Wednesday, November 30, 2011


December 1st, 2011 is World AIDS Day.  According to the World Aids Day webpage the day is "held on 1 December each year and is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for people living with HIV and to commemorate people who have died. World AIDS Day was first held in 1988." 

When queried about what the face of AIDS looks like, most folks might still answer by falling back on the decades old trope of the emaciated and dying gay male.  This image came to life in the early 1990's with a image printed in Life Magazine of a dying male surrounded by his family.  This image became the face of AIDS, a face that has morphed and changed many times over the years since.

 Over the years AIDS has changed from being what was once thought of as a white, gay man's disease, to a disease that has heavily hit women, and now black men.  According to the CDC:

"African Americans face the most severe burden of HIV of all racial/ethnic groups in the United States (US). Despite representing only 14% of the US population in 2009, African Americans accounted for 44% of all new HIV infections in that year. Compared with members of other races and ethnicities, African Americans account for a higher proportion of HIV infections at all stages of disease—from new infections to deaths."

But according to UNICEF, AIDS now has a new look, "[c]hildren," says the organization, "are the missing face of AIDS." 

This year, for World AIDS Day, the African American Center turns it's focus to the thousands of children left orphaned due to the death of their parent(s) from AIDS.  AIDS orphans as they are refered to, are a population that is constantly growing;  "every day, almost 1,800 children under 15 become HIV-positive and 1,400 die of AIDS-related illness. Daily, more than 6,000 young people aged 15-24 acquire the virus."
It has been estimated that worldwide upward to 16 million children under 18 have been orphaned by AIDS. About 15  million of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa.  Startling numbers.  In some areas whole generations of children have been orphaned.  While in Africa, I had the chance to visit an orphanage in Ghana, where although not all the kids were orphaned, some were and the life and joy in these kids eyes burned brightly.  Here is a face of AIDS that should move and stimulate the reader to learn more about this crisis, not only as it affects Africa, but juveniles worldwide.  Here are some resources for further reading.

                                                                        copyright S. Shaw

Taking Away The Distance-a young orphans journey and the AIDS epidemic in Africa
362.1969 R7394t

Never Give Up- vignettes from Sub-Saharan Africa in the age of AIDS
362.1969 W7267n

28: stories of AIDS in Africa
362.1969 N717t

Children of AIDS- Africa's orphan crisis
362.7309 G938c

Face to Face- children of the AIDS crisis in Africa
362.7309 An224f

The Price of Stones
372.1826 K1199p

Our Storiesm our songs: African children talk about AIDS
J362.1969 Elli

Thursday, September 15, 2011


In an attempt to keep readers aware of titles housed in the African American Center, here is a short list of titles, on varying subjects, that speak to the diverse nature of the Center's collection. 

Harlem : a century in images
A century of Harlem, through the eyes and lenses of some of the most important artists and photographers of the twentieth century. The vibrant and bustling neighborhood occupying the upper reaches of Manhattan has been at the crossroads of the artistic, literary, and political currents of the African-American community since the early days of the twentieth century. Home to writers and revolutionaries, artists and agitators, Harlem has been both subject and inspiration for countless photographers. This sweeping photographic survey includes nearly two hundred images that tell the story of Harlem - its distinctive landscape and extraordinary inhabitants - throughout the twentieth century. Featured artists include: Gordon Parks, James VanDerZee, Eve Arnold, Alice Attie, Cornell Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Richard Avedon, Dawoud Bey, Chester Higgins, Jr., Helen Levitt, Aaron Siskind, Bruce Davidson, Roy DeCarava, Leonard Freed, Carl Van Vechten, and Weegee. The book features essays by leading scholars of African-American studies and art - including Deborah Willis, Cheryl Finley, Elizabeth Alexander, and Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. - which are paired with the work of eighty artists and photographers, affording this enclave the richest chronicling in its history.
974.71 H2252
The chitlin' circuit : and the road to rock 'n' roll
definitive account of the birth of rock 'n' roll in black America, this book establishes the Chitlin' Circuit as a major force in American musical history. Combining terrific firsthand reporting with deep historical research, Preston Lauterbach uncovers characters like Chicago Defender columnist Walter Barnes, who pioneered the circuit in the 1930s, and larger-than-life promoters such as Denver Ferguson, the Indianapolis gambling chieftain who consolidated it in the 1940s. Charging from Memphis to Houston and now-obscure points in between, The Chitlin' Circuit brings us into the sweaty back rooms where such stars as James Brown, B. B. King, and Little Richard got their start. With his unforgettable portraits of unsung heroes including King Kolax, Sax Kari, and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Lauterbach writes of a world of clubs and con men that has managed to avoid much examination despite its wealth of brash characters, intriguing plotlines, and vulgar glory, and gives us an excavation of an underground musical America.
784.8 ZL3775c

