Urban Confrontation; 11; Elma Lewis
From Northeastern University the National Information Network presents urban confrontation with what most white Americans don't believe that this is a racist culture that there is anything such as white racism. There's no way that you could be intelligent and not see that it is there is no way that you could believe this happened by accident you believe one of two things. You either believe it's a racist country or you believe that black people are absolutely no good. This week on urban confrontation Elmo Lewis director of National Center of Afro-American artists discussing Afro American culture the black artist Unchained. Here is your host Joseph R. Bader. We're using different theme music for this program to introduce already audience to Elmo Lois's National Center of Afro-American artists almost. What do you think Afro American art and talk among are for Americans about their
art and about using phrases such as Black is beautiful why does that upset whites. Perhaps it suggests that black people are not any longer going to be happy or satisfied or tolerant enough to occupy the place to which we've been consigned to if you will have noticed as you came into this building which was built by Jewish people as a tribute to their culture. You walked across the Star of David every single door knob in this building has the Star of David a child couldn't pass from room to room in this school without touching his culture. That doesn't upset or threaten me. I think how beautiful how beautiful that a child should know himself. Suddenly when we want to know ourselves it upsets people because you see keeping us from self-knowledge will in fact keep us oppressed. You know I get sort of a petty jealousy here so I don't like each other oh yeah i think i'm very large. Jealousy is not a petty jealousy it's a very large and it's more
significant than jealousy. It's a starry way of keeping a people oppressed. Whites are curious about Afro American art they ask why is there such an emphasis on African art of the time when the social and economic integration seems to hold the key for some people. To solve the racial dilemma does the stress on Afro American Art help to separate the races by separating the art forms into white and black. Does ill Grackles are as opposed to Michelangelo's art tend to separate any body know people's art forms are a result of their life's experience. In America whites have insisted that blacks have singular life experiences. Whites have separated us from them we did not separate Remember whites separate us. We of therefore had a totally different experience and has given a totally different art form. It is the only really valid art form that America has produced. I think
also people must pay attention to the art and culture of their particular experience because a man without a past is indeed a man without a future. How do you answer whites who do occasionally say that if blacks admire African culture so much why don't they go get on a boat and go back to Africa. How do you answer this kind of plea. I don't answer nonsense. I'm not in the business. Cats are a godsend. I do not consciously deal with what people think about me is tomorrow I decided that all of the people in the world will have blond hair and blue eyes were objectionable. I doubt that it would give them much pause. That's the same amount of pause it gives me when people decide that people who have black skin and overly curled hair are from objectionable. It doesn't bother me one bit. I don't deal with anything that white people are thinking the business that I am about is resurrecting that
dormant conscious pride that black people have had and should have. I am in the business of saving them and causing them to survive spiritually and psyching. I am in the business of making them understand that the majority is not necessarily right. How would you describe the differences between Afro-American order and more Americanized versions of European origin. As I said the peoples are the product of their experience. When a man right. So. A symphony to the glory of God. He is. And it comes out of a Christian ethic. He is at a time when the pomp and circumstance of the Catholic Church is at its peak in a situation where the people are largely peasant and the glorious people are of the church etc..
This is reflected in the art form when people write. Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen one of people write songs and spirituals one a pair of people write a blue ditties Jubilee. They are coming from pain they're coming from sorrow. People write as a reflection of whatever their are experiences. I think that should tell you something. When people in New York in the modern art galleries are celebrating the fact that somebody throws 50 gallons of gallons of plastic paint in a corner and when it hardens that's an hour from there is no life experience. We're now celebrating there. Let's go one of those a little bit more. Take color for example. Now color is an important thing in any art form and in modern art pastel shades shades that aren't solid like red or blue or brown but shades or you know pink and lavender seem to be important in recent forms of modern art. What does that reflect about the cultures bailing out.
Goodbye I am fading away. Here we go. It is simple as that Elma. It's nothing simple but I don't think we have all day and all night all you have to do is look at the society and you see it paling away know the majority of people do not want to take a stand on anything they don't want to ruffle the waves. They don't want change. They'd rather take pills and suffer the pain they'd rather take narcotics and suffer thought they'd rather do anything than feel experience or react participate. The art shows it. The music shows that there are many scientists many social commentators who would share your assessment of American culture and American society as a whole is going down the drain all of these people been described as prophets of gloom and doom. If we were to assume that their prophecies were accurate would you describe the Afro-American as the one chance for a rebirth of social life and cultural life in the United States. The last great burst of energy. We are the last great burst of.
