‘Marshall’ turns Thurgood into the contemporary hero Americans want, but ignores the one he was Not enough of the real NAACP lawyer shows up in Chadwick Boseman’s portrayal

Marshall, the new film from director Reginald Hudlin about the late Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall, comes from a production company called Super Hero Films.

It’s an appropriate moniker, given that the star of Marshall is Chadwick Boseman — or, as he’s sure to be known after February, Black Panther. But it’s also appropriate given the way Marshall presents the man once known as “Mr. Civil Rights” as a swashbuckling, arrogant, almost devil-may-care superhero attorney barnstorming the country in pursuit of justice and equality.

Written by Connecticut attorney Michael Koskoff and his son, Joseph, Marshall is not the story of the first black Supreme Court justice’s entire life. The movie takes place decades before Marshall was ever nominated to the court. Instead, Marshall provides a snapshot of young Thurgood through the course of the Connecticut trial of Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown), a black chauffeur who was arrested in 1940 for the rape, kidnapping and attempted murder of his white boss, Eleanor Strubing (Kate Hudson).

Marshall, at the time an attorney in the NAACP’s civil rights division and seven years out of Howard University School of Law, travels to Connecticut to defend Spell. When the white judge presiding over the case refuses to let Marshall be the lead lawyer on the case, Marshall enlists a local Jewish attorney, Sam Friedman (Josh Gad), as the puppet for his legal ventriloquism. Marshall feeds Friedman his strategy, arguments and ideas and sits on his hands as he watches Friedman clumsily make his way through them.

Hudlin ends the film with an image of Marshall after he’s pulled into a train station in the Deep South. A mischievous smile creeping across his face, he grabs a paper cup to get a drink of water from a whites-only water fountain. Marshall tips his hat to an older black gentleman who’s watching, clearly astonished, and continues on his way.

The scene exposes how Marshall is more of an exercise in reflecting contemporary black attitudes about race and rebellion than it is connected to the way Marshall enacted that rebellion in his life as an NAACP lawyer, solicitor general under Lyndon Johnson, and then as a member of the Supremes. It’s certainly ahistorical. The real Marshall was a skilled politician, which made him an effective courtroom lawyer. He was charmingly persuasive, according to those who knew him, able to persuade white Southerners to do his bidding even against the wishes of fire-breathing racist sheriffs.

“He wasn’t an activist or a protester. He was a lawyer,” Marshall’s NAACP colleague, attorney Jack Greenberg, said in a 1999 documentary that asserts Marshall always followed the rules of the segregated South during his many trips there.

In any fictive portrait based on true life, a certain amount of interpretation is expected. But Marshall fundamentally changes our understanding of Marshall as a person and a real-life superhero. Thanks to accounts from family, colleagues and biographers such as Juan Williams, we know Marshall was smart, strategic and conscious of preserving his life and safety so that he could live to fight another day.

Hudlin superimposes modern conceptions of black heroism onto a period courtroom drama. He’s not the first to do so, of course. Both the 2016 adaptation of Roots and the now-canceled WGN series Underground told historical stories calibrated for a modern audience that wants and deserves to see black characters exhibit agency over their fates. Combined with the decision to cast the dark-skinned Boseman and Keesha Sharp as Marshall and his wife, Buster, Hudlin’s choices feel reactive to the colorism and racism in modern Hollywood. That choice ends up flattening an aspect of Marshall that certainly had an effect on his life: his privilege as a light-skinned, wavy-haired lawyer who grew up as the middle-class son of a Baltimore woman with a graduate degree from Columbia and a father who worked as a railway porter.

If ever there was a couple who fit the profile of the black bourgeoisie, it was Thurgood and Buster Marshall. Casting Boseman and Sharp may be a way to thumb one’s nose at the screwed-up obsession with skin tone that pervaded the black elite in the early 20th century and continues to block opportunities in modern-day Hollywood, but it also erases part of our understanding of how Marshall moved through the world.

Marshall possessed a terrific legal mind and used it to hold the country accountable to its founding ideals. He was a pioneer for daring to think that equality could be achieved by challenging the country’s institutions, but he also expressed a deep reverence for and faith in them. He would have been seen by whites in the South as a Northern agitator, and he knew it — the real Thurgood slept with his clothes on in case a lynch mob decided to confront him in the middle of the night. Altering Marshall so much in a movie meant to celebrate him ends up cheapening the gesture. It’s like making a biopic about Barack Obama and turning him into Jesse Jackson. He just wasn’t that type of dude.

It wouldn’t matter so much that Boseman’s Marshall strays so far from the real man if it wasn’t for the fact that Marshall tends to exist now mostly as a Black History Month factoid (even though multiple biographies have been written about his life and work).

Thurgood, a 2011 HBO movie starring Laurence Fishburne, goes too far in the opposite direction. Clips of Fishburne show a stiff and overly reverential character better suited for a museum video re-enactment or a Saturday Night Live sketch.

I sound like the story of Thurgood Marshall is a Goldilocks conundrum. Fishburne-as-Marshall was too stiff. Boseman-as-Marshall was too loose. Maybe a third attempt will get it just right.

Every time I see a film by a black director or that stars black people and I love it unreservedly, I experience a mélange of awe, reverence and respect that comes from witnessing an amazing work of art. And then comes the wave of relief.

Because the stakes are so high — every so-called “black film” must succeed to secure another! — you feel some kind of way about having to type all the reasons a film doesn’t work, knowing that those words have consequences but still need to be expressed. In short, it’s the feeling of “I don’t know if I like this, but I need it to win.”

I hate this feeling. If ever there was a selfish reason for wishing the film industry would hurry up and achieve racial and gender parity, this is it.


Hudlin’s directorial oeuvre is squarely commercial. His gaze is unfussy, with few stylistic flourishes, likely influenced by his past 15 years directing episodic television. His last movie was Wifey, a TV movie starring Tami Roman. His last feature was the 2002 romantic comedy Serving Sara, starring Matthew Perry and Elizabeth Hurley, but he’s probably best known for Boomerang, House Party and The Ladies Man. Thus it’s no surprise that Hudlin directs Marshall as a crowd-pleaser, but the nuances of Marshall’s life get lost.

What’s disappointing about the way Marshall is translated for the big screen is that real-life heroes come in a variety of forms. They’re complicated. They’re not saintly, nor are they all hot-headed crusaders. And that’s OK.

One of the most admirable aspects of Loving was that it was a historical drama with the patience to tell the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, portrayed by Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga, as the quiet, country people they were. They seem as unlikely a pair to make civil rights history in the film as they were when they lived. But Loving came from the Focus Features division of NBCUniversal, a production house known for unconventional work. Marshall is not an art house film, and I don’t think it needed to be to tell Marshall’s story. Hidden Figures was another historical drama meant for wide consumption. It’s not perfect, but Hidden Figures was so full of charm that it overcame the white saviorism added to Kevin Costner’s character, which didn’t exist in Margot Lee Shetterly’s book.

The shortcomings that separate Marshall from Hidden Figures and Loving are the same ones that give it the feeling of a TV movie. Aside from focusing on one specific area of Marshall’s life rather than the whole of it, Marshall does little to escape or subvert some of the most irritating biopic tropes.

For instance, the screenwriters jam Boseman’s mouth full of exposition about his accomplishments rather than demonstrating them. He rattles them off to Friedman in the form of a verbal resume.

The movie includes a nightclub scene that functions as little more than a non sequitur to shout, “HEY, THURGOOD MARSHALL WAS FRIENDS WITH ZORA NEALE HURSTON AND LANGSTON HUGHES. DID YOU KNOW ZORA AND LANGSTON HAD AN ICY RELATIONSHIP? BECAUSE WE DID!”

The three aren’t around long enough to discuss anything substantive. Their interaction doesn’t serve as foreshadowing for some other part of the movie. They’re just there because they all lived in Harlem. It’s little more than fat to be trimmed in a nearly two-hour movie.

But the most obvious weak point may lie in the flashbacks to the interactions between Strubing and Spell, which are filled with so much melodrama that they’d be perfectly at home on Lifetime. It’s not that those tropes don’t have their place. It’s just not on a screen that’s 30 feet high.

Boseman, as watchable as ever, makes Marshall a winking, confident wisecracker with a disarming smile. He’s full of smarts and bravado, communicating the real off-hours aspects of Marshall’s ribald sense of humor.

In the future, though, I hope screenwriters and filmmakers have more faith in the capacity of audiences to appreciate all kinds of heroes. As tempting as it is to superimpose modern politics onto historical figures, it can be more edifying to simply let them breathe so that we can appreciate their efforts within the context of their own times. Such context allows us to more fully understand the cost of their struggles and celebrate them all the more for winning.

The portrait of an artist: Derek Fordjour dissects race, sports and culture A Morehouse and Harvard grad is telling the world how he feels about life and athletics — via art

Mid-September in Harlem, New York. The wind, sotto voce. Rain is in the forecast but as yet, no tears from the clouds that hover above the neighborhood commonly known as the birthplace of the Harlem Renaissance. On the corner of West 155th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue stands a 13-story charcoal-colored building designed in 2015 by Sir David Frank Adjaye, the Ghanaian-British architect of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The building not only offers affordable housing, and early education programs, it’s also home to the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling. Just one floor down, though is like entering a previous century. The shift in the atmosphere is due to PARADE, an exhibition of the work of visual artist Derek Fordjour. Fordjour, a Morehouse, Hunter College and Harvard graduate born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, creates installments at the intersection of race, sports, and the “economic, political and psychosocial implications of games.”

Fordjour always knew he was an artist. “I don’t think it was realization,” he said. “I think I was just an artist … all kids are artists. I just started … and I just never stopped. Art is the first language for kids, but [most] of us kind of adapt, or move away from it. I just kind of kept going.”


