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Pearl Cleage

Playwright Pearl Michelle Cleage was born on December 7, 1948 in Springfield, Massachusetts. Cleage is the youngest daughter of Doris Graham and Albert B. Cleage Jr., the founder of the Shrine of the Black Madonna. After graduating from the Detroit public schools in 1966, Cleage enrolled at Howard University, where she studied playwriting. In 1969, she moved to Atlanta and enrolled at Spelman College, married Michael Lomax and became a mother. She graduated from Spelman College in 1971 with a bachelor’s degree in drama.

Cleage has become accomplished in all aspects of her career. As a writer, she has written three novels: What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day (Avon Books, 1997), which was an Oprah’s Book club selection, a New York Times bestseller, and a BCALA Literary Award Winner, I Wish I Had a Red Dress (Morrow/Avon, 2001), and Some Things I Never Thought I’d Do, which was published in 2003. As an essayist, many of her essays and articles have appeared in magazines such as Essence, Ms., Vibe, Rap Pages, and many other publications. Examples of these essays include Mad at Miles and Good Brother Blues. Cleage has written over a dozen plays, some of which include Flyin’ West, Bourbon at the Border, and Blues for an Alabama Sky, which returned to Atlanta as part of the 1996 Cultural Olympiad in conjunction with the 1996 Olympic Games. In addition to her writing she has been an activist all her life. Starting at her father’s church, The Shrine of the Black Madonna – Cleage has been involved in the Pan-Africanist Movement, Civil Rights Movement and Feminist Movement. She has also been a pioneer in grassroots and community theater.

Cleage is the mother of one daughter, Deignan, the grandmother of one grandson, Michael, and one granddaughter, Chloe Pearl. She is married to Zaron W. Burnett, a writer with whom she frequently collaborates.

Accession Number

A2004.177

Sex

Female

Interview Date

9/23/2004

Last Name

Cleage

Maker Category
Organizations
Schools

McMichael Intermediate School

Northwestern High School

Durfee Elementary School

Spelman College

Howard University

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Pearl

Birth City, State, Country

Springfield

HM ID

CLE02

Favorite Season

Winter

State

Massachusetts

Favorite Vacation Destination

Beaches

Favorite Quote

Thank You.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Georgia

Interview Description
Birth Date

12/7/1948

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Atlanta

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Pasta

Short Description

Playwright Pearl Cleage (1948 - ) has written three novels, including, 'What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day,' which was an Oprah's Book Club selection and a New York Times bestseller. Cleage has been involved in the Pan-Africanist Movement, the Civil Rights Movement and Feminist Movement. She has also been a pioneer in grassroots and community theater. Her father, Albert B. Cleage Jr., was the founder of the Shrine of the Black Madonna.

Employment

City of Atlanta

The King Center

Southern Education Program

WXIA-TV

Favorite Color

Purple

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/227934">Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Pearl Cleage's interview</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/227935">Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Pearl Cleage lists her favorites</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/227936">Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Pearl Cleage describes her mother's family background</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/227937">Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Pearl Cleage describes the life of her mother and maternal grandparents in Detroit, Michigan</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/227938">Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Pearl Cleage describes her father's family background</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/227939">Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Pearl Cleage describes her father's radical politics and how that influenced his preaching</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/227940">Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Pearl Cleage describes her earliest childhood memory</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/227941">Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Pearl Cleage describes her childhood community in Detroit, Michigan</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/227942">Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Pearl Cleage describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood in Detroit, Michigan</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/227943">Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Pearl Cleage talks about the geographical boundaries of Detroit, Michigan during her childhood</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/227944">Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Pearl Cleage talks about her experiences at Roosevelt Elementary School and McMichael Junior High School in Detroit, Michigan</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/227945">Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Pearl Cleage describes her childhood aspirations to become a writer</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/227946">Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Pearl Cleage describes her experiences at Northwestern High School in Detroit, Michigan</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/227947">Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Pearl Cleage remembers deciding between whether to be a writer or a dancer during her time at Northwestern High School in Detroit, Michigan</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/227948">Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Pearl Cleage talks about how her father, Albert B. Cleage, Jr., influenced her relationship to religion and her writing</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/227949">Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Pearl Cleage describes her involvement in political activism as a child</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/227950">Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Pearl Cleage describes her experiences at Howard University in Washington, D.C.</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/227951">Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Pearl Cleage recalls her experiences at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/227952">Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Pearl Cleage recalls her first jobs in Atlanta, Georgia after graduating from college</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/227953">Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Pearl Cleage explains her and her family's anxiety at the prospect of her moving to the South</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/227954">Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Pearl Cleage relates how she grew as a writer through her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/227955">Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Pearl Cleage shares her perspective on how women were treated within the Civil Rights Movement</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/227956">Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Pearl Cleage describes the resistance to feminism among politically radical men during the 1960s and 1970s</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/227957">Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Pearl Cleage remembers how she came to join the feminist movement in the 1970s</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/227958">Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Pearl Cleage talks about her tenure working as press secretary in Maynard Jackson's first mayoral administration in Atlanta, Georgia</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/227959">Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Pearl Cleage describes her career in freelance writing after leaving her position as press secretary for Atlanta City Hall in Atlanta, Georgia</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/227960">Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Pearl Cleage describes developing new plays during her years with Just Us Theater Company in Atlanta, Georgia</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/227961">Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Pearl Cleage talks about the spoken word poetry movement</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/227962">Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Pearl Cleage talks about writing her first book, 'Mad at Miles: A Black Woman's Guide to Truth'</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/227963">Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Pearl Cleage talks about writing plays for the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/227964">Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Pearl Cleage recalls writing her first novel, 'What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day' in the mid-1990s</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/227965">Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Pearl Cleage talks about her career as a novelist after having her first novel selected by Oprah Winfrey for Oprah's book club</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/227966">Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Pearl Cleage reflects on her new role as a grandmother</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/227967">Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Pearl Cleage talks about her hopes and concerns for the women's rights movement and for international relations</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/227968">Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Pearl Cleage talks about the importance of life stories and storytelling for understanding history</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/227969">Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Pearl Cleage reflects upon her life, pt. 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/227970">Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Pearl Cleage offers advice for aspiring writers</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/227971">Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Pearl Cleage details her plans for her future</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/227972">Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Pearl Cleage reflects upon her life, pt. 2</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/227973">Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Pearl Cleage talks about the importance of the African American community of Atlanta, Georgia in her life</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/227974">Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Pearl Cleage talks about her values and beliefs</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/227975">Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Pearl Cleage describes how she would like to be remembered</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/227976">Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Pearl Cleage reflects upon her legacy</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/227977">Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Pearl Cleage narrates her photographs, pt. 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/227978">Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Pearl Cleage narrates her photographs, pt. 2</a>

