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!
DIESELFUNK DEBUTS DURING BLACK HISTORY MONTH & AT ANACHROCON!
Last year, in celebration of Black History Month, author and publisher Milton Davis and Yours Truly released the history-making, ground breaking and earth shaking anthology Steamfunk, through Milton’s publishing company, MVmedia.
We unveiled Steamfunk at AnachroCon - the premier Historical Reenactment, Alternate History and Steampunk convention in the South – and the reception was amazing. Steamfunk has since gone on to be a bestseller for MVmedia and is even studied in colleges and universities throughout America.
This year, AnachroCon’s theme is Dieselpunk – a sub-genre of Science Fiction and Fantasy that includes – but is not limited to, or bound by – the aesthetics, style and philosophies of film noir and pulp fiction.
Dieselpunk features retrofuturistic innovations, alternate history and elements of the occult.
Think the movies Captain America: The First Avenger; Sin City; Hell Boy; the Indiana Jones films and The Mummy (1999 – 2008) trilogy.
When the Dieselpunk theme for 2014 was announced at AnachroCon’s closing ceremonies last year, I was tickled because I had already planned to release the first Dieselfunk novel in history in early 2014. Thus, The Scythe will debut at this year’s AnachroCon!
What, exactly, is Dieselfunk, you ask?
Dieselfunk is fiction, film and fashion that combines the style and mood Dieselpunk with Afrofuturistic inspiration.
Dieselfunk tells the exciting untold stories of people of African descent during the Jazz Age.
Think the Harlem Renaissance meets Science Fiction…think Chalky White (from Boardwalk Empire) doing battle with robots run amok in his territory… think Mob bosses; Nazis; flappers. Jazz; bootleggers; Bessie Coleman; Marcus Garvey; the Tulsa Race Riots…that is Dieselfunk!
Since Dieselfunk is so wrapped up in Black History, it is the perfect type of writing to release during Black History Month.
For those who just can’t wait until February 14 to get your copy of The Scythe and you just gotta know what it is about, here is a sneak peek at the blurb on the books back cover:
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!”
And The Scythe is just the beginning for Dieselfunk. Milton Davis and I have discussed publishing the Dieselfunk anthology as a follow up to the popular Steamfunk anthology and The Scythe II will release at the end of this year.
Join me at AnachroCon February 14-16 and I will be happy to autograph your copy of The Scythe for you. If you can’t make it to AnachroCon this year, buy the book anyway and treat yourself to a great read.
Of course, I’ll still sign it for you whenever I see you, ‘cause we cool like that.
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.
STEAMFUNK AIRSHIP PILOTS: Black Aviators in the Diesel Age
In this instance of the League of Extraordinary Black People Series, Steamfunk would actually be a misnomer as the first known Black pilots of an airship flew during the Diesel Age, thus these are actually Dieselfunk Airship Pilots, but I figured with Steamfunk picking up…well…steam and Rococoa on the cusp of becoming a movement – especially with the upcoming Mahogany Masquerade, which will feature Steamfunk and Rococoa and the Black Caesar graphic novel, coming in 2014 from Yours Truly and the brilliant artist, Kristopher Mosby – I figured I would wait to start pushing Dieselfunk until we open submissions to the Steamfunk II: Dieselfunk anthology, so Steamfunk Airship Pilots it is.
Many people know of the Tuskegee Airmen – especially since George Lucas’ Red Tails soared onto the silver screen – and their long list of accomplishments over the skies of Europe during the second World War.
The Tuskegee Airmen flew in the segregated 99th Pursuit Squadron and successfully completed several high-risk missions. By the end of WWII, they were the most requested squadron for bomber escort and when the United States Air Force became its own separate entity after World War II, segregation in the Armed forces had completely ended and fighter pilots of all races flew in the same squadrons.
But the Tuskegee Airmen were not the first Black fighter pilots and most certainly not the first Black aviators. There were a few Black fighter pilots in The Great War, now also known as World War I.