At Fordjour’s Brooklyn studio, one piece stands out: acrylic, oil pastel, charcoal on newspaper, mounted on a 30-inch by 24-inch canvas. The piece is prideful. It presents the head and shoulders of a black athlete in a striped jersey. The colors peek from behind shadows and strong, textured diamond shapes. The work reeks of the often unsettled place of black athletes in pro sports, a space complicated by fame, money and sometimes false narratives. Fordjour is recipient of the C12 Emerging Artist Award 2017 has had his work featured in exhibitions at Roberts & Tilton Gallery in Los Angeles, New York City’s Sotheby’s S2 Gallery, and Luce Gallery in Turin, Italy.

His interest in dissecting race in sports takes over a large space in his studio, which is in the DUMBO area of Brooklyn. He says he is a Los Angeles Lakers fan, from as far back as the Showtime Lakers/Magic Johnson era. “In sports … there’s a lot of preparation and skill, but there’s also luck,” said Fordjour. “Playing the game in the right place matters. If I were [making art] in some far out, distant city, it wouldn’t have the same resonance as it does in New York. I see those parallels, I see [sports] as … entertainment as well, and these works really are about that.”

“Growing up, I heard in a speech once — ‘If I have to run 10 yards for a first down and you have to run three, it don’t matter how hard I play.’ ”

He says that art and sports occupy similar positions in society — because there’s no utility to either of them. “The outcome of a game,” he said, “or when I complete a piece, it doesn’t really fundamentally change the lives of many people … materially anyway … but it has social value.”

He said that some of what happens when he works is he takes “the story” and then tries to internalize a lot of it. “One of the reasons why … surfaces are really worn the way they are is because coming from Memphis, I grew up getting things that were worn a lot — freshly used. I had a big brother, my parents were immigrants … [so also] seeing our [used] clothes go to Ghana. Those cycles, the things we have worn … is a lot about what [my] surfaces are about.”

Many times, he starts by laying down a base of cardboard. “Then I do a second layer,” he said, “where I actually paint the image, and then I use registration, which is like transparencies, these clear things, to mark where it is. I have these marks that will help me position the image on the top layer, and then I kind of tear through. I will do another image. I can almost tear it and then just pull that middle layer if I wanted, or go all the way back to the bottom layer. They’re really three paintings on top of each other, and then I just kind of tear in between. I don’t even know how I thought of it, I think it just happens. You’re making things … you just keep making them.”


Fordjour’s PARADE installation at the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum.

Courtesy of Derek Fordjour

Fordjour’s PARADE opened on July 27 and runs through Jan. 14, 2018, is a bold indicator that art still thrives in Sugar Hill. The installation is backed by carnival music — a nostalgic journey that places visitors back to their own childhoods while giving them a glimpse into Fordjour’s own youthful obsessions. There’s a brick-paved tunnel complete with flashing lights and shiny floors. Lighted archways lead to a kind of fun house, with each step visitors move into a new creative space. Unlike regular parades, where the crowd gathers to view the fun passing by, in PARADE visitors walk through the exhibit and enjoy the pieces.

The walls are lined with newspaper, with masks and statues, serving as the backdrop of pieces representing Fordjour’s Ghanaian heritage.

The walls are lined with newspaper, with masks and statues, serving as the backdrop of pieces representing Fordjour’s Ghanaian heritage. Throughout are what the artist refers to as “works on paper” and the museum describes as ” … his signature and highly textured collages … vignettes, small sculptures, found objects, and interventions.” There is even a small mounted Ferris wheel, a food cart, and a ceiling of blue skies. Sneakers hang from a utility line.

“A touch of urbanity,” Fordjour said. “Certain kind of symbols, monikers, they locate an experience, and I wanted that kind of specificity. There are certain neighborhoods you don’t see that in.”

Near the end of PARADE visitors enter a closet that houses coats, hats, shirts and shoes. It turns out he got them from a museum staffer. They were items she’d had stored after a breakup with an ex.

Fordjour is curious: “But did you go through it?” He believes it’s a becomes kind of a litmus test, particularly for adults, about risk-taking. “Some people turn around,” he said of the people who don’t push through and back, and see what’s there, “and go all the way back out.”

Fordjour uses material that methodically disseminates layers of texture, which intensifies as the pieces hit the surface. The end result? Astonishing, thought-provoking art.

“We want fairness,” he said. “Societal fairness. Growing up, I heard in a speech once — ‘If I have to run 10 yards for a first down and you have to run three, it don’t matter how hard I play.’ Some of my work is about that inequality. That’s what it comes down to. If you look at health care, if you look at the history of housing, if you look at the history of banking, if you look at education, the disparities across all … are a lot greater than we realize. I’m interested in those ideas of fairness.”

Aux Cord Chronicles XIII: 28 songs that could replace the national anthem What if we switched from ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ to something from Aretha Franklin, Dipset — or Kendrick and Beyoncé?

Congratulations, America. You’ve successfully stiff-armed Colin Kaepernick’s original protest, meant to shed light on police brutality and systemic injustices against people of color, from the national conversation. Now, despite the fact that Nate Boyer, a retired Green Beret and Seattle Seahawk, suggested that Kaepernick and teammate Eric Reid take a knee as a sign of respect, the national discussion is centered on the supposed disrespect of the flag, the men and women of our military and the national anthem.

So let’s be proactive. “The Star-Spangled Banner” was penned in 1814 by Francis Scott Key. On March 3, 1931, President Herbert Hoover signed a congressional act officially declaring it the national anthem. Well, 86 years is quite the lifetime, but everything deserves a revamp — or at least an alternate. Below are 28 possibilities. (Aside from the obvious choice, John Rosamond Johnson’s musical adaptation of his brother James’ poem “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” otherwise known as the black national anthem.)

Aretha Franklin — “Respect” (1967)

Franklin has a legion of iconic records to her name, but this is the zenith. Want to win a free round at the bar? Ask who sang the original. The answer is Otis Redding, who wrote the song and dropped the original in 1965. Franklin’s version put the song into another stratosphere, becoming an anthem for black America in the process.

Maze featuring Frankie Beverly — “Before I Let Go” (1981)

Imagine it’s Friday night. It’s been a long week at work. You and your co-workers are this close to quitting and traveling the country and living off of your savings. Then you realize you absolutely suck at saving money, so there’s that. But you’ve got tickets to the big game this weekend. And when the announcer tells everyone to stand for the national anthem, they play this. For about three minutes, nothing else in the world would matter. Vote Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly 2020.

Kool & The Gang — “Get Down On It” (1981)

If you play this around your parents, aunts and uncles, they will immediately break out into a two-step and reminisce on what they were doing when this killed at the clubs.

The Gap Band — “Outstanding” (1982)

Is there any self-respecting human being who doesn’t love this song? I mean, other than this guy. This technically already is the national anthem, if you’re familiar with black cookouts and family reunions.

Will Smith — “Fresh Prince Theme Song” (1990)

I couldn’t recite the current national anthem without looking at a cheat sheet. But I could absolutely recite this — arguably the most iconic theme song in the history of theme songs. I’m not the only one, either.

Public Enemy — “Fight The Power” (1990)

Pretty self-explanatory, if we’re being honest.

Queen Latifah — “U.N.I.T.Y.” (1993)

“Unity” is a great idea, but in this case it sidesteps the original point of Kaepernick’s protests. But since we’re on the topic of unity, 1993 was a good year for Queen. This song dropped (and eventually won a Grammy), as did the classic ’90s sitcom Living Single.

Bone Thugs-N-Harmony feat. Eazy-E — “Foe Tha Love of Money” (1994)

Because C.R.E.A.M:. Cash Rules Everything About America.

DMX — “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem” (1998)

Stop. Drop. Shut ’em down, open up shop. Francis Scott Key couldn’t hold a candle to Earl Simmons.

Lauryn Hill — “Ex-Factor” (1998)

Just don’t have L-Boogie sing this Miseducation standout for Sunday Night Football — she might not show up until Thursday night. #AligningMyEnergyWithTheTime

Juvenile — “Back That Azz Up” (1998)

1. See my signature at the bottom of this post. 2. MAKE AMERICA TWERK AGAIN.

C-Murder feat. Magic & Snoop Dogg — “Down 4 My N—” (2000)

One thing for sure. Two things for certain. This beat will always be hard enough to convince a person he or she can run through a brick wall. And while it may sound odd to nominate a guy with a first-degree felony in his name for national anthem consideration, I’d argue this country has had far more head-scratching moments.

Sunshine Anderson — “Heard It All Before” (2001)

Because, being black in America, you actually have heard it all before.

Lil Jon & The Eastside Boyz — “Get Low” (2002)

You know how the “land of the free, and the home of the brave” part gets everyone riled up? Hear me out. Imagine if it were To the window!/ To the wall!/ Till the sweat … well, you know the rest. Plus, Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle would agree. Just look at how sad this guy got:

Jay-Z — “PSA” (2003)

It’d be fire to be at a New York Knicks game and the announcer says, “Everybody please rise for the singing of our national anthem.” And the next thing you know, over the PA system, Allow me to reintroduce myself/ My name is Hov!/ H to the O-V/ I used to move snowflakes by the O-Z …

The Diplomats — “Dipset Anthem” (2003)

I’m on the west side of Chicago, lookin’ for a bust-down/ To make me put my two arms up, touchdown!/ You stay in touch now, but when I touch down/ I’m like Buckshort shorty, you better duck down/ Yeah I must clown/ I’m from Harlem, uptown/ Where we flash money, take your b—- and ask you what now?

Cam’ron is an American institution and should always be respected as such. Also, my request of the National Museum of African American History and Culture still stands.

UGK feat. Outkast — “International Players Anthem” (2007)

Most songs on this list you can play for a verse and a hook and be fine. But this one? You play all four verses. You rap all four verses with as much conviction as you’ve ever done anything in your life. In particular, like Jay-Z said at Made In America a few weeks ago, you rap Pimp C’s verse loud enough so he can hear it in heaven. This is a perfect song. And no, it’s not up for debate.