Encyclopedia of African American actresses in film and television
"This encyclopedia provides 360 biographical entries on African American film and television actresses, from Academy Award and NAACP Image Award winners to B-film and blaxpoitation era divas. Each entry is accompanied by a filmography of credits. The book also features more than 180 photographs, some of them rare images from Harlem's Schomburg Institute and other sources"--Provided by publisher.
791.4302 M1262e

Revolutionary suicide / Huey P. Newton, with the assistance of J. Herman Blake
The searing, visionary memoir of founding Black Panther Huey P. Newton, in a dazzling graphic package Eloquently tracing the birth of a revolutionary, Huey P. Newton's famous and oft-quoted autobiography is as much a manifesto as a portrait of the inner circle of America's Black Panther Party. From Newton's impoverished childhood on the streets of Oakland to his adolescence and struggles with the system, from his role in the Black Panthers to his solitary confinement in the Alameda County Jail, Revolutionary Suicide is smart, unrepentant, and thought-provoking in its portrayal of inspired radicalism.
322.4209 N483e 2009

African kings
Even today there are close to 100 tribal kings in Africa, vestiges of a former age-their ancient traditions preserved, their wisdom and power still honored. A portal into these worlds of mysterious rites, ancient customs, and fantastic finery, AFRICAN KINGS takes us into the inner circle of 70 of these tribes in the person of their king. Gorgeous formal portraits of each king, in full regalia, are accompanied by brief biographies and historical notes on the tribe and the rituals and history associated with each ruler. AFRICAN KINGS introduces us to a way of life rarely glimpsed, with anthropological roots as deep as any on the earth, as they make the transition into a new millennium. Includes a historical introduction that provides an overview of the king's role in African tribes.
960 L143r

Monday, June 6, 2011

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY- 1st part of a three part series

El Mina Castle- El Mina, Ghana (photo credit S Shaw)

This is the start of a three part series dealing with just a few things that is good, bad and ugly within African and African American History.  Not just the things blacks have done to and for themselves, but the hurts and harms slung against the backs of them as a people.  For the Good, lets start where the journey for many black slaves to the Americas began- in Africa in the country of  Ghana. 
During the Transatlantic Slave Trade the ports of Ghana played a major role in the embarkation of slaves to the Americas. Elmina and Cape Coast Castles were key trading post in timber, gold and slaves- first with the Portuguese, then Dutch finally the British.

So why is Ghana and slavery the first posting in the series, and why is it under The Good? Well through all of the bad of the slave trade and slavery and Ghana’s role in it, there is a lot of beauty and grace and hope in Ghana.  The area around Cape Coast and El Mina Castles are bustling with tourism, the colorful boats of local fisherman and Ghanaians going about their daily lives. There is too much Good here, not to start here in Ghana and on the continent from which the African Diaspora started.

