TOP 20 STEAMFUNK, DIESELFUNK, SWORD & SOUL AND URBAN FANTASY BOOKS FOR BLACK YOUTH!
Recently, I wrote about why Black children should read and write Science Fiction and Fantasy. I also wrote about it here. Now I would like to provide you with a list of books for young adults, teens and tweens. A list of books for children aged 2-9 will follow in a later blog.
Young Adult (“YA”) Fiction is fiction marketed to adolescents and young adults, ranging roughly between the ages of 14 to 21. The majority of YA stories portray an adolescent as the protagonist, rather than an adult or a child. The subject matter and story lines are typically consistent with the age and experience of the main character and the stories span the entire spectrum of fiction genres.
Middle Grade (“MG”) Fiction is intended for readers between the ages of 8 to 12, with the protagonist at the higher end of the age range.
MG readers are learning about who they are, what they think, and where they fit in. Their focus is inward and the conflicts in MG books usually reflect this. The themes range from school situations, friendships, relationships with peers and siblings, and daily difficulties that may seem ordinary to the rest of us. The protagonist’s parents are usually seen and have some sort of an influence. Stories are usually fast paced and chapters are short.
In contrast, Young Adult novels deal with underlying themes and more complicated plots. They allow teen readers to examine deeper issues, their roles in life, the importance of relationships, how to cope with adversity and even tragedy and how their actions can impact the world.
YA protagonists are usually searching for their identity, figuring out who they are as an individual and where they fit in. YA books are generally much more gritty and realistic than MG books. Parents have less influence in YA stories and are often not seen at all.
Below is a list of twenty of the most Blacktastic books that are sure to entertain, educate and even empower readers, young and old.
The books are grouped into three categories, by age appropriateness, for your convenience.
While there are many more great books written by and about Black people, this is a good start and more books will be shared in future posts.
YOUNG ADULT (Ages 15+)
A Single Link, by Balogun Ojetade
After suffering a brutal rape at the hands of a martial arts champion, Remi “Ray” Swan decides that, to gain closure and empowerment, she must face her attacker in the first professional fight between a man and a woman.
Join Ray in this powerful, two-fisted adventure as she fights, not just for herself, but for all who have suffered at the cruel hands of those who would wreak pain, oppression, injustice and death!
Step into the cage, where action, adventure, bone shattering fights, and a touch of romance await you!
Damballa, by Charles R. Saunders
The first ever African American 1930s avenger sets out to stop a Nazi plot to subvert a championship fight.
From deepest Africa to the streets of 1930s Harlem, the action is none stop.
Written by famed novelist Charles Saunders, with interior illustrations by Clayton Hinkle and a cover by Charles Fetherolf, this is a history making pulp adventure fans do not want to miss.
Devil’s Wake, by Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due
But this infection goes far beyond disease. Beyond even the nightmare images of walking dead or flesh-eating ghouls. The infected are turning into creatures unlike anything ever dreamed of . . . more complex, more mysterious, and more deadly.
Trapped in the northwestern United States as winter begins to fall, Terry and Kendra have only one choice: they and their friends must cross a thousand miles of no-man’s-land in a rickety school bus, battling ravenous hordes, human raiders, and their own fears.
In the midst of apocalypse, they find something no one could have anticipated . . . love.
Dillon and the Voice of Odin, by Derrick Ferguson
He’s a soldier of fortune gifted with an astonishing range of remarkable talents and skills that make him respected and feared in the secret world of mercenaries, spies and adventurers. A world inhabited by amazing men and women of fabulous abilities that most of us are unaware even exists.
Fueled by a taste for excitement, driven by an overpowering desire to protect the innocent, see that wrongs are righted and assisted by a worldwide network of extraordinary men and women, all experts in their fields, Dillon spans the globe in a never-ending quest for the wildest and most breathtaking adventures of all!
Griots: A Sword and Soul Anthology, Edited by Milton J. Davis and Charles R. Saunders
Magic. Myth. Warfare. Wonder. Beauty. Bravery. Glamour. Gore. Sorcery. Sensuality. These and many more elements of fantasy await you in the pages of Griots, which brings you the latest stories of the new genre called Sword and Soul.
The tales told in Griots are the annals of the Africa that was, as well as Africas that never were, may have been, or should have been. They are the legends of a continent and people emerging from shadows thrust upon them in the past. They are the sagas sung by the modern heirs of the African story-tellers known by many names – including griots.
Here, you will meet mighty warriors, seductive sorceresses, ambitious monarchs, and cunning courtesans. Here, you will journey through the vast variety of settings Africa offers, and inspires. Here, you will savor what the writings of the modern-day griots have to offer: journeys through limitless vistas of the imagination, with a touch of color and a taste of soul.
Griots: Sisters of the Spear, Edited by Milton J. Davis and Charles R. Saunders
Griots: Sisters of the Spear picks up where the ground breaking Griots Anthology leaves off.
Charles R. Saunders and Milton J. Davis present seventeen original and exciting Sword and Soul tales focusing on black women.
Just as the Griots Anthology broke ground as the first Sword and Soul Anthology, Griots: Sisters of the Spear pays homage to the spirit, bravery and compassion of women of color.
The griots have returned to sing new songs, and what wonderful songs they are!
Ki Khanga: The Anthology, Edited by Milton J. Davis and Balogun Ojetade
What is Ki Khanga?
The answer lies in the pages of this amazing anthology.
Balogun Ojetade and Milton Davis define this fascinating world which forms the foundation of the Ki Khanga Sword and Soul Role Playing Game.
Prepare yourself for stories of bravery, tragedy, love and adventure.
Prepare yourself for Ki Khanga.
Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman, by Balogun Ojetade
Harriet Tubman: Freedom fighter. Psychic. Soldier. Spy. Something…more. Much more.
In “MOSES: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Book 1: Kings * Book 2: Judges)”, the author masterfully transports you to a world of wonder…of horror…of amazing inventions, captivating locales and extraordinary people.
In what is hailed as the world’s first Steamfunk novel, Harriet Tubman must match wits and power with the sardonic John Wilkes Booth and a team of hunters with powers beyond this world in order to save herself, her teenaged nephew, Ben and a little girl in her care – Margaret.
But is anyone who, or what, they seem?
Parable of the Sower, by Octavia Butler
In 2025, with the world descending into madness and anarchy, one woman begins a fateful journey toward a better future
Lauren Olamina and her family live in one of the only safe neighborhoods remaining on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Behind the walls of their defended enclave, Lauren’s father, a preacher, and a handful of other citizens try to salvage what remains of a culture that has been destroyed by drugs, disease, war, and chronic water shortages. While her father tries to lead people on the righteous path, Lauren struggles with hyperempathy, a condition that makes her extraordinarily sensitive to the pain of others.
When fire destroys their compound, Lauren’s family is killed and she is forced out into a world that is fraught with danger. With a handful of other refugees, Lauren must make her way north to safety, along the way conceiving a revolutionary idea that may mean salvation for all mankind.
Steamfunk, Edited by Balogun Ojetade and Milton J. Davis
A witch, more machine than human, judges the character of the wicked and hands out justice in a ravaged Chicago. John Henry wields his mighty hammers in a war against machines and the undead. Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman rule a country of freed slaves that rivals – and often bests – England and France in power and technology.
You will find all this – and much more – between the pages of Steamfunk, an anthology of incredible stories by some of today’s greatest authors of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Steamfunk – African and African American-inspired Steampunk.
Editors Milton Davis and Balogun Ojetade have put together a masterful work guaranteed to transport you to new worlds. Worlds of adventure; of terror; of war and wonder; of iron and steam. Open these pages and traverse the lumineferous aether to the world of Steamfunk!
Taurus Moon: Relic Hunter, by Keith Gaston
Taurus Moon is a relic hunter, but the artifacts he searches for aren’t found in the jungles of the Yucatan or the deserts of Egypt. His quests often take him through the grittier parts of urbanized cities where even the toughest of thugs fear to tread. Forgotten relics once thought of as only myths and legends can be found, if you know where to look, and have the guts to go searching into dark and deadly places.
Taurus Moon is hired by a vampire crime lord to locate an ancient artifact that would make the criminal a God. Even though Taurus is no fan of vampires, especially one aspiring to become a Deity, he does love money and despite his misgivings, he begins the treacherous hunt for the artifact. Things become more complicated when a rival crime lord hires a ruthless relic hunter who has no qualms about killing the competition.
YOUNG ADULT (Ages 13+)
Changa’s Safari, by Milton J. Davis
In the 15th century on the African Continent a young prince flees his homeland of Kongo, vowing to seek revenge for the murder of his father and the enslavement of his family and his people.
He triumphs over the slavery and the fighting pits of Mogadishu to become a legendary fighter and respected merchant.
From the Swahili cities of the East African Coast to the magnificent Middle Kingdom of Asia, Changa and his crew experience adventures beyond the imagination.
Changa will not rest until he has fulfilled his promise to his family and his people. The anchors are raised and the sails unfurled.
Let the safari begin!
Fist of Africa, by Balogun Ojetade
Nigeria 2004 … Nicholas ‘New Breed’ Steed, a tough teen from the mean streets of Chicago, is sent to his mother’s homeland – a tiny village in Nigeria – to avoid trouble with the law. Unknown to Nick, the tiny village is actually a compound where some of the best fighters in the world are trained. Nick is teased, bullied and subjected to torturous training in a culture so very different from the world where he grew up.
Atlanta 2014 … After a decade of training in Nigeria, a tragedy brings Nick back to America. Believing the disaffected youth in his home town sorely need the same self-discipline and strength of character training in the African martial arts gave him, Nick opens an Academy. While the kids are disinterested in the fighting style of the cultural heritage Nick offers, they are enamored with mixed martial arts. Nick decides to enter the world of mixed martial arts to make the world aware of the effectiveness and efficiency of the martial arts of Africa.
Pursing a professional career in MMA, Nick moves to Atlanta, Georgia, where he runs into his old nemesis – Rico Stokes, the organized crime boss who once employed Nick’s father, wants Nick to replace his father in the Stokes’ protection racket. Will New Breed Steed claim the Light Heavyweight title … Or will the streets of Atlanta claim him?
Once Upon A Time In Afrika, by Balogun Ojetade
An exciting Sword and Soul tale by Balogun Ojetade, Once Upon a Time in Afrika Tells the story of a beautiful princess and her eager suitors.
Desperate to marry off his beautiful but “tomboyish” duaghter, Esuseeke, the Emperor of Oyo, consults the Oracle. The Oracle tells the Emperor Esuseeke must marry the greatest warrior in all Onile (Afrika). To determine who is the greatest warrior, the Emperor hosts a grand martial arts tournament inviting warrior from all over the continent.
Unknown to the warriors and spectators of the tournament a powerful evil is headed their way.
Will the warriors band together against this evil?
The Scythe, by Balogun Ojetade
Out of the tragedy of the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, a two-fisted hero rises from the grave!
Inspired by the pulp magazines of the 1930s and 1940s, a tale of action, adventure, thrills and chills await fans of Dieselpunk, die-hard pulp fans and readers who just love a gritty story that packs a mean punch.
Enter a world in which Gangsters, Flappers, vampires, robots and the Ku Klux Klan all roam the same dark back streets; a world of grit, grime and grease; a world of hardboiled gumshoe detectives and mad scientists; a world where magic and technology compete for rule over the world.
Dieselfunk has emerged in The Scythe…and the Roaring Twenties will never seem the same!
The Seedbearing Prince, by DaVaun Sanders
Dayn Ro’Halan is a farmer’s son sworn to a life of plowing on his homeworld, Shard. After finding a lost artifact called a Seed, he’s thrust into an ancient conflict between voidwalkers of the hated world Thar’Kur, and Defenders from a floating fortress called the Ring.
Dayn must become a Seedbearer and learn to use the Seed’s power to shape worlds before the entire World Belt is lost.
Woman of the Woods, by Milton J. Davis
The latest Sword and Soul novel by Milton Davis returns to the land of Meji, the amazing world of Uhuru. It tells the story of Sadatina, a girl on the brink of becoming a woman living with her family in Adamusola, the land beyond the Old Men Mountains. But tragic events transpire that change her life forever, revealing a hidden past that leads her into the midst of a war between her people and those that would see them destroyed, the Mosele.
Armed with a spiritual weapon and her feline ‘sisters,’ Sadatina becomes a Shosa, a warrior trained to fight the terrible nyokas, demon-like creatures that aid the Mosele in their war against her people.
Woman of the Woods is an action filled, emotionally charged adventure that expands the scope of the world of Uhuru and introduces another unforgettable character to its heroic legends.
MIDDLE GRADE (Ages 10+)
Akata Witch, by Nnedi Okorafor
Twelve-year-old Sunny lives in Nigeria, but she was born American. Her features are African, but she’s albino. She’s a terrific athlete, but can’t go out into the sun to play soccer.
There seems to be no place where she fits. And then she discovers something amazing-she is a “free agent,” with latent magical power. Soon she’s part of a quartet of magic students, studying the visible and invisible, learning to change reality.
But will it be enough to help them when they are asked to catch a career criminal who knows magic too?
Amber and the Hidden City, by Milton J. Davis
Thirteen year old Amber Robinson’s life is full of changes. Her parents are sending her to a private school away from her friends, and high school looms before her. But little does she know that her biggest change awaits in a mysterious city hidden from the world for a thousand years.
Amber’s grandmother is a princess from this magical kingdom of Marai. She’s been summoned home to use her special abilities to select the new king but she no longer has the gift, and her daughter was never trained for the task. That leaves only one person with the ability to save the city: Amber! But there are those who are determined that Amber never reaches Marai and they will do anything to stop her.
Prepare yourself for an exciting adventure that spans from the Atlanta suburbs to the grasslands of Mali.
It’s a story of a girl who discovers her hidden abilities and heritage in a way that surprises and entertains.
Interlopers: A Shifters Novel, by L.M. Davis
Make sure to clean up your messes.
Keep the cat in the house.
Fraternal twins Nate and Larissa Pantera know all about strange rules. They’ve grown up with plenty of them, and they have always obeyed those rules without question
However, disturbing things are starting to happen–both at home and at school. And when their parents go missing and a strange messenger appears, they discover that the only way to save them is by breaking all the rules.
Interlopers: A Shifters Novel is the thrilling fantasy adventure. Fans of YA fantasy, such as Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, love this new series about the Pantera twins, who discover that everything they thought they knew is only the beginning of the truth.
I am sure this list will get you well on your way on your Blacknificent journey through the world of Black Speculative Fiction. We end this with a few book trailers to take along as companions on this journey. Enjoy!
Make it a REAL “Black” Friday!
Buy Black Speculative Fiction!
Also, try out these Blacktastic Books you will absolutely love:
Imaro by Charles Saunders – A masterwork from the father of Sword and Soul. Imaro is the definition of great Heroic Fantasy.
The Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler – Widely considered Butler’s best work, this is an incredible story of a dystopian future and a heroine with hyper-empathy.
Immortal by Valjeanne Jeffers – The first in a series of exciting books that takes place in the world of Tundra. Jeffers deftly combines Science Fiction, Horror and Romance in telling the story of Karla, a shapeshifter who fights the forces of evil of which she dreams.
Wind Follower by Carole McDonnell – This epic fantasy romance explores race, ethnicity, and imperialism in a beautiful – and sometimes brutal – ancient African setting.
A Darker Shade of Midnight by Lynn Emery – Mystery, Horror and Romance combine to give you this masterpiece that is a first in an incredible series. LaShaun Rousselle – the protagonist, who uses her paranormal abilities to solve the mystery of who killed her cousin and what lives in the woods on her family’s land – is one of the most interesting heroine’s in fiction.
Order of the Seers by Cerece Rennie Murphy – This thrilling tale of discrimination, love, retribution, lust for power and the great potential that lies dormant in us all follows the life and struggle of Liam and Lilith Knight – a brother and sister duo who are hunted by a ruthless and corrupt branch of the U.N., which seeks to capture and exploit Lilith’s unique ability to envision the future.
Hayward’s Reach by Thaddeus Howze – a series of short stories told by Mokoto, the last survivor of an unexpected cataclysm. Mokoto, even in his current state of in-humanity, learns what it means to be truly human.
Steamfunk edited by Milton Davis and Balogun Ojetade – This is the definitive work of Steamfunk – a philosophy or style of writing that combines Black culture and approach to life with that of the steampunk philosophy and / or steampunk fiction – featuring fifteen masterfully crafted stories by fifteen amazing authors.
Woman of the Woods by Milton Davis – A powerful Sword and Soul tale, set in Davis’ intriguing Uhuru universe, first experienced in his seminal series, Meji. Woman of the Woods draws us into the world of demon-hunter, Sadatina and her “sisters”, a duo of twin lionesses who aid her in her battle against the vicious Mosele and their demon allies, who seek to destroy her people.