Foxx feat. Lil Boosie and Webbie — “Wipe Me Down” (2007)

It’s not even a question I’d pledge allegiance to a song where a man got to the club with gas tank on E, still gets in VIP and proclaims all drinks on him. I’m proud to be a (trill) American.

F.L.Y. — “Swag Surf” (2009)

It’s a song that requires you to put your arms around the shoulders of your fellow man or woman. How much more unity do you need?

Gucci Mane feat. Ester Dean — “I Think I Love Her” (2009)

I’m all about ending gender discrimination. I’m all about ending the pay gap women face every day. And I’m all about gender equality. Hence our inclusion of this Gucci Mane classic. And, yes, while it is his song, everyone knows why we’re here: Well, my name is Susie and Gucci think I love him/ That sucka think I’m loyal but I f— with all the hustlas/ I be wit all the ballas/ I be at all the spots/ I might be in yo’ kitchen n—- cooking with yo’ pots. What a woman … **swoons**

DJ Khaled — “All I Do Is Win” (2010)

America has always operated under the Ricky Bobby gospel: “If you ain’t first, you’re last.”

Rihanna feat. Calvin Harris — “We Found Love” (2011)

My all-time favorite Rihanna song. It doesn’t have to be on your list, but it’s staying on mine.

Drake — “Started From The Bottom” (2013)

I just think it’s funny how it goes … that Kaepernick’s original protest was gentrified and had a Whole Foods move into its neighborhood.

Travis Scott — “Antidote” (2015)

Have you ever seen him perform this live? In fact, let’s give it a test run. For the Houston Rockets’ home opener, let’s do this song before tipoff.

Future — “March Madness” (2015)

Because Dress it up and make it real for me is now etched into America in much the same way as JFK’s “Ask not what your country can do for you” quote. If we’re being honest, too, this has been the national anthem since the summer of 2015 anyway.

Beyoncé feat. Kendrick Lamar — “Freedom” (2016)

Can’t have a list like this and not include Blue, Rumi and Sir’s mom. And while I’m sure the #BeyHive will tell me I omitted 240 other songs that fit the list, it’s hard to deny this Lemonade standout and its soulful, uncompromising hook. Having Kung Fu Kenny on it doesn’t hurt either.

Cardi B — “Bodak Yellow” (2017)

Since it’s currently No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, it technically is the national anthem.

Kendrick Lamar — “DNA” (2017)

When you think about it, Kendrick resurrected the pride of James Brown’s “I’m Black and I’m Proud” and gave it a bounce.

In all seriousness, if none of these selections works and we stick with the current iteration we do have, might I suggest the only version that even matters. Francis Scott Key could never …

Can’t get into the Blacksonian? 25 black-centered museums near you Seattle to St. Croix, Memphis to Miami — these art spaces are as vibrant and important as ever

It’s the first anniversary of the opening of Washington, D.C.’s extremely popular National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). While visiting the NMAAHC is a life-changing experience, getting in can feel like praying on Willy Wonka’s golden ticket. But while you wait, you can have an amazing museum experience closer to home. There will almost always be must-see exhibits at places such as New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art and Los Angeles’ The Getty Center, but there are a bevy of other museums and galleries around the country that are doing brilliant and important work. This list of museums and galleries — from Miami and Houston to Sao Paulo and Cincinnati — feature new and continuing exhibits around race and identity, saxophonist Sonny Rollins, hip-hop’s golden age, activist grandmothers, salsa as a social movement, black women in silent films, the age of Black Power, Oregon during the civil rights era, African-American umpires, design and technology in the time of slavery, and so much more.

SOUTHEAST

Memphis Brooks Museum of Art

Memphis, Tennessee

Memphis Brooks Museum of Art

Kevin Barre Photography

Tennessee’s oldest and largest art museum is home to a major collection that spans all eras and encompasses all mediums. It also serves as a cultural center, hosting a variety of programs, events and films. The vision: “Transforming lives through the power of art.”

New this winter: Black Resistance: Ernest C. Withers and the Civil Rights Movement. Withers (who has been accused of being an FBI informant) was a prolific photographer who documented everything from the Montgomery bus boycott to the Negro Leagues. It’s estimated that he took almost 2 million photographs over the course of his career. The exhibition focuses on the 50th anniversary of events that took place from March 27 through April 8, 1968, such as striking sanitation workers carrying “I AM A MAN” placards, Martin Luther King Jr. returning to Memphis and the march to Memphis City Hall. On view from Feb. 3 to Aug. 19, 2018.

Muhammad Ali Center

Louisville, Kentucky

The LeRoy Neiman Gallery at the Muhammad Ali Center

Courtesy The Muhammad Ali Center

The Muhammad Ali Center is a museum and education center in The Champ’s hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, and is rooted in his core principles of confidence, conviction, dedication, giving, respect and spirituality. The permanent exhibit tells Ali’s story via interactive exhibits, images and artifacts.

New this fall: Grandmother Power: A Global Phenomenon. The exhibit features photo essays about activist grandmothers from around the world who are working to create a better future for their grands. On view through Jan. 8, 2018.

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

Birmingham, Alabama

Courtesy Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

Birmingham, Alabama, was the site of some of the most horrific events of the civil rights era. The Civil Rights Institute is an educational and cultural center dedicated to preserving that bloody and inspiring history. Inside, there’s a Ku Klux Klan robe, as well as the bars of the cell in which Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his “Letter from a Birmingham jail.” The institute is across the street from the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, the site of the bombing that took the lives of four young girls 54 years ago this month.

New this fall: To create Blood Mirror, Jordan Eagles encapsulated the blood of 59 gay, bisexual and transgender men into a large resin block. The result is a luminous sculpture where viewers can see themselves reflected in the blood. The work is meant to raise awareness about the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s discriminatory blood donation policy. On view through Dec. 9.

The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts + Culture

Charlotte, North Carolina

The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts + Culture is an art and cultural center located in a neighborhood once known as Brooklyn, the epicenter of black life in Charlotte, North Carolina. Named for Harvey B. Gantt, who was the first black student at Clemson University and Charlotte’s first black mayor, the building’s interior is a nod to the biblical story of Jacob’s ladder, while its exterior evokes West African textile patterns and quilt designs from the Underground Railroad era. Aside from great art, the center hosts talks, films and plays.

New this fall: Shows from North Carolina natives Miya Bailey and Sloane Siobhan, and an exhibition curated from the private collection of John and Vivian Hewitt, including work from Jacob Lawrence and Charlotte’s own Romare Bearden. Also of note: the premiere of the Darryl Atwell Collection of African-American Art as Simple Passion, Complex Vision. Atwell’s collection was put together in collaboration with retired NBA player and avid art collector Elliot Perry, and it includes Theaster Gates’ provocative assemblage In the Event of Race Riot XIII. All shows run through Jan. 22, 2018.

The george & leah McKenna Museum of African American Art

New Orleans

Le Musée de f.p.c., the free people of color museum owned by the McKennas.

Courtesy The George & Leah McKenna Museum of African American Art

The George & Leah McKenna Museum of African American Art was born from the private art collection assembled over 30 years by Dwight McKenna and his wife, Beverly Stanton McKenna. The permanent collection includes works by Clementine Hunter, Kerry James Marshall, Jacob Lawrence and many more. The McKennas are also passionate about supporting new and emerging artists. Past exhibitions have included Contemporary Artists Respond to the New Orleans Baby Dolls, The Spirit of Haitian Culture and From Moussor to Tignon: The Evolution of the Head-Tie. Besides owning the art museum, the McKennas own Le Musee de f.p.c., which is dedicated to telling the story of free people of color. They also founded the New Orleans Tribune in 1985. On top of all of that, Dwight McKenna is poised to become the first black coroner of Orleans Parish.

New this winter: The New Orleans 2018 African American Tricentennial Art Exhibition: Painting Our Own Story, Singing Our Own Song. The exhibit will celebrate the city’s 300th birthday and is being put together with the New Orleans chapter of the National Conference of Artists. Artists from around the country were invited to submit work for the show. The show runs from Jan. 13 to Oct. 27, 2018.

Yeelen Gallery

Miami

Yeelen Gallery owner Karla Ferguson stands beside her favorite photograph in Mariette Pathy Allen’s exhibit.

Alessandra Pacheco/Miami Herald/TNS via Getty Images

The contemporary Yeelen art gallery is owned by Karla Ferguson. Originally opened in 2008 in Miami’s Wynwood Arts District, the museum was moved over to Little Haiti in 2013. A slew of galleries have since followed, making Little Haiti the hottest art district in the city. Yeelen doesn’t operate like a typical gallery. Instead of planning shows a year in advance, Ferguson stays open to responding to what’s happening in the moment. In the past, that has included such shows as Woke AF, Black Freedom and TransCuba. “A lot of my curatorial work is based in legal theory and social justice,” she has said. No surprise, given Ferguson’s educational background in law, political science and artist relations. Hurricane Irma knocked Yeelen’s power out for a week and causing water leaks, forcing Ferguson to postpone a planned photography show. She now has her sights set on Art Basel, which hits Miami in December, and she will be up and running for the October iteration of her monthly Afro Beats N Bites day party.

New this fall: A fresh exhibit (still to be determined) will most likely go up around mid-November. Afro Beats N Bites — which combines the culinary arts with visual arts, and a DJ — happens the second Saturday of every month.

NORTHEAST

The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

New York

The “Black Power!” exhibit at the Schomburg Center.

Jonathan Blanc

The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is an award-winning research library and National Historic Landmark. The center preserves, documents and promotes the study of black history and culture with its collection of more than 10 million items. The Schomburg also promotes lifelong learning through a calendar of events, talks and other programming.

New this fall: The unveiling of The Sonny Rollins Collection, which highlights the life and career of the saxophonist. The Black Power! exhibit is a collection of interviews, essays and images covering key areas of the movement, and Power In Print is a presentation of Black Power Movement posters. On view through March 30, 2018.

