Centennial 2014

[By Jerry W. Ward, Jr.]

Dudley Randall (1914-2000), Daisy Bates (1914-1999), Kenneth Bancroft Clark (1914-2005), Billy Eckstine [William Clarence Eckstine 1914-1993] Ralph Ellison (1914-1994), Joe Lewis [Joseph Louis Barrow 1914-1981], Sun Ra [Herman Poole Blount 1914-1993], Woody Strode [Woodrow Wilson Woodwine Strode 1914-1994], Sonny Boy Williamson I [John Lee Curtis Williamson 1914-1948], and Emmett Ashford (1914-1980) are all candidates for centennial celebration.
It shall be edifying to chronicle how remembering will be divided among interest groups—–literary and social historians, patriotic warmongers, the musicologists, political analysts, sport experts, film critics, transnational theorists and civil rights scholars. The year 2014 presents an opportunity to think again about 1714, 1814 and World War I. Can we adequately assess the role of time and circumstance in the making of Americans if we segregate those listed above from Jiang Qing, William Westmoreland, Jonas Stalk, Joe DiMaggio, Daniel Boorstin, Clayton Moore, William S. Burroughs, Octavio Paz, Dylan Thomas, Lester Flatt, Bernard Malamud, and Ernest Tubb? What do we gain from selective celebration that is predicated on use of the social construction named “race”?

In ideal situations, it would be easy to have collective centennials. We live, however, in reality and amoral actuality. Our cultural studies and remembering thrive on interdisciplinarity which is governed more by ideology than by reason. Viewed comparatively, remembering the achievements and life histories of Dudley Randall and Joe Lewis or of Billy Eckstine and Sonny Boy Williamson might illuminate similar comparisons of William Westmoreland and Daisy Bates or of Sun Ra and Lester Flatt. We talk multiculturalism and the Omni-American. We talk, make hot air, and put with Z “in conversation” A, but we do not have critical  absorption that minimizes cultural amnesia.

In my work as one of the “little people” from Mississippi, the commitment of Dudley Randall as a poet and founder of Broadside Press is a stronger candidate for memory than Ralph Ellison and the novel Invisible Man. Putting Randall’s Life and accomplishments under the microscope of 2014 does not minimize the need to attend to other writers born in 2014. It accelerates my interest in looking at the Black Arts Movement from the perspective of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, in hearing Sonny Boy Williamson from the angle of Octavio Paz’s The Labyrinth of Solitude, in asking whether Daisy Bates made a more substantial contribution to the moral dimensions of the American mind than did William Westmoreland or William Burroughs.   

For my centennial rituals in 2014, I shall examine again

Boyd, Melba Joyce. Wrestling with the Muse: Dudley Randall and the Broadside Press. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003.  

Miller, R. Baxter. ” ‘Endowing the World and Time’: The Life and Work of Dudley Randall.” Black American Poets Between Worlds, 1940-1960. Ed. R. Baxter Miller. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1986.

Thompson, Julius E. Dudley Randall, Broadside Press, and the Black Arts Movement in Detroit, 1960-1995. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1999.