Black History Month: Writer’s Recommendations

Arts and Culture writer Marjolaine Marsile details important historical figures in both Black History and Black Art.

Joséphine Baker

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The incredible ‘J’ai deux amours, mon pays et Paris‘ was sung by an African-American French woman named Joséphine Baker in 1930. 

Born Freda Josephine McDonald in 1906, Baker’s singing, dancing, acting and her activism, put her in the global spotlight. Baker became well known for her role in the silent film by Mario Nalpas and Henri Etiévant Siren of the Tropics released in 1927, in which she was the first Black woman to star in such a film. 

While dancing in the Folies Bergère in Paris, she made quite an impression by appearing in ‘Un vent de folie‘ in a  revue in 1927. Now recognised by her banana skirt and famous dance moves, Baker gained a huge following in the Parisian Jazz scene. 

Her activism became evident when she refused to play inside a pro-segregation club in Miami. Likewise, in 1963 she demonstrated in the famous March on Washington organised by Martin Luther King. Often forgotten is her work during Worl War II for which she was awarded the Croix De Guerre and the Legion of Honour by General Charles de Gaulle.

 It is clear, while Joséphine Baker was shown as an artist, she also became an icon for feminism and Black people in art.

Langston Hughes

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The Harlem Renaissance in 1920, was a cultural, artistic and intellectual movement that praised African American culture, and saw Langston Hughes as the progenitor. 

Other artists and activists such as W.E.B Du Bois, Louis Armstrong, Joséphine Baker, Aaron Douglas, and many more were all important icons of the movement. 

Hughes was a poet, social activist and novelist born in 1901. In 1921, Langston published his own poem and his first book in 1926.

 Many consider his short poem, ‘I Too, Sing America’ as a cornerstone of commentary on racism.

“I am the darker brother. They send me to eat in the kitchen. When company comes, But I laugh. And eat well, And strong. Tomorrow, I’ll be at the table.”

Langston Hughes

The poem depicts a family subjected to discrimination, under the Jim Crow Laws. The poem makes salient and nuanced points about respect, peace and equality in a diverse America.