The Museum of the City of New York

New York

The Museum of the City of New York

Filip Wolak, courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York

The Museum of the City of New York contextualizes all things NYC. The museum also hosts a number of events and educational and public programs.

New this fall: Rhythm & Power: Salsa in New York explores the popular musical genre and its role as a social movement. On view through Nov. 26.

Carnegie Museum of Art

Pittsburgh

Installation view: 20/20: The Studio Museum in Harlem and Carnegie Museum of Art.

Bryan Conley

The steel baron Andrew Carnegie opened an art museum with a vision of collecting “the old masters of tomorrow.” Embodying that mission, the Carnegie Museum of Art makes a good case for being “the first museum of contemporary art in the U.S.” The museum is one of four institutions that make up the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh.

Continuing this fall: Co-curated by the Studio Museum in Harlem and the Carnegie, 20/20 aims to prompt discussions about race and identity during this turbulent time. Called “the most important art show in America” by Vogue, the show is made up of works by 40 artists, including Glenn Ligon, Titus Kaphar, David Hammons, Kara Walker and Kerry James Marshall. “There was a point where I marched for Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown, and I just couldn’t be angry anymore,” co-curator Amanda Hunt told ArtNet. “I couldn’t figure out what I could do to start affecting change, either in a more immediate sense or in a collective community sense. So this show represents our power, our purview — this is what we know and have been trained to do, and have voice and ownership of, and a platform for. We’re curators at major institutions in America. And that’s powerful.” On view through Dec. 31.

Reginald F. Lewis Museum of African American History and Culture

Baltimore

Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History building.

Jeffrey Greenberg/UIG via Getty Images

The Reginald F. Lewis Museum of African American History and Culture is dedicated to documenting, preserving and exhibiting the lives of African-Americans in Maryland. Its permanent collection includes photos, artifacts and textiles, as well as expanded collections focused on jazz recordings and military history. And be sure to peep the gift shop, where ESPN Radio’s Freddie Coleman picked up a fly Frederick Douglass T-shirt.

New this fall: Maryland Collects: Jacob Lawrence. The exhibit features 50 prints from private collectors in and around Maryland. “This is an exhibit we put together ourselves,” says Lewis executive director Wanda Draper. “We wanted to bring this community a collection by an esteemed African-American artist that they can’t see anywhere else.” On view through Jan. 7, 2018.

Museum of African American History

Boston

The Nantucket campus of the Museum of African American History.

Courtesy The Museum of African American History

With two campuses, Boston and Nantucket, the Museum of African American History is the largest museum in New England dedicated to African-American history and culture. It includes four historic sites and two Black Heritage Trails.

Continuing this fall: Picturing Frederick Douglass. With a brisk understanding of visual language and its effects, Douglass used his photographic images as a tool to counteract the ways that imagery was often used to create stereotypes about African-Americans. This is the first major exhibition of Douglass photos, many unseen until now. On view in the Abiel Smith School on the museum’s Boston campus through December.

MIDWEST

The DuSable Museum of African American History

Chicago

The exterior of the DuSable Museum of African American History Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016, in Chicago.

AP Photo/Tae-Gyun Kim

You may know the DuSable Museum of African American History as the place where Chance the Rapper is donating his best rap album Grammy. But it’s also one of the oldest and most revered African-American museums in the country. The DuSable is also involved with the Hyde Park Jazz Festival and The Margaret Burroughs Centennial Film Series.

New this fall: Chicago: A Southern Exposure features the work of architectural photographer, critic and DuSable vice president Lee Bey. It’s the first major show dedicated to often overlooked South Side architecture and highlights black architects such as John Moutoussamy and Roger Margerum, alongside the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe. “The city’s best architecture, outside of downtown, is on the South Side of Chicago,” Bey told New City. “You can tell these things in other places and tell a fine story, but to have it here in a black institution, and to have the story told by black people and have those exhibitions in the context of other exhibitions for and by black people, gives a richer story.” On view through February 2018.

The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History

Detroit

Self-Portrait, Allie McGhee, 2008, on display at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.

Courtesy Charles H. Wright Museum of AfricanAmerican History

Charles H. Wright, a Detroit doctor who delivered 7,000-plus babies, got the inspiration for opening a museum after visiting a Denmark war memorial. Initially known as I AM (International Afro-American Museum), the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History opened in 1966 as a small physical location with a traveling mobile-home version. The Wright has grown through the years and is now a cornerstone of Detroit’s Midtown Cultural Center, along with the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Michigan Science Center.

Continuing this fall: Say it Loud; Art, History, and Rebellion. The exhibit is rooted in the Detroit rebellions and the ways in which art has responded to those rebellions and continued events. The exhibit begins outdoors with photos, quotes and a 24-foot sculpture by Charles McGee. Inside, there are works by 40 artists, including Faith Ringgold, Sanford Biggers and Jeff Donaldson. On view through Jan. 2, 2018. (A complementary exhibit, Art of Rebellion: Black Art of the Civil Rights Movement, is up at the nearby Detroit Institute of Arts until Oct. 22.)

 

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

Cincinnati

Courtesy National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center encourages visitors to remain active participants in the continued struggle for freedom of people everywhere and is involved in combating modern-day slavery and human trafficking. Earlier this year, the center launched the Open Your Mind learning lab, designed to teach visitors about implicit bias.

New this fall: The Kinsey African American Art & History Collection, an exhibit culled from the private collection of Bernard and Shirley Kinsey. It will feature archival material related to Malcolm X and Zora Neale Hurston besides artwork by luminaries such as Richard Mayhew. “Remembering, celebrating, examining and commemorating the black experience … is something we invite all to participate in,” Ashley Jordan, curator at the center, said in a statement. “African-American history is American history.” Opening Nov. 4.

Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

Kansas City, Missouri

Courtesy the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

Dedicated to preserving the history and legacy of African-Americans in baseball, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum weaves together black history and baseball history via multimedia displays, photographs and artifacts. “The premise is baseball, but the story is so much larger than the game of baseball,” said museum president Bob Kendrick. “It is America at her worst, but it’s also America at her triumphant best.”

New this fall: An exhibit celebrating African-American umpires from the Negro Leagues to the majors to little league. The exhibit is unnamed as yet but will be dedicated to Bob Motley. Barrier Breakers: From Jackie to Pumpsie will look at the complete integration of baseball, from Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby to Elijah Jerry “Pumpsie” Green. An expanded piece will feature the women of the Negro Leagues — Toni Stone, Mamie Johnson and Connie Morgan — who played with and against the men.

SOUTHWEST

California African American Museum

Los Angeles

Brian Forrest, Courtesy California African American Museum

The California African American Museum does a great job of using art to contextualize historical events; its rich history is reflected in the depth and breadth of its exhibitions. The state of California supported the museum early on, acknowledging the cultural and political impact of California’s African-American community.

Continuing this fall: On view through Oct. 8, Face to Face: Los Angeles Collects Portraiture is an exhibit of 50 works put together from L.A.-based collections. Artists from Titus Kaphar to Mickalene Thomas examine the changing ways in which artists are approaching portraiture. For Center Stage: African American Women in Silent Race Films, the museum screens multiple “race films.” “Directors often created these films in retaliation against disparaging portrayals of African-Americans, to challenge the larger narrative and to get across themes of upliftment, pride and self-sufficiency within the black community,” said co-curator Tyree Boyd-Pates. On view through Oct. 15. For Fade to Black, Gary Simmons combines his signature smudged erasure technique with the titles of “race films” to create an installation in the museum lobby. “Fade to Black provides a nuanced history of black representation in motion pictures from the early to mid-20th century,” Naima Keith, the museum’s deputy director and chief curator, told the Los Angeles Times. “History’s subjective bent is also a strong theme within Gary’s work, and the simple nature of chalk lends itself to his artistic concerns — especially in its suggestion of basic communication, the human hand, education systems and of easily erasable or altered information.” On view through July 21, 2018.

New for fall: We Wanted A Revolution: Black Radical Women 1965-1985 focuses on the intersection of art and activism and includes the work of more than 40 African-American female artists. It touches on every major social movement of the period, including the civil rights and Black Power movements, the women’s movement, the anti-war movement and the gay liberation movement, among others. “This exhibition feels especially relevant for our audiences because it includes women artists working in various parts of the country, not just on the East Coast,” Keith said in a statement. On view Oct. 13 through Jan. 14, 2018.

Museum of the African Diaspora

San Francisco

Courtesy Museum of the African Diaspora

The Museum of the African Diaspora uses contemporary art to help audiences engage with the African diaspora via exhibitions, public programs and events. The vibrant space focuses on cultural expression rooted in four themes: origin, movement, adaptation and transformation.

New for fall: En Mas: Carnival and Performance Art of the Caribbean explores the artistry behind carnival parading, masquerading and procession. The exhibition tracked nine artists — John Beadle, Christophe Chassol, Charles Campbell, Nicolás Dumit Estévez, Marlon Griffith, Hew Locke, Lorraine O’Grady, Ebony G. Patterson and Cauleen Smith — during the 2014 carnival season. On view Sept. 20 to March 4, 2018.

Houston Museum of African American Culture

Houston

The Houston Museum of African American Culture explores and shares the history and culture of African-Americans. Besides exhibits, the museum hosts talks, screenings and other public events.

New for fall: The Telling and the Told: The art of David McGee. Curated by artist Benito Huerta, The Telling and the Told is an exhibit of works on paper and continues McGee’s exploration of the intersection of imagery, politics, race, class and pop culture. On view Nov. 4 to Jan. 12, 2018.

Kansas African American Museum

Wichita, Kansas

The Kansas African American Museum provides a mix of art, history and special programming to engage audiences of all ages. Past exhibitions have included an homage to President Barack Obama’s Midwestern roots and Undefeated: The Triumph of the Black Kansas Athlete. The museum is also spearheading the creation of The Kansas African American History Trail.