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$2

DAStory

2$8

DATitle
Pearl Cleage talks about how her father, Albert B. Cleage, Jr., influenced her relationship to religion and her writing
Pearl Cleage relates how she grew as a writer through her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement
Transcript
Coming back to these experiences in the church, your father [Albert B. Cleage, Jr.] clearly was impacting how your spirituality was developing. What were your experiences like in the church?$$I really--I grew up in my father's church [Central Congregational Church; Shrine of the Black Madonna, Detroit, Michigan], and not just on Sunday morning, I used to follow my father around all the time, and I think I kind of inherited that from my mother [Doris Graham Cleage] trying to be her father's [Mershell C. Graham] son. My father had two daughters, no sons. I think I was trying to be my father's son too, so that I was always--if he had to go to the church, and oftentimes in these big old churches the pastor would go to the church the night before the service, and start the furnace because the church was so big and old that they didn't want to heat it all the time, but in order for the church to be warm enough to have church on Sunday morning, you would start the furnace up and get things going the night before. So I had done that with my grandfather because he was a trustee, and one of his jobs at Plymouth [Congregational] Church [Plymouth United Church of Christ, Detroit, Michigan] was to go start the furnace up on Saturday night, and then I had those same experiences with my dad. But those I think were just really important to me because I was around my father so often growing up that he would talk to me about what he was thinking about the church. He would talk to be me about what he was gonna preach about. He would talk to me about what he was reading, even when I was way too young to understand it. I remember my father talking to me about Frantz Fanon when I was so little, and thinking to myself, "Wow this is great, he thinks I understand this, and I don't know what he's talking about." But when I got older I went immediately and got 'The Wretched of the Earth' [Frantz Fanon] so I could read it and see what he was talking about. So then I adored my father, I really admired him, and he was a very charismatic speaker, a great speaker. He was a wonderful preacher who would take all of these complicated ideas that he was thinking about and put them in a form where the regular folks who came to our church could understand all of these very complicated ideas. But in order to do that he preached for a long time. The first time I went to a church and the pastor preached for twenty minutes I was amazed because my father thought nothing of talking for an hour and a half, I mean, on Sunday morning. And people would sit there and listen to him because he was able to excite them and to communicate with them in a way that made them sit there for that long to listen to what he had to say. So for me as a budding writer who really was interested in theater, wanting to write plays, it was a great gift to be around someone who was so skilled at talking, at using the language to move people to do things, and I know that watching my father preach had a great influence on me as a playwright because I know what words can do. I know that if you can figure out how to say something complicated in an accessible way, you can move people. Not only to change what they think about things but to do stuff, to march down to city hall, to change the way the world works, to picket the police station, all of those things. So that I was very motivated I think by the fact that in my father I saw someone who was so wonderful with the spoken word and was also so spiritually and politically active in things that he, you know, gave me something to work toward.$So you were coming at this point in terms of your professional experience from The [Martin Luther] King [Jr.] Center [for Nonviolent Social Change, Atlanta, Georgia] into media television [WXIA-TV, Channel 11, Atlanta, Georgia]. Were you writing at this time, were you (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) All the time.$$--speaking?$$Constantly. I was writing, I was writing a lot of poetry. I was writing plays at that time. So I was writing a lot, and I was saying my poems in public, you know, performing on all of those kinds of things, where before we had the political moment we're gonna let some of the poets read some of their revolutionary poetry, and I would be one of the poets with my African dress on and my earrings down to my shoulders reading my revolutionary poetry. So that I was a part of a group of black artists who were very much tied to the political changes that were going on. [HistoryMaker] A.B. Spellman, who was a wonderful poet, was here then. His wife Karen Spellman was the director of the Southern Education Program, so that through them I met lots of activist artists. She had been a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee [SNCC] so I met lots of SNCC people. That's really how I got the entree into inviting all these radicals to be on my television show, because they were friends of Karen's and she was a friend of mine. So we all knew each other, so that when I needed guests who could talk about reparations, who could talk about what was going on in South Africa, then I knew the people because we had all been sitting around drinking wine talking about these things the night before. So that it was a rich environment. Lots of very dedicated movement people. And the movement was at a very transition--a transitioning moment because of all of the assassinations that were going on, all of the violence that was going on. [Reverend] Dr. [Martin Luther] King [Jr.] had been killed. The SCLC [Southern Christian Leadership Conference] was still trying to regroup from all of that, so that there was a lot of activity that was going on in Atlanta [Georgia] because so many of the movement people were here, which really was wonderful for me because many of them knew my father [Albert B. Cleage, Jr.]. So it took me from one environment which was very rich in terms of movement activity, and put me right down in another one, which was here, which was still full of movement activity, so that my writing continued to be very grounded in movement toward social change, and you know gave me a chance to say my poems and meet other poets, and all of that. So I was still writing all the time.

Florence Ladd

Florence Ladd was born June 16, 1932, in Washington, D.C., to parents who were educators. Ladd attended public schools in Washington, D.C., before earning a B.S. in psychology in 1953 from Howard University and a Ph.D. in social psychology in 1958 from the University of Rochester in New York.

Ladd first taught at Simmons College. She then traveled to Istanbul, Turkey, where she taught until 1964. In 1965, she returned to Boston and began teaching at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education, as well as at the Graduate School of Design. Teaching at both schools allowed her to simultaneously pursue her interest in psychology and environmental studies. In 1977, Ladd left Harvard University and the classroom and teaching for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and administration, rising at M.I.T. to associate dean.

