The “Patriots of African Descent” monument was erected in 1993 and is the nation’s only commemoration on federal property that pays tribute to those African patriots who served in the founding of our nation.
The Valley Forge Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. erected the monument in 1993 at Valley Forge National Park, and will mark the 20th anniversary with the attendance of it’s creators: artist Cal Massey and sculptor Phil Sumpter — both of whom are in their 80s.
The monument is a granite block with carved text and a bronze bas-relief that depicts three soldiers of African descent, one facing left, one facing right, and one in the middle facing straight ahead.
On the back of the monument reads the words: “In Honor of the patriots of African descent who served, suffered and sacrificed during the Valley Forge Encampment 1777-1778.”
There is also a quote by Charles L. Blockson, the founder of the Blockson Collection of African-American historical documents at Temple University: “Throughout these historic and hallowed campsites were courageous Black Patriots who participated in our nation’s bitter fight for independence.”
It was Blockson’s 1975 book, “Pennsylvania’s Black History,” that inspired chapter founding member, Martha Russell, to form the chapter in 1991 to raise awareness of the service of African Americans in the American Revolution. Blockson, who grew up in Norristown, participated in a Boy Scout march to Valley Forge during the 1940s and was disappointed to find no historical markers about African Americans.
Russell initiated meetings between suburban-based Delta Sigma Theta members and Valley Forge National Historical Park in 1990 to propose a monument to African Americans in the Revolution.
Immediately following the chartering, the chapter righted a historical wrong at the Valley Forge National Historical Park, and in February 1992 the chapter sponsored the African American Patriots Day at Valley Forge. The monument project was guided by an advisory council of community leaders formed in March 1992 with Blockson as honorary chairperson.
Since the monument’s unveiling in 1993, the statue aided in educating visitors of Valley Forge about the diverse cultures that contributed to the nation’s birth.
“What makes the Valley Forge Alumnae Chapter unique in its own right is its erecting of the ‘Patriots of African Descent’ monument,” noted Sherry Wilson Butler, chapter president. “The site erected in 1993 in the Valley Forge Park is the only monument built on federal ground in the United States paying tribute to the thousands of men of African descent who served in the Revolutionary War. Now, with the inclusion of its ‘Military Milestones’ project the chapter will recognize and honor today’s military men and women returning home from duty. An annual wreath laying ceremony and program salutes our Patriot ancestors, as well as current military service men and women.”
The Valley Forge Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. will host its 20th Anniversary celebration of the “Patriots of African Descent” monument on Saturday, May 18 at 10 a.m. with a wreath laying ceremony that will recognize past and present military heroes in the name of our “Patriots of African Descent.
The wreath laying ceremony is free to the public in front of the monument in Valley Forge National Historical Park, 1400 North Outer Line Drive, King of Prussia, Pa. For travel information, visit http://www.nps.gov/vafo/. Additional information about the Valley Forge Alumnae Chapter can be found on their website dstvalleyforge.org.
In 2005, Dave Chapelle, one of the most popular and successful television comics at the time, defaulted on a $55 million Comedy Central contract. He later explained his decision as a response to the discomfort he felt as an African-American performer whose comedy depended on bringing offensive stereotypes to dramatic life.
In his final sketch — the straw that broke the camels back — Chapelle appeared as a racial pixie, a tiny minstrel performer in full blackface, wearing a bellhops uniform while dancing to banjo music. Though Chapelle was signifying on offensive stereotypes, using them to explore and critique societal representations of African Americans, he felt he had crossed the line into the territory of minstrelsy.
“Darkest America: Black Minstrelsy from Slavery to Hip-Hop” (W.W. Norton & Company; $26.95) is the first book devoted exclusively to the history and lasting influence of Black minstrels. Yuval Taylor, co-author of “Faking It: The Quest for Authenticity in Popular Music,” and Jake Austen, the editor of Rocktober magazine, explore the complex legacy of the African-American minstrel tradition. They argue that Black performers have always had an ambiguous and very relationship to the form, embracing, signifying on, or attacking it. Despite being based on slanderous stereotypes, the innovator performances of the menstrual stage ultimately laid the foundation for American comedy, song and dance. This riveting book enumerates the ways minstrel performances of the past continue to exert a profound and often liberating influence on African-American performers in the present day.
To set the foundation, the authors examine the popularity of the minstrel form and its heyday, from the 1850s to the 1890s. The shows were popular with both white and Black audiences, and Black minstrel shows were often more commercially successful than those political and buy a white cast. Although it has often been posited that African-American minstrel shows a bald as a direct response to the requirements of white audiences, these all-Black casts found great freedom and flexibility in re-creating real “Negro life.” Great African-American performers such as Billy Kersands and Bert Williams embraced blackface because it, paradoxically, gave them a freedom that was not available anywhere other than on the stage. Through their chapter on Williams, Taylor and Austen revisit the motives and influence of a masterful comedian who felt most comfortable as a blackface performer playing to white audiences.
