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Re:Defining Black History

From: Al Letson
Series: State of the Re:Union - Re:Defining Black History 2014
Length: 53:23

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During a month selected to celebrate “history,” we certainly are treated to a lot of the same familiar stories: the battles won for Civil Rights, the glory of Martin Luther King Jr.’s words, the hardships endured by slaves. And as important as those narratives are for us to collectively remember, many others get lost in trumpeting the same heroic tales. In this hour, State of the Re:Union zeroes in some of those alternate narratives, ones edited out of the mainstream imagining of Black History, deconstructing the popular perception of certain celebrated moments. From a more complicated understanding of the impact of the Civil Rights Act of ’64 on Jackson, Mississippi… to a city in Oklahoma still trying to figure out how to tell the history of one particular race riot… to one woman’s wrangling with her own personal racial history. Read the full description.

Screen_shot_2014-01-03_at_12 State of the Re:Union
Re:Defining Black History

Host: Al Letson
Producers: Tina Antolini and Delaney Hall

DESCRIPTION: During a month selected to celebrate “history,” we certainly are treated to a lot of the same familiar stories: the battles won for Civil Rights, the glory of Martin Luther King Jr.’s words, the hardships endured by slaves. And as important as those narratives are for us to collectively remember, many others get lost in trumpeting the same heroic tales. In this hour, State of the Re:Union zeroes in some of those alternate narratives, ones edited out of the mainstream imagining of Black History, deconstructing the popular perception of certain celebrated moments. From a more complicated understanding of the impact of the Civil Rights Act of ’64 on Jackson, Mississippi… to a city in Oklahoma still trying to figure out how to tell the history of one particular race riot… to one woman’s wrangling with her own personal racial history.

BILLBOARD (:59)
Incue: From PRX and NPR
Outcue: But first, this news.

News Hole: 1:00-6:00 

SEGMENT A (12:29)
Incue: From WJCT in Jacksonville, Florida…
Outcue: When SOTRU continues.

A. Should It Be More Than 28 Days?

We open the hour with a conversation between Host Al Letson and Filmmaker Shukree Tilghman about whether the idea of Black History Month is still relevant.  Two years ago Shukree, wrote and directed documentary entitled "More then a Month" about whether one month is long enough—shouldn’t we expand the celebration of Black History to be year round? Al and Shukree discuss the movie, and whether black history month is antiquated or still necessary in what some people are labeling a “Post Racial” America. 

B. Recovering the History of the Riot 

At the Mayo Demonstration School in Tulsa, students learn about the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot -- one of the country’s most devastating incidents of racial violence -- in some surprising ways. This approach to teaching the Tulsa Race Riot isn’t true of all schools in the city. Tulsa has a long, fraught history when it comes to dealing with the legacy of the riot and many people would prefer to forget this dark chapter of the city's past. It wasn’t until 2001, eighty years after the riot, that the state released an official report of what happened. A park commemorating the event wasn’t completed until 2010. And race riot curriculum in the public schools has been so scattershot that the state senate passed a bill in 2012, mandating that it must be taught.

In this story, we explore what exactly happened in 1921, and how the history of the riot has been written and re-written over the years. We'll look into how the memory of the riot was lost for almost a generation, and meet some of the people who’ve fought to keep the history of the riot alive. In addition to spending time at the Mayo Demonstration School, we’ll speak with Scott Ellsworth, the foremost historian of the riot, who began uncovering the untold story of the event for his undergraduate thesis at age 20.

SEGMENT B (18:59)
Incue: I'm Al Letson and this is State of the Re:Union
Outcue: PRX-dot-ORG

A. Recovering the History of the Riot
(Completion of piece started in previous segment) 

B. Farish Street and the Flip Side of the Civil Rights Act of ‘64
July 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the landmark legislation that desegregated commercial public spaces. While celebration of the integration that the Act prompted is certainly warranted, this story will explore the complexity of the aftermath of the legislation in one city: Jackson, Mississippi. 

Our story centers on Farish Street in Jackson, which, during its heyday in the early 20th century, was known as “Little Harlem.” It was a bustling entertainment district, home to clubs and bars like the Crystal Palace and the Alamo Theater, where the likes of Sammy Davis Jr., Cab Calloway and Louis Armstrong performed. Beyond that, it was all the commercial center of black Jackson, with legal firms, doctors, banks, restaurants retail stores—all black-owned and patronized by black customers. During the early 1960s, Farish Street was also the hub of Civil Rights activists’ efforts in Jackson; it’s where Medgar Evers had his NAACP field office. 