In 1979, Ladd was hired by Wellesley College, where she worked as dean of students at Wellesley College until 1984. She was then hired as a research consultant with the Institute of International Education's South African Education Program. A year later, she went to Oxfam America and served as a liaison to the United Nations. In 1989, Ladd returned to academia as to a unique multi-disciplinary center of advanced studies for women, the Bunting Institute at Radcliffe College. Ladd retired from the Bunting Institute in 1997.

Ladd is active in other fields as well. In 1996, she published her first novel, Sarah's Psalm, to critical acclaim. Currently, she is the overseer of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, as well as a member of the Board of Trustees of Hampshire College. Previously, she served on the board of the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston.

Accession Number

A2003.076

Sex

Female

Interview Date

4/11/2003

Last Name

Ladd

Maker Category
Middle Name

C.

Organizations
Schools

Slater-Langston School

Shaw Junior High School

John F. Cook Elementary School

Paul Laurence Dunbar High School

University of Rochester

Howard University

Search Occupation Category
Speakers Bureau

Yes

Speakers Bureau Availability

Depends on Schedule

First Name

Florence

Birth City, State, Country

Washington

HM ID

LAD01

Speakers Bureau Preferred Audience

Literature (Poetry, Fiction), Foreign Travel (France Esp.), Education

Speakers Bureau Honorarium

Yes

Favorite Season

All Seasons

Speaker Bureau Notes

Availability Specifics: Days, evenings, September-May

Preferred Audience: Literature (Poetry, Fiction), Foreign Travel (France Esp.), Education

State

District of Columbia

Favorite Vacation Destination

Flavigny-sur-Ozerain, France

Favorite Quote

Looking Forward.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Massachusetts

Interview Description
Birth Date

6/16/1932

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Boston

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Asparagus, Strawberries

Short Description

Fiction writer and academic administrator Florence Ladd (1932 - ) is a former dean at Harvard University and MIT. She is author of the novel, "Sarah's Psalm."

Employment

Simmons College

Harvard University

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Wellesley College

Institute of International Education

Oxfam America

Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study

Favorite Color

Blue

DAStories

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/86441">Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Florence Ladd's interview</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/86442">Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Florence Ladd lists her favorites</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/86443">Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Florence Ladd describes her maternal family history</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/86444">Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Florence Ladd describes her paternal family history</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/86445">Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Florence Ladd talks about her father, William Cawthorne</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/86446">Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Florence Ladd talks describes the dynamics of her relationship with her father</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/86447">Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Florence Ladd describes her mother, Eleanor Willis Cawthorne</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/86530">Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Florence Ladd talks about summers at the National Gallery of Art and segregation in Washington, D.C.</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/86531">Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Florence Ladd describes the sights, sounds, and smells of her childhood in Washington, D.C.</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/86532">Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Florence Ladd describes the disenfranchisement of citizens and the black middle class in Washington, D.C.</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/86533">Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Florence Ladd describes her grade school experiences</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/86534">Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Florence Ladd describes memorable teachers and experiences in grade school</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/86535">Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Florence Ladd talks about influential teachers at Shaw Junior High School in Washington, D.C.</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/86536">Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Florence Ladd describes her experience at Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C.</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/86537">Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Florence Ladd describes how she developed an interest in psychology</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/86538">Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Florence Ladd talks about her social life at Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C.</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/86457">Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Florence Ladd describes her social life in high school and her first experience of racial discrimination</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/86458">Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Florence Ladd describes her decision to attend Howard University in Washington, D.C.</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/86459">Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Florence Ladd describes her experience studying abroad in Paris, France</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/86460">Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Florence Ladd talks about her interactions with American expatriates while studying abroad in France</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/86461">Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Florence Ladd describes her decision to pursue graduate studies at the University of Rochester in New York</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/86462">Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Florence Ladd talks about her experience at the University of Rochester and her relationship with composer Noel DaCosta</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/86463">Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Florence Ladd talks about her dissertation and her entry into gerontology</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/86774">Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Florence Ladd talks about her first marriage to Ulysses Grant Shelton, Jr.</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/86775">Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Florence Ladd talks about life in Turkey and the end of her first marriage</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/86776">Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Florence Ladd describes the early years of her career</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/86777">Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Florence Ladd talks about her marriage to John "Jack" Ladd and his untimely death</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/86778">Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Florence Ladd talks about her mentor in academic administration, Bill Porter at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/86779">Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Florence Ladd talks about her marriage to Bill Harris and her tenure as Dean of Students at Wellesley College</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/86780">Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Florence Ladd talks about her work in the South African Education Program</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/86781">Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Florence Ladd describes working for Oxfam America</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/86547">Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Florence Ladd talks about her appointment as director of the Bunting Institute at Radcliffe College and notable Bunting fellows</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/86548">Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Florence Ladd talks about her book, "Sarah's Psalm"</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/86549">Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Florence Ladd describes the manuscript of "The Spirit of Josephine"</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/86550">Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Florence Ladd talks about her writing projects including a collection of poems and a collaboration with Marion Kilson</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/86551">Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Florence Ladd describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/86552">Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Florence Ladd reflects upon her legacy</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/86478">Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Florence Ladd talks about how she would like to be remembered</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/86479">Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Florence Ladd reflects upon The HistoryMakers project</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/86480">Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Florence Ladd narrates her photographs</a>

Gordon Parks

A versatile and prolific artist, Gordon Parks, Sr., warrants his status as a cultural icon. The poet, novelist, film director, and preeminent documentary and fashion photographer was born on November 30, 1912, in Fort Scott, Kansas, the youngest of fifteen children. Parks saw no reason to stay in Kansas after the death of his mother and moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, at age sixteen to live with his sister. After a disagreement with his brother-in-law, Parks soon found himself homeless, supporting himself by playing piano and basketball and working as a busboy.

