After I graduated from NYU in 1971 with my well-earned degree, a yearning came over me. I wanted to get out of New York to see the country, so I could live like the American I was. At that time, I was living with my girlfriend, a smart, curious, beautiful young blond who called herself a “Scan.” She was half Swedish and half Norwegian. She called herself that because New York is perhaps the most tribal city in America, so she had to call herself something, and she was clearly 100 percent Scandinavian.
She would also get very pissed off at me for my saying I was not a minority, as she would sometimes call me. I was an American, I explained to her, and we Americans were the majority in this country.
She would huff and puff and almost turn red, but to no avail.
“You’re too much,” she would finally say
She was right. Nobody was going to call me a minority and get away with it. And, please, I quietly suggested to her, not wanting to ruin the wonderful sex life we had, don’t ever call me an immigrant.
I sometimes drove her crazy, but she loved wrapping her warm arms around me at night as we made love. And, I love her for it—the polemics where quickly forgotten.
We had first met in our Sophomore year at NYU, and she moved in with me, in my small one-bedroom in Chelsea that same summer. She was from New England and was the only blonde I ever saw on campus, mainly because at that time NYU was 95 percent Jewish.
Some black students used to call NYU, NYJEW.
In a funny way, my girlfriend and I both stuck out. I was one of the few blacks in the journalism department, and she was perhaps the only non-Jewish woman in it; furthermore, the only real blonde in the entire school. She got an internship at Newsday in our Junior year, the same year I started Black Creation, and because of her dance background, started covering dance performances, which won her a national journalism student award for best arts commentary.
We played footsie at the award ceremony for her, as our chair, Professor M.L. Stein, sang her praises. These days we would be called a power couple, but back then we had to keep our relationship quiet. Professor Stein had no idea what we were doing as he droned on.
The Civil Rights Movement had quieted down, as well as the Vietnam War, as we neared the end of our stay at NYU. As for me, I thought that the Civil Rights Movement was going to destroy Apartheid, and one could live anywhere they wanted, marry anyone they wanted, get any job they could do as well as anyone else.
In other words, blacks should now be full-fledged Americans, especially because we had been here since the 1630’s, not to mention the blacks that came with the Spanish a hundred years before the English and French ever step foot in the new world.
But that was not to be the case. Starting in the late 60s a huge backlash occurred after black males and white women started dating in large numbers for the first time in our history. By the time we were in our last year at NYU, I remember reading an item in an article written by a black woman in the new Essence magazine. The writer vehemently denounced interracial couples and added that, “we should attack these people when we see them on the streets.”
My beautiful, curious, blonde girlfriend, whose name I will not use, was perhaps the whitest woman not just at NYU but in New York City. In fact, a good friend of mine said to me with a serious face, “Fred, I don’t mind you having a white girlfriend, but do you have to go out with the whitest woman in town?”
I broke out laughing, not just for what he said but his serious face when saying it.
But, he was right. New Yorkers, black and white, watched our every move. One Sunday morning we opened the weekend version of the New York Post and there was a shot of us riding our bikes in Washington Square Park. The photographer shot us from behind, but it was us all right. There was nowhere for us to hide as we walked the streets of the Village.
Not many beautiful “Scans” and handsome black men to speak of in 1971 walking the streets of New York City. No wonder that writer at Essence wanted to chase us out of town. We were setting a bad example.
We both immediately found good jobs when we graduated. She started working as an Assistant Editor for a political magazine called Change. The day we received our diploma at Town Hall, I left the ceremony still wearing my cap and gown and walked over to the office of Essence magazine, where I was now the Managing Editor. I stuck my cap and gown in my desk drawer and began my job at the magazine.
Yes, the same magazine that recently thought that my bright, sexy girlfriend and I should be attacked on the streets just for walking together.
I was recruited for this job by the well-known poet, Nikki Giovanni, who was a good friend, and she was also the friend of the new editor of Essence, Ida Lewis.
Nikki had already done something for me that changed my life, forever.
On the weekends I would often go over to her apartment on 93rd Street, right off Columbus, in Manhattan, and chat a little. This one Saturday I was in a deep funk. When I started as a night student at NYU, it was 1966. It wasn’t until 1968 that I was finally able to go full time. This was now 1970, and I was sick and tired of school. I wanted action, not classrooms or peer pressure. I was on the verge of quitting.