Redeemer by Balogun Ojetade – This is an edge-of-your-seat adventure that is both gangster saga and science fiction epic. A tale of fatherhood and of predestination versus predetermination. An entertaining mash-up that Science Fiction, Urban Fantasy and Urban Fiction fans alike will enjoy.
If you are interested in finding more authors of Black Speculative Fiction check out Black Speculative Fiction Reviews.
Do Black People Need Black Superheroes…or Just Black Heroes?
Stories about the heroes and superheroes in speculative fiction, film and comic books capture essential truths about human nature. We relate to – and identify with – the characters and themes in these stories; we empathize with the dilemmas and problems that superheroes face, and we admire – and often mimic – their heroic acts.
What, exactly, is a superhero, you ask?
What is the difference between a superhero and a hero?
I would say that every hero in a work of Black speculative fiction – and least the works I have read, which is pretty vast – is a superhero.
The definition of a hero is someone who rises above his or her fears and limitations to achieve something extraordinary. A hero embodies what we believe is best in ourselves. By definition, a hero would include entirely fictional characters, such as Batman, Brotherman, or Storm; characters who are real, but surrounded by legend, such as John Henry, Bass Reeves, or ‘Black’ Mary Fields; and “real world” firefighters, teachers and parents.
The clearest difference between a hero and what we tend to consider a superhero is that superheroes possess fantastic powers, fight their battles with advanced technology, or possess uncanny beauty, bravery, skill, or luck. Superheroes are heroes who cannot possibly exist in our own world today.
Unlike ordinary heroes, superheroes must have abilities that normal people do not and cannot have. A superhero like Brotherman – a great comic book hero and protagonist of a comic book series of the same name, brilliantly realized by writer, Guy Sims and his brother, artist Dawud Anyabwile – has no super powers. He belongs to the uncanny beauty, bravery, skill, or luck camp.
Brotherman is also larger-than-life and his stories are timeless; eternal.
Would this make Harriet Tubman a superhero? The great freedom fighter, spy and warrior of history is certainly a hero, however, while she possessed a supreme amount of bravery, endurance, skill, luck and the gift of accurate visions, her abilities were attainable by anyone – except, maybe those accurate visions. They were not uncanny, or otherworldly.
However, Harriet Tubman – protagonist of the Steamfunk novel Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman and one of the protagonists of the Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage – is a superhero. She possesses the ability to heal from massive damage to her body at ten times the rate of a normal person; she has the strength of several men; and she can cast illusions.
Milton Davis’ Changa, of the Sword and Soul series, Changa’s Safari, fights monsters, sorceresses and men and has the ability to see malevolent spirits.
Remi ‘The Single Link’ Swan, hero of the fight fiction novel, A Single Link, is the first woman in history to fight men in professional co-ed mixed martial arts.
These are all superheroes – larger than life; powerful beyond the normal realm of human ability; fearless, lucky, or talented beyond measure.
And, like Brotherman, all their stories are timeless; eternal.
No costume is necessary; but it is cool.
But, how do we relate to and identify with characters with such amazing attributes?
Is the reason why the most popular stories in comic books are origin stories because they show us the exact moment when a normal man or woman goes from being just an average Joe or Josephine to being somehow better, faster, smarter, or stronger?
I believe it is not the attributes, but the altruism, we identify with – or at least we aspire to.
It is also the trauma superheroes suffer at their becoming. Many have told me that they love the origin story of The Scythe, who readers will get to see more of when the novel is released in summer, 2014. What they have said they love is how Dr. A.C. Jackson makes a bargain with the sentient scythe of death to return to earth and exact revenge on his murderers. Dr. Jackson is, literally, a tortured soul; the victim of racism and brutality during the Tulsa, Oklahoma Race Riots of 1921.
Readers also identify with the life-altering force of destiny found in origin stories. In the film Rite of Passage, Harriet Tubman gathers several Guardians – those endowed with supernatural powers to fight men, machines, monsters, demons and the undead. One such Guardian, Harriet Tubman’s young pupil, Dorothy Wright, is reluctant to accept her destiny, yet she rises to the occasion and becomes one of the protectors of the Black-owned town of Nicodemus, Kansas. Many of us identify with Dorothy’s challenge of assuming a great responsibility that forces her to grow up sooner than she wants to.
Finally, there’s sheer chance; or the illusion that it was chance – I am not inclined to believe in coincidence – that readers love about origin stories. In the Rite of Passage tie-in, the short film The Dentist of Westminster, the protagonist, Osho Adewale, travels to Nicodemus, Kansas to put his deceased grandmother to rest, but is introduced to a world of darkness in which he gains the power to bring the light. His heroism is an example of how seemingly random, adverse events cause many of us to take stock of our lives and choose a different path.
Good writers of speculative fiction are keen observers of nature, in general and specifically, human nature. They are able to express those observations as captivating stories; they are able to tell the stories of self through the stories of their superheroes.
So, pick up a great comic book, like Dusu (issue #1 is free), Watson and Holmes (also free), the Chronicles of Piye, or Sword and Soul Adventures; or great books, such as Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman, Changa’s Safari, Damballa, or A Single Link (which releases at the end of this month). Soar with the superheroes within.
Capes aren’t necessary.
But, they are cool.
MVmedia, publisher of Sword & Soul, Steamfunk and Science Fiction, today announced that submissions are now being taken for the second Steamfunk anthology the multimedia company will publish – Rite of Passage: Road to Nicodemus.
Based on the feature film, Rite of Passage – which is set in a world conceived by authors Milton Davis and Balogun Ojetade, based on a short story by Milton Davis of the same name – Rite of Passage: Road to Nicodemus will contain a collection of short stories inspired by this exciting alternate history Steamfunk world.
The release of Road to Nicodemus will coincide with the release of the movie in February 2014.
MVmedia is seeking completed stories between 2,000 and 10,000 words.
Writers will be paid $25.00 upon release of the anthology.
The deadline for submissions is December 31, 2013
Initial release will be in e-book format. Paperback release will occur at a later date.
Here are the Submission Guidelines and a breakdown of the world of Rite of Passage:
- Submissions must be set during the era of reconstruction (1865 – 1877). The story can begin at any time in the past, but the bulk of the story (roughly 75%) should take place during reconstruction.
- The story can begin anywhere in the world, but will end up in – or on the road to – Nicodemus, KS.
- Main characters – be they Guardians or Emissaries (see below) – should be in possession of an artifact – a special item that grants the user incredible powers. This artifact will have been bestowed upon the Guardian by a Mentor. Artifacts can be anything: a book; a gun; a sword; the saliva of a werewolf; a drum; etc. and the method of bestowal is up to the author. All artifacts are linked to some African deity.
- Technology is a combination of mundane technology of the era and retrofuturistic Steam technology.
- Magic, psionics and the like are acceptable, as long as they are linked to some artifact.
- The main character should be of African descent / Black.
MENTORS / GUARDIANS / ARTIFACTS
Harriet Tubman – the living embodiment of the power of the artifacts – had a vision that told her Jedediah Green – a powerful and dark entity whose power comes from the consumption of the artifacts’ power through consumption of the wielders of the artifacts’ souls – would descend upon the thriving Black-owned town of Nicodemus and from there, gather the ability to subjugate the world.
Harriet – whose power is fueled by the use of the artifacts (whether used for good or evil) – travelled the world, gathering the original bearers of the artifacts and convincing them to pass on the items and how to use them (which eventually bring about a severe depression and longing for release from the responsibility of bearing the artifact) to new bearers who would help her oppose Jedediah Green and his Emissaries.
The original bearers thus became Mentors and the new bearers of the artifacts became known as Guardians.
Harriet has called for all the Guardians to take up residence in Nicodemus, KS and has personally bought a few there herself.
The known Guardians thus far, their Mentors and their artifacts are:
Harriet Tubman – Mentor: Akingbe; Artifact: She is an artifact.
Dorothy Wright – Mentor: Akingbe / Harriet Tubman; Artifact: Shango’s necklace.
Bass Reeves – Mentor: Unknown; Artifact: Carbine and revolver/shotgun hybrid (Deity unknown)
John Henry – Mentor: Ogunlana (“Lana”); Artifact: Twin hammers of Ogun.
Jake Jessup – Mentor: Tara Malloy; Artifact: Shapeshifter’s blood, a gift from Eshu.
Henry Turnipseed / John D. Konkeroo (Mayor of Nicodemus) – Mentor: Mr. Giggles; Artifact: Baron Samedi’s top-hat.
Osho Adewale / The Dentist of Westminster – Mentor: Falana; Artifact: Tome of Obatala.
James and Corliss Riley (“the twins”) – Mentor(s): Grandma and Grandpa Riley; Artifacts: James uses goofa dust, black cat bones and other “conjure” tools; Corliss uses a fiddle. Both artifacts are from the Ibeji twin spirits.
JEDEDIAH GREEN’S EMISSARIES
Jedediah Green is the living embodiment of the dark energy that gave birth to vampires, ghasts, ghouls, lichs and other undead and evil. As such, these creatures do his bidding. Also, Jedediah maintains several Emissaries, who he is the sole Mentor of and to whom he grants an artifact forged by unknown dark deities.
The known Emissaries are:
The Piper / Tillman (once helped to escape to freedom by Harriet Tubman) – Artifact: Flute
P.T. Barnum – Artifact: Money clip
Peter Pan – Artifact: None; Peter is one of the oldest and most powerful vampires in the world who loyally serves Jedediah Green, who he narcissistically believes is his shadow self.
So, there you have it. If you feel you have a compelling story to tell – one that will enhance and / or expand the Rite of Passage universe – please, submit it to email@example.com.
Now, hop offline (after you read a few more of my posts if you’re new here) and get to writing; and most of all…have fun!
“IT’S LIKE STEAMPUNK BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER…WITH BLACK FOLKS!”
Well, that is sort of paraphrasing a description of Rite of Passage, the Steamfunk feature film, by Professor Lisa Yaszek, Director of Undergraduate Studies. School of Literature, Media and Communication and one of the Associate Producers of the film. Her actual description: “When people ask what Rite of Passage is about, I tell them to think Buffy the Vampire Slayer, set in Victorian times, with Black superheroes.”
Jadon Ben Israel, filmmaker and veteran actor of such films as Fast Five and Champion Road: Arena – who plays Vampire-Lord and martial arts master, Joe in Rite of Passage – describes the film as a “Black Steampunk Avengers.”
Milton Davis, author, publisher, Executive Producer of Rite of Passage and writer of the original story upon which the film is based, describes the film as “A Steamfunk movie collaboration destined to change the perception of historical fantasy. It’s the tale of the city of Nicodemus, Kansas and the special souls that have gathered to protect it. Rite of Passage blends history, fantasy and Steamfunk into an exciting action movie that gives a glimpse of the adventure yet to come.”
And, of course, accurate.
In the Rite of Passage universe, the Orisa (oh-REE-sha) – forces of nature that serve and guide humans and animals alike – have given several powerful artifacts to Oluwo (“Master Teachers; possessors of secret powers”), who are to keep those artifacts until their rightful possessors – known as Guardians – come along. The Oluwo are to help their Guardian transform, so that they are worthy to possess the artifact.
In the film, the Guardians are Dorothy Wright, Black Dispatch, Conductor on the Underground Railroad and pupil of Harriet Tubman; famed lawman, Bass Reeves; and John Henry, the legendary “steel drivin’ man.”
Harriet Tubman – who is an artifact, given to the world to protect it – gathers the Guardians around the globe to prepare them for the coming of a powerful entity she calls Jedidiah Green, an ancient and dark being who feeds on the power of the artifacts and is drawn to their possessors.
We also learn a bit about the other Guardians, such as the brutal – and somewhat insane – Dentist of Westminster and Sherlock Holmes.
Jedidiah Green also has his team of “supervillains”, if you will: the Piper, the Blood-Kin (vampires) and the Night-Kin (zombies, ghouls, ghasts, Night Howlers and other undead).
African American rodeo owner, Nat (pronounced “Nate”) Love flees to Nicodemus, Kansas – the small town destined to be the final battlefield in the war against Jedidiah Green and home to the Guardians – after his business rival, P.T. Barnum, tries to have him murdered.
Barnum dispatches a special team of assassins to Nicodemus to retrieve Nat Love by any means and to kill the Guardians if necessary.
And thus begins the film.
We have been in production since August 18, following the production of the tie-in, Rite of Passage: The Dentist of Westminster.
Production is going very well, although filming on a budget of fumes has proved very challenging and we had to forgo shooting once because we just did not have the money to purchase the costumes for that scene. This of course, is our biggest obstacle, so please donate and help us out. Steampunks, we would definitely appreciate any donations of old costumes and or props…oh, and we have great perks, too!
The actors are phenomenal, really bringing their characters to life.
Recently, actor Maurice Johnson, who portrays – no, who is – John Henry, received a call from E. Roger Mitchell, who has had starring roles in Flight, alongside Denzel Washington, Battle Los Angeles, S.W.A.T. and The Crazies – and who portrayed John Henry in the short masterpiece, John Henry and the Railroad. Mitchell told Maurice that he has been following what is going on with Rite of Passage and told him “Now, you are the real John Henry!”
The crew is amazing and makes my job easy. Director of Photography, John Thornton, who is also Professor of Film Production at GA-Tech, brings his experience as a Director and Cinematographer for several independent and Disney films to Rite of Passage. Imed “Kunle” Patman, Cinematographer, brings his experience and artistic genius to the film, as does Assistant Director and Editor, Brandon Davis.
“We have really been blessed to have such talented and intelligent people working with us,” Akin Danny Donaldson, Producer of Rite of Passage, said. “We are making history as we make a film about our history.”
Black People Don’t Like Steampunk, Fantasy and Science Fiction!
At this year’s Dragon*Con, an author and Steampunk scholar I know posed the question: “How come black people don’t like the fantasy / sci fi genre? I mean, there are no sci fi / fantasy films directed, produced, or starring African Americans, so why aren’t they getting behind you and supporting Rite of Passage, a film written by, directed by, produced by and starring Black people?”
First, let me say that while a few people from all ethnic backgrounds have supported the making of Rite of Passage with in-kind donations or donations, the majority of that few has been of African descent. As far as why more Black people have not supported us, or why the majority of us don’t support independent, Black-created science fiction and fantasy films in general – because we do, indeed, support big-budget Hollywood science fiction films with our hard-earned dollars – I believe there are several factors at work.
In discussing this issue with co-creator of the Rite of Passage world, author, publisher and Executive Producer of Rite of Passage, Milton Davis, his opinion is that “Most Black people want reality. Many of us struggle to make ends meet; we’re living check to check; we’re facing getting our light turned off, so we don’t have time to delve into make believe.”
In regard to those Black people to whom Milton is referring, I believe a good dose of quality Science Fiction and Fantasy is exactly what they need. Science fiction and fantasy peek into the realm of possibility and an escape from the harshness and cruelty of the “real world”. Science Fiction and Fantasy stories deal with our real-world issues, but cover them in a veneer of the improbable and maybe even the impossible, thus making the bitter pill of life easier to swallow.
In traditional African cultures, it is through the telling of stories of heroism, bravery, the overcoming of overwhelming odds, magic, fearsome creatures, powerful artifacts and amazing technology that we instill good character in youth and encourage good character in everyone. My research tells me that the same is true of all cultures. Every culture on earth has its myths, fairytales and folklore and in most societies, djeli – bards, or griots who tell stories about a culture’s heroes, villains and history – are held in the highest regard.
We often feel Science Fiction, Science Fantasy and Steamfunk are not “real enough” because most authors and filmmakers within those genres have not made room for an epic telling of a Black Fantasy and Science Fiction tale. We – the creators of Rite of Passage weren’t supposed to do this so, to many, the possibility of a group of Black people making an epic Science Fiction Film that is not only well-done, but is hotter than fish-grease, seems far-fetched.
A third reason – the reason why, surprisingly, most of our support has not come from the many fellow Black creators of science fiction and fantasy who know of Milton Davis’ and my work – is that there is a perception among many people that if a Black person makes a Science Fiction film – particularly Milton and I, who create stories for and about Black people – that story will have more to do with pushing some “Black agenda”, overcoming some great racial injustice, or other political issue than with telling a great story. While Rite of Passage is set in the time of Reconstruction; while it does deal with the issues of sexism and racism; it is first and foremost a great story, told in a dynamic, exciting and entertaining way.
Rite of Passage deals with universal issues that intrigue, encourage and plague us all.
After I gave my answer the Author / Steampunk Scholar had one more question: “Where can I donate to the making of Rite of Passage?”