Since the 1960's Ghana has opened it's heart and doors to African Americans wanting to visit the land of their ancestors and many African Americans have traveled there and some even now call Ghana home. Ghana is a mix of modern and traditional, the two being found side by side even in the biggest citites, and its people have been called the friendliest on the continent.  Ghana is a beautiful country- it's people and scenery.  From Accra, to Cape Coast, to Legon and the Kakum National Park region vitality and a sense of life abounds.  Below find a few photos of Ghana and a list of books on the country.

Door to Slave Pen at Em Mina Castle (S Shaw)

Fishing Boats El Mina, Ghana (S Shaw)


School Kid Kokrobitey, Ghana (S Shaw)
School Kids Kokrobitey, Ghana (S Shaw)

Old Fashioned Barber Sign Accra, Ghana
(S Shaw)

T-Shirts with pictures of President Barack Obama being made for a rally in Accra
(S Shaw)


Utley, Ian
916.6704 Ut4g

Falola, Toyin
966.7 Sa351c

966 H6297

Owusu-Ansah, David
966.7003 Ow72h

Provencal, Francis
j966.7009 Prov

Blauer, Ettagale
J966.7 Blau

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The word poetry comes from the Greek poiesis meaning a making, a forming, creating.  Poets create worlds for the reader to inhabit, but for me as a lover of poetry, the poet has to not only speak to the intellect but the heart and soul as well.  A turn of phrase is nice, connecting the infinitesimal to the  universal is key, but hitting me in the emotional center is where I connect with poetry. 

Poet L. Lamar Wilson is a poet that writes with emotion and from personal spaces.  His work is personal and poetic testimony.  He brings the reader into and engages him on a most visceral level- the level of feelings.  Be the poems persona poems or biographical you feel for the voices within and share the joys and pain. 

photo credit Rachel Eliza Griffiths
L. LAMAR WILSON, a Cave Canem fellow, has poetry in Callaloo, Rattle, Crab Orchard Review, Obsidian and Tidal Basin Review as well as in Mighty Real: An Anthology of African American Same Gender Loving Writing, edited by R. Bryant Smith and Darius Omar Williams.  He also has a poem featured in the new book The 100 Best African American Poets, edited by Nikki Giovanni.  He is a PhD Student at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

 It Could Happen to Anyone, or a Letter to the Boy
L. Lamar Wilson

The man in the shack on the corner wants
to kiss you. He remembers when you jump-roped
better than most of the girls & prayed without
manly pretense, remembers how you mimicked
the church mothers—knees & body bowed, Lawd
—your genuine contrition for being broken
& breakable still. You always was too pretty
to be a boy. Come gimme some sugar, he says
& reaches out to kiss you on your cheek, but
his lips are thistles, his face a cavern of bones.
It’s World AIDS Day, & you are here to chronicle
his free-fall from engineer to blind man leading
the myope, to fevers that flash on & off like a switch
spooked by the God he calls great & merciful
with a smile. Your mother says his songs tore up
church services all over town like hurricanes
had done Old U.S. Road: dogwoods splayed,
naked limbs convulsing, rapt in holy water,
like the saints slain by the spirits he conjured.
You don’t remember him, so busy kneeling
at the altar of this you the mothers & sanctified brothers
could praise, who loved Shirts Against Skins
more than Bible study, loved tackling the most buff Skin
on the field, who always held you on top of him long
enough for you to feel him hardening against you
hardening. Gimme some skin, nigga, he’d say
& grin, as you pulled away, then reached to pull
him to his feet. This man doesn’t know the you
who dreamed of kissing the lead tuba player
but was too much of a punk or a saint or both
to follow his leer from the dais to the bathroom stall.
It could happen to anyone, he says, especially
when you love somebody. Make sure
you write that down. You don’t. Too
sentimental, you think, for a hard
news story, so you dig for the grit, for the who
who branded him untouchable. He smiles,
places one hand on his chest, gropes the table
for yours. You using protection with these boys?
His scaly palm grazes your keloid knuckles.
I haven’t, you know, yet, you mumble, happy
for once to be numb, glad you can’t feel the heat.

previously published on No Tell Motel
reprinted with permission from the poet.

