henderson’s essay “The Heavy Blues of Sterling Brown: A Study of Craft and Tradition” is included in After Winter: The Art and Life of Sterling A. Brown edited by John Edgar Tidwell and Steven C. Tracy. Upon accepting the directorship of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at Howard in 1973, Henderson encouraged a more systematic study and documentation of Sterling Brown’s life. This consisted of Brown coming out of retirement and becoming the Senior Research Associate at the Institute. I was chosen to be the Junior Research Associate. From 1973 to 1974 I would video tape a number of Brown’s readings, lectures and interviews.