My response? Go here!
*We accept monetary and in-kind donations.
Here is a list of people who have already donated. We thank them so much!
And we thank you – in advance – for joining their ranks!
Karen Marie Mason
HARRIET IS OUR HERO: Telling the Untold Steampunk Tales
Harriet crouched low in the thickets. She counted five – no, six – adults in the house. Four men; two women. They were at the supper table, eating a grayish-brown mass from wooden bowls with their fingers.
A constant, dull thump emanated from the rear of the house.
“Must be the child,” Harriet whispered. She reasoned that the girl was bored and was pretending to skip rope with the heavy chain she was tethered to.
Harriet crept towards the back of the house, but a familiar voice made her pause. She looked skyward. “I ain’t one to question yo’ Word, but is you sure, Lawd?” She nodded. “Thy will be done, then.”
Harriet stood and brushed the dirt from her dress. She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. The night air cooled the sweat on her forehead, and the flickering flame in her gut. She opened her eyes and locked her gaze on the house.
In three strong bounds, she was standing at the front door of the house. She pounded her tiny, brown fist on the rotting wood.
The thumping of the heavy chain ceased.
The door was flung open wide.
And the stench of sweat and spoiled milk assaulted her nostrils.
“What you want, gal?”
Harriet quickly peered into the house. Everyone, except for the wiry man standing before her, was still sitting at the table. But they were no longer eating and their eyes were fixed on the doorway.
The man in the doorway spat onto the porch, the bilious sputum just missing Harriet’s boots. “You hear me, nigger? I said…”
The web of flesh between Harriet’s thumb and forefinger struck the man’s throat. She glided past him as he fell to the floor, clutching his crushed windpipe and gasping for air.
The men at the table jumped to their feet and rushed toward her, as the two women ran toward the rear of the house.
Harriet exploded forward, pummeling the nearest man to her with a flurry of elbow strikes.
Blood erupted from the man’s nose and mouth as his face collapsed under the force of Harriet’s swift and powerful blows.
Massive arms wrapped around her waist, jerking her into the air.
Harriet threw her head back forcefully. A crunching sound followed and then a scream.
She felt something warm and wet soak the back of her bonnet.
The grip on her waist loosened slightly. She took advantage of the opportunity, bending forward and grabbing the man-mountain’s leg with both hands. Holding on tightly, she rolled forward.
The momentum of the roll forced the giant to tumble over onto his back.
Harriet landed on her back, with the giant’s leg between hers. She thrust her hips forward forcefully, ramming her pelvis into the man’s knee, as she yanked his ankle back toward her shoulder.
The man-mountain’s leg made a loud, popping noise. Harriet tossed the badly twisted leg aside. The giant screamed as his leg flopped around on the floor, no longer under the goliath’s control.
She sprang to her feet.
Harriet was met by a powerful punch toward her face as she stood. She shifted slightly to her right and the punch torpedoed past her.
She countered by slamming the heel of her right foot into the man’s solar plexus, which sent him careening through the air. He came to rest on the supper table. Slivers of wood and chunks of gray-brown mush sprayed into the air.
The last man turned on his heels and ran toward the door. Harriet kicked an overturned chair. The oak chair flipped through the air and struck the man in the back of the head. The man’s head split open like an over-ripe plum. She turned from the dying man and walked to the rear of the house.
The back door was wide open.
The wind had extinguished the candles, but the moon bathed the room in a silver-blue incandescence. The women were – wisely – long gone, but the girl was still in the room, crouched in a corner. An iron manacle was locked to her right ankle. The manacle was connected to a heavy, iron chain, which was screwed into the floor.
Harriet crouched before the little girl, and placed a gentle hand upon her shoulder. “You alright, baby?”
The little girl perused the room, as if to ensure they were alone, and then nodded.
“You Margaret, I reckon.”
The child nodded again.
Harriet rubbed her hand over the girl’s matted, light brown curls. “We gon’ get you outta here and get you cleaned up. Gotta have you presentable for yo’ daddy.”
The little girl’s eyes widened and the corners of her mouth turned up in the hint of a smile. Yet the act of smiling seemed to strain her, as if she had not smiled in quite some time. “My daddy? He sent you for me?”
Harriet pulled an L-shaped, sliver of metal from behind the ribbon in her bonnet; and slid it into the back of the manacle around Margaret’s ankle. “He sure did.” The manacle clicked and slid open.
Margaret caressed her bruised and swollen ankle. “Ma’am, if you don’t mind me asking…”
“Go ‘head, child.”
“Who are you?” Margaret asked.
Harriet stood, and helped the little girl to her feet. “Me? I’m Harriet. Harriet Tubman.”
- From Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman by Balogun Ojetade
This is the Harriet Tubman of my childhood visions. The Harriet Tubman I chose to make the hero of my first novel, Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman. The Harriet Tubman Milton Davis and I chose to make the leader of all the heroes in the Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage.
Recently, masses of people – including Yours Truly – were outraged by a video from Russell Simmons’ All Def Digital Youtube page that parodies the iconic hero and freedom fighter, Harriet Tubman, with a sex tape.
The video, titled Harriet Tubman Sex Tape, revisits the story of General Moses’ freedom fighting efforts by portraying her as engaging in aggressive sex acts with a white plantation owner.
“This our only chance to getting freedoms,” Harriet Tubman says when asked if her plans to have sex – doggy-style, no less – with the slave-master will actually work.
After engaging in sex – in which she also penetrates the slave-master doggy-style (yeah, it goes there) – Harriet Tubman smokes a cigarette as she lies with the satiated slave-master and makes demands upon him because she now has leverage with which to blackmail him.
This garbage – which Russell Simmons proclaimed the funniest thing he has ever seen – is alternate history gone completely wrong.
I enjoin other authors and filmmakers to join me, Milton Davis and other Steamfunk authors in getting it right.
This is just one reason why Steamfunk is important. It tells the stories that need to be told in the way people should tell them.
I enjoin fans of books, films, history and / or Harriet Tubman to read Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman and Steamfunk and to check out and support Rite of Passage, which is now in production. These great works portray Harriet Tubman as the amazing person she truly is.
Below are other short films and videos that feature Harriet Tubman as the hero. And yes, Uncle Ruckus Simmons, you can portray Harriet Tubman with humor, but remember…
She ain’t no joke!
PAINTING A STEAMPUNK WORLD A DARKER SHADE OF BROWN:
RITE OF PASSAGE: The Dentist of Westminster
On Sunday, August 4, 2013, Yours Truly and the rest of the brilliant cast and crew of the Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage shot a short film that ties-in to the feature film, Rite of Passage: The Dentist of Westminster.
In Rite of Passage: The Dentist of Westminster, Osho Adewale, the first Black dentist in the United Kingdom – and the best dentist in Westminster, England – visits the town of Nicodemus, Kansas and his cousin forces an artifact upon him that forever changes his life.
Osho becomes the fifth Guardian of Nicodemus – along with Harriet Tubman, Dorothy Wright, Bass Reeves and John Henry – but Harriet Tubman sends him back to the UK to serve as her representative in Europe as they prepare for the coming of a powerful entity, who, like Harriet, is connected to the artifacts that hold the power of the Orisa but does not possess any artifact.
Harriet is the living embodiment of the residual power constantly leaked by all the artifacts on earth; the entity who Harriet is preparing to receive feeds off the power of the artifacts and of those who wield them.
The world of Rite of Passage continues to grow and the story is ever-increasing in excitement. Author Milton Davis and I are having a ball creating this amazing Steamfunk world, developing its heroes and villains and entwining it all with African and African-American history.
Join us August 23, 2013, as we draw you deeper into the world of Rite of Passage at the internet premiere of Rite of Passage: The Dentist of Westminster. Visit the Rite of Passage website after 12:00 pm EST, click the Dentist of Westminster tab and enjoy!
For those of you who receive an invitation to the Rite of Passage: Dentist of Westminster Private Screening and Meet & Greet on August 22, 2013, we have some fun and exciting surprises in store for you, so be sure to keep your appointment with The Dentist; his chair awaits you!
How to Watch Rite of Passage and other Steampunk and Steamfunk Movies
When Rite of Passage, the first Steamfunk feature film, premieres in February of 2014 at the Black Science Fiction Film Festival, you are going to be amazed.
The costumes…the props…the sets…the music…the special effects…the acting, action, production and the story…all at such a high level you will think you are watching a “Hollywood” film, not a low budget film created by two independent multimedia companies and a “tech” university.
And just how should you watch such a masterpiece?
Should you chill with a date and a bucket of popcorn? Should you attend in Steamfunk cosplay with your other funktastic friends?
As you watch Rite of Passage, you should simultaneously be mindful, be emotionally engaged and be critical.
This is the mindset of watching a movie in a non-distracted manner.
This is about being in the present moment; watching with undivided attention and examining the full range of the film’s content without judgment.
Notice when distracting thoughts enter your head while watching the movie; let those thoughts speed through your mind then return your focus to the movie. Also, notice the emotions felt by the characters, and the feelings you are feeling in response.
Be Emotionally Engaged
This is the mindset of watching a movie with emotional investment.
Attach to the characters – in the same way you would attach to a parent, partner, friend or child. Care what happens to the characters.
Receive the protagonist with curiousity, optimism, and trust. You will notice qualities within the character that are likable and unlikable; relatable and unrelatable. This will help you to become clear about the character’s motivations, and to emotionally invest in the character’s experience, which will allow you to tune into the character and fully experience empathic reactions. The more you actively tune in to the character, the more you’ll feel what he or she feels and, in turn, the more you will learn what the character learns.
This is the mindset of deriving lessons for living from the narrative, and actively applying those lessons to your personal experience.
Follow the internal or psychological story of the film – an external story, for example is a dramatic car chase; how the protagonist feels about being chased and how he or she chooses to handle it are the internal story.
Being critical affords the opportunity to examine the messages within the film.
These three mindsets – mindfulness, emotional engagement and critical-thinking – are intrinsic to your successful pursuit of everyone’s primary objective when watching a film (whether you know it or not): using the experience of watching that film to bring about personal growth and positive change.
As you watch the film with these three mindsets, you should also approach the film in two ways:
The first approach is to examine how the movie functions as a coping tool – savor the positive affect the film has upon your feeling of well-being.
The second approach is to examine how the movie serves as a metaphor – capture insight-oriented parallels.
The mere act of watching a movie can improve your mood (emotional), serve as a bonding experience with friends (social), engage memory and attention (cognitive) and serve as a good, clean source of fun on a Friday night (behavioral).
Let’s apply this model to the Rite of Passage tie-in, the surprisingly profound, yet action-packed short film, Rite of Passage: Initiation. The story is about Dorothy Wright – a pupil of Harriet Tubman – who must face a final, arduous trial to prove she is worthy to be a Conductor on the Underground Railroad.
With regards to examining how the movie functions as a coping tool, pay close attention to the scene in which Harriet informs Dorothy why she has brought her to the secret clearing in the forest for the first time and how that scene makes you feel. You will enjoy watching Dorothy’s reaction to the moment and, in turn, become more engaged in her storyline. You will probably also reminisce about your own experience in the face of some great obstacle.
The movie as a coping tool induces immediate, emotional effects, serving to connect you with the character and possibly connecting you with those you interact with well after the movie has ended – those emotions will stay with you for a while and can help you to better relate to others.
With regards to using the movie as a metaphor, examine the different facets of the mindsets of Harriet and Dorothy, Masterfully portrayed by Iyalogun Ojetade and Dasie Thames, respectively. Find parallels in your life, in nature and in society. What do the two characters represent, in general and what do they represent to you personally?
Viewing movies using the above methods now gives those movies even greater value as tools of catharsis and growth.
Of course, these methods should be practiced on movies you’ve seen before until they are a natural part of your watching process, so you do not interfere with the fun of watching a new movie, or one of your favorites, by thinking too much and becoming distracted.
After the worldwide premiere of Rite of Passage in February, be sure to see me afterward and let me know how the film affected you.
And yes, you should chill with a date and a bucket of popcorn and / or attend in Steamfunk cosplay with your funktastic friends.
The talented and dedicated cast of Rite of Passage needs to look the part. We are accepting donations of costumes and props to help make Rite of Passage a spectacular Steamfunk film. Those of you generous enough to share your wares will be listed in the production credits and will receive a free DVD of the completed movie!
For more information, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
BLACK SPECULATIVE FICTION MONTH: Celebrating Over 150 Years of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror By and About Black People
BLACK SPECULATIVE FICTION MONTH: Celebrating Over 150 Years of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror By and About Black People
In Atlanta, we are doing it big in October, with a full month of spectacular, educational and downright fun events, all leading up to the wildly popular, 4th Annual – and now national – Alien Encounters Black Speculative Fiction Conference.
In addition to Atlanta, Alien Encounters gatherings will take place throughout October in different major cities in the United States, including the DMV (D.C.; Maryland; Virginia), Philly and San Diego, just to name a few.
Join us for three exciting days of panels, presentations and parties as we illuminated and expand Black Speculative Fiction!
October 25, 2013, 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm – The Mahogany Masquerade Film Festival and Cosplay Party: Come dressed in your best Steamfunk and Dieselfunk costumes as we enjoy Black Speculative Fiction short films and meet their creators.
9:00 pm until: Mahogany Masquerade After-Party
6:00 to 8:00 pm – Horror on the Black Hand Side: Horror Fiction from a Black point of view.
8:00 pm until – Black Hand Side After-Party
October 27, 2013
3:00 pm to 5:00 pm – Ain’t No Such Thing As Superman: The conscious community of Black comic books and graphic novels.
Very exciting times for creators and fans of Black Speculative Fiction and Film; however, the creation of such great and entertaining works are not new. In 1859, for example, Martin Delany published Blake, or The Huts of America, a novel about an alternate history in which a successful slave revolt in the Southern states leads to the founding of a Black country in Cuba.
Charles W. Chesnutt penned The Conjure Woman in 1899, which is the first known speculative fiction collection written by a person of color.
W.E.B. Dubois gave us The Comet in 1920, a post-apocalyptic story about a world where the only survivors of an apocalyptic event are a Black man and a white woman.
Also in 1920, South African author and entrepreneur Thomas Mofolo published his novel, Chaka, which presented a fantastical rendering of the famous – and infamous – Zulu king’s life.
Son of Ingagi is a Black Science Fiction / Horror film released in 1940. It is the story of Eleanor and Bob Lindsay, who inherit the house of Helen Jackson, a physician who has just returned from her trip to Africa possessing gold…and the monstrous, murderous, missing link-type creature named N’Gina.
Many great works of Black Speculative Fiction have followed through the years. Here is a sampling of more great speculative fiction and films by and about Black people:
The Jewels of Aptor, is a Science Fiction novel, written in 1962 by 19 year old genius, Samuel Delaney about a post-atomic future, when civilization has regressed to something near the Middle Ages, or even before, a young student and poet, Geo, takes a job as a sailor on a boat with a strange passenger, a priestess of the goddess Argo, who is heading toward a mysterious land of mutants and high radiation, called Aptor, presumably to recapture a young priestess of Argo, her daughter, who has been kidnapped by the forces of the dark god Hama.
This novel has since gone on to win countless prestigious awards including the coveted Nebula and Hugo awards.
Echo Tree, an amazing collection of short, speculative works by master writer, Henry Dumas, features such stories – all written in the mid-to-late 60s – as “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” a fantasy story, with elements of horror, set in an underground jazz club. The protagonist, Probe, tests a legendary instrument of immense power on a few unwelcome guests; and “Fon,” a story in which flaming arrows rain from the sky to dispatch a group of would-be lynchers.
Along with Charles Saunders, Henry Dumas is my favorite author and one of my greatest influences. After you read Echo Tree, I am sure he will be one of your favorites, too.
Space Is the Place is an 82-minute science fiction film made in 1972 and released in 1974. It was directed by John Coney, written by revered musician, Sun Ra and Joshua Smith, and featured Sun Ra and his Arkestra in starring roles.
The story revolves around Sun Ra, who has been reported lost since a European tour in June 1969. The musician lands on a new planet in outer space with his crew “The Arkestra” and decides to settle African Americans on this planet. Sun Ra’s medium of transportation throughout space and time is music. He travels back in time, arriving in a Chicago strip club where he used to play piano under the stage name Sonny Ray. There, he confronts The Overseer, a pimp-overlord, and they agree on a duel at cards for the fate of the Black race.
A Blacktacular pulp fiction novel – one of my favorites, by one of my favorite authors – is Damballa, an engaging tale of a shadowy hero who fights evil in 1930s Harlem with unprecedented martial skills and a combination of African and Western science.