L. Lamar Wilson
My nephew waltzes beside his father,
The man who was the boy who made Faggot!
A reason not to flinch. His neck a merry-
Go-round, our boy rears back, waves
His pointer in my face, jabs his other fist
Into his hip & wails: Watch yo’ mouth!

Watch yo’ mouth, Miss Effie White! ’Cause I
Don’t take no mess from no second-rate diva
Who can’t sustain! In my brother’s eyes, I see
The pain of remembering when I crooned—Don’t
Tell me not to live. Just sit & putter. Life’s candy
& the sun’s a ball of butter—& made him grimace.
I scan the wall of plaques in Mama’s den,
The remnants of home runs & aces that gave
Him hope then, all dusty now. Teeth clenched,
He smiles at his dreamboy & nods in disbelief.
Harrumphs. Lashes flittering, he offers me
The only penance he can: a sheepish grin.
We applaud & feign heartened laughter.
My nephew sees beyond the veil shrouding
His father’s eyes. Realizes this isn’t
How brown boys win favor. Searches
My eyes for answers. Mirrors
A sadness no song can shake.
–from Rattle #31, Summer 2009
Tribute to African American Poets
reprinted with permission from poet

Monday, April 25, 2011


In an attempt to highlight, if even a small way, poetry and the world as seen through the eyes of blacks throughout the African Diaspora, I will post a few poems by different poets.  Poetry has the ability to be at once seditious and tractable, , impersonal and personal; it moves mountains, soothes nerves, and can just puts the reader in a feel good "yeah, I know that" mode and does it better than most other written mediums. 

The first poet is Kola Boof. Kola Boof (born Naima Bint Harith) is an Egyptian-Sudanese American raised novelist and poet, once called "the African Garbo" by The New York Times and noted for the works Flesh and the Devil, Long Train to the Redeeming Sin and Nile River Woman. Boof is an activist and writer whose writing has been declared obscene in Morocco and whose life has been threatened more than once due to the nature of her writing and her provocative words. For a more information on Boof :

Black Beauty’s Totem

I wish to find the swell
of constant waters

…and the death of the locust night

I wish to find the anguished heart
of the blue blackened earthquake
and lay my monkish head against his
armoured chest.

To bless him with full, swollen lips
and behold his darkened portholes
drinking my softened flesh…oh, but yes

I wish to die as spirits then…


lost and swishing forever
deep within my purple folds

like birth and no regret

-Kola Boof, from Nile River Woman

Sunday, February 27, 2011


On 2/3/2011 the African American Center in conjunction with the San Francisco African American Hisotrical and Cultural Society (SFAAHCS), put on the Annual Black History Month Kickoff at City Hall.  SFAAHCS have been putting together this event and this was another wonderful event. 

Watch the event in its entirety by clicking the link below. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


The idea for the Aint No Half Stepping exhibit came about when photographer Joanne Bealy and writer Evelyn C White stopped by the library and invited the library to be a witness to the cultural life and landscape that makes up Salt Spring Island in British Columbia. Bealy and White had so eloquently written about and photographed this region in their new book Every Goodbye Aint Gone: a photo narrative of Black Heritage in salt Spring Island and asked if we would like to do an exhibition based around it. Of course we jumped at the idea to collaborate with them on this project.  

What made this such an enticing subject for the library, was that 153 years ago a group of 800 blacks from all over California came together and migrated from San Francisco up to Canada. This exhibit strives to honor those émigrés and put into context their lives both here and in Canada and speak to what the current political landscape was like here in the 1850’s California that drove them far from their homes. The African American Center is always looking for exhibits that connect the past and the future, the local and the global. This exhibit perfectly does both.

