May 2010

Join Our Mailing List!
In This Issue
From the Director
Beyond the Blues Exhibition Opens
An Award-Winning Collaboration
Amistad Receives Film Archive
Grant Marks the 50th Anniversary of School Desegregation
Tom Dent: A Heavy Trip through the South
Amistad Collection Assists Federal Recognition Efforts
Student Authors Poem on La Amistad
Marching On: The Passing of Civil Rights Leaders
Make a Donation
From the Director
In addition to the innovative leadership of entrepreneurial staff persons, much of Amistad's success in recent years is in large part due to the strong bonds that we maintain with friends, constituents, and farsighted partners.  Beyond the Blues: Reflections of African America in the Fine Arts Collection of the Amistad Research Center is most recent testimony.  Hosted and co-presented at the New Orleans Museum of Art, Amistad's first major exhibition of works from its fine art collection at a major venue opened as a major success.  The exhibition marks long overdue access to Amistad's heralded collection of works that trace their history to the Harmon Foundation of New York and production of the collection's first comprehensive visual handbook.

The show runs through July 11, 2010, and there will be a number of special programs related to the exhibition hosted at the museum.  Special editions of e-Amistad Reports will assist in communications that ensure maximum exposure to the exhibition and educational programs.  Additional information is available at the Amistad and NOMA websites.

Beyond Beyond the Blues, this issue is packed with updates on our progress and information about the Center's activities.  There is a strong sense of pride in reporting our accomplishments and a special effort to show gratitude for the continuing support of our many loyal and dedicated friends.
Lee Hampton
Executive Director 
Beyond the Blues Exhibition Opens
Works by Richmond Barthe and William Artis on display at NOMA
Beyond the Blues
The exhibition Beyond the Blues: Reflections of African America in the Fine Arts Collection of the Amistad Research Center opened to the public on April 11 at the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA). With over 150 paintings, sculptures, and works on paper representing over 125 years of artistic endeavors, the exhibition highlights not only the contributions of African American artists, but works that reflect the African American experience, as well. Over 300 guests previewed the show on April 10th, and an introductory lecture by artist and scholar David C. Driskell was presented during opening day.
Conceived of not simply as an exhibition of artworks, but as an educational forum, a full slate of lectures and public events, as well as school tours, continue to accompany the show while at the Museum. A calendar of events and information on tours can be found on the Beyond the Blues website. Amsitad staff have posted photographs of the opening and exhibition on the Center's Facebook page
 (r-l): Executive Director Lee Hampton and Executive Director of NOMA John Bullard discuss the Beyond the Blues catalog with Dr. Bill Cosby.
Lee Hampton, John Bullard, and Bill Cosby
Accompanying the exhibition is a catalog that documents not only the show, but the majority of Amistad's fine arts collection. Featuring Elizabeth Catlett's color lithograph, Blues, as the cover illustration, the catalog's foreword by David C. Driskell and essays by exhibition curator Margaret Rose Vendyres and scholars Lowery Stokes Sims, Michael D. Harris, and Rene Ater make the catalog an essential tool for art scholars and a pleasurable read for all art lovers. The catalog is available from NOMA's Museum Shop or directly from the Amistad Research Center. More information is available by calling (504) 862-3222 or emailing

Complementing Beyond the Blues is a related exhibition entitled Creative Circles: Exploring Community in African American Art, which is on display in Amistad's own exhibition gallery. Drawing from the papers of artists Elizabeth Catlett, Hale Woodruff, John T. Scott, and William Pajaud, as well as other sources, this exhibition provides a more intimate understanding of the interconnected lives and careers of some of the artists represented in Beyond the BluesCreative Circles will be on display through June 30.