If you have not read any of Charles Saunders work, run, don’t walk, to your nearest computer and visit his website.
Pumzi is a Kenyan science-fiction short film written and directed by Wanuri Kahiu.
Set in a post-apocalyptic world in which water scarcity has extinguished life above ground, this brilliant short film follows one scientist’s quest to investigate the possibility of germinating seeds beyond the confines of her repressive subterranean Nairobi culture.
Winner of numerous awards including Best Short Film at BET Urban World Film Festival & a student film award from the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures, Wake is a story steeped in the southern gothic tradition. Written, produced, directed & edited by filmmaker Bree Newsome, Wake is a masterpiece of horror, humor and dark fantasy. This is Southern Horror at its finest!
Next is a novel that helped launch a major movement in speculative fiction.
A long-time admirer of Harriet Tubman, in Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman, Balogun Ojetade elevates this already heroic icon to super-heroic status, pitting her against the advanced technologies and enhanced abilities of the servants of a government that has turned its back on her and seeks to see her dead. Harriet, possessing extraordinary abilities of her own, enlists the aid of other heroes of history to make a stand against the powerful forces of evil.
Balogun transports you to Harriet Tubmans world: a world of wonder…of horror…of amazing inventions, captivating locales and extraordinary people. In this novel – the first ever book in the subgenre known as Steamfunk – Harriet Tubman must match wits and power with the sardonic John Wilkes Booth and a team of hunters with powers beyond this world in order to save herself, her teenaged nephew, Ben and a little girl in her care – Margaret. But is anyone who, or what, they seem?
With more authors and fans becoming interested in Steamfunk, many more works have begun to appear. The next bestselling work elevates the subgenre of Steamfunk and sends its popularity soaring into the stratosphere:
A witch, more machine than human, judges the character of the wicked and hands out justice in a ravaged Chicago. John Henry wields his mighty hammers in a war against machines and the undead. Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman rule a country of freed slaves that rivals – and often bests – England and France in power and technology. You will find all this – and much more – between the pages of Steamfunk, an anthology of incredible stories by some of today’s greatest authors of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Steamfunk – African and African American-inspired Steampunk.
Editors Milton Davis and Balogun Ojetade have put together a masterful work guaranteed to transport you to new worlds; worlds of adventure; of terror; of war and wonder; of iron and steam.
This is the definitive work for what Steamfunk is and how much fun it can be.
These are exciting times, indeed. October will be the culmination – and the beginning; the sharing and celebration of 150 years of stories that excite, inspire, frighten, educate, entertain and evoke change.
October is gonna be hotter than fish grease!
I’ll be celebrating all month.
Come party with me!
THE ORIGIN OF A STEAMFUNK FEATURE FILM
A Story of History, Fantasy and Steamfunk
Rite of Passage is a Steamfunk movie collaboration destined to change the perception of historical fantasy. It’s the tale of the city of Nicodemus, Kansas and the special souls that have gathered to protect it. Based on a story by Milton Davis, Rite of Passage blends history, fantasy and Steamfunk into an exciting action movie that draws you into the mysterious, intriguing – and sometimes frightening – world of Rite of Passage and the even bigger adventure yet to come.
How It Began
In 2011 author Milton Davis wrote a short story entitled, Rite of Passage. The story was about a young black man who was escaping the antebellum South to freedom under the protection of Harriet Tubman. That night the young man had a unique encounter with another man who possessed amazing powers and abilities. Years later he encounters that same man and is recruited to help him. At the end of their adventure the ‘superman’ passes onto the young man a necklace that gives him the powers he first witnessed in his youth. His charge is to use those powers to protect those like him.
Balogun Ojetade read Rite of Passage and was captured by its message. A writer, director, martial artist and admirer of Harriet Tubman, he saw the potential of the story encompassing much more. The young man in the story became the young woman Dorothy and through the imaginations of both Balogun and Milton, the Rite of Passage mythos expanded, introducing new characters and exciting stories.
From Paper to Film
As the story ideas continued to flow, Balogun and Milton’s vision grew from prose to film. Balogun pulled together a skilled and creative team of filmmakers to produce Rite of Passage: Initiation. The purpose of this short film was to give a glimpse of the Rite of Passage world and show the skills of those involved in order to raise funds to make a Rite of Passage feature-length movie.
An Unexpected Proposal
In addition to working on Rite of Passage together, Balogun and Milton are a part of the State of Black Science Fiction Collective, a group of speculative fiction writers dedicated to promoting black speculative fiction. Their first program was held February 2012 at Georgia Tech in partnership with Lisa Yasek, Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies, School of Literature, Media, and Communication. In 2013, the group returned to Georgia Tech, this time for the Black Science Fiction Film Festival, which Balogun and Milton produced. The event was a rousing success; so much so that, when Lisa heard of the Rite of Passage project, she gathered together the creative resources of the university and offered their help with the creation of the movie.
A Unique Story Uniquely Told
Roaring Lions Production, MVmedia and the School of Literature, Media and Communication at Georgia Tech have come together to create a movie that combines the history and spirit of the African American experience with the fantastic foundation of Steampunk to create the first Steamfunk movie. Join us in making history and in telling the stories that need to be told!
Milton Davis is a research and development chemist who lives in Metropolitan Atlanta, Georgia, with his wife and two children. A publisher, author and film producer, Milton is dedicated to bringing diversity to the Science Fiction and Fantasy field. His books and films focus on presenting people of color in positive ways, thereby challenging the stereotypes and misconceptions common in the general marketplace. Find him and his amazing works of Steamfunk and Sword and Soul at his website and at his social media site, which is dedicated to authors, filmmakers and fans of science fiction and fantasy.
THE (almost) FORGOTTEN FRIEND OF STEAMFUNK!
Crowdfunding - or crowdFUNKing, in our case, dear Steamfunkateers - fundraising (or funkraising) by collecting relatively small amounts of money from many different people, has become quite popular in recent years.
We all know about the ever-so- popular Kickstarter, considered by many to be the king of crowdfunding, but we often forget the first startup to help the “little guy” bring his or her big creations to the world: San Francisco-based IndieGoGo, which has proven to be quite successful at helping to bring amazing Steampunk projects to life.
Founded in January 2008, IndieGoGo has continuously fulfilled its vision by helping multitudes fulfill theirs. “We’re really aiming to empower the dreams of many, whether it be through getting money for a liver transplant, or a new album, or a restaurant,” says CEO Slava Rubin.
IndieGoGo campaigns receive all the money they have been pledged, whether the initial funding goal was reached or not. Kickstarter campaigns only receive their money if they reach their initial funding goal by its designated date.
IndieGoGo is available internationally, while Kickstarter requires a U.S. bank account.
IndieGoGo takes a 4 percent fee on funds raised. Kickstarter’s fee is 5 percent.
To be sure, both Kickstarter and IndieGoGo have their perks. Kickstarter is hugely popular, particularly because it is fantastic for finding and funding creative projects such as music albums or independent graphic novels. But IndieGoGo funds all kinds of projects, from helping bands travel to – and play at – the Steampunk World’s Fair to raising money for an individual who needs cancer treatment.
When we decided to crowdfund our film, Rite of Passage, we decided to entrust our project to IndieGoGo because they provide better perks and a more intimate relationship with their customers than the other startups.
We felt that the first Steamfunk feature film in the history of man deserved a crowdfunding site as magnificent as the series is. After extensive research, we went with Indiegogo.
Please share your crowdfunding experiences. We would love to hear them!
To support our project and to help tell the stories that need to be told, please visit http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/rite-of-passage-the-steamfunk-movie/x/3264298.
RITE OF PASSAGE: The Web
The full moon cast a silver glow upon the leaves that crackled beneath Jake’s heels.
He no longer heard the dogs, or the curses of Master William Jessup’s slave-catchers, so he stopped to rest his weary muscles and catch his breath. “For a short spell,” he thought.
“Welcome to my parlor, said the spider to the fly.”
Jake whirled toward the source of the voice, raising a silver carving knife – still sticky with his former master’s blood – chest high.
The most beautiful woman Jake had ever laid eyes upon stepped out of the shadows. The corners of her full lips were spread in an inviting smile. “I’m sorry, did I frighten you?” Her husky voice revealed a hint of an English accent.
“You obviously ain’t from around here,” Jake said, studying her tall, muscular frame. “You sound like this man who come from England and train me and the other catchers.”
“I’m from London, England,” the woman said. I moved here a while ago. I bought my freedom from…wait…catchers? What did you catch?”
“Runaways,” Jake replied.
“And now, it appears that you are the one who is running away,” the woman said.
“I was the worst catcher ever born,” Jake said. “Every runaway I went after got away.
“They just happened to get away, eh?” The woman snickered.
“My old master got wise to me,” Jake replied. “He decided to make an example of me…killed my wife; my daughter…so I killed him. Been runnin’ since.”
“Well, you are safe here for the night,” the woman said. “The locals are afraid of this forest. They say a terrible beast roams these parts.”
“Then, what you doin’ out here?” Jake asked.
“I love the outdoors,” the woman replied. “Besides, beasts don’t frighten me; men do.”
“Well, this man won’t do you no harm,” Jake said. “My name’s Jake, by the way. Jake Jessup.”
“I’m Tara Malloy,” the woman said, offering her hand.
Jake took Tara’s smooth, mahogany hand in his and kissed the back of it. “Pleasure, ma’am.”
Suddenly, Tara’s hand became a vice around Jake’s fingers, crushing the dense bones as easily as if she was squeezing an egg in her fist.
Jake screamed in agony.
Tara threw her head back as a growl escaped her throat. She snapped her head forward, fixing her maddened gaze on Jake. Her beautiful face had been replaced by what Jake could only describe as the visage of a rabid wolf.
Jake tried to snatch his pulverized hand out of Tara’s grip, but she was too strong and his pain was too great.
Tara yanked Jake toward her. The runaway’s head snapped back from the force as his feet skittered across the dirt and dry foliage.
Jake thrust forward with his carving knife, sinking it deep into Tara’s chest.
Tara staggered backward, coughing as a crimson cloud of ichor spewed from her mouth.
Jake collapsed to his knees. Tara fell onto her back, convulsed once; twice; and then, lay still.
Jake crawled to a large tree and rested his back against it. The pain in his hand and shoulder made it difficult to think; to understand what just happened and darkness encroached upon him, blurring his vision.
“Still alive, eh?”
Jake turned his head toward the voice. Tara stood beside him. He turned his gaze toward her beastly form, still lying where she fell.
“How?” Jake whispered. He wanted to leap to his feet and run, but the pain would not allow it. “What are you?”
“What was I, you mean,” Tara replied. “A werewolf; a child of Eshu; blessed with his gift.”
Tara pointed toward Jake’s wounded shoulder. “Now, you have his blessing, too.”
“I…I’m gon’ turn into a thing like you, now?” Jake spat.
“Maybe,” Tara answered. “You become what your spirit is.”
“I’m gon’ kill you!” Jake bellowed.
“You already have,” Tara said, nodding toward her corpse.”
This was all too much for Jake to bear. He shut his eyes and succumbed to the darkness.
Jake felt soft, warm flesh on his chest. He looked down. Staring up at him was a pretty woman with full, pouty lips and skin the color of sweet cream.
“Good morning, lover,” the woman said, flashing a smile. Her dimpled cheeks accented her beauty.
“You’d better give up that body, Tara,” Jake said, looking at the clock on the far wall of the inn’s room. “You only have a few minutes.”
“Jake, can we talk?” Tara asked, caressing his chest with borrowed fingers.
“Time’s tickin’,” Jake replied.
“I love you,” Tara whispered.
“You what?” Jake pushed Tara’s head off his chest and sat upright.
“I love you, Jake,” Tara repeated.
“We don’t have time for this,” Jake said. “A second past those six hours and this woman dies from shock or goes mad.”
Jake hopped out of bed. His flesh shifted; flowed, as if it was some thick, ebon fluid and then trousers, boots, a shirt and a leather overcoat – all a very dark brown – formed around his naked frame.
“You’re a haint, Tara…a ghost…the undead. I – hell we – hunt the undead. Love ain’t in the cards for us. ‘Sides, you did try to kill me, remember?”
“That was two-hundred forty-seven years ago!” Tara replied.
“Seems like yesterday to me,” Jake said.
A loud, sucking din echoed throughout the room as Tara rose out of the woman’s body. “We’ll talk more later.”
The woman sat bolt upright. She leapt from the bed, locking her gaze on Jake’s broad back. An ebony, wide-brimmed planter hat formed atop Jake’s head. The woman gasped and darted out of the room.
“Creole women,” Tara said, shaking her head. “So…emotional.”
“Let’s go,” Jake said, sauntering toward the door. “Ms. Tubman should have sent that telegram by now.”
On the ground, carriages carried people to-and-from the retail shops, restaurants, inns and houses of ill-repute. In the sky, out of the view of the common people – but not out of Jake’s view – the very wealthy and the military traversed the bustling city by ornate airships and hot air balloons.
“Isn’t it beautiful? Tara sighed.
“Nope,” Jake replied.
“What do you see, then, Mister Doom-and-Gloom?” Tara asked.
“I see smoke…and steel,” Jake answered. “I see children worked to death in dirty factories…widows turned into whores to feed their babies…and we’re still swingin’ from the end of the white man’s rope.”
“Like I said…Doom-and-Gloom,” Tara snickered.
Jake entered the telegraph office. A man sat before each of the three telegraph machines.
“How can we help you fine folks?” One of the men asked, looking up from his machine.
Jake and Tara exchanged glances. Jake took a step back toward the door.
“Oh, don’t worry,” the man said, smiling. “Negro money spends here.”
“That’s not our concern,” Jake said.
“What, then?” The man said, rising from his chair.
“Well, considerin’ my lady friend here is a haint and y’all can see her without her willing it, y’all must be haints, too.” Jake replied.
The man directed his attention to Tara. “You’re a ghost, correct?”
“That’s right,” Tara replied.
“The two other men stood.
“Hmm…ghasts,” Jake said, studying the trio. “Never had the pleasure of killing one of you. Ms. Tubman said you’re fast and can possess a body for days at a time.
“Ah, Ms. Tubman,” The ghast crooned. “After we kill you, we’ll have to pay her a visit.”
“The bloodsuckers got you interceptin’ her messages, now?” Jake asked.
“She has been sending her merry, little band all over to hunt down our kind…your kind!” The ghast spat. That nigger has to die!”
“Give me the message,” Jake said, unmoved.
“I don’t think so,” the ghast hissed.
“Jake raised his palms before his chest. His hands shifted, changing into a pair of ebon broadswords. “I reckon I’ll have to take it then.”
The trio of ghasts exploded forward. Jake leapt forward to meet them.
Jake’s body shattered into a cloud of miniscule, venomous spiders. Each of the thousands of spiders was armed with a scythe-like claw on each of its eight legs. The spider-cloud washed over the ghasts. A moment later, a reformed Jake landed in front of one of the telegraph machines.
The ghasts fell, their tattered bodies covered with an uncountable number of gashes; the organs of their hosts reduced to liquid by the venom racing through their veins.
Jake rustled through the telegrams until he found the one from Harriet Tubman. “Ms. Tubman found the nest.”
“Where to?” Tara inquired.
The sweet-green smell of kudzu permeated the night air. Jake stood high above the ground upon the thick limb of an old oak tree. “Go check it out,” he said, pointing toward a large ranch house an acre away.
“Be back in a bit, lover,” Tara said, blowing him a kiss as she leapt from the limb. She floated toward the house like a feather held aloft in a gentle breeze, landing gracefully at the door of the house. With a quick step, she passed through the closed door as if it was not there.
Jake studied the house. The windows were all covered with a dense, black cloth, preventing any light from getting in or out; a sure sign of a vampire nest.
Tara appeared on the limb. She fanned her hand in front of her nose. “Lord, it smells like the flatulence of a thousand mules in there!”
“Any vampires?” Jake inquired.
“Three,” Tara replied. “It looks like they are getting ready to call it a night.”
“The sun will be up in a couple of hours,” Jake said. “Coffins?”
“No,” Tara answered. “Dirt. The whole house is covered in about two feet of it.”
“These are Old Ones, then,” Jake said. “Good. Kill an Old One and all their progeny die, too.”
Jake leapt from the tree limb. He landed silently below. The hunter knelt at the base of the tree and thrust his hands into the dirt. A moment later, he pulled out a suede sack that was filled with something metallic by the clinking sound of it. “Good old General Tubman,” Jake whispered. “Right where she said it would be.”
Jake tossed the sack over his shoulder and sprinted toward the house. His boots made no sound as they glided across the soft, red, Georgia clay.
