Tag Archives: Sonia Sanchez

Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am is a Necessary Watch

Photo: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders/ Magnolia Pictures
Toni Morrison and Me

I was a freshman in college when I realized that Toni Morrison was a not only a big deal but an important part of literature. It wasn’t that it was my first time being exposed to her, it was the fact that I was at a private, predominantly white school (Denison University) taking a freshman English class named after her that focused on her work. After taking the class, I gained a deeper respect for the author because I had finally been exposed to her world that far surpassed the two books, “Song of Solomon” and “Sula,” I read in high school. 

The film, Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, made me feel as if I was previously foreign to Toni Morrison and her contributions to the African American community. Director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders did an amazing job of putting this introspective and commentary piece together about one of the greatest influences in literature. I got to know Toni Morrison as a writer, teacher, mother, award winner, and overall incredible human being. The documentary explores the early years of her life where her grandparents encouraged her and other children in her family to get as much education as they could.  Her grandparents were alive during a time where it was forbidden for Black people to receive an education. This was the foundation that would inspire one of the world’s greatest writers.

To understand her affinity at an early age gives the audience an understanding of how Morrison became such a distinguished storyteller. At one point she described how she loved books so much that when she worked in a library, she spent more time reading the books than doing the work. They naturally promoted her to a managerial role. 

Photo: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders/ Magnolia Pictures

Howard University & Random House

The Pieces I Am traveled through Morrison’s college roots as she attended the infamous Howard University where, like most graduates, she discovered the true value of being Black and educated. She felt free in her natural habitat amongst other intellectuals and creatives that shared a love for education. After her time at Howard, the film discusses her start at Random House as an editor. This was where the start of her literary career began.

There are so many key moments in this documentary that it’s not hard to see how Toni Morrison became a Pulitzer winner and why many influential figures in Black history have looked up or desired to work with her.  In fact, it’s noted how both Muhammad Ali (The Greatest: My Own Story) and Angela Davis (Angela Davis: An Autobiography) had a huge amount of respect for her, allowing her to write their autobiographies.

Morrison set a standard in the writing industry early on with her works “The Black Book”, “Sula” and “The Bluest Eye.” The film noted how Toni Morrison’s novels transcended race yet encouraged people of color to embrace their melanin and not be afraid or ashamed of the skin they were born in. In fact, “The Black Book” has been described as an emotional exploration of Blackness.  

While watching the film, I wondered why we had to wait until now to receive a Toni Morrison documentary. After all, she had some of her biggest moments in the 90s and previous years but the film also addresses that Toni Morrison is a very private person. When I spoke with director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, he explained how there were a few moments while filming Toni Morrison that they all had to hold their breath because what she was saying was so powerful and captivating. It was hard for him to do cuts during editing because of all the great footage from her interview.

Toni Morrison

Photo: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders/ Magnolia Pictures

Talents and activists that were featured via interview included Angela Davis, Hilton Als, Fran Lebowitz, Walter Mosley, Sonia Sanchez, Farah Griffin, and Oprah Winfrey. They all praised the innate skills, inspiration, and hard work of Morrison. One of the most interesting stories came from Oprah Winfrey when she mentioned how she called the fire station in the neighborhood where Morrison stayed to get in contact with her to do the movie Beloved.  The excitement in the voices and faces of the interviewees show the importance of Toni Morrison, especially Sonia Sachez who had emotional final words at the conclusion of her interview.

During Morrison’s interviews, she explained how she developed some of her books. The way she describes her influences for her work are interesting and visually beautiful, much like her storytelling. Speaking on Beloved, a novel that originated from the Margaret Garner story, Morrison recalled her being out one day looking at the docks when she saw a woman in a hat by the river who suddenly disappeared. This is what sparked the beginning of the amazing Beloved novel that made Oprah a huge admirer.

Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am is not only recommended, it is necessary. To quote Paula Giddins from the film “If you don’t understand the history of African American women, you don’t understand America.” The documentary released in theatres on June 28th, 2019.

Photos: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders/ Magnolia Pictures


16 Black Women Activists and Artists We Need To Celebrate

16 Black Women Activists and Artists We Need To Celebrate

These words were like a vice grip on my soul. I was watching the recently released documentary, What Happened, Miss Simone?, and couldn’t help but be transfixed on the woman. I also couldn’t help but to be forever changed as a writer and artist. Despite heartbreaking personal trials, Nina Simone found significant purpose—arguably, her voice—by writing and singing music that ultimately became the soundtrack of the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements.

Art, in all its forms, has a way of moving us. A song can stir our hearts until we can do nothing but cry or rage. A painting or photograph can take us so deep inside ourselves that self-awareness and reflection are unavoidable. A poem or novel can immerse us in a world so completely that we inevitably will draw parallels between the characters and our own lives. And despite the fact that in the telling and retelling of the stories of our movements for justice and equality, men figure prominently as protagonists, there have been numerous Black women artists who have hoisted the mantle of leadership onto their shoulders and spoken, sung, written and painted us free.

Here are sixteen Black women artist-activists from across history to whom we must be grateful—for their courage in letting the art speak on our behalf.