New this fall: UNDEREXPOSED: Contemporary Black Women Photographers. These women have often been overlooked for their contributions and creativity. This exhibition looks to rectify that by shining a light on the work of Toni Parks-Parsons, Chandra McCormick, Pat Patterson, Shineta Horton, Labeebah Beruni and Keshia Ezerendu. On view through Dec. 30.

NORTHWEST

Northwest African American Museum

Seattle

The Northwest African American Museum is dedicated to preserving the culture and telling the stories of the African diaspora in the Pacific Northwest. This includes both historical contributions and those being made today by a continuing wave of new immigrants from places such as Somalia, Sudan and Ethiopia.

New this fall: Professor/writer/historian Daudi Abe gives a talk on Emerald Street: Race, Class, Culture, and the History of Hip Hop in the Northwest on Nov. 9.

Oregon Historical Society

Portland, Oregon

Bob Setterberg

The Oregon Historical Society documents the history and culture of the state and presents it via physical and digital exhibits, talks and events. OHS’ commitment to inclusion is evident in its partnerships and programming, which address themes from Native American history, the struggles faced by the Japanese-American immigrant community, and broaching the subject of “Peace in the Middle East” with an assemblage of religious leaders. On view online: Black Athletes Disrupting White Supremacy in Oregon.

Continuing this fall: Racing to Change: Oregon’s Civil Rights Years. The exhibit is presented by the Oregon Black Pioneers and tells the story of the civil rights battles fought by African-Americans in Oregon, particularly sparked by discrimination in housing and employment practices. “No matter what you do in Oregon, you’ll find the footprint of a black person that was there. And that’s all over the state. Black folks weren’t congregated in Portland; 32 of Oregon’s 36 counties had African-Americans in them,” Willie Richardson, board president of the Pioneers, told Portland Architecture blog. “They provided services. They owned land. They did all the things that Oregon laws said they couldn’t have.” On view through June 24, 2018.

INTERNATIONAL

Caribbean Museum Center for the Arts

Frederiksted, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands

Denise Bennerson

The Caribbean Museum Center for the Arts focuses on promoting Caribbean arts and culture through exhibits, events, classes and other programming.

New this fall: Pride Through Art. The exhibit showcases the work of LGBTQ artists and allies, addressing themes of gender identity, society and inclusion. On view Sept. 28 to Nov. 13.

Tate Modern

London

A woman looks at the ‘Did the bear sit under a tree’ painting by Benny Andrews at the exhibition Soul Of A Nation, exploring the art made by African American artists between 1963 and 1983, in London, Tuesday, July 11, 2017. The exhibition started on July 12, 2017 and ends on Oct.22, 2017.

AP Photo/Frank Augstein

If you’re looking for very cool modern art in London, head to the Tate Modern. As part of the Tate group (which also includes the Britain, Liverpool and St. Ives), the Tate’s collection comprises international modern and contemporary art from 1900 through today.

Continuing this fall: Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power. The exhibit showcases the ways in which artists responded to events of the day, from the civil rights movement to Black Power, and addresses issues of revolution, pride and solidarity. Artists include Barkley L. Hendricks and Emory Douglas. “The show provides a whole array of American artists who should be part of the art curriculum,” Zoe Whitley, curator of international art at the Tate, told The New York Times. “It shows that black artistic culture at that time was as varied as any other culture. It’s not ‘black’ art, it’s a range of practices.” On view through Oct. 22.

Musee D’art Contemporain

Marseille, France

People look at pictures by US photographer Henry Chalfant “Third Avenue, the Bronx 1084” as they visit the exhibit ‘Hip Hop , un age d’or’ (Hip Hop, a golden age) at the Contemporary Art Museum in Marseille, on May 12, 2017.

Boris Horvat/AFP/Getty Images

Marseille, France, is the hub of hip-hop in southern France — so it’s no wonder that the Musee D’Art Contemporain would host an exhibit around the culture’s origins. You can also get your Jean-Michel Basquiat fix there. Although small, the museum is known to have an impressive collection of modern and contemporary art.

Continuing this fall: HIP HOP: a golden age 1970-1995. The exhibit features many elements of hip-hop culture: graffiti murals, sketchbook pages, racks of spray paint cans, Kangols, shell toes, nameplate belt buckles, a Zulu Nation medallion and even a Wild Style diorama. On view through Jan. 14, 2018.

Museu Afro Brasil

Sao Paulo

The Museu Afro Brasil, a major repository of Afro-Brazilian art, looks at Brazilian art and heritage through the lens of the African diaspora with a focus on (among others) Africa’s diversity and persistence, work and slavery, and Afro-Brazilian religions.

New this fall: Exhibits featuring Baroque masters, geometric forms, and design and technology in the time of slavery.

Books, blogs and hashtags that will give you the travel bug For all of the adventurers out there

Black people don’t travel, right? That notion has long ago been wiped away. And just because summer is winding down, that doesn’t mean your travel plans have to. Here is a list of books — memoirs, travel guides, glossies — from ’93 up to now that are sure to plant some ideas for your next getaway.

We’ve also included blogs to experience and some hashtags that are vibrant and helpful across many social platforms. Your eyes will be opened to new travel inspirations, options and opportunities. Get out there!

BOOKS


South of Haunted Dreams: A Ride Through Slavery’s Old Back Yard by Eddy L. Harris (May 1993)

Eddy L. Harris road-trips through the South on a motorcycle and recounts his experiences being black and searching for his ancestors.


Go Girl! The Black Woman’s Book of Travel and Adventure edited by Elaine Lee (August 1997)

An anthology of black women writers documenting their travel experiences, this book includes pieces from all your favorites, such as Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, and Gwendolyn Brooks.


Steppin’ Out: An African American Guide to our 20 Favorite Cities by Carla LaBat (September 2000)

The still-timely guide for the African-American sightseer.


Kat Tracking Through Paris: A Guide to Black Paris by Kay St. Thomas (June 2002)

This guide keeps the black traveler in mind, with notes on venues that hosted famous jazz performers such as Nina Simone and Kenny Clarke.


In the Spirit of Harlem by Naomi Fertitta (March 2014)

Sometimes you don’t have to fly across an ocean to travel, as this beautiful photo book of Harlem proves.


The Adventure Gap: Changing the Face of the Outdoors by James E. Mills (October 2014)

Minorities use national parks and reserves at a far lower rate than white people, and James Mills aims to change that by illuminating just why that’s the case.


Due North by Lola Akinmade Åkerström (May 2017)

When you fully immerse yourself into the culture you’re visiting, this book is the result: an in-depth observation of the ways travel changes you and the people around you.


Black Woman Walking: A Different Experience of World Travel by Maureen Stone (February 2002)

It’s exactly what is sounds like: A black woman walks across the world and tells her side of the story.


In the Spirit of St. Barths by Pamela Fiori (April 2011)

This is the perfect coffee-table book for when you’re dreaming of a Caribbean getaway.


Meeting Faith: The Forest Journals of a Black Buddhist Nun by Faith Adiele (July 2005)

Buddhist and a nun — an unconventional path for a black woman, but Adiele’s personal narrative sheds light on a different kind of Thailand.

BLOGS


Baniamor.com

The personal blog of Bani Amor, a travel writer who emphasizes a decolonial mindset when venturing out into the world.


Travelnoire.com

A community of curators who showcase their travels from all corners of the globe.


Outdoorafro.com

A network for the more outdoorsy.


Blacktokyo.com

This niche site caters to all things black Japan.


Nomadnesstv.com

A travel blog and web series that focus on international and domestic travel.

INSTAGRAM [and follow at Twitter and Facebook as well]


#travelnoire

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#blackandabroad

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#wegotoo

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#blavitylife

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#blackoutdoors

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#travelingwithmelanin

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#blacktravel

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#seesomeworld

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#blackpackers

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#outdoorafro

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Queen Harrison, Nzingha Prescod and Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe talk rocking their natural curls Why hair isn’t an issue for these athletes

Simone Manuel isn’t concerned about what you think of her hair.

Speaking to a room full of swim fans at the 2017 National Association of Black Journalists convention, she shared that she had received flak about the way she wore her hair on the Olympic stage. Though frustrated, she keeps in mind something her mother taught her as a young girl.

“It’s just hair.”

Most sports teams and organizations don’t stipulate how female athletes wear their hair. They are more interested in how well they perform and how often they win. Yet, major televised competitions like the Olympics are often littered with hair commentaries, especially about black female athletes. Gabby Douglas, like Manuel, received criticism about her ’do after she won gold medals at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

Much of this hair-related shade comes from the public, not the sports industry. The ramifications of such public disapproval can affect decisions including whether to exercise and which jobs to pursue. Although a new wave of natural hair promotion began in 2007, black women have been fighting for social and professional spaces to accept their natural beauty since the 1960s and before.

Nearly 60 years later, natural hair is still considered less beautiful than treated hair. According to a survey from the Perception Institute, 1 in 3 black women said their hair prevents them from working out. Only 1 in 10 white women said the same. Nearly 4,200 men and women were interviewed for this study, which found that black women perceive a level of social stigma against textured hair, and that white women show bias against the textured hair of black women — calling it less beautiful and professional than straight hair.

The Undefeated interviewed three black female athletes in three different sports about their hair and how it affects their lives.

Nzingha PREScod

Olympic fencer Nzingha Prescod attends the AOL Build Speaker Series to discuss 2016 Rio Olympic Fencing at AOL HQ on Aug. 29, 2016, in New York.

Mike Pont/WireImage

Nzingha Prescod is an Olympic medalist in fencing. In 2015, she became the first African-American woman to win an individual medal at the Senior World Championships. Two years earlier, she became the first U.S. women’s foil fencer to win a Grand Prix title. These successes, and the fact that her head is covered by a mask when she competes, haven’t prevented her from feeling self-conscious about her hair.

She’s been experimenting with various hairstyles since she was 12 years old and natural. The desire to fit in middle school coerced her to dye the back of her hair and leave the front natural so she could still wear braids. Everyone in seventh grade had straight hair.