Tara floated closely behind him. Upon reaching the house, she stepped through the door. A few seconds later, Jake heard the door’s bolt lock slide back. He tested the door, slowly turning its knob. The door opened.
Jake slipped into the house. He reached into the sack and withdrew a tiny, wedged shape device. The device, constructed of bronze, had a miniscule, amber crystal at its center.
Tara raised her thumb and smiled.
Jake placed the wedge back into the bag and crept forward down the long hallway. He felt something hard beneath the dirt sink under his feet. Iron shackles sprang up around his ankles. Jake transformed into the swarm of spiders to escape, but it was too late. Walls of thick glass sprang up from the floor, slamming into the ceiling with a tremendous thud. Jake was encased in an impenetrable, airtight cube.
The Old Ones stepped out of a room at the end of the hallway and strode toward Jake. Huge grins were spread across their pallid faces, exposing their fangs.
Tara floated toward them.
“I can feel you, darlin’,” the lead Old One – a tall, lean man, with the dress and ruggedness of a cowboy – said. “Well done.”
“Tara?” Jake gasped.
Tara turned her gaze away from Jake and cast her eyes downward.
“My kind are the servants of Eshu, charged with keeping the balance between the light and the darkness…between the Natural and the Unnatural, like yourselves,” Jake said. “My kind are the livin’.”
“Living; dead; undead…some of us are hunters; some prey,” the Old One said. “That – and blood – are all that matter.” The Old One stepped closer to the glass. “Where are my manners? In all of this excitement, I neglected to introduce myself. I am Henrick.” Henrick pointed his thumb over his shoulder. “The rather large gentleman behind me is Malloy and the enthralling beauty is Bloody Jane.”
“Let me out of here, so we can all shake hands,” Jake said.
Henrick laughed. “I like you, hunter. It’s a shame you’ll be dead soon. We could have been friends.”
The vampires walked past Jake’s cell toward the door.
Henrick glanced over his shoulder. “We are heading out for a quick bite. Don’t go anywhere.”
The vampires left the house. Their sardonic laughter cleaved the darkness outside and echoed throughout the house.
“How could you do this, Tara?” Jake spat.
“I am sorry, Jake,” Tara replied. “One day, you’ll understand.”
“Just a few days ago, you said you loved me,” Jake said. “You sure as hell have a funny way of showin’ it.”
“I do love you,” Tara cried. “That’s why I’m doing this.”
“You ain’t makin’ no sense at all,” Jake said.
“Soon, you’ll run out of air,” Tara said. “You’ll die; then, you’ll have an eternity to fall in love with me.”
“That’s haint obsession talkin’,” Jake said. “After a while, every haint goes mad. I thought you had it beat. I reckon it just took you a little longer.”
“I am not crazy, Jake!” Tara shouted. “But, love makes us do crazy things.”
“If I die on account of you settin’ me up, do you really think I’m gon’ ever love you?”
“I…I’m not sure,” Tara sighed. I hope that you’ll…”
“I’ll hate you,” Jake said. “But, if you let me out of here, there might be a chance for us.”
“You’re just saying that to convince me to set you free,” Tara said.
Jake stared into Tara’s eyes. “Have I ever lied to you?”
Tara stepped into Jake’s cell. “I don’t know where the release switch is.”
Jake nodded toward his suede sack, which lay at his feet. “Then persuade those bloodsuckers to tell you.”
Tara closed her eyes and stretched her incorporeal fingers toward the sack. For a moment, her fingers became somatic and she grabbed it. A second later, she was, once again, incorporeal, as was the sack and its contents. She walked out of the cube, taking the sack with her.
Tara floated down the hallway and through the door, leaving Jake alone in his cell.
Jake launched a powerful side-kick at one of the walls of the cell. His heel slammed into the glass. Jake’s foot felt as if it had slammed into the side of a mountain. “Magically enhanced,” he mused. Jake sat, cross-legged, on the floor. He closed his eyes and concentrated on his breathing, slowing it.
A while later, Tara returned. “It’s done.”
Jake’s opened his eyes. “Did you get all the windows? The roof?”
“I was quite thorough,” she replied.
“Tara!” A voice wailed on the other side of the door.
Tara floated to the door. She willed her hand to become corporeal and used it to open the door.
A web of intense light crisscrossed the entrance.
Henrick stood a few yards away from the doorway. Malloy and Bloody Jane stood behind him.
You’ve been a bad girl, Tara,” Henrick said. “What have you done to our house?”
“They’re called Thread Bombs,” Tara replied. Each one releases a thread of light akin to the light of the sun. I planted nearly a thousand around your house to encase it in a web of sunlight.”
“Well, be a dear and turn them off, please,” Henrick said, affecting a warm smile.
“I can’t,” Tara said. “Only Jake can.”
“And why is that?” Henrick asked, struggling to maintain his friendly demeanor.
“Every bomb has to be turned off at the exact same time, or they will explode, blanketing a square mile in their light,” Tara answered. “Jake can become a swarm of spiders and turn off each bomb simultaneously.”
“And how do we know he will do that for us once he is free?” Henrick inquired.
“You don’t,” Tara replied. “But, what choice do you have?” If you set Jake free, he might shut down the web; leave him in that cell to die and you’ll all burn.”
“Quite the fickle one, aren’t you?” Henrick said. “Okay, we’ll bite, so to speak, but know that if you cause the death of three Old Ones and their children, there is nowhere you can run; nowhere you can hide. We will find you…and even a ghost can be destroyed.”
“Duly noted,” Tara said. “Now, where is the switch?”
“In the study,” Henrick replied. “There is a brass statue of a tiger in there. Turn its tail clockwise and the walls will come down.”
“I’ll be right back,” Tara said, vanishing from sight.
“Hurry back, child,” Henrick said, looking skyward. “It’ll be dawn soon.”
A whirring sound rose from beneath Jake. A moment later, the glass walls slid back into the floor.
Jake breathed deeply, welcoming fetid, but cool air into his lungs.
Refreshed, Jake sauntered toward the door.
“We have upheld our end of the bargain,” Henrick said. “Your turn.”
“Bargain?” Jake said. “I don’t bargain with Unnaturals.”
Henrick’s smile faded. “Tara said…”
“Your deal was with Tara,” Jake said, interrupting the Old One. “Not with me.”
“Nope,” Jake replied, picking dirt from his nails.
“You bastard!” Henrick hissed, baring his fangs.
Malloy and Bloody Jane screamed as sunlight cut through the clouds and seared their flesh.
“Turn it off,” Henrick wailed, his skin turning black where the sun kissed it. “Please!”
The Old Ones burst into flames. Their chilling screams rending the night sky until their vocal chords were to charred to emit sound.
Within moments, three piles of gray ash lay near the entrance to the house.
Tara materialized beside Jake. “I hope this makes things right between us, lover,”
“Nope,” Jake replied.
“What now, then?” Tara asked.
“We keep killin’ Unnaturals,” Jake answered.
A broad smile spread across the ghost’s pretty face. “So, we’re still partners?”
“For now,” Jake replied. “We make a good team. ‘Sides, huntin’ can be lonely work. But, I promise you, you ever betray me again and you get the sigil.”
“To use a sigil on a ghost, you have to know that ghost’s real name, Jake,” Tara said. “I never told you – or anyone – my real name.”
“Your ex-husband says different,” Jake said.
Tara’s eyes widened and her jaw fell slack. “My ex…?”
“I met a conjurer a few years back by the name of Laveau,” Jake replied. “She channeled your ex-husband, Kayode, and, boy, did he have a story to tell!”
“What did he tell you?” Tara asked.
“Let’s get out of here,” Jake said. This place stinks.”
“Jake, what did he say?” Tara’s voice was shaky. “Jake?”
The corners of Jake’s mouth curled into a slight smile as he stepped through the web and into the welcoming dawn.
EXPRESSING THE INEXPRESSIBLE: A Steamfunk Soundtrack!
Would The Matrix have been a success if its action scenes had been accompanied by a romantic harp and piano score?
Would The Titanic have been a blockbuster if its emotional scenes were driven by a gangster rap score, or even L.L. Cool J’s sugary I need Love?
Of course not.
Music – the type and where it is placed within scenes – can make or break a movie.
One unforgettable scene in Django Unchained is when Django – played by Jamie Foxx – rides off on horseback, using the horse’s mane as its reins, to save his wife, Broomhilda. The scene’s music score – the moving Who Did That To You, performed by John Legend – enhances the powerful image and evokes strong emotions in the audience. The score is an effective one, forcing us to remember the scene long after we have seen the movie. In the movie Malcolm X, when Malcolm – portrayed by Denzel Washington – heads to the Audobon Ballroom for what is to be his final speech and the place where he is murdered, many in the audience were moved to tears by the scene’s image of a sullen Malcolm walking alone toward his fate and the score – the iconic and powerful A Change is Gonna Come – performed by Sam Cooke.
Music has helped to enhance movie scenes since the era of silent films. The first known use of music in a movie are the silent films of the Lumiere family of Paris, who played the piano at a screening of their films at the Grand Café in Boulevard de Capucines on December 28, 1895. The Lumiere family then presented their films – with the piano score – to audiences in London on February 20, 1896. Within a few months, several London theatres adopted the same approach, drafting orchestras to give live music accompaniment to their movies. Audiences felt more fulfilled and enjoyed the musically enhanced films much more than the previous ghostly silence they experienced in the theatres.
The first movie with its own score was L’Assassinat du Dur de Guise, released in 1908.
Filmmakers came to realize that by toying with our emotions through music, our vision of what we see onscreen is enhanced.
For most, the function of a film’s music is not easily defined. It is part of an audiovisual system that allows spectators to escape. Movies allow audiences to perceive reality in a passive framework and a movie’s music provides a reconstruction of old experiences and a proposal of new ones.
A film’s score helps far-fetched ideas to become plausible. Alien abductions, serial murders and love affairs in the White House are not usually associated with our everyday experiences, so how does cinema extrapolate such experiences so realistically? Music plays an important role as it provides a rhythmic beat that enable the audience to measure internally the psychological time of the film, relating it to the basic sensation of real time.
Furthermore, the relative time passed between events on screen can be expressed through the music. A narrative that spans decades can logically take place within a ninety minute film because the music in the movie helps us to experience the sensation and speed of time and recreates our sense of reality.
A film’s score constantly alerts us to the feelings that are congruent with what we see – the worlds on the silver screen are, indeed, emotionally perspicuous.
This concept is well illustrated by the classic martial arts masterpiece, Drunken Master 2, directed by Lau Kar-Leung and Jackie Chan. The use of music in the final fight scene allows the viewer to achieve a comprehension beyond that of real life experience. The depressed, drunken state of the hero, Wong Fei Hung, is portrayed brilliantly by Jackie Chan. At the same time, the aggression and power felt by Wong Fei Hung is illustrated by synchronizing each strike with a driving beat and erratic string instruments and horns. By combining an audible expression of emotion with a visual one, this scene allows the viewer to experience two emotions simultaneously – an effect that is impossible in everyday life.
Not only does music function in allowing the virtual replication of time, it also allows events on screen to achieve clarity beyond that of our everyday experiences.
Through music, the spectator is engaged beyond the visual action into a realm consisting of unconscious emotional receptions. After all, the best film scores are heard at a subconscious level.
Music organizes and dredges memory, invoking something akin to a feedback system. The repetition of musical experience creates a residual psychic structure that becomes archetypal.
A film’s score can convey a wide range of emotions – afraid; happy; sad; romantic; angry –because it involves the coordination of two different symbol systems – music and movies – two symbol systems in a complementary relationship; each system supplying something that the other system lacks, or, at least, does not possess with the same degree of effectiveness that the other system does.
By listening to the music and by employing a comparison between pre-experienced musical idioms (usually unconsciously), the audience can engage contextually with the experience being offered through the film.
Music can use its timeless quality to increase audience understanding and to enhance the effect of a film by serving as a kind of binding veneer that holds the film together.
Music creates tension by setting up anticipations and prolonging their resolution.
Rhythm and intonation also play a part in the emotional effect a score has on its audience. Rhythms familiar to a culture and regularity of rhythm will have a soothing, safe effect on an audience.
In contrast, sudden tempo changes jolt our perceived notions of rhythm and make us feel uneasy.
Lookin’ For the Perfect Beat…through Brass Goggles
In the Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage, the score will feature what Director, Balogun Ojetade and Producer, Milton Davis have dubbed “Steamfunk Music” – a combination of Funk, Hip-Hop and Southern U.S. Folk Music.
Now, before you blow a cog, let me remind you that, as Joshua Pfeiffer, founder of the Steampunk band Vernian Process, and co-founder of the Steampunk-centric record label/collective Gilded Age Records, says – “There is no defining element to Steampunk music. Steampunk music is different to every individual’s interpretation of it.”
Right on, Josh!
Mr. Pfeiffer goes on to say – “The only true definition (of Steampunk) could be – ‘Music created by Steampunk fans, or music that Steampunk fans find invokes the atmosphere they expect from a Steampunk setting or aesthetic’. Steampunk music, as I see it, more often than not consists of a mixture of genres; usually a mixture of genres from various periods in music history; be it Ragtime with Punk Rock, Industrial and Neo-Classical, Chamber music and Electronica, Swing and Hip-Hop, or any other variety of combinations. The only constant element that must be present is some form of vintage – 19th or early 20th Century – musical influence.”
Some of you may shrug and say “Fine by me; hell, I don’t know exactly what funk is anyway.” Well, let me explain…
What is Funk?
Funk is a very distinct style of music based on R&B, soul and jazz which is characterized by a strong bassline – often in the percussive “slap bass” style of Larry Graham (originally of Sly & the Family Stone), complex rhythms and a simple song structure.
The name “Funk” originated in the 1950s, when “funk” and “funky” were used increasingly as adjectives in the context of soul music — the meaning being transformed from the original one of a strong, pungent odor to a strong, distinctive groove.
Funk de-emphasizes melody and harmony and brings a strong rhythmic groove of electric bass and drums to the foreground. Funk songs are often based on an extended vamp on a single chord, distinguishing it from R&B and soul songs, which are centered on chord progressions.
Funk typically consists of a complex groove with rhythm instruments such as electric guitar, electric bass, Hammond organ, and drums playing interlocking rhythms. Funk bands sometimes have a horn section of several saxophones, trumpets, and in some cases, a trombone, which plays rhythmic “hits”.
In early jam sessions, musicians would encourage each other to “get down” by telling one another, “Now, put some stank on it!” At least as early as 1907, jazz songs carried titles such as Funky Butt.
Some of the best known and most skillful soloists in funk have jazz backgrounds. Trombonist Fred Wesley and saxophonist Maceo Parker are among the most notable musicians in the funk music genre – both of them working with funk maestros, James Brown, George Clinton and Prince.
Now, I am willing to bet that you know what Hip-Hop is…even you die-hard, Maine born and bred Caucasian Steampunks out there. Why? Because Hip Hop and Steampunk are cut from the same cloth.
Oh, that cog is about to pop, now!
Don’t believe me that Hip Hop and Steampunk are apples that dangle from the same tree? Disagree? Read on.
What is Hip-Hop?
Hip Hop is an art form that includes deejaying (mixing, cutting and scratching records); emceeing/rapping; breakdancing; and graffiti art. Hip Hop originated in the South Bronx section of New York City around the mid 1970s.
From a sociological perspective, Hip Hop has been one of the main contributing factors to the curtailing of gang violence, as many adults and youth found Hip Hop effective for channeling their anger and aggression.
Hip Hop caught on because it offered young urban youth a chance to freely express themselves. More importantly, it was an art form accessible to anyone. A member of the Hip Hop community did not need a lot of money or expensive resources to express any of the four elements of Hip Hop. A member of the movement did not have to invest in lessons or anything like that.
Hip Hop also became popular because it offered diverse and unlimited challenges. There were no real set rules, except to be original. Anything was possible. The ultimate goal was to be perceived as being “def” (“good”) by one’s peers.
Finally, Hip Hop, because of its inclusive aspects, allowed its members to accurately and efficiently inject their personality.
No two people expressed Hip Hop the same, even when mixing the same record, reciting the same rhyme or dancing to the same beat.
The Hip Hop movement continues to be popular among today’s youth for the same reasons urban youth were drawn to it in the early days – it is an accessible form of self expression capable of eliciting positive affirmation from one’s peers.
Throughout history, music, art, dance and literature originating from America’s Black communities has always had an accompanying subculture reflective of the political, social and economic conditions of the time. Hip Hop is no different.
Hip hop is a lifestyle with its own language, style of dress, music and mindset that is continuously evolving.
Defining Characteristics of Hip Hop
Defining characteristics of Hip Hop include:
Most members of the movement take on a nom de plume and many even assume an alter-ego.