While working on a train as a waiter, Parks noticed a magazine with photographs from the Farm Security Administration (FSA). The photos by such documentary photographers as Dorothea Lange, Russell Lee and Arthur Rothstein led him to Richard Wright’s 12 Million Black Voices, other photo essays about poverty and racism, and the social and artistic voice he had been seeking. Parks bought a used camera in 1938, deciding on a career in photography. In 1941, Parks received a fellowship from the Julius Rosenwald Foundation to work with Roy Stryker at the photography section of the FSA. In Washington, D.C., he trained as a photojournalist. He would work with Stryker for the next few years, producing work and honing the modernist and individualistic style he became known for by photographing small towns and industrial centers throughout America.

By the end of the 1940s, Parks was working with Life and Vogue and in that capacity did some of his most famous work. Traveling the globe and covering issues as varied as the fashion industry, poverty in Brazil, the Nation of Islam, gang violence, and eventually celebrity portraitures, Parks continued to develop and create new ways to convey meaning through his work.

Branching out from his photography in 1963, Parks directed his first film, The Learning Tree, based on his autobiographical novel of the same name. Parks went on to direct many films, including Shaft in 1971. In addition to film, Parks composed music and written several books including: A Choice of Weapons (1966), To Smile in Autumn (1979), Voices in the Mirror (1990), Arias of Silence (1994), and a retrospective of his life and work titled Half Past Autumn (1997), which was recently made into an HBO special.

Parks passed away on March 7, 2006 at the age of 93.

Accession Number

A2001.054

Sex

Male

Archival Photo 1
Interview Date

3/12/2001

Last Name

Parks

Organizations
Search Occupation Category
Archival Photo 2
First Name

Gordon

Birth City, State, Country

Fort Scott

HM ID

PAR02

Favorite Season

Fall

Sponsor

Mark D. Goodman

State

Kansas

Favorite Vacation Destination

Southern France, Vail, Colorado

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Interview Description
Birth Date

11/30/1912

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Steak, Salad

Death Date

3/7/2006

Short Description

Fiction writer, film director, and photographer Gordon Parks (1912 - 2006 ) worked for Life and Vogue magazines, traveling around the world to photograph varied issues such as the fashion industry, poverty in Brazil, the Nation of Islam, gang violence, and eventually celebrity portraitures. Branching out from his photography in 1963, Parks directed his first film, 'The Learning Tree', based on his autobiographical novel of the same name. Parks went on to direct many films, including 'Shaft.' Parks has also composed music and written several books including 'A Choice of Weapons.'

Main Sponsor
Favorite Color

Blue, Green

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18898">Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Gordon Parks' interview</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18899">Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Gordon Parks's favorites</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18900">Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Gordon Parks explains how he wrote 'The Learning Tree'</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18901">Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Gordon Parks describes his mother</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18902">Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Gordon Parks describes his father</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18903">Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Gordon Parks describes his childhood home</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18904">Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Gordon Parks discusses his siblings</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18905">Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Gordon Parks shares memories of childhood games, musical instruments and death</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18906">Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Gordon Parks discusses the racial relations of his childhood neighborhood</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18907">Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Gordon Parks retells the trial story from 'The Learning Tree'</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18908">Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Gordon Parks describes the racial interactions growing up</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18909">Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Gordon Parks recalls his mother's death</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18910">Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Gordon Parks moves to St. Paul, Minnesota</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18911">Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Gordon Parks discusses confrontation with brother-in-law</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18912">Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Gordon Parks's homelessness in St. Paul, Minnesota</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18913">Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Gordon Parks plays with the House of David Basketball Team</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18914">Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Gordon Parks discusses his friends and future wife</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18915">Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Gordon Parks becomes a traveling musician</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18916">Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Gordon Parks travels to Harlem, NY</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18917">Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Gordon Parks discusses his piano inspirations and talent development</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18918">Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Gordon Parks discusses his experience with gypsies</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18919">Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Gordon Parks is inspired to purchase his first camera</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18920">Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Gordon Parks plays the Harlem Globetrotters</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18921">Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Gordon Parks discusses his first role of pictures</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18922">Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Gordon Parks wins the Julius Rosenwald Fellowship and works with the Farm Security Administration</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18923">Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Gordon Parks discusses his mentor, Roy Stryker</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18924">Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Gordon Parks describes the camera as a weapon</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18925">Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Gordon Parks discusses 'American Gothic' (1942)</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18926">Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Gordon Parks begins career at 'Life' magazine</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18927">Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Gordon Parks is assigned to 'Life' magazine's Paris office</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18928">Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Gordon Parks describes a racial incident in Paris, France</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18929">Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Gordon Parks creates a piano concerto</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18930">Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Gordon Parks discusses the end of his marriage with Sally</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18931">Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Gordon Parks discusses violence as a 'Life' photographer</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18932">Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Gordon Parks discusses danger as a 'Life' Magazine Photographer</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18933">Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Gordon Parks discusses the film, 'The Learning Tree'</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18934">Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Gordon Parks discusses the film, 'Shaft'</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18935">Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Gordon Parks discusses 'Half Past Autumn'</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18936">Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Gordon Parks discusses what he wishes he'd done</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18937">Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Gordon Parks discusses poetry in his art</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18938">Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Gordon Parks reads from 'Half Past Autumn'</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18939">Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Gordon Parks considers his Legacy</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18940">Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Poster -- Gordon Parks with the House of David Basketball Team (1930s)</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18941">Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Poster -- Detail of Gordon Parks with the House of David Basketball Team (1930s)</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18942">Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Photo -- Gordon Parks's Mother, Sarah Parks</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18943">Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Photo -- Gordon Parks's Father, Andrew Jackson Parks (1939)</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18944">Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Photo -- Gordon Parks with Actress Dina Merrill</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18945">Tape: 5 Story: 12 - Photo -- Gordon Parks Receives 45th Honorary Doctorate from Princeton University (May 2000)</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18946">Tape: 5 Story: 13 - Photo -- Gordon Parks</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18947">Tape: 5 Story: 14 - Photo -- Gordon Parks's Third Wife, Gene</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18948">Tape: 5 Story: 15 - Photo -- Gordon Parks with David Dinkins</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18949">Tape: 5 Story: 16 - Photo -- Gordon Parks and Family Members</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18950">Tape: 5 Story: 17 - Photo -- Gordon Parks's Great-Grandson, Ramsey</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18951">Tape: 5 Story: 18 - Photo -- Gordon Parks with Muhammad Ali</a>