So grab your goggles, throw on that bomber jacket and climb into the cockpit of the airship Sweet Chariot with me as we get a bird’s-eye view of those pilots – and other great Black aviators – below:
Eugene J. Bullard
Born in 1894, in the rural South, Bullard grew tired of the racist and oppressive treatment he suffered at the hands of whites and in 1913, at the age of 19, he caught a boat going to Scotland, and then later took up residence in Paris, France.
Bullard made a good life for himself as a boxer and as a musician before joining the French Foreign Legion at the start of WWI.
Bullard did well in the Legion and served with distinction. He later transferred to the Service Aeronautique and eventually came to serve as a Spad pilot in Escadrille SPA 93 and SPA 85. His accomplishments in the Lafayette Flying Corps – the name given to the American volunteer pilots who flew for the French during World War I – include flying over 20 combat missions and two confirmed kills.
The United States, who entered the war in 1917, sought to recruit some of the Americans that were already flying for the Lafayette Flying Corps. Bullard passed the medical examination, but was denied the opportunity to fly for the United States Army Air Corps because he was Black.
When The Great War ended, Bullard returned to France and enjoyed life as a Paris socialite.
When Nazi Germany invaded France, Bullard found himself on the run. He managed to escape France and returned to the United States. Unfortunately, shortly after his arrival, he was subjected to an even more brutal brutal system of oppression than the one he had escaped.
Bullard was never given the respect and admiration in the United States that he had in Europe and he grew ill from the stress. In 1961, he died of stomach cancer.
He is credited with one confirmed victory and two probables in 1916. According to the book, The Imperial Russian Air Service by Durkota, Darcey and Kulikov, this made him a two-time recipient of The Order of St. George for his actions and the first Black aviator credited with shooting down an aircraft in combat, as his victory precedes Bullard’s.
Pliat, born in 1890, was born in Tahiti – known, at the time, as French Polynesia – but at the age of seventeen, moved to Russia with his mother, a nurse, and became a volunteer in the Russian Air Force.
Originally, Pliat served in the Russian Army as a driver, but was soon transferred to the Imperial Air Force, where he performed dual responsibilities as motor mechanic and gunner.
On April 13, 1916, Pliat took part in an air raid on the fortified German flak station, Daudzevas. The aircraft and crew of the Sikorsky Il’ya Muromets took major damage from bullets and shrapnel. Knowing the plane would soon crash, Pliat climbed out of the plane and onto the wing, remained there for nearly an hour, repairing the plane’s damaged engines.
Due to Pliat’s actions, the Ilya Muromets was able to land, despite suffering seventy bullet holes in its body, wings and engines. Pliat was awarded the title of senior non-commissioned officer.
In early November of 1916, Pliat, regarded as an experienced and skilled marksman, requested – and was rewarded – the tail gunner position upon the sophisticated Muromtsev bomber. During a mission in that same month, Pliat proved his skill by shooting down a reported three German fighter planes.
Unfortunately, the fate of Marcel Pliat after November 1916, is unknown as most records of the Imperial Air Force were destroyed when the Bolsheviks came into power in 1917.
Ahmet Ali Celikten
Born in 1883 in Smyrna (present day İzmir), Celikten’s mother Zenciye Emine Hanım, was of Yoruba ancestry and his father, Ali Bey, of Afro-Arab ancestry.
Celikten aimed to become a naval sailor and entered the Naval Technical School, Haddehâne Mektebi in 1904.
In 1908, he graduated as a First Lieutenant (“Mülâzım-ı evvel”) and then went to aviation courses in the Naval Flight School (“Deniz Tayyare Mektebi”), earning his wings in 1914 at Yeşilköy, which makes Celikten the first Black military pilot in aviation history.
At twelve years old, Coleman began attending the Missionary Baptist Church in Texas and, after graduating, embarked on a journey to Oklahoma to attend the Oklahoma Colored Agricultural and Normal University (Langston University), where she completed only one term due to financial constraints.
In 1915, at 23 years of age, Coleman moved to Chicago, where she lived with her brothers and worked as a manicurist.