Most members of the movement wear fashions readily identifiable with Hip Hop.
Resistance to a hierarchical, oppressive society.
Resistance to mainstream, “industry” representations of the culture.
A literary (rap; spoken word), visual art (graffiti; fashion), musical (deejaying) and dance (breakdancing; krumping) component.
Blends future and past (cave drawings with drawing on walls and trains; ancient African martial arts with modern dance moves; ancient African rhythms with contemporary music).
Uses creativity and innovation to solve problems and to challenge limits. A do-it-yourself attitude.
Defining Characteristics of Steampunk
Now, let’s compare the defining characteristics of Hip Hop with those of Steampunk:
Most members of the movement take on a nom de plume and many even assume an alter ego.
Nearly all members of the movement wear fashions readily identifiable with Steampunk.
Resistance to hierarchical society; often attempts to resist oppressive, imperialistic society by ignoring its existence or by rewriting and redefining history.
Resistance to mainstream, “industry” representations of the culture.
A literary, visual art and musical component.
Blends future and past (anachronism; retrofuturism).
Uses creativity and innovation to solve problems and to challenge limits. A do-it-yourself attitude.
Hip Hop and Steampunk bear strong resemblances to one another and both have their origins in resistance to an establishment that begs for escape or rebellion.
For many “Hip Hop Heads” (aka “B-Boys” or “B-Girls”) – what those heavily immersed in the Hip Hop culture are often called – Steampunk provides an attractive aesthetic due to its similarities in attitudes and its differences in style. The gadgets are especially attractive and new to Hip Hop Heads and sightings of Steampunked turntables and headphones are bound to happen soon.
The members of the Hip Hop culture, always seeking to bring something old to the movement and make it new and cutting edge (remember the marriage of Rock and Hip Hop, ala Run DMC and the Beastie Boys?), are fiercely anachronistic and cannot help but find a kinship with their fellow rebels in Steampunk.
Who are the Carolina Chocolate Drops, you ask?
The Carolina Chocolate Drops is an old-time string band from Durham, North Carolina. Their album, Genuine Negro Jig (2010), won the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album.
Formed in November 2005, following the members’ attendance at the first Black Banjo Gathering, all of the musicians sing and trade instruments including banjo, fiddle, guitar, harmonica, snare drum, bones, jug, and kazoo. The group learned much of their repertoire, which is based on the traditional music of the Piedmont region of North and South Carolina, from the late African American master fiddler, Joe Thompson, although they also perform old-time versions of some modern songs such as Blu Cantrell’s R&B hit Hit ‘em Up Style (Oops!).
For the closing credits for Rite of Passage, we hope to get permission to use the song Shut it Down by The Harlem James Gang – a throw-back Neo Vaudevillian performance troupe that puts the entertainment factor back into music, combining music, dance, theatre, song and magic into their live show.
The Harlem James Gang mashes up the sounds of the 20s and 30s with hip-hop to create a unique, original and infectious sound sure to have audiences at the end of our film bobbing their heads and dancing in the aisles.
Be sure to reserve your seat for the red carpet premiere of Rite of Passage in February, 2014…and let the movie and its masterful musical score transport you through time and space to the town of Nicodemus.
A STEAMFUNK VIDEO PRIMER
At our first Info Session for the Steamfunk movie Rite of Passage, GA-Tech Professor and an Associate Director of the film, Lisa Yaszek, asked who was familiar with Steamfunk. Three hands – not including those of our crew – went up in the packed room. She then asked who was familiar with Steampunk. Five hands went up.
We then proceeded to give those in attendance a list of books to read and movies to watch to familiarize themselves.
As Lisa defined what Steampunk and Steamfunk are, I realized just how important the making of Rite of Passage is. Steamfunk’s / Steampunk’s do-it-yourself philosophy, reverence for history and its focus on craftsmanship, originality, history and creativity is much needed for the building of a future and for the betterment of the present.
For all of you – and for anyone you know who may struggle with the concept of Steamfunk – I offer below a video primer that defines the subgenre and can serve as a reference for future works. Enjoy!
As always, your feedback is welcome and encouraged!
THE ROAD TO NICODEMUS: Black Towns in the Age of Steam!
Black Americans have played a vital role in building this nation. Eager to live and prosper as free people, we have established our own towns since Colonial times. Many of these communities were destroyed by racial violence or injustice, while some just died out. Let’s explore a few of these symbols of freedom, courage, hard work and ingenuity a bit more in-depth.
Fort Mose, Florida
Although this settlement was established well before the Age of Steam, it still merits mentioning, as it is a fascinating place with an even more fascinating history. Established in 1738, Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose – or Fort Mose – was the first free black settlement in what is now the United States and played an important role in the development of colonial North America.
Amid the fight for control of the New World, Great Britain, Spain and other European nations relied on African slave labor. Exploiting its proximity to plantations in the British colonies in North America and the West Indies, King Charles II, of Spain issued the Edict of 1693 which stated that any male slave on an English plantation who escaped to Spanish Florida would be granted freedom, provided he joined the Militia and became a Catholic. This edict became one of the New World’s earliest emancipation proclamations.
By 1738 there were 100 Black men, mostly runaways from the Carolinas, living in what became Fort Mose. Many were skilled workers, blacksmiths, carpenters, cattlemen, boatmen, and farmers. With accompanying women and children, they created a colony of freed people that ultimately attracted other fugitive slaves.
When war broke out in 1740 between England and Spain, the people of St. Augustine and nearby Fort Mose found themselves involved in a conflict that stretched across three continents. The English sent thousands of soldiers and dozens of ships to destroy St. Augustine and bring back any runaways. They set up a blockade and bombarded the town for 27 consecutive days. Hopelessly outnumbered, the diverse population of blacks, First Nation peoples and whites pulled together. Fort Mose was one of the first places attacked. Lead by Captain Francisco Menendez, the men of the Fort Mose Militia briefly lost the Fort but eventually recaptured it, repelling the English invasion force. Florida remained in Spanish hands and for the next 80 years remained a haven for fugitive slaves from the British colonial possessions of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.
The site was abandoned in 1763 when the British took possession of Florida. The residents of Mose evacuated to Cuba and formed a new town, Ceiba Mocha, Matanzas province, considered the hub of African spirituality in Cuba.
The town prospered as the Florida Railroad established a small depot to handle the transport of cedar wood to the pencil factory in Cedar Key and the transportation of timber, turpentine rosin, citrus, vegetables, and cotton throughout the State. In 1890 the cedar depleted and many of the white families moved to Sumner, three miles west of Rosewood and worked at the newfound saw mill established by Cummer and Sons. By 1900 Rosewood had a black majority of citizens.
On the morning of January 1, 1923 Fannie Coleman Taylor of Sumner Florida, claimed she was assaulted by a Black man. Although she was supposedly knocked unconscious for several hours due to the shock of the incident, she was not seriously injured and was miraculously able to describe, in detail, what happened. No one disputed her account, of course and no questions were asked. It was assumed she was reporting the incident accurately.
Sarah Carrier a Black woman from Rosewood, who did the laundry for Fannie Taylor and was present on the morning of the incident, claimed the man that assaulted Fannie Taylor was her white lover. It was believed the two lovers quarreled and he abused Fannie and left. However, in 1923 no one questioned Fannie Taylor’s account and no one asked Sarah Carrier about the incident. The Black community claimed Fannie Taylor was only protecting herself from scandal.
A posse was summoned and tracking dogs were ordered by James Taylor, Fannie Taylor’s husband and the foreman at Cummer and Sons saw mill. The local white community became enraged at the alleged abuse of a white woman by a Black man – an unpardonable sin in a world in which it was punishable for black men back then to even look at a white woman.
James Taylor summoned help from Levy County and neighboring Alachua County, where a large number of KKK members had been rallying and marching in opposition of justice for Black people.
A telegraph sent to Gainesville in regards to Fannie Taylor’s allegations provoked four to five hundred Klansmen, who headed to Sumner at the appeal of James Taylor. They arrived enraged and combed the woods behind the Taylor’s home looking for a suspect. Suspicion soon fell on Jesse Hunter, a Black man who had allegedly recently escaped from a convict road gang. No proof of the escape was ever provided.
The posse confronted Sam Carter at his home and Carter allegedly admitted to helping Hunter escape. The posse forced Carter to take them to the place where he last saw Hunter. When no trace of Hunter could be found the posse turned into an out of control lynch mob, torturing Carter, riddling him with bullets and hanging him from a tree.
The posse continued their hunt in Rosewood. They found Aaron Carrier, cousin and friend to Sam Carter, in bed at his cousin, Sarah Carrier’s house. They yanked him out of bed, tied a rope around his neck and dragged him behind a Model –T Ford from Rosewood to Sumner. They tortured him, beat him with gun butts and kicked him until he lost consciousness they then shot him numerous times.
Levy County Sherriff Bob Walker halted the gunfire before a fatal shot could be delivered, however, when he yelled, “Don’t, I’ll finish the nigger off!” Confident that the sheriff would take care of Aaron Carrier, the posse returned to Rosewood to hunt and kill more Black people.
Sheriff Walker threw Aaron Carrier in his vehicle and took him to Gainesville, to the Alachua County jail, begging Sheriff James Ramsey to hide Carrier from the public and his family until tempers settled down. Sheriff Walker also suggested that Sheriff Ramsey get medical help for Carrier. Sheriff Ramsey brought in two local Black doctors – Dr. Parker and Dr. Ayers – to treat Carrier. For six months, without any knowledge of the public or Carrier’s family, the doctors tending to Carrier’s wounds and returned him to health and strength.
Fuming with anger because they had not found the attacker James Taylor sent Sarah Carrier’s son, Sylvester Carrier, a message “We are coming to get you.”
Unbeknownst to the posse, Sylvester Carrier took heed to the threats and made contact with his Levy County friends who bravely traveled to Rosewood to help avert the planned ambush of its citizens.
After dark, the white posse traveled to Rosewood prepared to kill or be killed. The posse, intoxicated with moonshine and ignorance, was met head-on with resistance from Sylvester Carrier and his friends, however and several of them were killed or injured. The surviving posse members fled, returning to Sumner, leaving their guns behind at the order of Sylvester Carrier and his men. Other posse members lay dead and wounded in Sarah Carrier’s yard.
On January 3rd, many citizens of Rosewood fled into the swamp, hiding out and waiting for the train to come and take them to safety. Others fled to white store merchant John Wright’s home. He allowed them to wait there in hiding until they heard back from Sheriff Walker, who travelled back and forth to Cedar Key, Sumner, and Rosewood in an effort to move Rosewood’s citizens safely out of Rosewood on the 4 AM early morning train, which was conducted by the Bryce Brothers from Bryceville, Florida.
When the posse returned to Rosewood days later to make an assessment of the damages, they vengefully shot and killed anyone who remained in the town – mainly those too ill or too old to
Weeksville, New York
What is now Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, NY, Weeksville was the second-largest community for free blacks prior to the Civil War. James Weeks, a freed slave, purchased a significant amount of land from Henry C. Thompson, another freed slave. Weeks sold property to new residents, who eventually named the community after him. The town thrived, becoming a free Black enclave of urban trades-people and property owners comprised of both Southern blacks fleeing slavery and Northern blacks escaping the racial violence and draft riots in New York and other cities. By the time of the Emancipation Proclamation, Weeksville was already a thriving area with its own doctors, teachers, publishers, and social services.
Freedmen’s Town, Texas: Houston’s ‘Little Harlem’
Over a period of sixty years the town thrived, with churches, schools, stores, theaters and jazz spots lining the cobblestone roadways, earning Freedmen’s Town the nickname of “Little Harlem” by the 1920s.
Unfortunately, the Great Depression caused many residents of Freedmen’s Town to lose their homes. Most longtime residents were forced to move to other Houston neighborhoods, while others stayed in the town, only to watch the community deteriorate.
In 1984, Freedmen’s was designated a historic district.
Blackdom, New Mexico
Dispatched from Ft. Leavenworth for the New Mexico Territory in 1846 to fight the Mexican-American War, General Stephen W. Kearny led a force of 2,500 soldiers in the invasion (yes, invasion – just ask the First Nations in the area). One of those detailed to that force as a wagoneer was a Georgia freedman by the name of Henry Boyer. Upon reaching New Mexico, Boyer fell in love with the vast desert expanses of sky and land, upon his return home, he told his wife and children tales of his adventures in New Mexico, emphasizing the awesome beauty of the land.
One of Boyer’s children, Francis Marion (“Frank”) Boyer, was captivated by his father’s stories. Frank, a graduate of Morehouse College and a teacher, grew dissatisfied with his existence in Georgia and joined groups of other Black men who spoke out against the savageries of the Ku Klux Klan and other Southern atrocities.
Fearing for his son’s life, Henry Boyer suggested that Frank leave Georgia and move to New Mexico to seek a better life for himself and his family. In 1896, Frank Boyer and his friend and student, Daniel Keyes, decided to set out for New Mexico.
Being Black, Mr. Boyer and Mr. Keyes could not travel by stagecoach or rail, nor could they get secure passage on a wagon train. Undeterred, they set out on foot, and walked the entire distance from Pellum (nowadays known as “Pelham”), Georgia to Roswell, New Mexico – a distance of 1,200 miles.
Upon arrival, the two men worked multiple jobs while exercising their rights as freedmen under the Homestead Act, laying claim to acreage in the area of what is now Dexter. The following year, Franks’s wife, Ella Louise and their children joined him, and he was able to secure a loan from a bank to begin homesteading. He dug an artesian well, built a house, and began an active outreach campaign to other Black families in surrounding states, urging them to come to the beautiful desert land in the southeastern part of the Territory and help create the New Mexico Territory’s first Black community.
And they came…more than 300 people from across the country…despite the odds; despite the obstacles. Whites would not sell them train or stagecoach tickets and would not permit them to board in the event that they managed to secure tickets anyway; they would not sell wagons or horses to Black families, despite their ability to pay.
But they came…by cart; on horseback; on foot like the town’s founders…and in 1903, Frank Boyer filed the town of Blackdom’s articles of incorporation.
Unfortunately, in the 1920s, a severe drought led settlers to abandon the town.
In the late 1870’s, as the Reconstruction following the Civil War failed to bring the long awaited freedom, equality and prosperity promised to Black people, along came a white man by the name of W.R. Hill – to black families in the backwoods of Kentucky and Tennessee – who described a “Promise Land” in Kansas. Hill told of a sparsely settled territory with abundant wild game, wild horses that could be tamed, and an opportunity to own land through the homesteading process in Nicodemus, Kansas.
The town site of Nicodemus was planned in 1877 by W.R. Hill, a land developer from Indiana, and Reverend W.H. Smith, a black man. Reverend Smith became the President of the Nicodemus Town Company and Hill, the treasurer. The two founders aggressively promoted the town to the Black refugees of the Deep South. The Reverend Simon P. Roundtree was the first settler, arriving on June 18, 1877. Zack T. Fletcher and his wife, Jenny Smith Fletcher, the daughter of Reverend W.H. Smith, arrived in July and Fletcher was named the Secretary of the Town Company. Smith, Roundtree, and the Fletchers made claims to their property and built temporary homes in dugouts along the prairie.
The Nicodemus Town Company produced numerous circulars to promote the town, inviting “Colored People of the United States” to come and settle in the “Great Solomon Valley.” The Reverend Roundtree became actively involved in the promotion, and worked with a man by the name of Benjamin “Pap” Singleton , a black carpenter from Nashville, who traveled all over the United States distributing the circulars, which portrayed Nicodemus as a place for African-Americans to establish Black self-government. Singleton, who could not read or write, distributed so many circulars that he was sometimes called the “Moses of the Colored Exodus.” The Blacks who decided to emigrate soon acquired the name “Exodusters”.
At the same time, railroads, needing to populate the West to create markets for their services, exaggerated the quality of the soil and climate in this “Western Eden.”
The desperate families of the South listened with rapt attention and in the late summer of 1877, 308 railroad tickets were purchased to take them to the closest railroad point in Ellis, Kansas. The families then walked the remaining fifty-five miles to Nicodemus, arriving in September 1877.
Building homes along the Solomon River in dugouts, the original settlers found more disappointment and privation as they faced adverse weather conditions. In the Promised Land of Kansas, they initially lacked sufficient tools, seed, and money, but managed to survive the first winter by selling buffalo bones and by working for the Kansas Pacific Railroad at Ellis, the city fifty-five miles away where they originally arrived. Others survived with assistance from the Osage First Nation, who provided food, firewood and staples.
Though most stayed, many settlers were disillusioned by the lack of vegetation and the harsh land and made a hasty return to the green fields of Kentucky and Tennessee. Of those who stayed, the spring of 1878 brought hope and opportunity as new Exodusters, bearing horses, oxen and farming tools began to farm the soil.
