Topics for Cultural Memory 2016
I am remembering January 14, 2016 marks the 100th anniversary for John Oliver Killens (1916-1987). Frank Garvin Yerby (1916-1991) will also be 100 on September 5, one day before Richard Wright celebrates being 108. The dead and the living can celebrate a birthday together.
Killens and Yerby chose to follow different paths or ideologies. That is to be remembered. Killens chose to confront and question the Establishment, the system. Yerby chose to take advantage of the Establishment's nostalgia for the past to enlarge his bank account. Their choices are starting points for cultural remembering. We can use the common topics of rhetoric (definition, comparison, relationship, circumstances, and testimony) as well as the special topics (deliberative, judicial, ceremonial) as we read or re-read works of the past and make connections. Those who are younger than we are must always be equal partners in the conversation. Like the dead and the living, the young and the old must speak to and listen to one another. Otherwise, we emit hot air and waste time.
We can remember Eugene B. Redmond's Drumvoices: The Mission of Afro-American Poetry was published 40 years ago as we recall the Eugene B. Redmond Club has been in existence for 30 years. This remembering is an apt prelude for giving attention to the East St. Louis Riot of 1917 in the context of what happened in Ferguson and other combat zones. The urban discord of then has something to teach the urban unrest of now.
Margaret Walker's Jubilee was published 50 years ago. The idea of Kwanzaa is 51, having been created by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1965. Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) dramatically uttered the phrase "Black Power" during James Meredith's "March Against Fear" from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi in 1966. These three facts bid us to negotiate (1) history and fiction, (2) African American celebration of seven principles [Umoja, Kujichagulia, Ujima, Ujamaa, Nia, Kuumba, Imani], and (3) political actions. We have options for choosing how and what to remember. And we should ask as well why Goodread's list of the top 200 books published in 1966 includes Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? but omits Jubilee.
The selection of options can be an investment in re-examination, analysis, and perhaps rededication. We can hope that the young will speak about the future to the present and the past. To be sure, the old can contribute insights about mistakes and suggest (but only suggest) guides for avoiding them. The young should tell us WHAT, WHERE, and HOW. And we should say to them WHY and WHO all of us ought never forget. How we converse about topics of cultural memory in 2016 has the possibility of enlightening and empowering us as we try to build a future that will be slightly different from the one President Barack Obama had the audacity to dream in his January 12 "State of the Union" address.
Jerry W. Ward, Jr.
January 13, 2016