American Cocktail


Women’s Review of Books 


Here’s a link to the first review, which is mine.

 An African American Prima Donna


 Reynolds at 16 on the cover of the NAACP magazine, The Crisis

American Cocktail: A “Colored Girl” in the World

By Anita Reynolds, with Howard Miller. Edited by George Hutchinson

Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014, 333 pp. $29.95, hardcover

Reviewed by Marilyn Richardson

AnitaReynoldsAnita Reynolds, born in 1901 in Chicago, came of age in Los Angeles, California, during the heyday of silent films. She was a smart, clever, and vivacious teenager, who, as she says, early on “relished the role of prima donna.” She and her brother, Sumner, were encouraged in their interest in the arts by their exuberant family, both the bevy of kinfolk in California and the numerous far-flung peripatetic relatives who circled back to visit from time to time. School dropouts and Harvard graduates, their professions ranged from mail sorter at a post office to well-placed member of the foreign service…


Reynolds models a Chanel gown, 1938 


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Harry V. Richardson, Atlanta Black Colleges, The Early Days of the Student Movement

So good to see so many aspects of this valuable history being preserved and properly archived. Here is a glimpse into the early thinking of the Black Atlanta college presidents. I admit I feel pleased about the stand taken by my late uncle Harry Richardson. ITC is the Interdenominational Theological Center of which he was the founding president.

Atlanta Student Movement Timeline
Committee on Appeal for Human Rights (COAHR)
by Lonnie King Jr.

Developed for the City of Atlanta Student Movement Commission, 2013

See Atlanta Sit-ins and subsequent articles for background & more information.
See also Atlanta Movement for web links.

February 1, 1960 — Four young students at North Carolina A&T conducted their first sit-in demonstration.

February 3rd, 1960, Lonnie King confers with Joseph Pierce and Julian Bond regarding organizing a Student Movement in the Atlanta University Center. All agree to organize a movement in the Atlanta University Center.

February 5, 1960, first meeting of prospective movement participants met in Sale Hall Annex at Morehouse College. Approximately 15 students attended. The attendees were predominately Morehouse Men, however, James Felder, President of Clark College Student Government attended representing Clark College.

February 12, 1960, Lincoln’s birthday, was set as the date of the first sit-in. Unable to get a sufficient number of students to participate, the initial sit-in was re-scheduled for February 19th.

February 17, 1960, Lonnie King, Julian Bond et al, were summoned to a 3:00 P. M. meeting in the conference room of the Council of College Presidents in Harkness Hall for a meeting with the six college presidents. All college presidents were in attendance, along with elected student government leaders from the six Atlanta University Center schools.

The presidents spoke in turn and expressed their opinions of the proposed sit-in movement which they had heard was forming in Atlanta. Dr. Clement, president of Atlanta University spoke first. He was followed by Dr. Mays of Morehouse, Dr. Manley of Spelman and Dr. Brawley of Clark. All four men discouraged students from participating in the movement. They argued students should focus on their class work and let the NAACP fight the racial battle. However, when Dr. Brawley of Clark spoke, he asserted that he would be embarrassed if the students staged sit-ins in downtown department stores.

The next speaker was Dr. Harry V. Richardson of ITC. He hesitated for approximately 10 seconds before he spoke up. When he did speak, he shocked all by stating that the students were right in challenging segregation directly. He related that he was a highly educated man, president of a college, but because he was a Negro he also could only eat at segregated lunch counters in downtown Atlanta. The next speaker was Dr. Frank Cunningham of Morris Brown College. He strongly backed up Dr. Richardson and re-iterated his support for the student movement that was sweeping the South. These latter comments apparently caught Dr. Clement off guard. However, before he spoke as chairman of the Council, he asked who would speak for the students. At that point, Lonnie King spoke up and argued that the time had come for the Negro community to come together and end segregation in the Atlanta.


As American As…


A few weeks ago I was at a train station standing next to what turned out to be a mother, father, and young child heading off on a trip, and a few friends and family there to see them off. All white. Blue collar I’d guess, a pleasant group of 7-8 folks of various ages.

The group included a couple of charming little girls, around 4 years old. They were dancing around and singing that song from Frozen, occasionally getting a little too exuberant as they do at that age. We all smiled benignly at them from time to time.

Dad reined in one giddy dancer for a quiet moment. She stood for a bit. Looked at me quite seriously, and then turned to her father and said, sort of as a question, as if she wanted to get it right, “stupid nigger.”

He pretended I wasn’t there, but told her not to say that. No raised voice, no shock or dismay on Dad’s part. All matter of fact. We all continued to stand around. Not everyone in their chatting group even heard it.

