Friday, December 20, 2013

Historic Harlem On My Mind..Part 3 - John Edward Bruce, Black Nationalist

Besides having three first names, John Edward Bruce was a Harlem resident who was a major figure in the Marcus Garvey’s movement. Born into slavery in 1856, Bruce, until his death in 1924, was a prolific writer for over one hundred newspapers, author of poetry, plays, short stories and a novel. Before joining forces with Marcus Garvey and his race first ideology, Bruce was a tireless advocate for racial inclusion. In this role, he criticized the Republican party (of which he supported) to take an aggressive stand against lynching, political disfranchisement and Jim Crow segregation. In this effort, Bruce joined various organizations including the Afro-American League, the Afro-American Council, the American Negro Academy and the Niagara Movement. Bruce realized that an oppressed people in a racist society had limited means to seek equality. It is for this reason that while he at times argued for militant retaliation against white oppressors, he preferred to fight racism intellectually. Bruce believed that African people had knowledge of greatness that had been denied them via racist textbooks. He devoted his life to exposing to a doubting world the achievements of African people in medicine, wars, inventions, philosophy and other areas. He took pride when King Tut’s tomb was revealed by archeologists because it validated the genius of Africans and it boldly informed the world that Egyptians were Africans and not sun tanned Europeans. 

Bruce was active in the lyceum movement to teach African studies in libraries and meeting halls to offset the Eurocentric teaching of public school education. It was in this vein to teach true history that Bruce and Arthur Schomburg organized in Yonkers in 1911 the Negro Society For Historical Research which collected pamphlets, provided lectures, and disseminated knowledge of the African diaspora. Although this effort was quickly supplanted in 1915 by the better organized and financed Association for the Study of Negro Life and History which was established  by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, a Harvard Ph.D, Bruce supported his competitor and eagerly recommended Woodson’s Journal of Negro History to his followers. Although he initially did not embrace Marcus Garvey when he arrived in New York in 1916, Bruce decided on a cold October 1919 night after hearing the Jamaican speak that Garvey offered the best solution to America’s race problem. Once, he considered America the home of African people, Bruce now agreed with Garvey that the black person’s destiny resided in emigration to the motherland. “THINK BLACK” he urged readers of the Negro World “for every white man in this country is thinking white.” 

Throughout the decades, Bruce had corresponded with pan-Africanists in Nigeria, the Gold Coast (Ghana), Liberia and Sierre Leone. In this capacity, he was instrumental in introducing Garvey to influential players on the continent. Bruce’ s writings in the Negro World and the Negro Daily Times help also to spread the ideas of Garveyism throughout the United States, the Caribbean, Africa and Central America. A grateful Garvey knighted Bruce as Duke of Uganda in the Universal Negro Improvement Association’s royalty. Bruce diligently sought to aid the Garvey movement’s effort at establishing trade relations between the UNIA and Liberia by entertaining in his Harlem homes ( 260 West 136th Street, 65 West 134th Street and 2170 Madison Avenue) African dignitaries. 

Bruce’s funeral in 1924 attracted thousands in two services and he was widely eulogized throughout the diaspora. His close friend Arthur Schomburg pin-pointed Bruce’s significant role as a race first model: Bruce, he noted, was one of those “who think and act and sleep NEGRO.” This is a fitting description of a man who vigorously advocated that the history of African people needed to be disseminated in the classroom. Bruce greatest legacy is that universities and colleges not only in the United States but in many nations including Italy, France, Germany and Japan have curriculums devoted to the literature, culture and history of Africans wherever they have resided. 

William Seraile, Ph.D
Source: William Seraile, Bruce Grit: The Black Nationalist Writings of John Edward Bruce

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Harlem's Heritage: Lindy Hop and Swing Dance Frankie Manning - and His Influences Harlem Roots World Impact

Culture...Dance...Jazz....Lindy Hop...SAVOY....Swing!  These are the lively rhythms and sounds of Harlem that came alive during the Harlem Renaissance.  This was especially true at Harlem's famed Savoy Ballroom that was on West 140th Street and Lenox Avenue.