A local government was established, headed by “President Smith.”
One woman arriving in the spring, Williana Hickman, said years later of arriving at Nicodemus: “When we got in sight of Nicodemus the men shouted, ‘There is Nicodemus!’ Being very sick, I hailed this news with gladness. I looked with all the eyes I had. I said, ‘Where is Nicodemus? I don’t see it.’ My husband pointed out various smokes coming out of the ground and said, ‘That is Nicodemus.’ The families lived in dugouts… the scenery was not at all inviting, and I began to cry.”
Despite the poor living conditions, Williana and her husband, Reverend Daniel Hickman, stayed, organizing the First Baptist Church in a dugout with a sod structure above it. By 1880, a small, one-room, stone sanctuary had been erected at the same site. This structure evolved from limestone to stucco, and in 1975, a new brick sanctuary was built. Today, the church still stands in Nicodemus.
Zachary Fletcher, one of the town’s first settlers, became the first postmaster and the first entrepreneur in Nicodemus, establishing the St. Francis Hotel and a livery stable in 1880. His wife, Jenny Smith Fletcher, became the first postmistress and schoolteacher and one of the original charter members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The complex that Fletcher built, which housed the post office, school, hotel and stable, later became known as the Fletcher-Switzer House and was an important focus of activity in the community. The building still stands in Nicodemus today.
By 1880, Nicodemus had a population of almost 500, boasting a bank, two hotels, three churches, a newspaper, a drug store, and three general stores – surrounded by twelve square miles of cultivated land.
Edward P. McCabe, who joined the colony in 1878, served two terms as state auditor, 1883-1887, the first African American to hold a major state office.
By 1887 Nicodemus had gained more churches, stores, a literary society, an ice cream parlor, a lawyer, another newspaper, a baseball team, a benefit society and a band. Hopes were high in the community when the railroad talked of an extension from Stockton to Nicodemus and in March of 1887, the voters of the Township approved the issuance of $16,000 in bonds to attract the Union Pacific Railroad to the community. Despite the bond issue, the town and the railroad could not agree on financial compensation and the railroad withdrew its offer.
In 1888, the railroad established the extension six miles away south of the Solomon River, leaving Nicodemus a stranded “island”. Businesses fled to the other side of the river to the Union Pacific Railroad camp that later became known as the town of Bogue. With the businesses leaving, Nicodemus began a gradual decline.
Zachary Fletcher, the town’s first entrepreneur, sold his town lots to the original promoter, W. R. Hill, but continued to run his businesses. Eventually, the hotel reverted to Graham County for a time but was brought back into the family in the 1920′s by Fred Switzer, a great-nephew raised by the Fletchers. When Switzer married Ora Wellington in 1921, they made the hotel their home.
Despite all the hardships and calamities that Nicodemus faced, it survived…and thrived.
More than a half-dozen black settlements sprung up in Kansas after the Civil War but Nicodemus is the only one that still stands.
In the world that author Milton Davis and I have developed – the world you will experience in the upcoming Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage – the secret to Nicodemus’ survival lies in its four very powerful protectors – Harriet Tubman, Dorothy Wright, John Henry and Bass Reeves and the town’s President, “High” John Konker. Just as the Exodusters have been drawn by promises of self-government, freedom and economic success, the town’s protectors have been drawn by a mysterious and fearsome entity known only as Jedediah Green, who you will learn more of in the next phase of Rite of Passage stories.
The Rite of Passage movie is a pulse-pounding thrill-ride that introduces you to this dark and gritty world of steam, brass and iron and to the origins of its heroes.
With the might of our heroes – and with the imaginations of Milton Davis and Yours Truly – Nicodemus Town Company will never fall.
GA-TECH GETS FUNKY! Filmmakers Partner With The Yellow Jackets to Produce the First Steamfunk Feature Film!
GA-TECH GETS FUNKY!
Filmmakers Partner With The Yellow Jackets to Produce the First Steamfunk Feature Film!
I was recently contacted by an agent who asked if Rite of Passage – the Steamfunk movie that goes into pre-production in May and production in August – was a student film. I informed her that the film is a collaboration between the professional multimedia companies MVmedia and Roaring Lions Productions and GA-Tech’s School of Literature, Media and Communication, so yes, students will be heavily involved in the making of the film, but under the guidance and leadership of experienced and accomplished film professionals who are the directors, producers and cinematographers on this project.
I informed her that the students will not be treated as “amateurs”, nor is the film going to be amateur or second rate. The students involved in the making of Rite of Passage are expected to be just as professional…just as committed as those who have worked on ten or more projects.
The agent’s response?
“Well, I will probably send a few of my actors to audition, but most of my actors would never act in a student film. I was a bit surprised to hear that most of the actors she represents dismiss programs that have produced some of industry’s best filmmakers and actors. “She needs to educate her people,” I thought.
However, “To be fair,” – as Rite of Passage’s Producer, Akin Danny Donaldson, is fond of saying – he’s from England; everyone from England are fond of saying that – I could come up with a few reasons myself as to why an actor would not want to act in a student film – there is no pay; the filmmakers do not have a lot of experience and are still learning how to talk to and treat actors; and few student films become a success by Hollywood standards. However, from her reaction, I was sure she – or some of her actors – had experienced some Stygian nightmare in doing a student film.
She, or any of her actors, had not; she just thought there was nothing for her people to gain from such projects. She was oblivious to the tremendous opportunity provided by student films to form strong, lasting and mutually beneficial relationships with young, talented, up-and-coming directors, producers, actors and casting directors.
You could very well be working with the next Martin Scorsese or Spike Lee. They are not master directors yet, but “to be fair”, the next Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Malcolm X, or The Inside Man could be their next film.
Student films often achieve admittance into top notch festivals each year, earning these young filmmakers studio deals and the actors in their films worldwide recognition.
If you choose to act in a student film, there are certain things that you should not negotiate. You should receive a copy of your work in a timely fashion, be fed every six hours, and should not be asked to work longer than a 12-hour day without proper turnaround.
Know that student filmmakers, especially those in the early stages of filmmaking, tend to prioritize their aesthetic vision over an actor’s performance. Don’t be shocked, frustrated, or allow your ego to be bruised if hours are spent on a cool-looking, spinning, overhead dolly shot rather than your sublime performance in a close-up.
Keep in mind that these young filmmakers are attempting to bring their visions to life without large crews and budgets, so – “To be fair” – cut them some slack if things take longer than they should.
Actors, don’t feel ashamed, embarrassed or as if you are “settling” because you are auditioning for a student film. It doesn’t mean that you are a bad actor. Agents submit actors to films by USC, Columbia University and Columbia College Chicago every day.
“To be fair”, however, I will admit that many student films simply stink. The most common reason for such odoriferous works is lack of story. A suicide prone emo teen is a subject, not a story. If your story is about an emo college freshman with a football player roommate whose girlfriend is always trying to convince the emo kid to go out and party – who cares?
The second most common reason for the malodorousness is the student’s reach exceeding his or her grasp. The student tries to tell a story that is too convoluted; uses techniques that are far beyond his or her experience. The more complex the story, the more skill it takes to tell it and the greater likelihood that a relative beginner will fail in the telling of it.
Fortunately, Rite of Passage has some of the best professionals in independent film working on the project and the students chosen to work with us will be the best that GA-Tech has to offer, which, “To be fair,” is saying a lot, as GA-Tech is fast becoming recognized as one of the top film schools in America, particularly in the areas of special effects, sound effects, prop and graphics design and cinematography.
Below are the current professional members of the crew of Rite of Passage. We are all excited to work with the next generation of Scorseses, Lees, Singletons, Spielbergs, Poitiers, Tarantinos, Lucases and”To be fair,” Balogun Ojetades (go ahead, you can laugh)
HARRIET TUBMAN HAS GREAT STEAM-FU: Putting the Funk in your Fight Scenes!
I have choreographed and / or performed fight scenes for seven films – two “traditional” Hong Kong-style martial arts movies; one gritty urban fantasy; one thriller; one post-apocalyptic science fiction film; one alternate history movie and one comedy.
Filming a fight scene is totally different from shooting a scene of dialogue. It requires much more planning and the director must be able to tell a story through the fight itself.
I would like to share with you what I have learned about shooting and choreographing a fight scene because it is an interesting topic; because I hate it when I watch an otherwise great film fall apart because of its poorly shot fights; and because we go into pre-production for the Steamfunk movie, Rite of Passage, in a month and I want to make you, dear reader, aware of what we are doing and how it is done, because, ultimately, this is your film. We are making this for you.
Begin with the previous action
If your heroine, Harriet Tubman’s last action in the previous sequence you shot was a hook punch, even if you know you are not going to show that punch in a close-up, film it at the start of the next sequence anyway and then keep rolling and shoot that next sequence; this will make your fight appear much smoother and editing the scene will be easier.
Always return your strikes to their point of origin
If you watch martial arts movies with great fight scenes, such as Flashpoint, starring Donnie Yen, or the Bourne movies, then you’ll notice that every time they punch someone, their fist recoils back. By adding this subtle movement to your actors’ hits, it makes the impact of those strikes appear much more powerful and makes the character look as if he or she is really strong.
Always keep your eyes on your opponent
This is an important tip for your actors as well. After an actor is hit, he “sells” the strike as a powerful one by making sure his eyes always return back to his opponent. So, if Harriet Tubman punches P.T. Barnum in the jaw with that hook punch, the actor playing Barnum would sell the punch by snapping his head sideways, looking over his shoulder and then snap his gaze right back to the actor playing General Tubman.
This also allows your actors to communicate their readiness before the next blow is thrown, thus helping you to avoid accidents in case one of your actors is not ready or has forgotten the next move. Remember, when filming fight scenes, safety first!
Shoot the entire fight wide and then move in for close-ups, over shoulder and medium shots
Not following this suggestion can cause you to run into some editing problems as a result. Often, when we shoot the intense over shoulder, medium and close-up shots first, which require much more facial expression along with technique to sell the fight, we forget to shoot the wide shot. If you don’t have a wide angle of your fight, you run the risk of the fight appearing choppy or worse, appearing disorienting to the audience.
Move your camera with the movements
Moving with the punches makes the strike appear faster and by stopping the camera’s movement right as the punch connects, adds a jerky feel that can often make a punch appear more violent on screen. Shoot moving shots after your essential stationary shots.
Editing and Sound Design turn good fights into great fights
A great editor lets us forget that we are simply watching a fight scene and pulls us into the scene by making the action seamless.
This is the most essential part of the fight to be done.
Coming in a close second is the post production music and Foley (sound effects).
Don’t believe me? Watch any fight scene with the audio muted – that scene feels far less compelling. The hits become weaker and the fight now feels flat and totally fake.
The audio is edited and mixed with utmost acoustic continuity for fight scenes, because, while our eyes are okay with being cheated by the illusion created by camera angles, slow motion and the like, our ears are not. Since our ears are much more vital to our sense of balance, we notice the slightest break or hiccup in the audio with a 15 – 20 times higher temporal precision than we notice in the video.
So actually, fight scenes are not made sound real at all. But you are willing to let yourself drawn into them because of a flawless sound design.
Boot Camp or Bust
On every film in which I am the Fight Choreographer, I conduct a Fighters’ Boot Camp. This camp – which can run over several days or over many hours in one day, depending on time and budget – is required for any actor who has a fight scene in the film to attend and strongly suggested for the Director and Cinematographer to attend as well.
This Boot Camp teaches non-martial artists how to move, hit and react to hits so they appear to be martial arts experts on screen. For the martial artists in the film, we teach them how to make their techniques look good on screen – most “real” martial arts techniques do not look powerful or cool onscreen – and how to sell the hits and the reaction to hits.
On one set, I worked with a former professional boxing champion. He did not want to do “that fake stuff” and wanted the actor to really strike him on film. I expressed concern for his safety. He said the actor – a woman – couldn’t hurt him. We humored him and shot it the way he wanted, as the scene was supposed to be comedic anyway and I wanted to teach him a lesson. During one sequence, the actor he was fighting struck him in the jaw with one of her “non-fake” punches and rocked him badly, dropping him to his knees.
Lesson learned. We kept that scene in the film.
When a fight scene seems real to you, the actors and the film crew have done a great job and have successfully executed the clearest demonstration of the magic that is filmmaking.
I now leave you with a few fight scenes featuring Yours Truly and my favorite fight scene of all time, featuring actors Donnie Yen and Wu Jing. Enjoy!
THE MAKING OF A STEAMFUNK MOVIE: Pt. 1, the Crew
When I left Howard University – and my despised major in Finance – in 1986 (don’t do the math) to pursue my vision of novelist, screenwriter and film director, my family – particularly my mother was supportive. My sister, Alesia, however – a film and video producer for the Air Force – did not warn me about what I was getting myself into.
I enrolled in Columbia College – the renowned college of the Fine Arts in Chicago – and my training in film, which I just knew would be easy and fun every minute, began.
And so did work ten times more demanding than any Finance, Economics, or Statistics class ever was.
Easy? My ass!
Fun? Hell no!
The work was grueling; tiresome; boring; lonely.
Wait a minute…lonely?
The first week of my Film Directing I Class was a solo directing project. Unbeknownst to us ignorant students, that project was designed for the sole purpose of teaching us – the hard way – that film is always a collaborative effort. Anyone who tries to be a one-man film crew is about as sharp as a bowl of Jell-O.
For those of you looking to make a movie, but you do not have access to a multimillion-dollar budget, you may have to assume more than one responsibility to make your film. While it is possible – and often necessary – to wear two or three hats when making a film, it is not recommended. Search hard for qualified and experienced people to work with. The more you do, the more the quality of your film suffers and the quicker you will burn yourself out.
In May, we begin pre-production on the Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage. We start shooting in August. This is the bare minimum crew we will begin with:
Producer: A film producer creates the conditions for making movies. The producer initiates, coordinates, supervises, and controls matters such as raising funding, hiring key personnel, and arranging for distributors. The producer is involved throughout all phases of the filmmaking, from development to “delivery” of a project.
Executive producer: In major productions, can sometimes be a representative or CEO of the film studio. Or the title may be given as an honorarium to a major investor. Often they oversee the financial, administrative and creative aspects of production, though not always in a technical capacity. In smaller companies or independent projects, it may be synonymous with creator/writer. Often, a “Line Producer” is awarded this title if this producer has a lineage of experience, or is involved in a greater capacity than a “typical” line producer. E.G – working from development through post, or simply bringing to the table a certain level of expertise.
Associate producer: Usually acts as a representative of the Producer, who may share financial, creative, or administrative responsibilities, delegated from that producer. Often, a title for an experienced film professional acting as a consultant or a title granted as a courtesy to one who makes a major financial, creative or physical contribution to the production.
Script Supervisor: The script supervisor maintains a daily log of the shots covered and their relation to the script during the course of a production, acts as chief continuity person, and acts as an on-set liaison to the post-production staff. They maintain logs of all shots and act as the chief continuity person on set, performing daily cross-referencing with the continuity stills photographer to ensure shots remain accurate and in logical order.
Continuity Stills Photographer: The continuity stills photographer uses a digital still camera to establish continuity referents for each shot covered in a day of shooting. These shots are cross-referenced with the script supervisor’s log for accessibility on set. The continuity stills photographer takes pictures of each shot covered, paying particular attention to the in-point and out-point of a shot – a photograph is taken just before the director says “action,” and immediately after he or she says “cut.”
Director: The director is responsible for overseeing the creative aspects of a film, including controlling the content and flow of the film’s plot, directing the performances of actors, organizing and selecting the locations in which the film will be shot, and managing technical details such as the positioning of cameras, the use of lighting, and the timing and content of the film’s soundtrack. Though the director wields a great deal of power, they are ultimately subordinate to the film’s producer or producers. Some directors, especially more established ones, take on many of the roles of a producer, and the distinction between the two roles is sometimes blurred.
Stunt Coordinator: Where the film requires a stunt, and involves the use of stunt performers, the stunt coordinator will arrange the casting and performance of the stunt, working closely with the director. This includes Fight Choreographers – stunt coordinators who specialize in the casting, design and performance of fight scenes.
Production Designer: A production designer is responsible for creating the physical, visual appearance of the film – settings, costumes, properties, character makeup, all taken as a unit. The production designer works closely with the director and the cinematographer to achieve the ‘look’ of the film.
Director of Photography / Cinematographer: The director of photography is the chief of the camera and lighting crew of the film. The DP makes decisions on lighting and framing of scenes in conjunction with the film’s director. Typically, the director tells the DP how they want a shot to look, and the DP chooses the correct aperture, filter, and lighting to achieve the desired effect.