One of those thriving Farish Street businesses—the one, in fact, just downstairs from Evers’ office-- was the Big Apple Inn. It was opened in the early 20th century by a Mexican immigrant who initially had a hot tamale cart on Farish Street, and branched out to selling pig ear sandwiches when he got a brick-and-mortar storefront. The Big Apple is still there today, now its fourth generation of ownership with proprietor Geno Lee, and is still doing a brisk business of “ears and smokes” (pig ear sandwiches and smoked sausage sandwiches). But nearly all of Farish Street around the Big Apple is dramatically changed. Once the heart of black Jackson, it’s now a ghost town of empty storefronts and vacant lots. What happened to Farish Street? 

Some in Jackson think the turn in Farish Street’s fortunes came with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As our partner in this story, the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi, reports Geno Lee believes that when integration was federally mandated, African Americans welcomed the opportunity to spend money on the white side of town. As an unintended consequence, however, black businesses suffered from neglect and many soon closed. “Desegregation was great for the black race,” Lee says. “But it was horrible for the black businessmen.” Other Jackson residents have echoed this sentiment, unanimously citing desegregation as the root cause of Farish Street’s decay.

SEGMENT C (18:59)
Incue: You're listening to State of the Re:Union
Outcue: This is N-P-R.

A. Recruiting R&B for the Movement

Certain songs are forever linked to the Civil Rights Movement. “We Shall Overcome,” “Oh Freedom,” even spirituals like “This Little Light of Mine,” bring to mind images of the sit-ins, street protests, the 1968 March on Washington… This music has become iconic, a soundtrack to the era. But the music of the movement went far beyond those staples. It turns out folk songs and gospel music didn’t resonate with every audience the movement wanted to reach. If you’re going into a ghetto and want to connect with the young black people there in the 1960s, singing “If I Had a Hammer” would go over like a lead balloon. And so, alongside the familiar anthems, movement musicians started repurposing popular R&B songs, revising the lyrics to fit their anti-segregation message. One of the groups to do this was a gathering of some seminary students involved in the protests in Nashville in 1960 who called themselves the Nashville Quartet. There was a popular R&B song at the time called “You Better Leave My Kitten Alone,” predictably about love and jealousy. The Nashville Quartet switched up “kitten” for “segregation,” and suddenly had quite a pointed tune: “You better leave segregation alone/ because they [white folks] love segregation like a hound dog loves a bone.” They took the Ray Charles song “Moving On,” a ballad about progressing beyond a bad romance, and switched the relationship to a racial one. “Segregations’s been here from time to time / but we just ain’t gonna pay it no mind // IT’s moving on—It’s moving on—It’s moving… // Old Jim Crow’s moving on down the track / He’s got his bags and he won’t be back.”

Today, if you’re trying to reach a young audience with your message, you wouldn’t use old folks songs—you’d use hip hop. Civil Rights activists back in the day were just as savvy, using the sound of their generation to reel people in.

B. Becoming Multiracial
Damali Ayo built her career on being a professional black person. As she says, everything she did was always about being black. She traveled around the country giving talks called “You Can Fix Racism!” She spoke at MLK days and Black History Month events at colleges all around the country. As a visual artist, she did a show where she asked hardware store paint departments to match paint to her skin color. As a street performer she panhandled for reparations, asking white strangers to give her money, that she paid out to black people as they passed by. And then, a few years ago, she discovered that she was half-white. It radically changed the way she thought about herself, her work, and her place in the world.

C. Final Montage and Monologue In this final segment, we hear voices from the hour talking about the versions of history that we miss, and why it’s important to include them. 

Al wraps up the hour with a final monologue touching on the idea that this Greatest Hits version of African-American history implies that we’re finished, that the problems have been solved… when these alternate narratives reveal the work still to be done. 

PROGRAM OUT @ 59:00 

Broadcast Window Begins 1/17/14

The Black History Re:Defined Series of State of the Re:Union (SOTRU) will be available beginning January 17, 2014, on PRX and the Content Depot without charge to all public radio stations, and may be aired an unlimited number of times prior to December 31, 2014. The program may be streamed live on station websites but not archived. Excerpting is permitted for promotional purposes only. 