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$4

DAStory

8$4

DATitle
Gordon Parks discusses 'American Gothic' (1942)
Gordon Parks creates a piano concerto
Transcript
What made you decide that composition? That's what's almost even amazing. You know, I mean, what made you would put the things like that with the flag in the background. Was that just, did you -- were you conscious of what -- you were somewhat conscious of what you were doing.$$Yeah. Having gone to the [South Side Community] Art Center in Chicago [Illinois], seeing some of the fine paintings and things for the first time in my life, I remember Grant Wood's 'American Gothic,' and I remember the guy with the pitchfork was standing with his wife in front of the barn and looking straight into the camera. That picture stuck with me for some reason or another, the simplicity of it and the artfulness of it. So when I came - when I had suffered the discrimination in Washington [District of Columbia] the first day I was there, I was refused in Garfinkel's Department Store. I was refused in a restaurant, refused in a theater, couldn't go in the white theater. I was angry, you know, seething, you know, and I went back, and [Roy] Stryker knew that, and he had sent me on the assignment. He knew it was gonna upset me, and he wanted to see how I would react to it, and I didn't know about Washington, D. C., in 1942 so he said, "Well, what'd you bring your camera down for?" when I told him. He asked me, "How did it go?" I said, "Well, you know how it went." He said, "Well, what did you bring your camera down here for?" I said, "Well, I don't know. What's that got to do with it?" He said, "You know, talk to some other black people down here, older people especially who've been through all their lives what you went through this afternoon and turn the camera against them. Now you just can't photograph a bigot and write 'bigot' underneath his photograph 'cause bigots have a way of looking like anybody else and sometimes even better." He said, "So you have to get at the roots of bigotry. Talk to some of the older people who've been through all their lives what you went through today," and he left and went home. And I was left in the office alone my first day there, 14th and Independence Avenue [Washington, D. C.]. The only person left was this woman sweeping the floor, a black woman and mopping. She looked like a black woman, and I asked her name, and she told me her name. And I said, "Well, can you tell me a little about your life?" And there had been a lynching in her life. Her daughter had died from childbirth, and she was now taking care of six kids, her kids on a salary that she couldn't hardly support herself on. So, I don't know. Somehow or another Grant Wood popped in my mind. I said, "Can I photograph you?" She said, "Yes." I said, "Where?" She said, "Where do you want me to stand?" I said, "Right in front of that American flag." And I said, "Have a broom in one hand and a mop in the other." And I said, "Now look straight into the camera," and she did, and I took the photograph. A few days later when Stryker saw it, he said, "Well, you got the right idea, but you're gonna get us all fired." (Laughter) I thought the photograph had been destroyed, but I was coming back from -- 'cause a lot of southern congressmen and senators didn't like that picture being in the files of the government. "It's an indictment," one guy said, "against America. It shouldn't be in the file." So I thought it had been tossed out. I got on a plane coming from D.C. -- California to New York, and right on the front page I see Ella Watson, you know from 'American Gothic,' and when I got off the plane here at LaGuardia [Airport, New York], instead of coming home here, I went straight down to Washington [District of Columbia], went to the Library of Congress which is where I found the picture was being kept, and had a negative made so it can never be destroyed. It's in this house right now.$And what would you say was most significant about -- did you learn a lot from the Paris [France] experience? Did it open up your - you learned from the FSA [Farm Security Administration]. Was there something you learned about that, from that Paris experience?$$When I went to Paris, I felt free as an artist for the first time, that I was not necessarily being taken as a black artist but just somebody who was pursuing achievements of some sort, you know. I went to the (unclear) each Sunday which is the house where the great symphony orchestras came, and I would listen to symphonies, ballets, and things of that sort, and learn all cultural aspects that had escaped me, more or less, back in Kansas and places of that sort. I was seeing it all for the first time, and it was a long way from Fort Scott, Kansas, to Paris. And a lot of things were happening with my children, meeting people, great writers and great artists. And I met [Marc] Chagall and other people like Pablo Neruda, the poet who I admire very much even today. I met him in Rome [Italy]. And I learned an awful lot there in a cultural way about how to do things. It almost was magical. My first piano concerto was formed there. I don't know why. I think because I went to a bullfight in Spain and saw a young matador die at the hands of this bull, and it stayed with me. I went back to Paris where I had kept a baby grand piano, started playing on it, and I don't know, just something from this bullfight and the death of this young bullfighter haunted me, you know. And so I started on my first piano concerto which I didn't know at the time it was gonna be a concerto. Dean Dixon, who was a black conductor, would come to Paris because he couldn't get enough work in the United States but he was very well-respected in Europe. He came to the house when I was playing and asked the maid not to disturb me, let me finish doing what I was doing. And after I finished he came in and said, "Ah," you know, "What was that?" And I was just kidding, I said, "Oh, that's my first piano concerto." He said, "Yeah, let me hear some more of it." And so I said, "I was just kidding. I was just noodling around." I said, "it's really from, inspired by a bullfight that I saw up in Madrid [Spain]." He said, "I like it." He said, "If you finish it, I'll perform it with an orchestra in Venice [Italy] in a year and a half. I'll be playing there." So I said, "Are you kidding?" He said, "No, no." He said, "We'll go get the tape machine, you tape it, and we'll send it back to Henry Brant. They can orchestrate it back in New York [New York], and we're gonna do it in Venice." And that's what happened. So I worked off and on for the next year, taping and bringing parts of the music together, and that's when I first realized I could do a piano concerto. But Dean said (unclear). I told him, I said, "You know I've had no training whatsoever in music." He said, "It doesn't make any difference." He said, "You're a good listener, and you must keep listening to your favorite composers, and even when you're talking to your maid or you're talking to your wife or you're angry with your children, keep listening to the good symphony music all the time, and keep it on in the house all the time." So that's what I did, and out of it came my first piano concerto, and I went to Venice to hear him when he performed it there at the Doge's Palace.