Amistad invites everyone to visit the Center and NOMA to partake of these wonderful exhibitions and to share them with family and friends.
An Award-Winning Collaboration
Colonial Office. Report on the Gold Coast for the Year 1952. London: Her Majesty's Stationary Office, 1953. From the American Committe on Africa Archives
Gold Coast Colonial Reports, 1952
Amistad is pleased to announce that Dr. Elisabeth McMahon, Professor of African History at Tulane University, has received the 2010 Primary Source Award for Access from the Center for Research Libraries in recognition of a service-learning project completed by students in her "Archiving Africa" class during the Spring 2009 semester. The project was a collaboration between Dr. McMahon's class and the Amistad Research Center. During the course, Amistad staff provided introductory class sessions on archival theory and methods and supervised students who indexed portions of the correspondence files found in worked with the American Committee on Africa (ACOA) Archives 
The students' work has provided Amistad staff and researchers with the ability to locate letters from various African political leaders and heads of state, including Kwame Nkrumah, George Padmore, Julius Nyerere, Tom Mboya, and others, as well as identify the various rare and unique publications collected by ACOA from various governmental agencies, nationalist organizations, and trade unions throughout the continent. Not only did this project serve as the basis for the students' research projects for the class, but it has greatly assisted the Center in increasing access to this valuable collection. Congratulations to Dr. McMahon and her students for a job well done on this award-winning project.
Amistad Receives Film Archive
Executive Director Lee Hampton and
 donor Tom Thurman
Tom Thurman and Lee Hampton
When one thinks of early 20th century American filmmakers, the names Spencer Williams, Oscar Micheaux, Clarence Muse, and Eloyce Gist may not leap to the top of the list, if they appear at all. However, the works produced and directed by these African American filmmakers made a substantial, if underappreciated, mark on American film from the silent era to the early 1940s, and were the topic of Tom Thurman's 2002 documentary, Movies of Color: Black Southern Cinema, a Portrait of Independent African-American Filmmaking. Thurman's work examined not only the lives and works of these pioneering individuals, but the larger topics of the Great Migration, segregated theater policies, and the shadow cast by D.W. Griffith and other creators of stereotypical images. Movies of Color includes not only scenes from such works as Hellbound Train, Verdict Not Guilty, Within Our Gates, The Blood of Jesus and others by early African American directors, but also includes interviews and commentary by a number of film scholars.
Mr. Thurman recently donated 31 Betacam videotapes containing over 800 minutes of raw interview footage, as well as examples of some of the featured films. This outstanding film archive joins similar film collections such as the Ed Pincus Collection, which documents civil rights era activities in Natchez, Mississippi, and the archival footage from Yes Ma'am, a documentary by Gary Goldman on African American domestic workers in New Orleans.
Amistad is currently formulating plans to transfer the collection to DVDs in order to make the footage accessible, and looks forward to screening Mr. Thurman's documentary and some of the featured films at a later date.
Grant Marks the Fiftieth Anniversary of New Orleans Public School Desegregation
On November 14, 1960, four young African American girls entered the formerly all-white elementary schools William Frantz and McDonogh 19 in New Orleans.  Despite the insults and rotten food cast their way, Ruby Bridges, Gail Etienne, Tessie Prevost, and Leona Tate provided the capstone of what historian Liva Baker called "The Second Battle of New Orleans" - the hundred-year struggle to end segregation of the city's public schools.  In recognition of the 50th anniversary of this historic event in New Orleans, the Amistad Research Center has embarked on a project to commemorate the struggles and the triumphs of the individuals and community organizations that led to the desegregation of the Orleans Parish public schools. 