Black Women Activists, Photo: Biography.com

1. Elizabeth Catlett

“Art is only important to the extent that it aids in the liberation of our people.”

Born in Washington D.C. on April 15, 1915, Alice Elizabeth Catlett’s background as the daughter of an educator and social worker informed her identity as an artist and activist. As a college student at Howard University, Catlett was active in antiwar and labor protests and later participated in desegregation efforts in New Orleans. Her artwork was also reflective of her social and political activism, particularly as it relates to Black women. Her work highlights our strength and resilience despite consistent oppression and communicates in visual terms, our resistance to racism and injustice.

Black Women Activists, Photo: Getty Images

2. Nina Simone

“Slavery has never been abolished from America’s way of thinking.”

Singer/songwriter Nina Simone was a classically trained pianist who always longed to play classical music. However, her purpose was greater than any Bach or Beethoven recital as Simone became the voice of the civil rights movement in the 50s and 60s. Her profound and heart-wrenching lyrics wrapped in jazz, blues, and folk melodies expressed the frustrations and hope of Black people and resonated with the movement.

Black Women Activists, Photo: Facebook

3. Jessica Care moore

“I wear a crown of knowledge, ’cause I’m a conscious queen. My mask is one of happiness, though my history here is full of misery. Done deliberately. I am America’s true statue of liberty.”

An internationally renowned poet, performance artist and publisher, moore is the author of The Words Don’t Fit in My Mouth, The Alphabet Verses The Ghetto, God is Not an American, Sunlight Through Bullet Holes, and a memoir, Love is Not The Enemy.

As an artist/activist, jessica Care moore has lent her voice to the international fight against AIDS and most recently marched alongside protesters in Ferguson, MO after the murder of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by police.

Black Women Activists, Sonia Sanchez (Okay Player)

4. Sonia Sanchez

“The black artist is dangerous. Black art controls the ‘Negro’s’ reality, negates negative influences, and creates positive images.”

As an integral member of the Black Arts Movement of the late 60s and 70s, Sonia Sanchez is a poet, activist, and scholar whose work has been a significant force of change and inspiration. The author of sixteen books, she was the Laura Carnell Professor of English and Women’s Studies at Temple University and served as a member of CORE (Congress on Racial Equality).

Black Women Activists, Photo: Mike Blake / Reuters

5. Ruby Dee

“There was so much meanness in the atmosphere…but marvelous things pierce through the darkness of poverty and racism. You meet all kinds of people that help put life in perspective and turn the horror into some kind of lesson or avenue of awakening that lives with you all your days.”

Ruby Dee is our elder and now ancestor, in every sense of the words. Her work as an actress in film and theater will live on as a record of her talent. Her work as an activist who, along with her husband Ossie Davis, led civil rights initiatives in and out of the entertainment world, will live on as a record of her passions and convictions. Arguably, it is Dee’s work that allowed for, as The New York Times noted, “the lives of American blacks, both extraordinary and ordinary,” to emerge “as rich subject matter for mainstream theater productions and films, and black performers [to go] from being consigned to marginal and often belittling roles to starring in Hollywood megahits.”

Black Women Activists, Photo: Biography.com

6. Zora Neale Hurston

“Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.”

Zora Neale Hurston was born in the late nineteenth century and was one of the most steadfast and celebrated writers of the Harlem Renaissance. One of her masterpieces of fiction was the seminal novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God. Her work as a writer and cultural anthropologist sought to shift the perceptions of African Americans but on our own terms. She spoke frankly and fiercely about living in a racist, sexist, and classist culture while maintaining one’s self-esteem and confidence. She was unafraid of “bumping heads” with both white and Black male artists and leaders. Hurston was a critical voice in the art as activism movement.

Black Women Activists, Photo: Biography.com

7. Lorraine Hansberry

“A status not freely chosen or entered into by an individual or a group is necessarily one of oppression and the oppressed are by their nature (i.e., oppressed) forever in ferment and agitation against their condition and what they understand to be their oppressors. If not by overt rebellion or revolution, then in the thousand and one ways they will devise with and without consciousness to alter their condition.”

While mostly known for her work as a playwright—giving us classics like A Raisin in the Sun and To Be Young, Gifted and Black—Lorraine Hansberry was the quintessential artist-activist. Her commitment to human rights and equality was reflected in her stories and characters but also in her involvements with the Black liberation movement and feminist organizations. Each play demonstrated a deep commitment to the Black struggle for human rights and equality.

Black Women Activists, Jessie Redmon Fauset

8. Jessie Redmon Fauset

“The white world is feverishly anxious to know of our thoughts, our hopes, our dreams. Organization is our strongest weapon.”

Jessie Redmon Fauset was a writer and editor who was extremely influential in the early 20th century as the literary editor of the NAACP magazine The Crisis. According to many sources, Fauset was known as one of the most intelligent women writers of the Harlem Renaissance, and was commonly called “the midwife” of that movement. Beyond her own poems and short stories, her position as literary editor allowed her the ability to promote other more well known activist-writers including Langston Hughes, who was first published by Fauset.