Terry McMillan

Popular writer Terry McMillan was born on October 18, 1951, to Madeline Washington Tillman and Edward McMillan. She grew up in Port Huron, Michigan, a city about sixty miles northeast of Detroit. Her parents divorced when McMillan was thirteen and her father died three years later. McMillan's mother supported her family by working nights at a factory.

As a child, McMillan had little interest in literature, but she discovered the joy of reading as a teenager, while working at a library shelving books. She attended the University of California at Berkeley, graduating with a B.A. in journalism. At this time, she also immersed herself in African American literature classics. While attending Berkeley, she wrote and published her first short story, "The End." After graduating, she moved to New York to study film at Columbia University.

McMillan's first book, Mama, was published in 1987 after she took control of the book's publicity when the publisher failed to do so. McMillan wrote 3,000 letters to bookstores, Black organizations and universities, asking them to promote her book. This unique marketing approach proved highly successful; McMillan received several offers for book readings and six weeks after Mama was published it went into its third printing.

McMillan continues to find much success as a novelist. Disappearing Acts, her second novel, was published in 1989. Her third novel, Waiting to Exhale, spent months on the New York Times bestseller list and sold nearly four million copies. McMillan's work tapped into a market long ignored by the publishing industry: young, educated Black women. Waiting to Exhale was adapted into a successful film starring Whitney Houston, Angela Basset, Loretta Devine and Lela Rochon. McMillan followed this accomplishment with the novel How Stella Got Her Groove Back, an instant best-seller, which was made into a hit film starring Angela Bassett, Whoopi Goldberg and Taye Diggs.

Not limiting herself to writing, McMillan served as the editor of Breaking Ice: An Anthology of Contemporary African-American Fiction. McMillan lives in northern California with her husband, Jonathan Plummer, and son, Solomon. Her most recent novel is entitled A Day Late and a Dollar Short.

Accession Number

A2002.038

Sex

Female

Interview Date

3/27/2002

Last Name

McMillan

Maker Category
Occupation
Organizations
Search Occupation Category
Speakers Bureau

No

First Name

Terry

Birth City, State, Country

Port Huron

HM ID

MCM01

Favorite Season

Summer

Speaker Bureau Notes

Has declined twice.

State

Michigan

Favorite Vacation Destination

Brazil, Africa, Caribbean, London, England, Paris, France

Favorite Quote

Have you lost your mind?

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

California

Interview Description
Birth Date

10/18/1951

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Bay Area/Oakland

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Steak

Short Description

Fiction writer Terry McMillan (1951 - ) was a popular author whose third novel, 'Waiting to Exhale,' sold nearly 4 million copies. McMillian also wrote 'How Stella Got Her Groove Back' and 'A Day Late and a Dollar Short,' and served as the editor of 'Breaking Ice: An Anthology of Contemporary African-American Fiction.'

Favorite Color

Orange, Purple

DAStories

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18672">Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Terry McMillan interview</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18673">Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Terry McMillan's favorites</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18674">Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Terry McMillan describes her mother</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18675">Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Terry McMillan discusses her father's premature death</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18676">Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Terry McMillan reveals her earliest memories</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18677">Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Terry McMillan describes her childhood home in Port Huron, Michigan</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18678">Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Terry McMillan discusses her early school life</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18679">Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Terry McMillan describes her early maturation</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18680">Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Terry McMillan discusses the violence of her youth</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18681">Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Terry McMillan describes being the oldest child</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18682">Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Terry McMillan becomes determined to leave Port Huron, Michigan</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18683">Tape: 2 Story: 4 - The 1960s are a consciousness-raising period for Terry McMillan</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18684">Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Terry McMillan's mother was determined to raise five happy and successful children</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18685">Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Terry McMillan exhales in California</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18686">Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Terry McMillan considers a number of majors at The University of California at Berkeley</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18687">Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Ishmael Reed influences Terry McMillan's writing career</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18688">Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Terry McMillan finds a supportive literary community in Harlem, New York</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18689">Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Terry McMillan sees to it that her first novel is published and publicized</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18690">Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Terry McMillan discusses the success of her novel 'Waiting to Exhale'</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18691">Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Terry McMillan sees her book 'Waiting to Exhale' transformed into a motion picture</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18692">Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Terry McMillan meets her 'Stella' muse in Jamaica</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18693">Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Terry McMillan describes life as a single mother</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18694">Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Terry McMillan discusses her career success</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18695">Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Terry McMillan evaluates the merits of comtemporary novelists</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18696">Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Terry McMillan considers problems in the publishing world</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18697">Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Terry McMillan discusses the power of parenting in the black community</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18698">Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Photo - Terry McMillan and husband, Jonathan Plummer, in Jamaica</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18699">Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Photo - Terry McMillan's mother, Madeline Tillman, poses with writer, Amy Tan</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18700">Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Photo - Terry McMillan's mother, Madeline Tillman, poses in a school portrait</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18701">Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Photo - Terry McMillan exhibits a scene from 'How Stella Got her Groove Back,' the film</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18702">Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Photo - Terry McMillan's mother poses for a photograph a week before she passes</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18703">Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Photo - Terry McMillan attends an event for the release of her novel 'Waiting to Exhale'</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18704">Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Photo - Terry McMillan poses for a publicity shot</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18705">Tape: 5 Story: 12 - Photo - Terry McMillan takes her first grade school portrait</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18706">Tape: 5 Story: 13 - Photo - Terry McMillan attends the 'Essence' Awards with her son and husband</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18707">Tape: 5 Story: 14 - Photo - Terry McMillan poses in her kindergarten school photograph</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18708">Tape: 5 Story: 15 - Photo - Terry McMillan poses while on a book tour in Melbourne, Australia</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18709">Tape: 5 Story: 16 - Photo - Terry McMillan takes a photograph for 'Emerge' magazine</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18710">Tape: 5 Story: 17 - Photo - Terry McMillan poses for a photograph</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18711">Tape: 5 Story: 18 - Photo - Terry McMillan poses for a photograph while pregnant</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18712">Tape: 5 Story: 19 - Photo - Terry McMillan's father, Edward Louis McMillan, poses in his baseball uniform</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18713">Tape: 5 Story: 20 - Photo - Terry McMillan poses with her cousin, Frida, in Michigan</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18714">Tape: 5 Story: 21 - Photo - Terry McMillan poses with family members in Michigan</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18715">Tape: 5 Story: 22 - Photo - Terry McMillan and her three sisters pose for a photograph</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18716">Tape: 5 Story: 23 - Photo - Terry McMillan poses with her family at a Thanksgiving gathering</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18717">Tape: 5 Story: 24 - Photo - Terry McMillan's husband, Jonathan Plummer, poses for a photograph</a>