Blacks have long held claims to the land and soul of California, with some of the earliest settlers of the state being of African origin.  Of the 44 original settlers of present day Los Angeles, 26 were either of full African ancestry or of mix blood- Spanish and black.  Even with this said, California has long had a conflicted and sometimes rocky relationship with blacks.  In 1852 blacks in California had doubled in number, “and their material possession in property and businesses had improved at a rate far exceeding that of blacks in the eastern states.”
Enjoy the exhibit-

Monday, February 14, 2011


Both the British and the Americans enlisted African Americans during the Revolutionary War. American military leaders were reluctant to allow black men to join their armed forces on a permanent basis, even though black men had fought with the Continental Army since the earliest battles of the war at Concord, Lexington, and Bunker Hill. The British encouraged runaways--male and female--to join their ranks. This work provides excellent documentation of the variety of roles African Americans played during the war when they were finally and officially allowed to join the ranks of the Continental Army.

Haiti was founded after a slave revolt started in 1791, led by Toussaint L'Ouverture, toppled the government of the French colony of St. Domingue.
The Pobladores ("townspeople") of Los Angeles refers to the 44 original settlers who founded city of Los Angeles, California in 1781.
Of the 22 children who contributed to the settlement, 16 were of African ancestry and would be considered "black" by present-day American standards of racial classification.

On July 26, 1948, President Harry Truman issued two executive orders. One instituted fair employment practices in the civilian agencies of the federal government; the other provided for "equality of treatment and opportunity in the armed forces without regard to race, color, religion,or national origin."

This was a major victory for civil rights advocates in the quest for full citizenship.

"Jim Crow" laws mandated that blacks have separate facilities for travel, lodging, eating and drinking, schooling, worship, housing, and other aspects of social and economic life.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


The railroad and trains have long held a sacred space in the minds of African Americans in both a literal and metaphorical way. From the times of slavery there was Harriet Tubman a leader and head conductor on the Underground Railroad. The Underground Railroad represented freedom, the hope for a better future to enslaved Africans. Tubman, or the Moses of her people as she was referred to, led those enslaved out of the bondage using an informal series of safe houses and secret routes that led to free states and Canada. The Underground Railroad, although without wheels and rails or the physical trappings of a traditional train, was no less a journey for those who undertook the trip.

The railway is also deeply embedded in African American folklore in two different and distinct ways. First with the legendary folk hero John Henry- a mythical figure that was born with a hammer in his hand. John Henry is notable for having raced against a steam powered hammer and won, only to die in victory with his 20 pound hammer still in his hand. “Henry represents the worker and serves as a folk hero for all American working-class people, representing their marginalization during changes entering the modern age in America.”

Although the legend of John Henry was said to be based on some factual evidence, more to the truth is that many African American men and women were John Henry and helped build the railways as it made its way across the American landscape.  From the early days of passenger trains African Americans have served as servants on trains; slave labor, both male and female, was utilized in some capacity. For years the railroads have been a means of employment for black communities- first the use of slave labor as maids and servants, water carriers on the early trains and later for men who worked as Pullman Porters.

The book Railroads in the African American Experience, a reviewer writes “Kornweibel presents a detailed history of the African American connection with railroads from the days of slavery through the Civil Rights Movement. He explains that railroads were one of the few sources of comparatively decent-paying employment for African Americans. Working for the railroads nonetheless meant coping with exploitation, discrimination, and even violence. Kornweibel devotes entire chapters to various railroad occupations, such as fireman, porter, and cook. He also explains how railroad work permeated African American society and culture. He supplements his text with hundreds of period photos and illustrations of African Americans in railroad settings. This wonderful book dealing forthrightly with one aspect of past racism would be an excellent source for readers interested in either African American or railroad labor history.” Copyright 2010. Library Journals

Friday, February 4, 2011


George Carruthers invented the far ultraviolet electrographic camera, used in the 1972 Apollo 16 mission. This invention revealed new features in Earth's far-outer atmosphere and deep-space objects from the perspective of the lunar surface. Carruthers was inducted into the National Inventor's Hall of Fame in 2003.