“Darkest America” also explores one of the best know genres of minstrelsy: music. The authors focus is impressive, as they hone in on the popular songbook, the birth of rock and roll and, ultimately, the rise of hip-hop. In contemporary times, hip-hop has co-opted minstrel stereotypes, using broad minstrel depictions of African-American culture and vernacular language with a menacing, hyper masculine stance that owes nothing to the gentle, emasculated buffoon of the minstrel stage.
Turning to film, this riveting book contrasts two modern reactions and interpretations of the minstrel tradition. The first dance is embodied by Spike Lee, particularly in his masterful work “Bamboozled,” a scathing movie about a contemporary minstrel show. The second is offered by taking a serious look at Tyler Perry’s popular and commercially successful movies that allow both Black and white audiences to witness African-American comics depict stereotypes.
Because it refuses easy answers, “Darkest America” is a searching meditation on the sources of American popular culture and a panoramic study of African-American culture from the 19th century to the present.
Bassist extraordinaire, composer, arranger, educator, curator and administrator Christian McBride has been one of the most important and most omnipresent figures in the jazz world for 20 years. Sometimes hard to believe considering this man is not yet 40. “The bassist-as-bandleader is a fairly rare thing, with the torch being passed over the years from Charles Mingus to Ron Carter — and now to Philadelphia-born Christian McBride,” assessed a recent NPR review on “All Things Considered.”
Since 2000, McBride has blazed a trail as a bandleader with the Christian McBride Band. In 2009, McBride released his quintet CD “Christian McBride & Inside Straight” on the Detroit-based Mack Avenue Records and marked a return to his undiluted “straight-ahead” roots. Any time that McBride steps into the studio or onto a stage he plays what could be called “people music,” but it’s a particularly apt title for the second release by his hard-swinging acoustic quintet Inside Straight. Four years after “Kind of Brown,” the band’s acclaimed debut album, “People Music” delivers a more road-tested sound that has become McBride’s trademark.
“‘People Music’ is my personal mantra as a musician,” McBride says of the title. “Sometimes jazz musicians can get too caught up in their own heads; they get so serious and so caught up in their creativity that they’re not bringing the people in. So I figure the best way to communicate is to let the people navigate where you should go.”
Make no mistake — there is a major difference between “people music” and “popular music” (though the two can overlap). McBride makes the distinction clear on the new album’s opening track, “Listen to the Heroes Cry.” The tune’s melody, evoking a modern spiritual, was inspired by the parade of vapid performances on a music awards show McBride watched one night, all garish spectacle and absolutely no substance. “It bothered me that the show was more about the image and less about the music,” he says. “It made me wonder what Duke Ellington or John Coltrane or Billie Holiday or Sarah Vaughan would think if they could see this. I think they would be crying.”
It is evident throughout the eight original tunes on “People Music,” that means balancing intense interplay with an exuberant personal expression that speaks directly to the listener. “When you pull the people in, you can go anywhere as long as they feel like they’re a part of the ride,” McBride continued. “That’s why Cannonball Adderley was always my hero — he always exemplified high artistry, but no matter how esoteric or abstract it could get, he still related to people. And I’ve always felt that this band plays ‘people music.’”
Philadelphia is the mother of Mother’s Day, thanks in large part to 20th century entrepreneur John Wanamaker. The first Mother’s Day celebrations occurred simultaneously in Philadelphia and West Virginia on May 10, 1908, and that year a bill was submitted to Congress to declare it a national holiday.
In 1914, Mother’s Day gained official national holiday designation. The actual day was started by Philadelphia resident and West Virginia native Anna Jarvis to honor her mother Anna Marie.
A century later, when the city of Philadelphia marked the 100th anniversary of Mother’s Day with the “City of Motherly Love” celebration at the then-Wanamaker Building, the 2008 event featured Mayor Michael Nutter, who issued a proclamation as a tribute to the 82 million moms living in the United States. “Mother’s Day originated in Philadelphia—no surprise there,” noted Nutter last week. “This is a city of first, and there are so many, many firsts in Philadelphia, but there is that special connection with Mother’s Day—and Moms are so very special. Mother’s Day is a day of reflection.”
Celebrating motherhood spans the far reaches of civilization. Ancient Egyptians worship the goddess Isis, the mother of the Pharaohs, in a special day of worship.
In America, the contemporary Mother’s Day’s predecessor lie in the roots of the anti-Civil War movement. Famous for writing the patriotic anthem “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” Julia Ward Howe later became aghast at the carnage of the Civil War. She wanted women to join forces to stop their sons from ever going off to die again.
In 1870, she issued what she called her Mother’s Day Proclamation. “Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice,” she wrote. “Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.”
When Jarvis’ mother passed away on May 9, 1905 at the age of 72, Jarvis pledged that she would found a day in honor of mothers. However, the near immediate commericilization of the holiday caused Jarvis to cringe.