Samuel Greenlee

Over the course of his career, Sam Greenlee has been a novelist, poet, screenwriter, journalist, teacher, and talk show host. Born in Chicago on July 13, 1930, he attended Chicago public schools. At age fifteen, Greenlee participated in his first sit-in and walked in his first picket line. His social activism continues to this day.

In 1952, Greenlee received his B.S. in political science from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and the following year he attended law school. Deciding against a law career, he transferred to the University of Chicago, studying international relations from 1954 to 1957. In 1957, he began a seven year career with United States Information Agency as a Foreign Services Officer, serving in Iraq, East Pakistan, Indonesia, and Greece, and in 1958, he was awarded the Meritorious Service Award for bravery during the Baghdad revolution.

Greenlee's first and most well known novel, The Spook Who Sat by the Door, was published in 1968. This prize-winning novel quickly became an underground favorite for its fictionalization of an urban-based war for African American liberation. Greenlee co-wrote a screenplay adaptation of the novel, and in 1973 The Spook Who Sat by the Door was released on film. The film was an overnight success when it was released and was then unexpectedly taken out of distribution.

Greenlee has written numerous novels, stage plays, screenplays, poems. He recently moved back to Chicago after several years of voluntary exile in Spain and West Africa and is currently hosting a radio talk show program.

Sam Greenlee passed away on May 19, 2014.

Accession Number

A2001.028

Sex

Male

Archival Photo 1
Interview Date

11/1/2001

Last Name

Greenlee

Maker Category
Occupation
Organizations
Schools

Betsy Ross Elementary School

William W. Carter Elementary School

Emmett Louis Till Math & Science Academy

Englewood High School

University of Wisconsin-Madison

University of Chicago

Search Occupation Category
Archival Photo 2
First Name

Samuel

Birth City, State, Country

Chicago

HM ID

GRE01

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Illinois

Favorite Vacation Destination

Anywhere Warm

Favorite Quote

When you sleep on the floor, you can't fall out of bed.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Interview Description
Birth Date

7/13/1930

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Peas (Black-Eyed)

Death Date

5/19/2014

Short Description

Fiction writer and poet Samuel Greenlee (1930 - 2014 ) began a seven-year career with the U.S. Information Agency as a foreign services officer in 1957 and was awarded the Meritorious Service Award for bravery during the Baghdad revolution in 1958. He was best known for his prize winning book, 'The Spook Who Sat by the Door,' which became an underground favorite for its fictionalization of an urban-based war for African American liberation.

Employment

United States Information Agency

Delete

Favorite Color

Red

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/17986">Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Sam Greenlee interview</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/17987">Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Sam Greenlee's favorites</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/17988">Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Sam Greenlee describes his father's history and traces ancestors to pre-Civil War days</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/17989">Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Sam Greenlee describes his mother, Desoree Alexander, a successful jazz tap dancer</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/17990">Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Sam Greenlee talks about his maternal grandfather John Charles Alexander</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/17991">Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Sam Greenlee talks about how his parents met</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/17992">Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Sam Greenlee talks about his childhood exposure to music and musicians</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/17993">Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Sam Greenlee describes his family's legacy of militancy</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/17994">Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Sam Greenlee shares memories of his early home life in 1930s Chicago</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/17995">Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Sam Greenlee discusses his family's working class status</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/17996">Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Sam Greenlee remembers his brother</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/17997">Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Sam Greenlee recalls childhood aspirations and his friendship with Gwendolyn Brooks</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/17998">Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Sam Greenlee describes his childhood personality</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/17999">Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Sam Greenlee talks about his studies and his longtime interest in writing</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18000">Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Sam Greenlee reveals the incident that caused him to leave the U.S. Foreign Service</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18001">Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Sam Greenlee describes the sounds of his Chicago neighborhood in the 1930s</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18002">Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Sam Greenlee explains why he quit law school</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18003">Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Sam Greenlee describes his social network in his youth</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18004">Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Sam Greenlee reflects on the black history that is not taught</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18005">Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Sam Greenlee recalls his undergraduate years at the University of Wisconsin, Madison</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18006">Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Sam Greenlee details his refusal to wear Confederate insignia in the Army's "Dixie Division"</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18007">Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Sam Greenlee recalls his graduate years at the University of Chicago</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18008">Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Sam Greenlee discusses his years in the U.S. Foreign Service</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18009">Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Sam Greenlee talks about serving with USIS in Iraq, East Pakistan and Indonesia during coups and violence</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18010">Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Sam Greenlee describes himself as "a blues man"</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18011">Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Sam Greenlee explains his foreign service work as cultural officer with the U.S.I.S.</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18012">Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Sam Greenlee shares lessons from his foreign service in Muslim countries</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18013">Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Sam Greenlee discusses his resignation from his "fast track" Foreign Service career</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18014">Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Sam Greenlee discusses black radical groups, revolution and the inspiration for 'Spook'</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18015">Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Sam Greenlee compares "The Spook Who Sat by the Door" with other African American literature</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18016">Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Sam Greenlee urges the need for African Americans to return to developing their own institutions</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18017">Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Sam Greenlee analyzes the failures of integrationism</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18018">Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Sam Greenlee contrasts success abroad and suppression at home for 'Spook'</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18019">Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Sam Greenlee discusses the publication of 'The Spook Who Sat by the Door'</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18020">Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Sam Greenlee discusses publicity and reaction to 'The Spook Who Sat By the Door'</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18021">Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Sam Greenlee recalls making the film version of 'The Spook Who Sat by the Door'</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18022">Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Samuel Greenlee discusses his writing style in 'The Spook Who Sat by the Door'</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18023">Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Samuel Greenlee recalls ambivalent response of some blacks to his film 'The Spook Who Sat by the Door'</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18024">Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Sam Greenlee discusses tokenism</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18025">Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Sam Greenlee recalls initial success, then FBI suppression of his film "The Spook Who Sat By the Door"</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18026">Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Samuel Greenlee discusses his participation in the college lecture circuit in the 1970s</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18027">Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Samuel Greenlee recalls persecution after "Spook" and his life in the 1980s-2001</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18028">Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Samuel Greenlee details his years spent abroad</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18029">Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Samuel Greenlee discusses his two marriages</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18030">Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Samuel Greenlee discusses changes in his personality and recent health issues</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18031">Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Samuel Greenlee considers his literary influences</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18032">Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Samuel Greenlee considers the spectrum of black political thought</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18033">Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Samuel Greenlee reflects on hip hop culture</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18034">Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Samuel Greenlee shares his plans for the future</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18035">Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Samuel Greenlee evaluates his citizenship</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18036">Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Sam Greenlee talks about how black history has been obscured</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18037">Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Sam Greenlee reflects on a new generation of black artists</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18038">Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Sam Greenlee considers his family's reactions to his success</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18039">Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Sam Greenlee considers his legacy</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/18040">Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Sam Greenlee reflects on how art has kept black people sane</a>