With a grant from the Keller Family Foundation, the Center is currently processing six archival collections that document desegregation efforts in New Orleans and the surrounding area.  Four collections, the Natalie Midlo Collection, the A. M. Trudeau Jr. Papers, the Jane T. Lemann Papers, and the Catholic Council on Human Relations Records, have been completed and the finding aids are now available online.  Other collections to be processed include the personal papers of community activist Rosa Freeman Keller, as well as the research collection of Dr. Alan Wieder, which includes three scrapbooks of newspaper clippings contemporary to the integration of the Frantz and McDonogh schools. 
The finding aids for six additional collections that have already been processed will also be posted online.  By expanding access to these collections, Amistad will provide the primary source materials - letters, fliers, legal papers, scrapbooks, etc - that document the events around November 1960 and the resulting impact on the city of New Orleans and beyond.  In addition to the work with the Center's archival collections, Amistad is also planning a related exhibition and other public programming.  More details on these events will follow in the next e-Amistad Reports.
Tom Dent: A Heavy Trip through the South
Tom Dent
Tom Dent
In late July, the Amistad Research Center will host a reception celebrating the opening of the Tom Dent Papers and a related exhibition on the life and careers of one of New Orleans' most treasured poets, playwrights, and oral historians. The exhibition will run from July 5 to September 30, 2010, in the exhibition gallery of the Amistad Research Center. The reception, tentatively planned for July 29, will feature comments and anecdotes by friends and associates of Tom Dent.
Tom Dent was born in New Orleans in 1932. He became an active participant in the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 70s and a leading literary figure in New Orleans. Dent's collection of papers provides a rich documentary source in the areas of African American literature and theater; the Civil Rights Movement; and the society and culture of New Orleans. Dent was one of the founders of the Umbra Writers Workshop, an African American literary group in New York City during the early 1960s, and was instrumental in the Free Southern Theater in New Orleans, the Blkartsouth poetry and theater troupe, and oral history projects.
Dent was a prolific writer of letters, poetry, and prose throughout his lifetime, and his collection spans over thirty years of African American literature through his correspondence with editors, writers, and artists; his poetry, of which two volumes were published, Magnolia Street (1976) and Blue Lights and River Songs (1982); and his essays and reviews for various African American literary magazines. Alvin Aubert, publisher and editor of Obsidian: Black Literature in Review saw Dent as "Afro-America's First New Orleans Poet." The evolution of Dent's work encompassed his self-discovery of a sense of belonging to the South and to its Black community. As his literary work describing New Orleans culture, history, and society took root, his efforts developed into a focus of documenting the Black community through oral history projects. These projects encompassed not only the river communities of Louisiana and the musicians of New Orleans, but also expanded into a project documenting the Deep South states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina. The culmination of hundreds of interviews resulted in his final book, Southern Journey: A Return to the Civil Rights Movement (1997).
In reviewing the work of Dent, David Henderson said, "Magnolia Street is a heavy trip through New Orleans." Tom Dent's papers are a heavy trip through the culture, history, and literature of the South during the late 20th century.
Amistad Collection Assists Federal Recognition Efforts
by Patty Ferguson-Bohnee
Director of the Indian Legal Clinic at Arizona State University and PACIT member
The Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe ("PACIT") inhabits the southern part of Terrebonne and Lafourche Parishes along Bayou Pointe-au-Chien in Louisiana.  This small French-speaking tribe continues to comprise a distinct community despite colonization, land loss, lack of status as a federally recognized tribe, exploitation of the land and people, and denial of educational opportunities.  The perseverance, ability to adapt, humility, and cultural knowledge of its people have sustained the Tribe.  The Tribe has approximately 683 members.  Most tribal members continue to fish shrimp, oysters, and crab for subsistence and commercial purposes.