Now you look at the role we have we've played through the 60s and the Rhone we are playing as we enter the 70s. We are the catalyst in this society. We were slated at this moment in history to be the ones who told you that the public schools were not educating anybody. We told you they weren't educating us. And then you looked and saw that indeed you weren't being educated. We taught you that America has no moral right to be in another country minding its business about its wars with this many social ills in its own country. We are in fact the last hope the last great hope. The old spiritual says you better. I'm always a little suspicious frankly when I hear any group or any person say about their group whether be a racial or cultural or social group that they are the last great hope because you don't like it doesn't invalidate it.
What I wouldn't like it either. No no no I would not lie there is an intolerance about it you see. Tolerant as a country does the shit out of in the world. I think that at this present moment I don't feel can see that there is a difference between conceit and assurance as this present moment I feel a great deal of assurance. Let's take a look at what blacks have done already to contribute to reviving North American culture. What has been the chief contribution of Afro-American art to Western culture already and what contributions do you expect in the future. I'm not speaking simply of art I told you that art is the reflection of people's experience and lifestyle. Let's see what the lifestyle has contributed because the art is only a reflection saying when a man paints what he paints because that's what he has experienced all seen. That's why he sings. That's why he writes a play as a black American is a very apt to paint
too many ways as a flower as exclusively because his experiences are too deep. And two burning of that Donald Gibson a fellow writing in the Yale Law Review said that the black man has no internalized culture but only a defense of culture build up against white people and the oppression of white society that blacks need to develop a positive culture that isn't merely a response to white bigotry. Now is the Afro-American art is part of the culture. There is some truth to what he said I don't think that that's exclusively true. Next Saturday night we're going to have here on a tour in the St. Simons Sea Island is there a small group from Georgia and almost since black people got here from Africa they have had no contact with white people. Now is that all they can tell me that's a defensive culture there are certain kinds of cultural forms that grow up among the people because they are responding each to the other. There are certain kinds of things black people do with each other that have nothing at
all to do with the White House. Certainly other facets of black culture are defensive No facets of black culture will gradually be lost as we insist on throwing off the yoke of oppression for those of our listeners who may have just tuned in around the country we should tell them who we're talking with what we're talking about we're talking with Miss Elma Lewis director of the National Center of Afro-American artists and we're talking about the impact on our society and on our culture of Afro American art on the Afro-American artist I'd like at this juncture in the program to get into a little bit more of an in-depth discussion of your reaction to where white culture is at this particular time in history. What in your opinion are some of the new trends in American art today the nudity the profanity on the state of the weirdly symbolic plays and song. Are these signs of degeneration or free expression. Well it's marvelous to have free expression if one has something to freely express but when one is free to express by expressing nonsense it would be the better
part of wisdom to close one's moans. I think this is what so many so-called Middle America. This is the way they react to these kinds of art. When one is dealing with little people one child needs your attention he does such things as jump up and down and yell and sway and sway and sway. And swearing and swearing and why it doesn't connect with anything he just way is. And then he takes off his clothes and he stands there. And I was reminded of this of the night when I saw him. Do you think that sex should play any role in artistic endeavors. If it does nudity and such as it does I haven't ever seen a piece where I thought nudity had to be an inherent part. Perhaps there are such pieces. But sex in itself has why a sex offense of sex is not offensive. Sex doesn't offend me. I object to it being introduced to titillate
people who are dead and see if we can make them come alive. If you're dead lie down. It's our right to be dead to school then wind down. Don't you something that's really pretty marvelous to try to make a dead person respond. If people have to take great walls of white and paint a few stripes on there and say that's art that's because they can't see anything very much anymore. They have participated in the Emperor's new clothes and nothing will cause you to fade out like lying. If you have to sing songs that don't make sense it's because you have lost your musical sense. But you see we blacks still have our songs to sing we haven't sung our songs yet. You didn't let us now because you put your foot down on us and you oppressed us all this time and you took away every vestige of beauty and you told us to think less of ourselves. Now that we feel. Ah. I have been misled I see who I am. I see what I'm about. I see what I can can do. Please
don't try to add the sin of calling us conceited touché. Let's shift the questioning. We're sitting here in the midst of your Afro-American School of Art as you look back over the twenty years of your school. If you had anything to do over again knowing what you now know would you change any of the approaches you used. Yes for a long time I bought a myth that is perpetrated on blacks by whites that you should do it yourself and that you should put his stuff up by a bootstraps and that you should try to establish the American dream it's impossible for blacks. The laws the society and everything is so firmly constructed against us. I for years went on the theory using the fact that we have been separated keeps us from knowing certain things about the society. Even though I had a master's degree and we were all very well educated in my group of my generation there were some very basic things we didn't know and I was trying to run a school in a poor community that insisted on tuition.