State of the Re:Union is presented by WJCT, and co-distributed by NPR and PRX.  Major funding for the State of the Re:Union comes from CPB, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. 

Thanks for your consideration of State of the Re:Union with Al Letson. Please contact your NPR Stations relations person or Deborah Blakeley at blakeley.deb@gmail.com with questions or to confirm carriage.

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Piece Description

State of the Re:Union
Re:Defining Black History

Host: Al Letson
Producers: Tina Antolini and Delaney Hall

DESCRIPTION: During a month selected to celebrate “history,” we certainly are treated to a lot of the same familiar stories: the battles won for Civil Rights, the glory of Martin Luther King Jr.’s words, the hardships endured by slaves. And as important as those narratives are for us to collectively remember, many others get lost in trumpeting the same heroic tales. In this hour, State of the Re:Union zeroes in some of those alternate narratives, ones edited out of the mainstream imagining of Black History, deconstructing the popular perception of certain celebrated moments. From a more complicated understanding of the impact of the Civil Rights Act of ’64 on Jackson, Mississippi… to a city in Oklahoma still trying to figure out how to tell the history of one particular race riot… to one woman’s wrangling with her own personal racial history.

BILLBOARD (:59)
Incue: From PRX and NPR
Outcue: But first, this news.

News Hole: 1:00-6:00 

SEGMENT A (12:29)
Incue: From WJCT in Jacksonville, Florida…
Outcue: When SOTRU continues.

A. Should It Be More Than 28 Days?

We open the hour with a conversation between Host Al Letson and Filmmaker Shukree Tilghman about whether the idea of Black History Month is still relevant.  Two years ago Shukree, wrote and directed documentary entitled "More then a Month" about whether one month is long enough—shouldn’t we expand the celebration of Black History to be year round? Al and Shukree discuss the movie, and whether black history month is antiquated or still necessary in what some people are labeling a “Post Racial” America. 

B. Recovering the History of the Riot 

At the Mayo Demonstration School in Tulsa, students learn about the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot -- one of the country’s most devastating incidents of racial violence -- in some surprising ways. This approach to teaching the Tulsa Race Riot isn’t true of all schools in the city. Tulsa has a long, fraught history when it comes to dealing with the legacy of the riot and many people would prefer to forget this dark chapter of the city's past. It wasn’t until 2001, eighty years after the riot, that the state released an official report of what happened. A park commemorating the event wasn’t completed until 2010. And race riot curriculum in the public schools has been so scattershot that the state senate passed a bill in 2012, mandating that it must be taught.

In this story, we explore what exactly happened in 1921, and how the history of the riot has been written and re-written over the years. We'll look into how the memory of the riot was lost for almost a generation, and meet some of the people who’ve fought to keep the history of the riot alive. In addition to spending time at the Mayo Demonstration School, we’ll speak with Scott Ellsworth, the foremost historian of the riot, who began uncovering the untold story of the event for his undergraduate thesis at age 20.

SEGMENT B (18:59)
Incue: I'm Al Letson and this is State of the Re:Union
Outcue: PRX-dot-ORG

A. Recovering the History of the Riot
(Completion of piece started in previous segment) 

B. Farish Street and the Flip Side of the Civil Rights Act of ‘64
July 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the landmark legislation that desegregated commercial public spaces. While celebration of the integration that the Act prompted is certainly warranted, this story will explore the complexity of the aftermath of the legislation in one city: Jackson, Mississippi. 

Our story centers on Farish Street in Jackson, which, during its heyday in the early 20th century, was known as “Little Harlem.” It was a bustling entertainment district, home to clubs and bars like the Crystal Palace and the Alamo Theater, where the likes of Sammy Davis Jr., Cab Calloway and Louis Armstrong performed. Beyond that, it was all the commercial center of black Jackson, with legal firms, doctors, banks, restaurants retail stores—all black-owned and patronized by black customers. During the early 1960s, Farish Street was also the hub of Civil Rights activists’ efforts in Jackson; it’s where Medgar Evers had his NAACP field office. 