In 1897, African-American inventor Alfred Cralle patented the first ice cream scoop. His original design remains in wide use, even today.

After African-American performer Josephine Baker expatriated to France, she famously smuggled military intelligence to French allies during World War II. She did this by pinning secrets inside her dress, as well as writing them in invisible ink on her sheet music.

Legendary singer James Brown performed in front of a televised audience in Boston the day after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Brown is often given credit for preventing riots with the performance.

Arthur Ashe was the first African-American to win the U.S. Open (1968); to come in first in the Wimbeldon men's singles (1975); and be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame (1985).

Thursday, February 3, 2011


In 2002, Maritza Correia became the first black female swimmer to break an American record, beating out Jenny Thompson, the most decorated American swimmer in Olympic history. She is also the first female black swimmer to make it onto the U.S. Olympic team.

The Buffalo Soldiers served in the Spanish American war, various Indian wars and helped to settle the west by installing telegraph lines, protecting wagon trains and defending new settlements. More than 20 Buffalo Soldiers have received the highest military award, the Medal of Honor—the most any military unit has ever received.

Muhammad Ali the self-proclaimed "greatest [boxer] of all time" was originally named after his father, who was named after the 19th century abolitionist and politician Cassius Marcellus Clay.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on friend Maya Angelou's birthday on April 4th, 1968. Angelou stopped celebrating her birthday for many years afterward, and sent flowers to King's widow every year until Mrs. King's death in 2006.

Macon Bolling Allen was the first African-American to pass the bar and practice law in the United States in 1845.  Macon Bolling Allen was also the first black American Justice of the Peace.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Nathaniel Alexander was the first to patent the folding chair. His invention was designed to be used in schools, churches and at large social gatherings.

Henry Blair, the second African-American to receive a patent, invented a corn seed planter in 1834 and a cotton planter in 1836. Blair could not read or write and signed his patent with an X.

As a child Muhammad Ali was refused an autograph by his idol, boxer Sugar Ray Robinson. When Ali became a prize-fighter, he vowed never to deny an autograph request, which he has honored to this day.

Allensworth is the only California community to be founded, financed and governed by African-Americans. Created by Allen Allensworth in 1908, the town was built with the intention of establishing a self-sufficient, all-black city where African-Americans could live their lives free of racial discrimination.

BET was the first African-American controlled company to sell shares on the New York Stock Exchange.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


Black History Month was originally started as Negro History Week in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson. The goal of Black History Week was to honor the history and contributions of African Americans and educate Blacks about their cultural background, and instill in them a sense of pride in their race. Many Africans Americans still jokingly or not so jokingly, believe that February was given as Black History Month because it is the shortest month, actually Woodson chose the second week of February to pay tribute to the birthdays of two Americans that dramatically affected the lives of Blacks: Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and Frederick Douglass (February 14). From there the week, later became a month and in 1976 getting national recognition as Black History Month.

Carter G Woodson was a historian, scholar, journalist and the founder of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. He was one of the first scholars to systematically and seriously study black history. To this day he is still considered The Father of Modern Black History.

For more information on the works and life of Carter G Woodson:

The Rural Negro
325.26 W868r

The mis-education of the Negro
371.8926 W868m

The history of the Negro church
200.8996 W868h

Carter G. Woodson : a life in Black history

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


The African American Historical and Cultural Society along with the San Francisco Public Library, will sponsor a renowned collection of artistic and historical artifacts from African and African American history gathered by a California couple. African American History: From the Collection of Bernard and Shirley Kinsey includes a vast array of art, artifacts and historical documents. This is the first time that the collection has been exhibited in San Francisco. The collection, currently on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C., has been seen by more than 3 million people in Los Angeles, Sacramento, Chicago, and Florida. This exhibit is made possible by support from the San Francisco Grants for the Arts Program, California Council for the Humanities, the San Francisco Public Library and the African American Art and Culture Complex.