Nikki would have none of it. “There is nothing like finishing something. Take my word for it. Keep that in mind,” she said, after insisting that my leaving school was a bad idea. Her wise advice was just what I wanted to hear, and my funk went away just like that.
I had also been recruited for a job at the new black business magazine, Earl Graves’ Black Enterprise,but I didn’t take it.
All this recruiting was for two reasons. First, it was still a few years before the first batch of black Affirmative Action students were to graduate from many colleges and universities around the country, as they also had put into place the same kind of programs for black students as was done at NYU. So, I was still one of the few blacks in New York with a degree from a prestigious school like NYU.
What also helped was the great unsung initiative to help blacks, President Richard Nixon’s Black Capitalism. I am convinced that this great idea received little praise but much scorn because the so-called liberal media, which was really the largest tribal media in the country, hated Nixon with the same passion as they hate President Donald J. Trump. They weren’t about to praise anything about Nixon and soon were able to run him out of office.
But Black Capitalism spawned many black-owned businesses, including Essence and Black Enterprise and other businesses that still exist today.
But the main reason why I was so sought after was because of the magazine I founded at NYU, Black Creation: A Quarterly of Black Arts and Letters. Black Creation, as I pointed out in my introduction, has put me in the history books, as well as a spot in the Smithsonian African American Museum in Washington.
I started the magazine in 1968 after a tiff with one of the students working with me on the black newspaper that I founded with law student James Carroll called The Faith.
When the Affirmative Action students started pouring into NYU, Jimmy and I were more than glad to see them. Several of them joined the newspaper, and, keeping with the spirit of the times, we abolished all titles and called ourselves a Collective.
This night we were working with the printers in a hot, noisy shop. This was the waning years of “hot type,” where the letters were molded by melted lead. It was hot, dirty, heavy lifting. The white men doing the work dressed in t-shirts and had tattoos on their big arms. This kind of shop was no place for sissies or women. I had spent years working in the Garment Center nearby and felt right at home there with these men.
I had written for The Faith my first book review ever. The book was a collection of short stories by the South African writer, Alan Paton of Cry, the Beloved Country fame. It seemed to The Collective that I was overly sympathy to one of the white characters in one of the stories.
I was told by John Doe (I won’t reveal his real name), the smart guy who I loved to debate with because he was so quick of mind, that they could not allow me to publish this review unless I change it.
“Are you kidding?”
The beast in me suddenly came out. “This is my fucking paper! You want to take this shit outside.”
Who in the fuck died and left these Bozos in charge! The other members of The Collective stood behind John Doe. It was a Palace coup. I stormed out, shouting loudly, “fuck you, motherfuckers!”
But I soon cool down, mainly because I knew something. That something was that I doubted if The Collective would ever publish another issue. I was the one that made things happen, including bringing their sorry asses to NYU! I was wrong, however. They managed to get out one more. After that, The Faith was history
In 2009, John Doe contacted me on Facebook. The first thing I said to him was that he was responsible for my great career in journalism. That time in that loud, hot printer’s shop was my never-again moment, which cause me to start Black Creation with no such thing as a Collective. I was in charge, period.
Thanks John Doe, I needed that.
What I did with Black Creation, was something that had never been done in black journalism before, or for that matter, after. It started out as a literary magazine for the black students at NYU. I tried to raise money for the magazine, which I saw in my mind. I even had the cover mentally in mind.
But it was slow going. I put on several debates and charged admission but that did not generate enough income.
One day I was in yet another of my deep funks and talking to one of the black students about the magazine. She said, “Look, we now have a Black Institute of African American Affairs, but Dr. Brown so far doesn’t seem to know what to do next. You should go talk to him. I think he would back the magazine.”
She was right. Dr. Roscoe C. Brown was the only black Ph.D. teaching at the university that I knew of. What he taught was physical education. The black students called him a “gym teacher.” But there were things about Dr. Brown that they didn’t know, and I didn’t know until many years later. He was one of the famed, black Tuskegee Airmen in World War II, the first time in history that black American men could fly in the Army Air Corp. This was not the first time that black men flew in battle. In World War I, France allowed black men to fly for them.
And to top that, Dr. Brown was widely credited with being the first airman ever to shoot down one of the new Nazi’s jet planes, they being the first nation on Earth to use such an awesome weapon.