“I wanted it to be a day of sentiment, not profit,” she wrote. “A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother, and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment.” Ironically, when Jervis died blind and penniless in West Chester on Nov. 24, 1948, the Florist’s Exchange paid for her funeral—even though she had lobbied against them for years.
The perfect Mother’s Day weekend awaits mothers, daughters and granddaughters who visit Philadelphia this spring for a tour of the “Come See About Me: The Mary Wilson Supremes Collection” exhibition, featuring more than 30 gowns worn by The Supremes, on view at The African American Museum in Philadelphia (AAMP) through August 18.
The exhibit explores Mary Wilson’s journey to self-actualization as part of an internationally renowned female group whose music crossed over to mainstream audiences and broke racial barriers during a tumultuous time in U.S. history.
Making its debut in Philadelphia, the display features the iconic group’s most glamorous gowns, along with their gold records, rarely seen video footage, album covers and other historic artifacts. Tickets for the exhibit are available at aampmuseum.org.
For nearly five decades, the Dance Theatre of Harlem has been a leading dance institution of unparalleled global acclaim that uses the art form of classical ballet to change people’s lives.
Inspired by the example of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to bring new opportunity to the lives of the young people in the Harlem neighborhood in which he grew up, Arthur Mitchell, along with the late Karel Shook, founded the Dance Theatre of Harlem in the basement of a church in 1969. Mitchell, who had found success as a principal dancer with the renowned New York City Ballet, understood the power of training in a classical art form to bring discipline and focus to a challenged community.
Philadelphia-native Robert Garland is the company’s former principal dancer, and upon his retirement from the stage, was appointed by Mitchell and became the organization’s first Resident Choreographer. He has also choreographed for New York City Ballet, The Royal Ballet, and Oakland Ballet, among many others.
After creating a work for the Dance Theatre of Harlem School Ensemble, Mitchell invited Garland to create a work for The Dance Theatre of Harlem Company.
Garland - who declared at the start of the interview that he was “Mt. Airy … born and bred!” - has commercial work that includes music videos, commercials and short films, featuring the children’s television show Sesame Street, a Nike commercial featuring New York Yankee Derek Jeter, the NAACP Image Awards, a short film for designer Donna Karan, and the “Charmin Cha-Cha” for Proctor and Gamble.
“I always came naturally to dancing,” recalled Garland. “My family was my wildly musical talented — my mother still plays for her church — so, I have always had music around me and, I have always had lots of cousins where dancing was a special thing.” The proud Mt. Airy native added: “Remember, it was that was the era of ‘Soul Train’ so you had to be able to dance if you were going to be cool at all.”
Today, the Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH) has been re-launched under the leadership of a second generation of artists.
The return of the DTH company comes after an eight-year hiatus that allowed for a systematic strengthening of the organization, including rebuilding the board of directors under the leadership of Chairman Kendrick F. Ashton, Jr, revitalized programs and increased fundraising capacity.
Artistic Director Virginia Johnson was a founding member and former prima ballerina and Executive Director Laveen Naidu was a choreographer and the former school director, both continue Mitchell’s vision to build community, inspire and uplift through the power of art.
Returning to his roots is coming full circle for Garland. “Oh, it is super-duper special,” said the choreographer. “I first saw the Dance Theatre of Harlem at the Shubert Theater when I was a teenager, and I went to every single performance and I remember all the dancers — one of them being Virginia Johnson who is now are artistic director. And actually, myself and Virginia performed together at the Shubert Theater once I had joined the company, so it was very interesting being in the theater that I once sat in as a teenager watching the Dance Theatre of Harlem…Yeah… Pretty amazing!”
With a carefully selected and diverse group of new dancers with awe-inspiring talent and promising careers, DTH is poised to reclaim its rightful place in the world of ballet.
“We have a new group of dancers that are completely ready and eager keep the name of Dance Theatre of Harlem alive in the world and beyond,” Garland said.
Audiences will enjoy such DTH favorites as Garland’s “Return,” Christopher Huggins’ “In The Mirror Of Her Mind” and Donald Byrd’s “Contested Space,” as well as works by Balanchine and world-premiere contemporary ballets, including Garland’s latest work, “Gloria,” to music by Francis Poulenc.
“I am grateful to be able to continue the work, artistry and traditions established by our founders Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook,” said Virginia Johnson. “The story that I hope Dance Theatre of Harlem will tell again is of the power of the arts to transform lives. We look forward to inspiring a new generation of dancers who are prepared to give our audiences—and this art form—everything they’ve got.”
The newly relaunched Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH) wraps up Dance Celebration’s 30th anniversary season, presented by Dance Affiliates and the Annenberg Center. Performances take place at the Annenberg Center, 3680 Walnut St., on Thursday, May 16 at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, May 17 at 8 p.m.; Saturday, May 18 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, May 19 at 3 p.m.
Tickets are $20-$75 (prices are subject to change). For tickets or for more information, visit AnnenbergCenter.org or call (215) 898-3900. Tickets can also be purchased in person at the Annenberg Center Box Office.