Camera Operator: The camera operator uses the camera at the direction of the cinematographer / director of photography, or the film director to capture the scenes on film. Generally, a cinematographer or director of photography does not operate the camera, but sometimes these jobs may be combined.
Boom Operator: The boom operator is an assistant to the production sound mixer, responsible for microphone placement and movement during filming. The boom operator uses a boom pole, a long pole made of light aluminum or carbon fiber that allows precise positioning of the microphone above or below the actors, just out of the camera’s frame. The boom operator may also place radio microphones and hidden set microphones.
Film Editor: The film editor is the person who assembles the various shots into a coherent film, with the help of the director.
Sound Designer: The sound designer, or “supervising sound editor”, is in charge of the post-production sound of a movie. Sometimes this may involve great creative license, and other times it may simply mean working with the director and editor to balance the sound to their liking.
Composer: The composer is responsible for writing the musical score for a film.
Foley Artist: The foley artist is the person who creates the sound effects for a film.
Key Makeup Person: The key makeup person applies and maintains the cast’s makeup, working in coordination with the script supervisor and the continuity stills photographer.
Key Hairdresser: The key hairdresser dresses and maintains the cast’s hair, working in coordination with the script supervisor and the continuity stills photographer.
Costume Designer: The costume designer works under the supervision of the director and the art director to design, obtain, assemble, and maintain the costumes for a production. Costume designers develop costuming concepts and the design of costumes in coordination with the art director, production designer, and DP.
This is the crew I am working with, plus the assistants for each member of the crew, caterers and security. I bet no Financier ever had to work with so many people – from a couple of months to a year or more – just to complete one project.
Such is the life of a filmmaker, but I love it and when you see the fruit of the labor of our crew, when Rite of Passage hits the silver screen at the Black Science Fiction Film Festival in February, 2014, you’ll love it – and us – too!
More funk to come. Stay tuned, Steamfunkateers!
If you would like to be a part of the making of this film and live in or near Atlanta, please join us at the Information Session at Georgia Tech Thursday, April 18, 2013; Skiles Building; Room 343 at 11:00 am. We will discuss cast and crew needs, scheduling and benefits to be enjoyed by all involved!
STEAMFUNK FICTION: A Darker Shade of Brown
Readers are asking for more Steamfunk, which is really quite shocking; not because Steamfunk fiction isn’t absolutely funktastic – it is – but because, after reading nearly five-hundred pages chock full o’ funky goodness, I would figure they would need to take a breather and inhale a bit of funk-free air.
Much to my surprise and glee, I was mistaken. “More Steamfunk!” is the cry. Even the august group of authors who contributed their fascinating fables of funkasticity to the anthology has demanded a second volume – Steamfunk II: Dieselfunk.
To tide you over until the final verdict on the production of a second volume is delivered, I offer you a listing of several books that are either Steamfunk, or Steampunk, with a main character of African descent.
Here goes. Enjoy!
And remember: keep it funky!
Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 & 2) by Balogun Ojetade
“I’m gon’ drive the evil out and send it back to Hell, where it belong!” – Harriet Tubman Harriet Tubman: Freedom fighter. Psychic. Soldier. Spy. Something…more. Much more. In “MOSES: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Book 1: Kings * Book 2: Judges)”, the author masterfully transports you to a world of wonder…of horror…of amazing inventions, captivating locales and extraordinary people. In this novel of dark fantasy (with a touch of Steampunk), Harriet Tubman must match wits and power with the sardonic John Wilkes Booth and a team of hunters with powers beyond this world in order to save herself, her teenaged nephew, Ben and a little girl in her care – Margaret. But is anyone who, or what, they seem?
The Switch and The Switch II: Clockwork by Valjeanne Jeffers
Includes The Switch I and The Switch II! York is a city of contradictions. Women are hard-pressed for lovers, because lovemaking can be dangerous. The upper city is powered by computers, the underground by steam. And the wealthy don’t work for a living, underdwellers do it for them. But certain underdwellers have a big problem with this arrangement. And so does the time keeper. Welcome to the Revolution…
Samoht Sivad, sorcerer and warrior, goes missing after a garrison tour. Naheem, his cousin and acting patriarch of the Sivad clan, sets out to find him. His journey puts him on the path of a man who has found a way to seek revenge from beyond his grave.
The Possession introduces the alternate world of the Sivads, a North America whose present is entirely unique from the world in which we live, a land of beauty, diversity…and magic.
In the second Sivad Chronicle adventure, brothers Samoht and Vel find themselves exiled from the Nations by their cousin Naheem for different reasons. They embark on a journey to the Motherland to seek the secrets of their clan and their mysterious power. Naheem sets out to right his cousins’ wrongs while they are away and finds himself in his own adventure, one that will be as dangerous as it is enlightening.
Immortal 4: Collision of Worlds by Valjeanne Jeffers
Rules were broken. Now the price must be paid. “The New World awoke to a roaring wind, light blazed from the mirror—swallowing the planet—a churning, savage vortex. Tundra’s inhabitants cried out, as their flesh bled from their bones like wet clay. The world shuddered. And was still.” The Immortals broke the rules. As punishment, Karla and Joseph are transported to a steam powered realm. Tehotep is now ruler of the empire. Karla is his concubine. Vampires roam the streets. Androids enforce a demon’s will. And there is no way out. Except death…
Steamfunk Issue 0 Written by Eric Doty; Illustrated by Luke McKay
A comic book for all ages, that includes a bit of Steampunk and a pinch of Dieselpunk with Western and Fantasy elements. Its biggest influences are the film, The Wizard of Oz and the television series, Firefly. The “funk” in the title serves a dual purpose, referring to the musical references throughout the story as well as the state of the world the characters exist in. The story follows the adventures of a gutsy delivery girl, Deaux, as she unravels truths that she may not be prepared for.
John Henry: The Steam Age Written and Illustrated by Dwayne Harris
John Henry, a former slave, wasn’t about to let some new-fangled steam hammer replace his ability to earn an honest wage as a steel-driving man. He’d beat that machine, or die with his hammer in his hand. We all know the outcome of that legendary contest. In this alternate history, however, John doesn’t die in his heroic effort, but instead slips into a coma, only to awaken to his worst nightmare. A robotic uprising has occurred, and a new age has dawned – the Steam Age! Now the only thing that can free the human race from the very machines they’ve created is John and his hammer. John Henry: The Steam Age is an exciting re-imagining of the story of John Henry in a steampunk setting.
Clementine by Cherie Priest
Maria Isabella Boyd’s success as a Confederate spy has made her too famous for further espionage work, and now her employment options are slim. Exiled, widowed, and on the brink of poverty…she reluctantly goes to work for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency in Chicago.
Adding insult to injury, her first big assignment is commissioned by the Union Army. In short, a federally sponsored transport dirigible is being violently pursued across the Rockies and Uncle Sam isn’t pleased. The Clementine is carrying a top secret load of military essentials – essentials which must be delivered to Louisville, Kentucky, without delay.
Intelligence suggests that the unrelenting pursuer is a runaway slave who’s been wanted by authorities on both sides of the Mason-Dixon for fifteen years. In that time, Captain Croggon Beauregard Hainey has felonied his way back and forth across the continent, leaving a trail of broken banks, stolen war machines, and illegally distributed weaponry from sea to shining sea.
And now it’s Maria’s job to go get him.
He’s dangerous quarry and she’s a dangerous woman, but when forces conspire against them both, they take a chance and form an alliance. She joins his crew, and he uses her connections. She follows his orders. He takes her advice.
And somebody, somewhere, is going to rue the day he crossed either one of them.
Stay tuned! There is plenty more Steamfunk to come!
The Looming Shadow of Death: The Black Vote in the Age of Steam!
At the time of Ulysses S. Grant’s election to the presidency in 1868, Americans were struggling to reconstruct a nation torn apart by war. Voting rights for freed blacks proved a big problem. Reconstruction Acts passed after the war called for black suffrage in the Southern states, but many – in the South and the North – felt the approach unfair. The Acts did not apply to the North.
Contrary to the perception of the North being a utopian promised land for Black people, 11 of the 21 Northern states did not allow blacks to vote in elections. Most of the Border States, where one-sixth of the nation’s black population resided, also refused to allow blacks to vote.
The Republicans’ answer to the problem of the black vote was the addition of an amendment to the Constitution that guaranteed black suffrage in all states, regardless of the party that controlled the government. Congress spent the days between Grant’s election and his inauguration drafting this new amendment, which would be the 15th one added to the Constitution.
The writers of the Fifteenth Amendment produced three different versions of the document. The first of these prohibited states from denying citizens the vote because of their race, color, or the previous experience of being a slave. The second version prevented states from denying the vote to anyone based on literacy, property, or the circumstances of their birth. The third version stated plainly and directly that all male citizens who were 21 or older had the right to vote.
Determined to pass the amendment, Congress ultimately accepted the first and most moderate of the versions as the one presented for a vote. This took some wrangling in the halls of Congress, however, because many Congressmen felt that the first version did not go far enough, and that it left too many loopholes.
Congress passed the Fifteenth Amendment on February 26, 1869. But some states resisted ratification. At one point, the ratification count stood at 17 Republican states approving the amendment and four Democratic states rejecting it. Congress still needed 11 more states to ratify the amendment before it could become law.
All eyes turned toward those Southern states which had yet to be readmitted to the Union. Acting quickly, Congress ruled that in order to be let into the Union, these states had to accept both the Fifteenth Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment, which granted citizenship to all people born in the United States, including former slaves. Left with no choice, the Southern states ratified the amendments and were restored to statehood.
Finally, on March 30, 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment became part of the Constitution. To many, it felt like the last step of reconstruction. But just as many had predicted, Southerners found ways to prevent blacks from voting. Democrats and Republicans clashed over the right of former slaves to enter civic life an white supremacist vigilante groups like the Ku Klux Klan gained strength as many whites refused to accept blacks as their equals.
Jim Crow – the racial caste system and series of rigid anti-black laws that operated primarily, but not exclusively, in Southern and Border States, between 1877 and the mid-1960s – was a way of life. Under Jim Crow, African Americans were relegated to the status of second class citizens.
During this era, many Christian ministers and theologians taught that whites were the Chosen people, and that blacks – all victims of the curse of Noah’s son Ham – were cursed to be drawers of water and hewers of wood (i.e. servants).
Craniologists, eugenicists, phrenologists, and Social Darwinists, at every educational level, buttressed the belief that blacks were, by nature, intellectually and culturally inferior to whites. Politicians gave eloquent speeches on the great danger of integration – the mongrelization of the white race. Newspaper and magazine writers routinely referred to blacks as niggers, coons, and darkies; and their articles reinforced anti-black stereotypes. All major societal institutions reflected and supported the oppression of Black people.
Under Jim Crow, the following “norms” were enforced:
A black boy or man could not shake hands with a white male because it implied being socially equal. And if a black boy or man dared to offer his hand or any other part of his body to a white woman, he risked being accused of – and hanged, castrated or beaten to death for – rape.
Blacks and whites were not supposed to eat together. If they did eat together, whites were to be served first, and some sort of partition was to be placed between them.
Under no circumstance was a black man to offer to light the cigarette of a white woman – a gesture considered an implication of intimacy.
Blacks were not allowed to show public affection toward one another because it offended whites.
Jim Crow etiquette prescribed that blacks were introduced to whites, never whites to blacks. For example: “Mr. Sam (the white person), this is Cleophus (the black person), that I spoke to you about.”
Whites did not use courtesy titles of respect when referring to blacks – Mr., Mrs., Miss., Sir, or Ma’am was never used. Instead, blacks were called by their first names. However, blacks had to use courtesy titles when referring to whites, and were not allowed to call them by their first names.
If a black person rode in a car driven by a white person, the black person sat in the back seat, or the back of a truck.
White motorists had the right-of-way at all intersections.
In conversing with whites, Black people were to follow these simple rules:
Never assert or even intimate that a white person is lying.
Never impute dishonorable intentions to a white person.
Never suggest that a white person is from an inferior class.
Never lay claim to, or overly demonstrate, superior knowledge or intelligence.
Never curse a white person.
Never laugh derisively at a white person.
Never comment upon the appearance of a white female.
In 1890, Louisiana passed the “Separate Car Law,” which purported to aid passenger comfort by creating “equal but separate” cars for blacks and whites. This was a ruse. No public accommodations, including railway travel, provided blacks with equal facilities. The Louisiana law made it illegal for blacks to sit in coach seats reserved for whites, and whites could not sit in seats reserved for blacks. In 1891, a group of blacks decided to test the Jim Crow law. They had Homer A. Plessy, who was seven-eighths white and one-eighth black (therefore, black), sit in the white-only railroad coach. He was arrested. Plessy’s lawyer argued that Louisiana did not have the right to label one citizen as white and another black for the purposes of restricting their rights and privileges. The Supreme Court stated that so long as state governments provided legal process and legal freedoms for blacks, equal to those of whites, they could maintain separate institutions to facilitate these rights. The Court, by a 7-2 vote, upheld the Louisiana law, declaring that racial separation did not necessarily mean an abrogation of equality.
In practice, the tragic process that came to be known as Plessy, represented the legitimization of two societies: one white, and advantaged; the other, black, disadvantaged and despised.
Blacks were denied the right to vote by grandfather clauses – laws that restricted the right to vote to people whose ancestors had voted before the Civil War – by poll taxes – fees charged to poor blacks who desired to vote – white primaries – only Democrats could vote; only whites could be Democrats – and literacy tests in which you could only vote if you could name all the Vice Presidents and Supreme Court Justices throughout America’s history.
Jim Crow states passed statutes severely regulating social interactions between the races. Jim Crow signs were placed above water fountains, door entrances and exits, and in front of public facilities. There were separate hospitals for blacks and whites, separate prisons, separate public and private schools, separate churches, separate cemeteries, separate public restrooms, and separate public accommodations. In most instances, the black facilities were grossly inferior — generally, older, less-well-kept. In other cases, there were no black facilities — no Colored public restroom, no public beach, no place to sit or eat. Plessy gave Jim Crow states a legal way to ignore their constitutional obligations to their black citizens.
Blacks who violated Jim Crow norms – such as drinking from the white water fountain or trying to vote – risked their homes, jobs and even their lives. Whites could physically beat blacks with impunity. Blacks had little legal recourse against these assaults because the Jim Crow criminal justice system – the police, prosecutors, judges, juries, and prison officials – was all white.
Lynchings were public murders carried out by mobs. Between 1882, when the first reliable data were collected, and 1968, when lynchings had become rare, there were 4,730 known lynchings; 3,440 of those were of black men and women. Most of the victims of these lynchings were hanged or shot, but many were burned at the stake, castrated, beaten with clubs, or dismembered.
In the mid-1800s, whites constituted the majority of victims, as well as perpetrators, of lynching. However, by the period of Reconstruction, blacks became the most frequent lynching victims. This is an early indication that lynching was used as an intimidation tool to keep the newly freed blacks, “in their places.”
The great majority of lynchings occurred in Southern and Border States, where the resentment against blacks ran deepest. The southern states accounted for nine-tenths of lynchings. More than two thirds of the remaining one-tenth occurred in the six states which immediately border the South.
Under Jim Crow any and all sexual interactions between black men and white women was illegal, illicit, socially repugnant, and within the Jim Crow definition of rape. Although only 19.2 percent of the lynching victims between 1882 and 1951 were even accused of rape, lynching was often supported by the popular belief that such sadistic murder was necessary to protect white women from black rapists. In fact, most blacks were lynched for demanding civil rights, violating Jim Crow etiquette or laws, or in the aftermath of race riots.
Lynchings were most common in small and middle-sized towns where blacks often were economic competitors to local whites. These whites resented any economic and political gains made by blacks. Members of lynch mobs were seldom arrested, and if arrested, rarely convicted, as at least one-half of the lynchings were carried out with police officers participating in them, and in nine-tenths of the others, the officers condoned the mob action.
Lynching served many purposes: it was cheap entertainment; it served as a rallying, uniting point for whites; it functioned as an ego-boost for low-income, low-status whites; it was a method of defending white domination and it helped stop or retard the fledgling social equality movement.
Many blacks resisted the indignities of Jim Crow, and, far too often, we paid for our bravery with our lives.
Today, we are able to vote without fear of reprisal; without the looming shadow of death that stood at our flanks during the Age of Steam.
Thus, I enjoin you to exercise your right to vote – for me – for my re-examination and re-imagining of the Age of Steam, as I am nominated for Best Blog and for Best Multicultural Steampunk in the 2013 Steampunk Chronicle Readers’ Choice Awards.
Let’s bring some funk to the SPC Awards in 2013!