Afterward, she experimented with everything from texturizers to clip-ins. At age 22 and tired of her hair difficulties, she decided to do the “big chop” and cut off all of her chemically processed hair. She says she’s felt free ever since.

“[Cutting off a perm] strips you of anything fake, anything forced. … It’s a purifying self-discovery,” Prescod said.

That wasn’t the only reason behind Prescod getting her hair cut. At fencing practice, her sweat matted her clip-in extensions and entangled them with her natural hair. She had to keep cutting off parts of her hair, which left her with such an undesirable look, she once cried and wore a hood to class. Eventually, she went to a Dominican salon in Spanish Harlem to cut off her uneven, processed hair.

It took some time for to embrace the new ’do, but today, Prescod is confident and encourages women of all hair textures to cut off their hair because of its empowering effect. When she’s not training for fencing, she holds a corporate job in consulting where she typically wears her hair in a pineapple bun.

Despite the fact that various hairstyles are accepted on teams and in the workplace, many black women still believe that natural styles are not valued or considered as professional as straightened ones. The Perception Institute survey stated that 1 in 5 black women feel social pressure to straighten their hair for work, twice as many as white women. This happens, in part, because straightened hair is often considered to be a sign of professionalism and beauty in corporate settings.

WNBA player Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe and Olympic hurdler Queen Harrison hope the hair freedom allowed in professional sports will nudge corporate aesthetic standards in the same direction.

Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe

Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe of the New York Liberty shoots a layup against the Los Angeles Sparks on Aug. 4 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe is a power forward for the WNBA’s New York Liberty. This Afro-Canadian athlete grew up in British Columbia, where there are very few people of color. Just under 3 percent of the population identify as black. Raincock-Ekunwe’s father is Nigerian, and her mother is white Canadian.

Ekunwe remembers feeling self-conscious as a little girl. Her mother struggled to manage her curls and often put her in braids. She didn’t have the right products to deal with the frizz and the “poofiness” of her hair, and she wanted to fit in with her peers.

She eventually straightened her hair, against her mother’s wishes, opting for flat irons over products that chemically straightened hair (nicknamed “creamy crack”). Consequently, she’d have to wake up two hours before school to complete the process. She continued this regimen through high school, college and part of her WNBA career.

In 2014, she put down the straightener because of unhealthy hair.

“My hair was dry to the point that it would just like crack off, and it was basically straight after I showered and washed my hair. There was no curl pattern, and it was just bad times,” Ekunwe said.

To this day, she tends to receive more compliments from men and women when her hair is flat-ironed straight than when it is natural. Still, that doesn’t stop her from maintaining her brown, corkscrew curls with Shea Moisture and Kinky-Curly products.

“I love it [natural hair]. I’m sad that I embraced my natural hair so late in life. I think curls, kinky hair, coils are just so flattering on so many women,” Ekunwe said.

The only place she’s met formal resistance to her hairstyle of choice was when she played for the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) in Australia. Her teammates discouraged her from wearing braids, citing the league’s concerns that the style is prone to hitting someone in the face during games. According to FIBA guidelines, because of the potential for injury, players are not permitted on the court with free braids in their hair.

She also doesn’t see much natural hair in WNBA advertising.

“When I think of WNBA players in the media, I don’t really think Afros, curls; I think straight hair or Brittney Griner with her locks. You rarely see hair in its natural state; it’s often straightened and curled,” said Ekunwe.

Vincent Novicki, communications director for the Liberty, said they encourage athletes to let their personalities shine. He also said star power is used to determine which athletes are tapped for marketing.

“Who’s been with the team, who’s established themselves … who’s the most identifiable but who has the best ability to kind of reignite and connect with our fans,” Novicki said about the other factors used in advertising. He used Liberty star center Tina Charles as an example because she has natural hair.

Although natural hair may not be abundant in public relations for the league, go to any WNBA game and you will find every style, from Afros to weaves to cornrows.

Queen Harrison

Queen Harrison clears a hurdle in the opening round of the Women’s 100-meter hurdles during Day 2 of the 2017 USA Track & Field Championships at Hornet Stadium on June 23 in Sacramento, California.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The same can be said about black female track athletes. Queen Harrison is an American Olympic hurdler and sprinter. The 28-year-old from Loch Sheldrake, New York, was rocking her natural tresses long before she became a track star. Her parents are members of the religious movement Nation of the Gods and Earths (Five Percenters), and they don’t believe in using relaxers. Harrison remembers being strongly encouraged to cover her hair, which was typically styled in cornrows, with a head wrap in elementary school. Eventually, she learned how to braid and twist her thick hair, and she kept it that way in high school.

During her sophomore year of college, curiosity led her to try a relaxer. She figured the puffiness would be easier to manage. But after almost three years, her hair became limp and flat. The chemical life was not for her, so she, like Prescod, ended up doing the “big chop” and grew out her natural hair.

At that time, Harrison looked nothing like the models she saw in athletic apparel and sports team advertisements. The women featured had straight-haired ponytails and other styles that required straight hair. She thought she would need to conform to be used in advertisements. However, her sponsor, A6, did not object to her rocking her natural hair on the track. Harrison says African-American women have shattered the idea that natural hair is not acceptable in sports.

“My first photo shoot that I ever did … I had my Afro puff in a ponytail. I feel comfortable with coming on set with my hair in a press or coming on set with my hair in a curly twist out. I’ve done all of the above,” said Harrison. She currently wears box braids.

Part of what sets track athletes apart from their female counterparts in basketball and fencers has to do with the wide range of hair and nail styles they rock. From the long weaves to long acrylic nails, women in track seem empowered to display their individuality.

Prescod, Raincock-Ekunwe and Harrison are involved at the highest levels of different sports, but they share the experience of having their natural hair not only accepted but also welcomed in their sports. Too few black women can say they have experienced the same. The “Good Hair” Survey found that a majority of those surveyed, regardless of race, show implicit bias against black women’s textured hair.

Kennedy Center is bringing hip-hop center stage and Simone Eccleston is making it happen A full season at the nation’s premier performing arts venue signals the art form is adulting

Four decades after its birth in the Bronx, New York, hip-hop has moved into the era of adulting. Among the many markers of maturity, one of the most significant happens today when the nation’s premier home for the performing arts announces its first full season of hip-hop programming.

The performance season at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., was curated by A Tribe Called Quest co-founder Q-Tip along with the center’s first director of hip-hop programming, Simone Eccleston.

And while this moment says something important about the evolution of a still-young art form, it also marks a necessary evolution in the tradition-bound world of high art. After years of lower-profile partnerships with hip-hop festivals and free performances in its lobby, the Kennedy Center is moving hip-hop out of the programming D-League to join theater, opera, jazz, dance and classical music as featured art forms.

The season will open Oct. 6 with a performance featuring Q-Tip and Jason Moran, the Kennedy Center’s artistic director for jazz, and closes in spring 2018 with a multimedia performance of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ 2015 book-length letter to his son, Between the World and Me.

Besides the big-name acts to open and close the season, the schedule is light on live performances, relying heavily on curated dance parties. The center is also re-upping its longstanding partnerships with hip-hop advocacy organizations Hi-ARTS and the D.C.-based Words Beats & Life. The programming, which isn’t limited to music, includes a staging of Chinaka Hodge’s Chasing Mehserle, a performance piece about Oakland, California, and gentrification.

The Kennedy Center will host a 35th anniversary screening of Charlie Ahearn’s Wild Style, a documentary about the early days of hip-hop, followed by a panel discussion including Fab 5 Freddy, Grandmaster Caz and Busy Bee.

The commitment of full-time staff and space to hip-hop sets the Kennedy Center apart from other marquee arts institutions such as Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center while expanding the definition of American culture. Like jazz and the blues — and even the iPod one might play them on — hip-hop is a uniquely American invention, a beacon of coolness that shines brightly around the globe.

“As the nation’s cultural center, that’s a heavy-duty title that we hold,” said Kennedy Center president Deborah Rutter. “It’s important that we have all of the nation represented here. And candidly, we still have a long ways to go. … Hip-hop is a 40-plus-year-old art form. It ain’t going away. It isn’t a fad. This is an art form that continues to develop and grow and have impact, and it is broadly seen throughout several generations as the voice of their generation, and how could we not have it fully here at the center? The sophistication of the work that’s being done has to be brought here.”

The hiring of Eccleston, 37, and the announcement of the new season are only the latest in a series of events that suggest hip-hop is thriving even as it starts to get gray around the temples. That maturation isn’t just an accounting of raw years of existence, but also the emotional growth in the genre’s most high-profile acts. Certainly, earlier hip-hop featured adult, introspective voices such as A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Little Brother, Consequence and Talib Kweli. But witness the confessional nature of Jay-Z’s 4:44 or Dr. Dre confronting his past sins as a woman beater in the HBO documentary The Defiant Ones.

Simone Eccelston

André Chung for The Undefeated

Hip-hop is now old enough to inspire nostalgia and reflection. In the past few years, there have been the retrospective gazes of The Get Down and The Breaks, and Jigga’s induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame — heralded by consummate Jay-Z fan President Barack Obama. And don’t forget about Snoop Dogg pooh-poohing misogyny, releasing an album one critic called “the audio version of linen pants and fish fries,” and co-hosting an Emmy-nominated reality show with an ex-con 30 years his senior, Martha Stewart. Even Atlanta trap god Gucci Mane seems like a new man after exiting federal prison last year. Rather than touting his time as a signifier of masculinity, Gucci was candid about just how unpleasant the experience was.

It was only roughly 20 years ago that Eccleston was hopping on the D train from the Kingsbridge stop of her childhood home in the Bronx to go to her first rap concert at Madison Square Garden. Now, her task of making hip-hop a fixture at the Kennedy Center seems obvious, if not overdue.

Wait. Wasn’t this already a thing?