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$5

DAStory

4$1

DATitle
Sam Greenlee talks about serving with USIS in Iraq, East Pakistan and Indonesia during coups and violence
Sam Greenlee discusses the publication of 'The Spook Who Sat by the Door'
Transcript
Now what, what training did they [unclear] prepare you for in the [unclear]? How did they--$$I was trained in all media. Radio--television, which was just beginning to come into the third world. Journalism, trained as a cultural officer in all aspects of the media. The first two years, I was on probation. My first post was in Baghdad. And I found out later on that the staff had voted to have me dropped from the program. Except during the revolution, I and the executive officer had to go across the [Tigris] river to lead a U.S.I.S. [United States Information Service] family back across the, the river. And we brought 'em back across under fire. And I was recommended for a medal. And, of course, you can't fire a hero! So I got through that period. And then the next time, I was awarded the Meritorious Service Award--the third highest award in the U.S.I.A. So I was an authentic hero. So I survived probation. And after that, it's like being a tenured professor. Once you get in the Foreign Service, it's almost impossible to fire you. And my first post was Baghdad. I survived the revolution there. I went to East Pakistan, which is now Bangladesh, and I was there when Ayub Khan ordered his coup. And my third post was in Jakarta, Indonesia. And I was there when the U.S.I.S. [or the Central Intelligence Agency who were supplying aid to Indonesian rebels] tried to assassinate President Sukarno by a pilot flying, flying a MIG jet--they attacked the palace. And he was supposed to have had a staff meeting in one wing. But being the playboy he is, he canceled the meeting so he could dilly dally on the other side of the, the palace with one of his mistresses. So they blew up the empty wing. And I happened to know the pilot, because I was going out with his sister. His name is Henk Maukar and his sister was named Sylvia [Maukar]. And they were both Manadonese separatists. They were trying to break away Manado was in the Moluccas [islands, Maluku province, Indonesia] and they were trying to break away from Indonesia. As it turned out, she pretended to be a socialite and dilettante, but in effect, she was the commander of the underground separatist army in, in Java. I got--caught up in, in the politics simply because I was in love. And I detailed that in my third novel, 'Djakarta Blues.'$You're living basically--you're still in Greece [after having finished writing his novel 'The Spook Who Sat by the Door' in 1966].$$(Simultaneously) Um-hmm.$$Are you coming back and sending it to publishers here [the U.S.]? Or what's...$$I'm sending it to publishers. You know, as soon as I get a rejection, I send it out again. I met a young Englishman, Alexis Lykiard. He's a writer, and he had published several books. An uncle and aunt had a house in Mykonos. And he used to come out during spring breaks. We had a mutual interest in jazz and blues. And he'd come up in my house, and we'd smoke hashish and drink wine, and listen to music and talk about literature. And I let him read some of 'The Spook who Sat By the Door.' And he said, "Man, I gotta help you get this published." So he took a manuscript back with him and gave it to his publishers, and they rejected it. And he passed it around to a half a dozen others, and they all rejected it. And the next time he came to Mykonos, he said, "Look! Sam, I got a couple of friends of mine, Clyde Allison and Margaret Busby. And they've been publishing poetry. They're friends--they both work for publishing houses, and they want to open up their own house." And he said, "Would you mind if I gave them your manuscript?" I said, "No." So he passed it along to them. And when I came through London [United Kingdom] in [19]67, I was staying in Jame--in Jimmy [James] Baldwin's house. He had rented a house in Chelsea on Tedworth Square. I was staying with his sister Paula and his brother David. Jimmy wasn't there. He was in Hollywood, trying to write a film script. I think he was writing a film script on Malcolm X, that he was gonna produce.$$Hmm.$$And I was supposed to meet these two for lunch at a Chinese restaurant. Well I didn't like Clyde Allison. He was a typically pompous white boy, who was over compensating for the fact that he was trying to show me he wasn't prejudiced [unclear]. So I thought I could get a meal out of it. And then in walked Margaret. This fine sister--she was so pretty. And she set down there, and she was articulate and well spoken. She was born in Ghana. And a couple of years ago, she was inducted as a queen mother of the Fante tribe. You know. I felt when I was sitting there falling in love with this woman, "Where's the contract?" (laughing) Though, they [Allison and Busby publishing house] published the book. Started the country--company with fifteen thousand pounds, which amounts to about twenty thousand dollars, and brought me over to promote it. And I'm a wind up toy. you know, point me to a camera or a microphone and I do my thing. Like I'm doing now. And it kind of just took right off.