When I found out about all this, I wondered why I never heard or read about the Tuskegee Airmen. Me, the bookworm, know-it-all. What also puzzled me was why Dr. Brown didn’t talk about all of this to the black students, including me. Maybe they would have given him more respect then, rather than calling him “gym teacher.”
At any rate, Dr. Brown jumped to the idea of the magazine. He immediately started telling me what he expected out of Black Creation and me. I stopped him in mid-sentence. I was not going to have another John Doe on my hands.
“Dr. Brown,” I said, “I will run this magazine the way I want. All I want from you is an office and funds. It will be known as Black Creation: A Quarterly of Black Arts and Letters, a Publication of The Institute of African American Affairs at NYU. I have already filed a copyright in my name for the name of this magazine.”
He smiled at me, almost, I sensed, in relief. “Good, good, it’s all yours. Let’s get started.”
Again, thank you John Doe.
The major reasons I was so dedicated to creating such a magazine was because of what was happening in the black community nationwide. In addition to carrying a full load at NYU, I also had a family to help feed, which now included two small children, although I no longer lived with them but had moved back to my mother’s house in the upper Bronx. I had the G.I. bill, thanks to the war in Vietnam. But I was no longer working for NYU. I need to make more money.
I brought myself a camera and became a reporter/photographer at Percy Sutton’s New York Courier in Harlem. Pat Patterson, the writer I met while I was working for the James Farmer Congressional run in Bed-Sty, Brooklyn, was the Managing Editor.
What I saw covering events in Harlem and what I saw on college campuses in the entire city, was an enormous outpouring of black creativity. Black Americans were now going though one of the greatest changes in our history in this country. The Civil Rights Movement was over. A conservative backlash, as I have noted, was the Spirit of the Times. First came Black Power, then came The Black Consciousness Movement, then finally, The Black Arts Movement.
The Black Power Movement held a great interest to me because it spoke to blacks creating businesses and taking charge of their communities and stop whining to whites for everything. I had my doubts about the Black Consciousness Movement. I came from a mixed-race family as I pointed out in Book One. I also thought that the One Drop Rule was a fairy tale. As I wrote in my first novel, The Womanizer, “Only a nation of morons could believe in something so stupid.”
This didn’t go over well with the new New York publishing crowd that by now had chased the old guard “white shoe” publishers and editors back to Connecticut, where their WASP asses belonged. One Liberal (why they are called Liberals I will never know) literary agent said to me after reading my novel and my first book of essays, The Rejected American, “Nobody in this town is going to publish you. You need to learn how to write the way we want or we will never allow you to be published in this country.”
It was the “we” that I noted most. In the end, I laughed in her face. She was an immigrant, I was an American. No way on God’s good earth was her “we” going to tell me what to think or write. The nerve!
That little polemic was an aside. What I found out years later, when DNA results became all the rage, that I was quite correct when I said I was not an African, but an American. I am 70 percent Yoruba, 5 percent Bushman of the Kalahari, 19 per cent Northern European (Germany, Denmark, Finland), 5 per cent Native American and 1.3 percent Neanderthal. You are not going to get more American than that!
But back to my narrative, the Black Nationalists and the so-called Liberals thought The Black Consciousness Movement was a great idea. Think black, be black. You were Africans, not Americans, and don’t ever forget it, and stay the hell away from white people. Especially white women.
This was easy to do for the so-called Liberals. Their DNA goes back unbroken for over five thousand years.
Those black Americans, which are many, that have only DNA from Africa, which goes back unbroken since the coming of human beings, have a real point when they say being blacks is not just a word, but a total inner being. I have always acknowledged that.
But what about black Americans like me? (And there are plenty of us as well. In fact, we might just be the majority.) Additionally, what made black American burst on the world stage was how pure Africans and mixed-race blacks made common cause, mainly because of the One Drop Rule.
It was mixed-race people like Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois and the grand Black Nationalist of all, the mixed race Malcolm X, with his light brown eyes, red hair, and famous quote: “I hate the white blood running through my vines that was put there by a white rapist”—that brought us to the position we now have.
Brazil has the largest black population in the New World. They also have a large mixed-race population. Together, they are the majority in that country. But they have absolutely no real power, because blacks and mixed-race people view each other separately.
