Yesterday I opted to enjoy a “Fishy” salad (yes, it really is called a “Fishy” salad on the menu) at Z & H Market Cafe while catching-up on my reading. I felt woefully behind on my reading of The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter G. Woodson—one of the books I chose to read especially for Black History Month this year. In 1933 Woodson published this book on his own press—The Associated Publishers.
But prior to that, Carter G. Woodson had introduced Negro History Week in 1926 because he wanted to counter the popular assumption that black people had no history. He recognized that the Eurocentric worldview had people believing that white people were responsible for all that was good and right in the world; that the world’s oldest and greatest civilizations were white ones; that only white people invented things; that God, Adam, Moses, Jacob, John the Baptist and Jesus were all white! I was in elementary school school when that single week in February transitioned from Negro to Afro-American and Black History Week. For many of us kids attending public school in Detroit in those days, it was the most exciting week of the whole school year because we got a five-day immersion in black history and culture that barely got a mention in our pitiful textbooks. In 1976 the observance was expanded into Black History Month. By then Carter G.Woodson had been dead for 26 years.
In The Mis-Education of the Negro (which I am only 114 pages into, by the way), Woodson wrestled with the question of whether “educated” Negroes “are actually equipped to face the ordeal before them or unconsciously contribute to their own undoing by perpetuating the regime of the oppressor.” (from the preface)
Digging a fork into my plate, I began to read Chapter XI: “The Need for Service Rather Than Leadership.” My salad was a fresh mix of spinach, smoked salmon, and goat cheese, topped with crispy croutons and lemony dressing. Across the way I noticed a young man who was reading a copy of Langston Hughes’ The Weary Blues. He and I were the only patrons who weren’t either engaged in conversation or interfacing with an electronic device.
I don’t know about you, but I often like to people-watch and imagine back-stories for people based on very few observable details. Aware that I was munching my salad in the University of Chicago district, I decided that this particular fellow was enrolled in a course for which reading The Weary Blues was mandatory. Still, my mind was itchy about it because lately I’ve been pondering these various days and months we observe like Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, Presidents Day, Valentines Day, Women’s History Month, St. Patrick’s Day, Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, etc. There are so many days in which we are meant to be acknowledging, memorializing, honoring, and raising consciousness….but, WHO is actually participating in these observances* and celebrations? And How are we/they doing it?
Eventually, I got nervy and walked over to the young man’s table to introduce myself and invade his space with my awkward questions.
“Hi, I’m Leslie. I don’t want to interrupt your lunch too much but I noticed you reading The Weary Blues. I have a blog and I recently posted about “reading diversely,”
and….well…I was wondering: are you reading The Weary Blues for Black History Month, or are you reading it for a class?”
Turns out I was wrong on both counts.
“No,” he replied. “I like Langston Hughes, and I love jazz.”
“Would you mind if I took a photo of you holding the book? I can just take a picture of the book in your hands, if you like.”
“Oh I don’t mind.” He gave me permission to photograph his face as well. After viewing the first photo, he decided that being photographed with his hat on would be more representative of the whole vibe of his style of dress and taste in music and poetry.
When his panini sandwich was delivered I was learning that his name is Doyoung Lim. “I’m not from here. I’m from Korea.” Doyoung explained. “But I spent a year in the U. S. as an exchange student when I was in high school. That’s when I first read Langston Hughes.”
When I asked him if he played an instrument, Doyoung told me that he first played jazz saxophone, but now plays guitar. He is a fan of the music of Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley, and the swing of hardbop in general. He told me that he appreciates the artistic inventiveness and social activism of African Americans found in this music, as well as that which flourished during the Harlem Renaissance era.
Click here to check out a performance of Langston Hughes reciting the poem “The Weary Blues.” There is some irony in it since one of the lines from the poem is “I heard a Negro play” but no Negroes are playing on this set shown in footage from 1958!
*(The Anti-Defamation League has created a “Calendar of Observances” for 2015 “To enhance mutual understanding and respect among various religious, ethnic, and cultural groups.” This list doesn’t include observances like “Sweetest Day,” “National Poetry Month,” or “Bosses Day).
Sorry there’s no photo of the salad!
Special thanks to Doyoung Lim.