Until the mid-1900s, the Pointe-au-Chien lived in palmetto houses and were segregated from the non-Indian community.  Palmetto was also used to make baskets, mats, and other household items.  Most PACIT members over the age of sixty were born at home with the assistance of a mid-wife.  Treateurs (treaters or healers) treated sicknesses through the use of traditional plants and/or prayers.

As a result of racial discrimination, Pointe-au-Chien students were not allowed to attend high school in Terrebonne Parish until the 1960s, when Terrebonne Parish integrated its education system.  As a result, most elder tribal members do not have a high school diploma.  The lack of education, racial discrimination, and other factors have impeded the self-sufficiency of the Tribe.

The Pointe-au-Chien Indian Community is not protected by levees, and land erosion has left the Community vulnerable to natural disasters.  Multiple hurricanes have caused severe damage to homes in Pointe-au-Chien during the past fifteen years.  Tribal members are adapting to the changing nature of their land by elevating their homes, some as high as thirteen feet.  In addition to damage of tribal homes, the tribal office was destroyed by storms in 2008.  Tribal members are currently rebuilding, and the Tribe is preparing to build an office.

PACIT is state recognized and is currently seeking federal recognition in order to protect land (including burial mounds and cultural sites), to assist members more effectively following natural disasters, to provide better education and healthcare to its members, and to protect the language, culture, and traditions of the Tribe.  The lack of federal status impedes PACIT from protecting the land, resources, and community.  Federal recognition is a long, arduous process requiring experts in history, anthropology, and genealogy.  The Tribe has had little financial assistance to conduct research or analysis.  In 2008, the PACIT received a negative proposed finding from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).  The BIA found that the Tribe needs to provide (1) proof of descent from an historical tribe or tribes prior to the 1830s, and (2) more evidence of political leadership between 1940 and 1988.  The BIA specifically wanted to know why Pointe-au-Chien Indians were not part of a discrimination lawsuit brought by Indians in Terrebonne Parish and inferred that it may be because the Tribe lacked political leadership to organize.

Some of the documents regarding the Terrebonne Parish lawsuit included in the papers of attorney John P. Nelson at the Amistad Research Center provide a different answer.  Nelson represented the tribal community during the legal suit to integrate the parish school system. During this time, most tribal members lived on family property on the Lafourche side of Bayou Pointe-au-Chien and children attended a small Indian school in Lower Pointe-au-Chien on the Terrebonne Parish side of the bayou.  Though this school was on the Terrebonne side of the bayou, it was paid for by Lafourche Parish.  Since the Pointe-au-Chien Indians were Lafourche Parish residents, though logistically difficult to travel to and from any white school in Lafourche Parish, Terrebonne Parish did not have a duty to educate Pointe-au-Chien Indians.  Nelson's papers offer a glimpse into the Community during a time period when few non-Indians were visiting or writing about Louisiana's tribal people.  The papers also provide pictures of meetings demonstrating community involvement and acknowledging that Pointe-au-Chien had leaders.  Tribal members have been able to identify individuals in photographs in the Nelson papers, which includes education advocate David Billiot, Pointe-au-Chien leader Sidney Verdin, and traditional healers Valentine and George Billiot.  The Tribe hopes that these materials will lead to other discoveries about tribal leadership in the 1960s that will help the Tribe reverse the BIA's negative proposed finding.
Student Authors Poem on La Amistad
Readership and subscriptions to e-Amistad Reports have increased significantly, and the growing number of submissions and responses that we receive are very much appreciated. We are honored to include in this edition a poem written by a gifted student who began to communicate with our staff last year. Her continued interest in the Amistad Event and world history resulted in special study and writing. We are pleased to publish a poem written by Correena Spangler of northwestern Ohio. 
In Remembrance of La Amistad and the Slaves Aboard
"Give us Free!" - Joseph Cinque a member of the Mende tribe
We were taken from our lands
Dragged to Sierra Leone's sands.
Sold off to the Spanish
Though it was not our wish
No one man has the right to steal
Away a right held so ideal
Too long were we on that dinghy
Some became sick and were thrown into the sea...
The conditions, unspeakable
We must beg for the crumbs off their table
The African heart is better than this
Life we can't afford to remiss.
So we attacked
Only now do they see us as people, not black
Blood stains the deck
But the rain will wash away this human wreck
When we arrived on the main land
A trial had been planned
How could they try us with murder?
They weren't there when it occurred
They speak of justice but do not know the meaning
Between the justice they serve to themselves and me
They are very different
Can't you see now that justice will not end our torment
At least not your kind
One can only be so blind!
We were set free
Someone heard our plea
And by the grace of good-will
We can be African still...
Marching On: The Passing of Civil Rights Leaders
In recent months, headlines have been filled with news of the passing of numerous leaders of the Civil Rights Movement.  Their contributions are well documented and known to many.  However given the importance and lasting impact of their contributions, Amistad pays final tribute and acknowledges the recent deaths of the following: Robert Hicks, founder of the Bogalusa, Louisiana, chapter of the Deacons for Defense and Justice, an armed self-defense organization; Dorothy Height, "godmother" for the Civil Rights Movement, who began her civil rights work in the 1930s; NAACP Executive Director Benjamin Hooks; and Crisis editor Warren Marr II.  The Amistad Research Center holds substantial materials documenting the lives and careers of Benjamin Hooks and Waren Marr II, and extended tributes can be found on the Center's blog by clicking the links above.