Black Women Activists, Photo: Missouri Historical Society Photographs and Prints Collection

9. Katherine Dunham

“My job is to create a useful legacy.”

Dancer, choreographer, educator, and activist, Dunham used her influence and popularity as the owner of her own dance company and the matriarch of black dance to bring attention to numerous human rights issues. At the age of 83, she went on a 47-day hunger strike in protest of America’s foreign policy against a segment of Haitian immigrants. Her actions brought acknowledgment to the plight of the people and she was awarded Haiti’s highest medal of honor.

Black Women Activists, Lena Horne

10. Lena Horne

“I don’t have to be an imitation of a white woman that Hollywood sort of hoped I’d become. I’m me, and I’m like nobody else.”

Much like Ruby Dee, legendary singer/actor Lena Horne used her renown to fight racism in and out of the entertainment industry. The first African American to sign a long-term contract with a major Hollywood studio, Horne was not afraid to make major statements in favor of equality for Black people, including filing complaints with the NAACP regarding segregated shows, suing various restaurants for racial discrimination, and aligning herself with Paul Robeson politically as part of the Progressive Citizens of America (she was blacklisted because of it). Most notably, Horne supported the work of the National Council for Negro Women and participated in the March on Washington in 1963.

Black Women Activists, Audre Lorde (Dagmar Schultz)

11. Audre Lorde

“The failure of academic feminists to recognize difference as a crucial strength is a failure to reach beyond the first patriarchal lesson. In our world, divide and conquer must become define and empower.”

Caribbean-American writer, feminist and civil rights activist, Audre Lorde, spoke regularly on issues related to oppression, feminism and civil rights. She specifically confronted racism within the work and organizations of white feminists. Her work gained notoriety (and criticism) because of its themes of sexuality and its distinctly revolutionary bent.

Black Women Activists, June Jordan

12. June Jordan

“I am a feminist, and what that means to me is much the same as the meaning of the fact that I am Black: it means that I must undertake to love myself and to respect myself as though my very life depends upon self-love and self-respect.”

June Jordan’s work as a poet and activist was born from the Black Arts Movement of the 60s and 70s. Through her writing, she advocated for the poor and marginalized; she was also a supporter for equal rights for women. Jordan’s words clearly resonate with today’s issues surrounding police brutality. In ”Poem About Police Violence,” she writes: ”Tell me something/what you think would happen if/every time they kill a black boy/then we kill a cop/every time they kill a black man/then we kill a cop/you think the accident rate would lower/subsequently?”

Black Women Activists, Photo: Biography.com

13. Josephine Baker

“Surely the day will come when color means nothing more than the skin tone, when religion is seen uniquely as a way to speak one’s soul; when birth places have the weight of a throw of the dice and all men are born free, when understanding breeds love and brotherhood.”

Often called the activist-entertainer Josephine Baker, born in St. Louis, MO, was a singer and dancer who found fame in France in the early 20th century. Baker was staunch supporter of civil rights and spent most of her life fighting racism in some form. She notoriously refused to perform in segregated establishments and working with the NAACP, became a kind of civil rights crusader here in the United States as well as overseas.

Black Women Activists, Photo: Barnard College

14. Ntozake Shange

“I write for young girls of color, for girls who don’t even exist yet, so that there is something there for them when they arrive. I can only change how they live, not how they think.”

Ntozake Shange is a Black feminist playwright and poet best known for her groundbreaking work, the Obie-Award winning play, for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf. Through her plays, essays, novels and poems, Shange often addressed issues in feminism and was fearless in wrestling with “taboo topics” like the sometimes contentious relationships between Black men and women.

Black Women Activists, Photo: On Milwaukee

15. Faith Ringgold

“No other creative field is as closed to those who are not white and male as is the visual arts. After I decided to be an artist, the first thing that I had to believe was that I, a black woman, could penetrate the art scene, and that, further, I could do so without sacrificing one iota of my blackness or my femaleness or my humanity.”

Artistically known for her painted story quilts, Faith Ringgold is a true artist-activist in that her political and social activism is evidenced through personal statements in her art—see the American People Series—as well as in her advocacy. She has been a member and leader in several feminist and anti-racist organizations and alongside her equally powerful, artist-activist daughter, Michele Wallace (author of Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman), founded the Women Students and Artists for Black Art Liberation (WSABAL).

Black Women Activists

16. Miriam Makeba

“Everybody now admits that apartheid was wrong, and all I did was tell the people who wanted to know where I come from how we lived in South Africa. I just told the world the truth. And if my truth then becomes political, I can’t do anything about that.”

Makeba, called “Mama Africa,” was a South-African singer who introduced the world to Xhosa and Zulu songs. She actively campaigned against apartheid in South African and had her passport revoked by the government of her homeland as a result. After moving to West Africa with her then-husband, Black Panther, Stokely Carmichael, Makeba was made an official delegate to the United Nations for Guinea and won the Dag Hammarskjold Peace Prize in 1986.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list. Who would you add to it?

via www.ontheblacklist.net

16 Black Women Activists and Artists We Need To Celebrate