One of those thriving Farish Street businesses—the one, in fact, just downstairs from Evers’ office-- was the Big Apple Inn. It was opened in the early 20th century by a Mexican immigrant who initially had a hot tamale cart on Farish Street, and branched out to selling pig ear sandwiches when he got a brick-and-mortar storefront. The Big Apple is still there today, now its fourth generation of ownership with proprietor Geno Lee, and is still doing a brisk business of “ears and smokes” (pig ear sandwiches and smoked sausage sandwiches). But nearly all of Farish Street around the Big Apple is dramatically changed. Once the heart of black Jackson, it’s now a ghost town of empty storefronts and vacant lots. What happened to Farish Street? 

Some in Jackson think the turn in Farish Street’s fortunes came with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As our partner in this story, the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi, reports Geno Lee believes that when integration was federally mandated, African Americans welcomed the opportunity to spend money on the white side of town. As an unintended consequence, however, black businesses suffered from neglect and many soon closed. “Desegregation was great for the black race,” Lee says. “But it was horrible for the black businessmen.” Other Jackson residents have echoed this sentiment, unanimously citing desegregation as the root cause of Farish Street’s decay.

SEGMENT C (18:59)
Incue: You're listening to State of the Re:Union
Outcue: This is N-P-R.

A. Recruiting R&B for the Movement

Certain songs are forever linked to the Civil Rights Movement. “We Shall Overcome,” “Oh Freedom,” even spirituals like “This Little Light of Mine,” bring to mind images of the sit-ins, street protests, the 1968 March on Washington… This music has become iconic, a soundtrack to the era. But the music of the movement went far beyond those staples. It turns out folk songs and gospel music didn’t resonate with every audience the movement wanted to reach. If you’re going into a ghetto and want to connect with the young black people there in the 1960s, singing “If I Had a Hammer” would go over like a lead balloon. And so, alongside the familiar anthems, movement musicians started repurposing popular R&B songs, revising the lyrics to fit their anti-segregation message. One of the groups to do this was a gathering of some seminary students involved in the protests in Nashville in 1960 who called themselves the Nashville Quartet. There was a popular R&B song at the time called “You Better Leave My Kitten Alone,” predictably about love and jealousy. The Nashville Quartet switched up “kitten” for “segregation,” and suddenly had quite a pointed tune: “You better leave segregation alone/ because they [white folks] love segregation like a hound dog loves a bone.” They took the Ray Charles song “Moving On,” a ballad about progressing beyond a bad romance, and switched the relationship to a racial one. “Segregations’s been here from time to time / but we just ain’t gonna pay it no mind // IT’s moving on—It’s moving on—It’s moving… // Old Jim Crow’s moving on down the track / He’s got his bags and he won’t be back.”

Today, if you’re trying to reach a young audience with your message, you wouldn’t use old folks songs—you’d use hip hop. Civil Rights activists back in the day were just as savvy, using the sound of their generation to reel people in.

B. Becoming Multiracial
Damali Ayo built her career on being a professional black person. As she says, everything she did was always about being black. She traveled around the country giving talks called “You Can Fix Racism!” She spoke at MLK days and Black History Month events at colleges all around the country. As a visual artist, she did a show where she asked hardware store paint departments to match paint to her skin color. As a street performer she panhandled for reparations, asking white strangers to give her money, that she paid out to black people as they passed by. And then, a few years ago, she discovered that she was half-white. It radically changed the way she thought about herself, her work, and her place in the world.

C. Final Montage and Monologue In this final segment, we hear voices from the hour talking about the versions of history that we miss, and why it’s important to include them. 

Al wraps up the hour with a final monologue touching on the idea that this Greatest Hits version of African-American history implies that we’re finished, that the problems have been solved… when these alternate narratives reveal the work still to be done. 

PROGRAM OUT @ 59:00 

Broadcast Window Begins 1/17/14

The Black History Re:Defined Series of State of the Re:Union (SOTRU) will be available beginning January 17, 2014, on PRX and the Content Depot without charge to all public radio stations, and may be aired an unlimited number of times prior to December 31, 2014. The program may be streamed live on station websites but not archived. Excerpting is permitted for promotional purposes only. 

State of the Re:Union is presented by WJCT, and co-distributed by NPR and PRX.  Major funding for the State of the Re:Union comes from CPB, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. 

Thanks for your consideration of State of the Re:Union with Al Letson. Please contact your NPR Stations relations person or Deborah Blakeley at blakeley.deb@gmail.com with questions or to confirm carriage.