Race, Culture and a White Boy from Texas
Perhaps Charles L. Black Jr. intuitively felt all of this through the profound human artistry of Louis Armstrong.
"There have been manywell, a good manygreat artists in my time," wrote Black. "But it happened that the one who said the most to methe most of gaiety, the most of sadness, the most of nervous excitement, the most of religion-in-art, the most of home, the most of that strange square-root-of-minus-one world of emotions without namewas and is Louis. The artist who has played this part in my life was black."
His reflections continue, encompassing the people from which Armstrong sprang and the culture he and they shared: "In 1957, in the early days after the Brown case, when the South was still resisting, I wrote out and published my deepest thought on the nature of the agony as it presented itself:
I'm going to close by telling of a dream that has formed itself through the years as I, a Southern white by birth and training, have pondered my relations with the many Negroes of Southern origin that I have known, both in the North and at home.
I have noted again and again how often we laugh at the same things, how often we pronounce the same words the same way to the amusement of our hearers, judge character in the same frame of reference, mist up at the same kinds of music. I have exchanged 'good evening' with a Negro stranger on a New Haven street, and then realized (from the way he said the words) that he and I derived this universal small-town custom from the same culture...
These and thousands of other such things have brought me to see the whole caste system of the South, the whole complex net of its senseless cruelties and cripplings, as no mere accidental grotesquerie of history, but rather as that most hideous of errors, that prima materia of tragedy, the failure to recognize kinship...My dream is simply that sight will one day clear and that each of the participants will recognize each other.
The question to you, dear reader, is whether or not you will recognize your own culturea real category of human reality rather than the social construction of raceand then articulatefreelyyour own conscious culture, based on human commonality, and in celebration of human variety and difference? If so, then we can shake hands with Ellison's nameless character at the end of Invisible Man, when he says: Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?
Part 3: Gary Giddins on Ignored Black Jazz Writers
Page 7: T. Charles Erickson