When the Kennedy Center announced in 2016 that it had netted Q-Tip as its artistic director of hip-hop culture, the move was part of a trajectory that had been in the works for years. Moran had been lobbying Rutter for more hip-hop programming. So had former White House social secretary Deesha Dyer, who had covered the scene in Philadelphia as a freelance journalist.

“[Dyer] and Jason really pushed me over the edge to say, ‘OK, we should do this more than just one-offs and really make it something,’ ” said Rutter, whose background is in classical music. “We have programs for young artists rising, and then we were doing these big names … but how do we really have that bigger impact? We were going to need somebody to curate it all. And that’s where having an artist and then an administrator [came in], because you can’t really have an artist who’s not supported by an administrator.”

Q-Tip offers name recognition and communicates something about the center’s intentions tastewise. Eccleston, on the other hand, is an experienced arts administrator well versed in the nitty-gritty duties needed to realize an artist’s vision. Before traveling south to Washington, she spent more than 11 years at Harlem Stage, finishing as its program director.

Previously known as Aaron Davis Hall, Harlem Stage is known for promoting artists of color. Eccleston was a natural fit for its hip-hop ambitions: a product of the borough whose Latino and black musical influences melded to birth the genre in the first place, she completed graduate studies in arts administration at Drexel University and studied curatorial practice in performance at Wesleyan University. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in African-American studies from the University of Pennsylvania. Eccleston’s first job was at Artistas y Músicos Latino Americanos, a nonprofit in North Philadelphia.

Rutter and Harlem Stage executive director Patricia Cruz say Eccleston possesses a valuable skill set: She’s got a good ear for finding new talent, she’s passionate about nurturing relationships with artists, and she’s got a knack for developing community outreach and education programs.

While at Harlem Stage, Eccleston took responsibility for an initiative to connect New York City students with playwrights, choreographers, musicians and dancers from around the world. Also, Cruz said, “She developed programs that were scholarly, that really communicated to an audience what this artist’s intent was, what their philosophical approach to what they were doing was, so that audiences could understand this was not just performative.

Simone Eccleston

André Chung for The Undefeated

“We’re not just putting people on the stage and saying, ‘Here. Enjoy them.’ It’s not entertainment, in that regard. It’s about the ideas the artist is representing. … For us, if art is to have a meaning for people in their lives, I think it is critical to have a context and talk about the history.”

Q-Tip may be the initial draw, but if you want to see your favorite act on stage at the Kennedy Center (cough OutKast cough), Eccleston’s the person you want to lobby.

Let’s talk about sex music!

Perhaps surprisingly given her age, Eccleston is not an evangelist for ’90s hip-hop. Sure, she grew up loving De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Kwamé, Queen Latifah, MC Lyte and Lauryn Hill. She watched WNYC-TV’s Video Music Box and remembers dancing in the street when someone would start playing their radio in Kingsbridge.

But she’s not stuck in the decade.

“We’re always like, ‘It’s the golden age, it’s the golden age,’ ” Eccleston said. “I think that that doesn’t allow for the music and the artists to evolve. I think it’s about creating space for the next generation of artists. Who knew Kendrick [Lamar] was coming? When you think about the fact that [’90s artists] created space for alternate views of black masculinity, just the joy in music, just the intellect. It’s like being brilliant and comfortable with that. Not having to necessarily play to specific ideals of what masculinity looked like, what it meant to be black at a specific point in time.

“I think that they created space for us to be complex, diverse and really tell our stories. They were able to create these pathways within that generation of artists. I think that it’s interesting to see people that kind of take on the mantle and continue to move it forward.”

When it comes to revealing her musical tastes, Eccleston is a skilled politician. Asked to choose between Biggie or Tupac, the native New Yorker initially named Biggie. But there was an addendum: “You know what? Tupac was also very brilliant,” she said. “Just from an activist standpoint, in terms of being a woke MC.”

Eccleston has the potential to be an inspired choice as an administrator for a genre that has a complicated relationship with black women. While she straddled the East Coast/West Coast divide, for instance, she was fully comfortable sharing her thoughts about Kendrick Lamar’s lyrical endorsement of stretch marks on “Humble.”

“I was like, ‘Go ahead, Kendrick!’ ” Eccleston said, grinning.

Simone Eccleston

André Chung for The Undefeated

“I think that there are certain images, certain artists, that are celebrated who may have had some augmentation. That is seen as beauty, or as beautiful. Then young women that may look up to the artist, or the ideals that are being portrayed in music videos, they then think that they have to alter who they are in order to be considered beautiful or attractive. We need to interrogate that, which is why it was great that Kendrick celebrated stretch marks.”

While hip-hop isn’t the only genre that features misogynistic themes and lyrics, it is the one that often gets publicly dinged for it. Eccleston, like many of her feminist friends who are also hip-hop fans, has experienced times where she felt that a particular artist or song just wasn’t for her.

“I think it’s important for us to maintain healthy critique,” Eccleston said. “I think that it’s also important for us, as we’re looking at the songs that we may want to challenge, or the artists that we may want to encourage to dig a little deeper, to look at all of the other work that’s being done that either celebrates us or provides a multidimensional portrayal of who we are.

“It’s delicate because you have to provide space for an artist to be an artist, you can’t censor them. … It’s just real complex because we all have our hopes for something that we’ve seen ourselves reflected in, something that provides us with a sense of space. I think we’ve all got to continue to complicate it and disrupt it.”

Eccleston now has the power to further that disruption. With the Kennedy Center’s resources, she can expose audiences to lesser-known female emcees such as Brooklyn, New York, rapper Jean Grae and Snow Hill, North Carolina, artist Rapsody. She wants to bring more female graffiti artists and beat girls into the fold.

“There’s a whole generation of hip-hop … culture producers that are impacting literature and theater and scholarship, and it’s getting pressed into that. I think that one of our roles as an institution is to create space for the celebration of all of those things so people understand the depth, the breadth, the complexity of the culture,” Eccleston said. “I think it’s important for people to know hip-hop culture isn’t just one thing.”

What now?

One of the most significant challenges Eccleston faces will be making the Kennedy Center feel accessible to everyone.

While it’s a national institution, it’s situated in a city that for decades was majority black and is still majority minority. Eccleston is adamant about wanting the community to feel a sense of ownership and investment in the center, rather than seeing it as a stodgy, predominantly white institution finally granting validation to a still relatively young art form.

While existing partnerships, such as those with Hi-ARTS and Words Beats & Life, the D.C. nonprofit dedicated to advancing hip-hop culture, provide a foundation, the Kennedy Center faces hurdles that predate Eccleston in attracting eventgoers who are economically as well as racially diverse. The most obvious hurdle may be geography. The Kennedy Center is situated in D.C.’s Foggy Bottom/West End, a neighborhood that’s home to George Washington University, where tuition and fees run nearly $70,000 per year. Its immediate neighbor is the Watergate complex.

Of course, black people frequent the Kennedy Center. They show up for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s yearly appearance. They line up to see Brandy play Roxie Hart in Chicago, to hear George Benson, to witness the brilliant athleticism of Misty Copeland. And it has no problem selling out concerts like the ones Nas and Lamar did with the National Symphony Orchestra.

But the center is still figuring out how to extend the same sort of welcome to audiences with fewer resources, and that’s where the inclusion of free dance parties, open to the public, appear to come into play.

Simone Eccleston

André Chung for The Undefeated

These concerns aren’t exclusive to the Kennedy Center. They bubble up every time hip-hop veers into spaces such as Broadway that are traditionally coded as white. Class and accessibility were a big part of conversations surrounding Hamilton, so much so that its practice of making tickets available to those who couldn’t necessarily afford its astronomical market rate prices has become central to the show as it’s expanded into multiple cities. That includes the upcoming production of Hamilton coming to the Kennedy Center. (Hamilton, while heavily influenced by hip-hop, is still under the Kennedy Center’s theater programming slate.)

“Part of the goal in terms of instituting hip-hop as an integral part of our institution’s work is about creating space for the community to engage in the work that we’re doing,” Eccleston said. “To see themselves and their culture reflected. Right? That’s how I got into the arts, understanding the significance of it. As many opportunities as we can create for people to know that this space is theirs and open to them. A place that they can call home. I think that that is important.”

While there’s a moral argument for expanding hip-hop into a dedicated programming season at the Kennedy Center, there’s a financial one as well, especially when you consider the graying fan base for opera and classical music. The Kennedy Center relies on funding from corporate sponsors, philanthropists and paid memberships that unlock access to ticket presales and opportunities to hobnob with talent. If additional hip-hop programming results in more memberships from rap fans with money to drop, that’s all the better for hip-hop and the Kennedy Center. So far, it appears Q-Tip and Eccleston will have to figure out how to find a balance between buzz and revenue. While names such as Fab 5 Freddy and Kurtis Blow may draw older, more financially established attendees, a healthy dose of current voices is necessary too. Yes, hip-hop is famous for its backward-facing references and samples, but it’s always charging forward to new musical territory, thriving on the spirit of reinvention.

Still, if this experiment goes well, who knows? We might one day see the same programming in the ritzy fine arts institutions of New York — you know, the birthplace of hip-hop.

Off the record: A$AP Ferg We catch up with Harlem’s newest legend just days before he releases his album

From Sammy Davis Jr. to Dapper Dan, Puff Daddy to Cam’ron — Harlem has long been a hot spot for the country’s tastemakers. And with the recent addition of the A$AP Mob, the tradition continues.

While the Mob represents a collection of uptown’s most talented youth, one stands out as especially remarkable: Darold Ferguson Jr., otherwise known as A$AP Ferg.

We met up with Ferg for lunch on a recent Saturday in the city, and what we found was somebody whose energy levels were much different from what you would expect from the man who has released legendary turn-up anthems like “Shabba” and “Work.” His demeanor was calm, his words thoughtful. Ferg took more time than most celebrities to think through a question and answer it in the most lucid way possible.