So, to me, The Black Consciousness Movement was a movement that was going to fracture the unity that we had until then. That’s why I never use the words African-American. It was something that the so-called Liberals foisted on us, thinking that we will never find out how one day we were black Americans and the next we were all Africans.
But the Black Arts Movement was something totally different. It was unlike the famous Harlem Renaissance in almost every way. The Harlem Renaissance took place in the 1920s and was mainly a literary, jazz and theatre movement in Harlem. In addition, this was also the first time in New York City history that Uptown met Downtown.
This was the jazz age. Folks wanted to forget about the most brutal war ever, followed by the horrific, worldwide outbreak of the deadly Spanish Flu. Now, Wall Street was booming, nightlife was filled with white people dancing the night away in hideaway speakeasys filled with bootleg whiskey, beautiful showgirls and red-hot black jazz, and no greater place to find all of this merriment and carrying on was black Harlem.
In addition, white gay men like Carl Van Vechten, who was the Theater Editor for Vanity Fair Magazine, along with several other important gay magazine critics, befriended people like the great Langston Hughes and other black gay men, who wrote, or sang, or worked as actors and even directors, and wrote about them in their glossy magazines and gave the name Harlem to the world.
But the Black Arts Movement? One thing that made it different was the fact that it was nationwide and not just centered in New York. From San Francisco, to Boston, to Atlanta, to New Orleans, to Chicago, to Los Angeles, to all black New York—the Black Arts Movement was bursting with new-found raw creative energy.
In addition, being the flagship of the movement did not have a literary component. This was a performance-based movement. The literary aspect of it was the spoken word, not words on paper. Poetry reading were held all over, and small clubs and large 200-seat spaces were packed with eager listeners.
In addition, theatre and dance company started springing up all over the country, and here in New York, The Dance Theatre of Harlem, Alvin Ailey, The Negro Ensemble Company, The New Lafayette Theatre quickly became international sensations.
Jazz and the Visual Arts, including paintings and creative photography, joined in as well.
I knew I had to capture all of this. And this we did in Black Creation. It is also why I am in so many history books. Historians have started looking back at this time of great creativity in the same way that they have looked back on the Lost Generation and the Harlem Renaissance.
The main problem for these historians has been the fact that the white community covered little of this. In fact, many whites thought that the Black Arts Movement was anti-white, especially because of firebrand poets like Amiri Baraka, formerly Leroi Jones, who was also seen as the leader of the Black Arts Movement and who often used violent rhetoric directed at whites.
So, because of this Black Creation was one of the few outlets that covered all of this. I did not just cover New York City, but had correspondents in cities across the country.
It wasn’t until the internet age began that I discovered just how important Black Creation is to historians. I had no idea and was totally amazed as the books started piling up, as historians started recognizing that this was one of the most vivant, creative periods in American history, and I was right there to record most of it. I also discovered that much of what I wrote in the magazine has been republished
For example, The University Press of Mississippi Literary Conversation Series published Conversations with Ernest Gaines, Conversations with Albert Murray and Conversations with John A. Williams. In each book I had the first conversation. All three came out of Black Creation. The Gaines book and the Albert Murray book was published before the internet. No one contacted me for my permission. They had no means to contact me because I was living first in Los Angeles and then San Francisco. It was only the last book, Conversations with John A. Williams, published in 2018, in which the editor of the book asked my permission.
In addition, I found several other textbooks that had entire chapters on Black Creation and me. I especially loved the way they threw the word “brilliant” around. Part of the reason why I didn’t know about all of this was because I was reading history books written by black writers. Only one black historian, Houston Baker, mentioned Black Creation.
The basic problem I have with black historians is the fact that they consider the Civil Rights Movement black history. It is just a segment, albeit, perhaps the most important segment of black history here in America, but there is so much more. That is why Black Creation is loved by the historians: because I documented the so much more.
I often wonder what my inner self would have been if I had known about what was going on. One of the things the book agents said to me when I was trying to find a publisher was that I never did anything, and I was now in my 50s trying to become a writer?
My hat was in my hands and my spirits low as I was chastened time after time, unknowingly not knowing that I was a giant among giants, not the Joe Nobody the agents thought me to be.
The Black Arts Movement started in 1968 and ended in 1973. And, it was time for me to encounter America.
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