It was at this landmark venue where a new dance called the Lindy Hop was perfected, and one of its innovators groomed this dance to new heights.  His name?  Frankie Manning.  Such was his influence and vision that in May of 2014 there will be an international celebration in New York City and Harlem celebrating this Lindy Hop Legend.

Who is Frankie Manning?

Frankie Manning came to Harlem as a child by means of the great migration from Florida.  In the early 1930's, while in his teens, Frankie and his friends loved dancing to the big band music of the day. As he would say,  "I frequented the Alhambra ballroom;  next was the Renaissance ballroom, which was like "high school". When you got really good you got to enter the Savoy Ballroom, which was like college". Or the creme de la creme.

Frankie was already an avid dancer on the floor of the Savoy Ballroom when Whitey (Herbert White) recruited him to his elite troupe of Whitey's Lindy Hoppers.  It was there that he propelled partners through the air to the swinging sounds of Chick Webb, Duke Ellington, Count Basie and other jazz/swing masters. 
Frankie went from the Savoy Ballroom to Broadway and Hollywood, enjoying a fantastic career as an inspirational teacher and choreographer of Harlem’s world famous dance the Lindy hop.  He also led the way in giving the Lindy hop professional expression while thrilling audiences. 

Read more about Frankie Manning on the following links -

Because of the Savoy Ballroom Frankie Manning and others became masters to an American art form that is still danced and cherished worldwide.  Lindy Hop, Jitterbug Jive, Swing Dancing, Savoy Style: All of these have their roots in Harlem. It's an exciting culture worth revisiting.

The Harlem Swing Dance Society (T.H.S.D.S.) has the mission of promoting and preserving this cultural and American dance art form in Harlem.  They have teamed with Harlem One Stop to have the Harlem community look back at their exciting dance history. We feel it is vital as portions of this exciting  event will be in the area in May 2014, and in this series you will learn about Harlem's signature dance.  We will be exploring it's roots and gradual world impact thru the lives of many. 

You'll also how Frankie Manning influenced others...and was influenced himself.

There are many stories out there, so we implore you to talk to relatives and friends about the Lindy Hop....Jitterbug Jive....Swing Dancing...and especially about the Savoy Ballroom.  Harlem is a rich treasure trove of this history, and there are many still alive who can tell their experiences first hand in our midst.

To see the importance of having dialogue note the following story

 A "Hidden" Harlem Treasure and Lindy Hop Legend

Seated left to right Ronald Jones, Beatrice Pierce, and Angela Pierce
Beatrice Pierce and her partner John "Smitty" Smith in 1953

Late in September 2013 Ronald Jones was talking at his job about his love for Lindy Hop and swing dancing...and an upcoming event having to do with Harvest Moon Ball Winners.  Angela Pierce overheard and got in the conversation. She stated "I knew my aunt won first place in 'something'" but she wasn't sure what. Immediately she called her, and was floored to find out that Beatrice Pierce was a 1953 Champion of the famed New York City Harvest Moon Ball Dance contest at Madison Square Garden!  Due to this remarkable find within 3 weeks she was honored at The Harvest Moon Ball Swing Dance at the Joseph P Kennedy Center on October 19th given by T.H.S.D.S..

Beatrice came to Harlem in 1944 as a dancing teenager, and residing at 557 Lenox Ave.  She was 20 years old when she started going to the Savoy and became part of a group Big Nick (Delma Nicholson) got together in the ballroom (she was part of their 400 club).  In 1953 Mr. Charles Buchanan (Savoy Manager) told her and her partner John Smith (Smitty) to "Go  and bring back 1st prize" in The Daily News Harvest Moon Ball contest at Madison Square Garden - and they did!

When T.H.S.D.S. met Ms. Pierce (and saw her cherished Savoy collection) she was asked did she ever think anyone would be interested in her historic accomplishment anymore. "No I didn't; I am so happy that other people are still dancing the Lindy Hop and Swing like we did at the Savoy!".  Beatrice would like to see Harlem, especially it's youth, embrace this art form once again. 

So would we.

The Harlem Swing Dance Society

Allison Jones
The Harlem Swing Dance Society                                                   
for Harlem One Stop

Look forward to reading Part 2 of this series titled "The Beginnings: Influences and Innovators 1920's -1930's" in January 2014


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