Even his drink consumption was deliberate; he may have been drinking some combination of lemonade and cranberry juice. But for the remainder of our time with the rapper, it was strictly water.

His crew — not what you might expect either. It was less of an entourage and more of a mobile family gathering, with Ferg flanked by his uncle/bodyguard and two of his cousins/best friends.

As the day wore on, Darold became the Ferg we have all come to know — and threw a short but undeniably epic show at the MoMa PS1 venue.

Watch the video, get to know the man.

More – Off the record: Joey Bada$$

Documentary explores how a group of black intellectuals found solace in Paris ‘Paris Noir: African Americans in the City of Light’ screens at the March on Washington Film Festival

For nearly a century, many black Americans have traveled to Paris to find their identity away from the American racism that sought to erase it. Indeed, many decided to make it official and make the City of Light home.

Director Joanne Burke and executive producer Julia Browne explore this expatriation, while also detailing the day-to-day of being black in Paris, in their 2016 documentary Paris Noir: African Americans in the City of Light, which was screened July 18 at the National Museum of Women in the Arts as part of the March on Washington Film Festival.

In his 1951 essay I Choose Exile, author and poet Richard Wright asks, “Why have I decided to live beyond the shores of my native land?” The powerful writer declares defiantly, “It is because I love freedom and I tell you frankly that there is more freedom in one square block of Paris than there is in the entire United States!”

Living in Paris allowed Wright and others to distance themselves from the omnipresent racism they’d experienced in America with its anti-black rhetoric, institutional systems of oppression and physical violence. While living in Paris was not the post-racial Valhalla many dreamed it would be, French society did provide better social and financial opportunities for black artists to practice their art and, from there, change the world.

Besides Wright, cultural icons such as Angela Davis, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Josephine Baker, Ada “Bricktop” Smith, Frederick Douglass, Countee Cullen, Louis Armstrong, James Emanuel and Ta-Nehisi Coates have all called Paris home at some time in their lives. And they had different perspectives in the aftermath. Some loved their experience, while others were not overly impressed.

To Burke, it is important to understand the legacy and tradition of black Americans going to Paris because “it has a worldwide influence … jazz changed the way the world looked at black culture. [The success black writers, artists and musicians found in Paris] differentiated black culture from American culture. … It is a question of taking pride of black achievement abroad … Black culture, in Europe and around the world, has a role in giving people a voice and a new way of expressing themselves,” she explained.

Traveling to Paris has been a more or less refreshing experience for icons of black expression and culture. Baker, a singer, dancer and actress active from 1920-75, sang in “J’ai Deux Amours” (“I Have Two Loves”): I have two loves/ My country and Paris/ With them always/ My heart is overjoyed … What is the point of denying/What enchants me?/It’s Paris, Paris entirely.

Coates wrote in “Paris Disappointed Me — and I Am Glad For It,” a correspondence he published for The Atlantic, “I’m realizing Paris has always sort of been an impressionist painting for me — a big, colorful, beautiful blur without much detail. … I found that the dirty detail of the city isn’t as pretty as my faraway impressions. … I’m struck by how many sought an escape from American racism here yet ugly and other forms of racism were stewing here, too.”

In her 2013 autobiography, Davis wrote about the power of exploring different identities even at home: “We would pretend to be foreigners and [speak] French. … At the sight of two young black women speaking a foreign language, the clerks in the store raced to help us. Their delight with the exotic was enough to completely, if temporarily, dispel their normal disdain for black people. … All black people have to do is pretend they come from another country, and [white people] treat us like dignitaries.”

The common denominator for them all was Paris, good or bad. Paris specifically allowed black Americans to be perceived as Davis’ “exotic delight” while still maintaining their identity as individuals. However, there is a discrepancy among scholars over who went first and when it became a rite of passage. Ricki Stevenson, director of Black Paris Tours, said in a 2013 interview with NPR that the tradition began as early as the 19th century.

“Many people mistakenly believe that the first great mass migration of African-Americans to France came with the Harlem Renaissance,” Stevenson said. “It didn’t. The first great mass migration came following the Louisiana Purchase of 1803.”

William Wells Brown, who escaped enslavement, taught himself to read and write and became an American diplomat in the mid-1800s, is often seen as one of the great explorers for black people abroad. He published letters documenting his experience in Europe and tried to build support for the American abolitionist movement in Britain and France.

On the other hand, others, such as Burke and Browne, believe the movement truly began in 1917 with America’s involvement in World War I. At the time, black men were recruited not to fight for the cause but mostly to do manual labor. Burke and Browne’s documentary credits Lt. James Reese Europe as the pioneer of the black legacy in Paris. Europe fought in both World War I and World War II, led the Harlem Hellfighters in battle and later played in a notable jazz band in Paris.

After World War I, a cultural movement that author Petrine Archer-Straw refers to as “Negrophilia” became popular among rich white liberals in Paris. In her book Negrophilia: Avant-Garde Paris and Black Culture in the 1920s, she defines the term as a love of black culture, but a love as distancing as the hatred black folks experience in America. For Archer-Straw, rich white liberals saw black Americans as “dynamic, non-conformist, and subversive … blackness played a significant role in avant-garde definitions of [Parisian] modernity … it was the ‘idea’ of black culture and not black culture itself that informed this modernity (180-183).”

When rich white club owners began to see how their patrons preferred black performers, they would often book black jazz groups over white French musicians. It was also important that the music was played for the enjoyment of the rich white audience. As the Paris Noir documentary reveals, “You had to be African-American to play jazz. This meant that [certain] black people, who didn’t happen to be musicians at all — [who] basically had no talent — got jobs in jazz. It was the racial image of the music.”

So while rich white Parisians consumed and financed black culture, it was exclusively to serve their own ideological expectations. Archer-Straw also mentions in her book that black art and culture “was absorbed into a grander aesthetic that represented colonial triumph and French imperialism, while for the avant-garde it was a cruel tool used to ‘épater les bourgeois,’ or to shock middle class sensibilities.”

The Negrophilia fascination did allow black Americans to better fulfill their potential than if they had stayed in America. In Paris, black citizens were free from racial segregation. They were able to better express themselves, pursue more career opportunities and romantically intermingle with white people.

While Paris Noir depicts the romantic mingling as liberating, Archer-Straw finds the power dynamic problematic. White French people controlled economic and social power to the detriment of black Americans. She echoes the philosophy of Frantz Fanon, who in his 1952 book Black Skin, White Masks said he felt “an unfamiliar weight [that] burdened me” when he had to “meet the white man’s eyes.” To Archer-Straw and Fanon, since black individuals in a white space have to conform to the standards of acceptable behavior determined by white people, they assimilate and, in so doing, lose their identity set on their own terms. In these kinds of relationships, with unequal power dynamics, black people can never fully express themselves because it is the economic and social power in the majority-white French society that determines what kind of behavior is acceptable.

Archer-Straw describes the line that black folk had to be aware of as “a walking contradiction, combining the exoticism of Africa with the awareness of what it took to be accepted by whites.”

Regardless of the discrepancy in interpretation, scholars do mostly agree that World War I played a vital part in the black experience abroad. Instead of returning to the Jim Crow era, they preferred the narrow but freeing fascination of Parisian society.

Harlem’s 125th Street is getting its very own 20-story Hip Hop Hall of Fame and Museum Museum founder JT Thompson’s vision is coming to life after 25 years of planning

Harlem, New York, known for its African-American contributions to cultural, social and artistic creativity, is adding even more flavor to the neighborhood with the addition of a Hip Hop Hall of Fame and Museum slated to open next winter.

The museum, chartered by the nonprofit Museum and Educational Institution, won a bid earlier this month for building space on Harlem’s famed 125th Street, home of the world-famous Apollo Theater, with a mission to “preserve, archive, exhibit, educate and showcase hip-hop music and culture from around the world.” Special exhibits will include the history of hip-hop, its development and impact on social trends, while also featuring wax figures of enshrined hip-hop pioneers and legends, memorabilia and collectibles.

Under the direction of development project manager Thompson International Professionals, Hip Hop Hall of Fame founder James “JT” Thompson and Zubatkin Owner Representation’s Andrew Bast, the museum will be constructed in two phases.

A rendering of the Hip Hop Hall of Fame Museum on 125th Street.

Courtesy of the Hip Hop Hall of Fame

Phase I, set to open in February 2018, heavily concentrates on a floor-by-floor plan that will include a cafe, gallery, visitors bureau and retail gift store on the first level. The museum itself, along with event space, offices and a multimedia studio for film and television content production, will be housed on the second floor. Phase II, more intricate in complexity and design, will encompass a 20-story Hip Hop Hall of Fame and Museum Hotel Entertainment complex that features the hall of fame museum, five-star hotel, retail mall and gift shop, arcade, TV studios, sports bar, restaurant and concert lounge with a goal of serving up to 1 million local, national and international visitors annually, according to a press release.

The museum will also focus on community involvement and education by providing a program that will give 25,000 New York City public school children an opportunity to visit the facility on field trips with museum tours, live assembly programs, academic awards and gift bags. The facility is set to bring an estimated $350 million of socioeconomic impact to New York and surrounding areas by providing permanent and part-time jobs, job training, internships and community volunteer opportunities, live events, shows, concerts and educational programs.

Thompson, an Army veteran who served until 1988, used the discipline, focus and attention to detail he acquired in the military to focus on breaking into the business as a concert promoter and television producer. Thompson created and executive-produced the first Hip Hop Hall of Fame Awards show on the BET cable network in 1996, shortly before the shooting deaths of hip-hop icons Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G.

Although the journey to open the museum spanned over two decades, Thompson remained steadfast in his mission to deliver the most complete experience in hip-hop’s influence on culture and history in America.

“This has been a labor of love,” Thompson said. “It’s had its valleys, mountains, peaks and falloffs. In the Army, I had leaders, mentors and brothers like teammates working to achieve something special. In life and in business, be disciplined and finish strong without quitting.”