Meanwhile the universities in the white community and the schools were looking for coupons to Claire. I wouldn't do that again I would immediately go out and seek some coupons to clear. I would not put my parents through the tortures of having to support all of the other people's children. You cannot do it yourself when all of the money that you spend leaves the black community and goes into the white community. Every time I turn on the lights I give my money to white people. If I like the gas I give my money to white people. If I go to filings and Gordons to buy a dress I give my money to white people. If I go to the supermarket to buy food I give my money to white people. Then when I go to a foundation they give their money to white people. Now how does that grab you. And they tell me why don't you help yourself. Now since I was not paid in the
first place very much I don't know was what I could help myself. We built the country you see. Who will our slave labor. Let me point out a few things to you. You know why there's a legend called John Henry. Not because one black man Suran I hammer on some nails on some rails but because a black man did that laid the rails and opened up the west. Now there isn't a black cowboy or a TV series called The Outcast that was a job despised by white men until movies and TV came along. But in actuality those were immigrant immigrant Irish freedom man and half to the war free man. They were black people. Do you know who took San Juan Hill. Not Teddy Roosevelt. The 10th Cavalry and from the beginning of America the cavalry has been black.
That attempt was black the ninth and the tenth. Do you know who taught a MacArthur to ride and Eisenhower black men taught them to ride at the point. Course the black men never got a rank higher than Sargent but they were at the point teaching these men to run. This is our country. I meant to tell you that little earlier when you told me something about white people saying if we like Africa get out of but go back we were ransomed to this. So we don't have to go anywhere. We brought this free all right. Now yes after doing all that in this present day we still have committed to go to a certain quantity of school we still have to be at everybody's alarmed Jass. It is a myth to tell us pull ourselves up by a bootstraps. I don't want to hear it. I can see people out in our audience after just hearing you describe a chapter that is on written the history of the American black man as he fits into white society. And why is it that they're shaking their heads in disbelief they've never heard factually the kind of which you just threw out. It was written out in the history books are straight out lies so that when you
ask me how we could want to perpetrate our culture how could you have wanted to perpetrate us like that when it wasn't even true. There are many Americans listening in the audience who don't feel guilty for the things that their forefathers perpetrated on black Americans. They perhaps are perpetrating similar things or may or may not be perpetrating similar things to a greater or lesser degree on black Americans in contemporary society. But they also may be trying to redress the wrongs I think. I'm not trying to redress the wrongs if they stop printing those history books that say Teddy Roosevelt took San Juan Hill. And if they still are showing me nightly that Burt Lancaster won will award to one television. And if they are still writing laws down in Congress that oh press me every day GOD BLESS IT day. No they are not. No they're not. And if I as I told you they are still in fact giving the largest pot of them money
back into the white society and every time a small gift comes to a black organization you hear about it. And here we have the great black expert Dan went ahead saying we've had enough. Let's talk about that section of American society which in their own feeble way perhaps as you would see it and perhaps as it is but nevertheless in some way are trying to do what needs to be done to pay back a debt to a whole group of Americans who have taken it in the next two or three centuries. Now there are some people in this country are trying to get the races together and get some solution to the white problem which is white racism which is the root cause of all of the problems that the black Americans face in this country know what can you say to them you do dismiss them do you write them off. I say to them we cannot get together until the some of the wrongs have been redress then that's evidence of good faith. If you want to buy a house you don't go to the man. And say let me live in the house first. You put up the money first. You see. But what
America keeps coming as one of the old black blues says oh the handful of gimme and a mouthful I'm much obliged and that is still wrong posture that they keep telling telling us other things to prove and trying to tell us all the ways in which we can validate ourselves. I don't want to validate myself I am valid my humanity validated me the day I was born I was valid. I now say to these people how fast can you speak your neighbor how fast can you change him. If I want to do something all I can do I can work with these 500 young people we have in here and their families and keep spreading them. Across the country and all the black communities you know when I get ready to change something I don't go into white communities to change it. But when white people get ready to change something they come into black communities to change it. Whereas their work is is in my community. Going to a white community and changes say to a man it is carrying coals to Newcastle to give have another million dollars.