It took me a few minutes, but I think I know what happened. It occurred to me that she simply repeated, in the everyday tone her father uses, exactly what he says whenever he notices the President on TV — a casual observation. She wasn’t quite sure, because I was not a man.

So much for that little member of the coming enlightened generation. But also, a bit of insight into the Fox TV demographic living room. Most of their viewers are not wild-eyed weirdos. Just folks raising their kids — and passing along their family values.


Vocabulary Enrichment

 caliphRaise your hand if you ever imagined (before now) that the word Caliphate would become part of your news and international events conversations.

Ben Richardson Emmy Award



I was dusting this the other day. I’ll admit it, the old man could sometimes be a tough act to follow.

Chicago local Emmy, 1971-72, for an Illinois black history documentary called “Genesis to Jones.” The inscription reads:

Outstanding IndividualAchievement

Ben Richardson

“For a scholar, teacher, writer, social worker, minister, painter and musician, whose script demonstrated an amazing amount of research and a sense of drama.”


A Great Day In Harlem. An Iconic Photograph

With the recent passing of Horace Silver, only two of the splendid musicians pictured here are still alive. Do you know who they are?

Agreat DayHarlem

And Jean Bach’s fine documentary:


Don’t Go To College? WTF?

The American middle class is shrinking. More and more people are falling into poverty. College graduates are weighed down by a millstone of debt that shapes their futures in restrictive ways. And we hear, growing louder, a surprising question: Is College Necessary?

 We have our first African American president. Minorities of color are suffering a slower than average recovery from the Great Recession, unskilled jobs have become dead end jobs, and we hear, growing louder, the increasingly familiar question: Is College Necessary? Sixty years after Brown v. Board of Education, is American historical amnesia so pervasive that anyone in this country can actually suggest narrowing educational options?


Why is the question not: How do we reduce the cost of college? College applicants have always been self-selecting, from those for whom it is assumed from the cradle that of course they would attend college, to those who claw their way up from impossibility to possibility. 

The full cost of that college education at many private institutions has become prohibitive for all but the most rarified reaches of the one percent. So logic dictates that if you can’t afford it, perhaps you should look for alternatives to higher education. And let’s be clear, this is not about the cost of a college degree, this is about the cost of an education, although young people are increasingly encouraged to restrict their choices to fields of study that rank highest on some salary index, foregoing the possibility of discovering work that is both fulfilling and reasonably well paying.


In fact, logic dictates no such choices. Logic calls for examining the reasons why the cost of higher education rises at an unconscionable rate and finding ways to reverse that process. Logic calls us to ask why private institutions are piling up billions in endowment money and offering 24-hour sushi bars as part of the educational experience. Logic leads to questions about the exorbitant cost of a single textbook, about the all but universal practice of hiring part time, outrageously underpaid, adjunct faculty to teach a majority of undergraduate students.

 These eternally junior faculty members receive no job benefits, no job predictability from semester to semester, no increase in pay over the years. They have little say about what they teach, to how many, and on what schedule. They are the highly educated, shamelessly exploited, utterly disillusioned infrastructure of much of American higher education. Many maintain hope of an equitable leg-up in academia long beyond the time such hope is reasonable. And when they give up their chosen vocation and find decent work elsewhere, the next cog is moved in to fill the gap.

 But the solution, we are told, is to encourage middle and working class young people to see college as too rich for their blood, as an inevitable commitment to a level of debt that affects everything from their ability to be homeowners to when they will be able to consider retirement. Beware, they are told, that’s not for you. The unspoken admonition is right there: Remember your place.



Phillis Wheatley or Dido Elizabeth Belle?

Now that we have the fascinating story of Dido Belle, let’s take another look at this supposed portrait of Phillis Wheatley in evening dress. Image Published in a French review in the 1830s, long after Wheatley’s death, there is virtually no documentation to establish the subject’s identity. I’d say it is far more likely a depiction of Dido Belle. Image

Detail from double portrait of Elizabeth Murray and her cousin, Dido Elizabeth Belle by an unknown artist (formerly att. Johann Zoffany).

Scotland (1779). Oil on canvas.

Scone Palace, Perth (private collection of the Earl of Mansfield



Engraved portrait of Phillis Wheatley, used as the frontispiece to her collection of poems, Reflections on Various Subjects Religious and Moral (London, 1773). Attributed to the poet and visual artist Scipio Moorhead, a slave in Boston, Massachusetts, and a friend of Phillis Wheatley. One element of the identification of the  portrait as Wheatley might have been a mention of the subject’s finger held to her cheek.

– Marilyn Richardson