Look at Elmo sitting over there. He didn't even have chairs for 20 years working 20 years with a kid sitting on the floor. How to get into graduate degrees building til business is never missing a day's work sick or well. And coming from a whole family that did this. You talk about good faith you talk about the necessity for enough white Americans to show enough good faith to gain the trust of black Americans it's like making that down payment on the house. Would your be in a sense blueprint for this be that white Americans should stop playing God and coming into the black ghettos and trying to save people and start sending their money and staying themselves at home in white suburbia and doing something about fighting white racism white racism that's right. Find white racism and send the money. Most white Americans don't believe that this is a racist culture that there is anything out there such as white racism. There's no way that you could be intelligent and not see that it is there is no way
we were told that you could believe this happened by accident you believe one of two things. You either believe it's a racist country or you believe that black people are absolutely no good. Now there are you know there is really only that black people are no good. Then this whole discussion is academic. And yet there are some white Americans who feel that whites should not have a guilty conscience about black people. There is a whole group of white Americans who were raised in the Depression who came as I told you the white people don't want to feel. Then they wonder when the kids are on drugs not talking about the upper middle class the affluent already you know kids you know. How do you know money has nothing to do with your willingness to feel as they do not want to feel they do not want to feel you see another thing about white Americans is no matter where they started. They all have the hope of sitting in the White House. You take Lyndon Baines Johnson and you take Harry S. Truman and they could come from any kind of backwoods and sit in the White
House and you take Senator Edward Brooke whose arms were among the first graduates of Smith College and whose family has had a whole history of achievement and quality and whatever they call class since God knows when. And it is phenomenal for him to get to be a senator. So then there isn't any comparing those things. There isn't any comparing them. What advice would you give to the black parent about the education of his child and the society that you have described. Well he must learn to make a living Certainly. So we're concerned with the fact that he learns how to build the bridges in Tennessee and teach reading writing and counting the money particularly counting the money and things like that. A bought over and beyond that one of the main things that we tried to teach and that I would hope every parent is seeing that his child gets is the dignity of his being so that he learns to say with the first verse of the first chapter in song when I am black and I am
comely. He has really got to feel a long sense of achievement. He's got to be able to understand that poem that Langston Hughes wrote that says I've known river as ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins my soul has grown deep. Like the rivers and he's got to know that he had a culture that preceded most cultures in the world that he didn't just spring like Minerva out of her father's brain full grown that we have developed his starkly over a long period of time and have many many many significant offerings. I recommend to anybody who would like to understand some of this. I'm reading a list that is put out by Medco 178 Humboldt Ave. It cost 250 here in Boston. Yes. Could you give some specific examples of the contributions of Africans to world culture.
Well for instance the shoes on your feet the machinery for that was developed by a black man. The first shoe machine in America and it's still being used. Benjamin Banneker had to rescue the plans for the city of Washington and the whole layout for that city. Now the things are too numerous and I don't even light but they're not numerous for white people when you're talking to a white or Taoist super Donnelly white society saying unspecific sorry job as I told you is in the black community and their job is in the white community. Their job is to get down to the bookstore and buy the MECO book list and sit down and educate themselves in the same way they read about Michelangelo read about Charles White read about Jacob Lawrence and read about Marcus Garvey and read about just not loathe Joe and know that Pushkin was black. I can't spend the rest of my life saving them and losing my own in the past 30 minutes I think our audience would agree that they have heard of a person who happens to be
black. But more significantly as a human being just pulls no punches or just talks right to you. Perhaps for many listeners in the audience right through us. Hopefully not. Elmo Lois thank you very much. You're welcome. Northeastern University has brought you Elma Lois director of national center of African-American artists discussing Afro American culture. The black artist unchained the views and opinions expressed on the preceding program were not necessarily those of Northeastern University or in this nation. Questions I asked were the moderators method of presenting the many sides of today's topic. Your program host has been chosen arm the director of department of radio production. This week's program was produced by Susan Maxwell a regular Nightline economic technical tourism by John Barnes executive producer for urban confrontation
- Urban Confrontation
- Episode Number
- Elma Lewis
- Producing Organization
- Northeastern University (Boston, Mass.)
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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- Series Description
- Urban Confrontation is an analysis of the continuing crises facing 20th century man in the American city, covering issues such as campus riots, assassinations, the internal disintegration of cities, and the ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation. Produced for the Office of Educational Resources at the Communications Center of the nations largest private university, Northeastern University.
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- Public Affairs
- Media type
Producing Organization: Northeastern University (Boston, Mass.)
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 70-5-11 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “Urban Confrontation; 11; Elma Lewis,” 1970-00-00, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 3, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-4b2x767w.
- MLA: “Urban Confrontation; 11; Elma Lewis.” 1970-00-00. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 3, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-4b2x767w>.
- APA: Urban Confrontation; 11; Elma Lewis. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-4b2x767w