Not long after her move to Chicago, Coleman began listening to and reading stories of World War I pilots, which sparked her interest in aviation.
Because flying schools in the United States denied her entry, she taught herself French, moved to France and enrolled in the well-known Caudron Brother’s School of Aviation.
In 1922, After just seven months of training, Coleman broke barriers and became the world’s first Black woman to earn a pilot’s license.
Desiring to start a flying school for African Americans when she returned to the U.S., Coleman used her aerial skills to earn money, entertaining crowds with her amazing stunt flying, parachuting, barnstorming and aerial tricks. Also in 1922, Coleman broke yet another barrier, performing the first public flight by an African-American woman in the United States.
Tragically, on April 30, 1926, Coleman was killed in an accident during a rehearsal for an aerial show. She was only 33 years old.
Black flyers founded the Bessie Coleman Aero Clubs, right after her death and the famed The Bessie Aviators organization was founded by Black women pilots in 1975.
In 1990, Chicago renamed a road near O’Hare International Airport for Bessie Coleman. That same year, St. Louis’ International Airport unveiled a mural honoring Black Americans in Flight, including Bessie Coleman.
In 1995, the U.S. Postal Service honored Bessie Coleman with a commemorative stamp.
In October, 2002, Bessie Coleman was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in New York.
J. Herman Banning
And he was right.
Banning studied electrical engineering at Iowa State College for a little more than a year after which he became “air-minded.” He took up lessons, learning to fly at Raymond Fisher’s Flying Field in Des Moines, Iowa and obtained his aviator license from the U. S. Dept. of Commerce.
Banning operated the J. H. Banning Auto Repair Shop in Ames from 1922 to 1928 but in 1929, left Ames to live in Los Angeles, where he became the chief pilot for the Bessie Coleman Aero Club.
Banning and another Black pilot, Thomas C. Allen became the first Black pilots to fly coast-to-coast – from Los Angeles to Long Island, NY – in 1932. Using a plane pieced together from junkyard parts, they made the 3,300 mile trip in less than 42 hours aloft. However, the trip actually required 21 days to complete because the pilots had to raise money each time they stopped.
Banning was a passenger in a biplane, sitting in the front open cockpit without controls, during a San Diego air show. The Navy pilot at the controls, trying to impress his more accomplished passenger, pulled the nose of the tiny plane up into a steep climb. The plane stalled and fell into a fatal spin in front of hundreds of horrified spectators.
Oscar Wayman Holmes
Oscar Wayman Holmes, who never really thought of himself as a pioneer, actually broke three color barriers, becoming the first African American air traffic controller in 1941 and a year later becoming the first commissioned Black officer in the U.S. Navy and the first Black Navy pilot.
Holmes never set out to break down racial barriers – he just wanted to fly.
Born on January 31, 1916, in Dunbar, West Virginia, Holmes attended a segregated school in nearby Charleston. Upon graduating from Garnet High School in 1932, he entered West Virginia State College, a land-grant institution for Black citizens of segregated West Virginia and earned a B.S. in chemistry in 1936.
With a graduate assistantship funded by the National Youth Administration, Holmes earned a M.S. in chemistry from Ohio State University three years later.
A superb student, Holmes’ graduate research became the basis for a coauthored article in the Journal of the American Chemical Society – a rare feat for a master’s student. Although he later claimed to hate chemistry, Holmes taught the subject for three years at Claflin College in Orangeburg, South Carolina.
Tired of the low paying teaching job, he subsequently found a part-time position as a water and fuel analyst for a power company in Erie, Pennsylvania.
While in Erie, Holmes entered the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP). Established in 1939 by the federal government, the CPTP introduced young Americans to aviation. Holmes successfully completed the program and earned his private pilot’s certificate. Shortly thereafter, he spotted a civil service job announcement at the Erie post office that put him on the path to a new career. The Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) was looking for air traffic controller applicants with a college degree and a private pilot’s license.
In 1941, once he completed his training, the CAA offered Holmes a position as an assistant controller at the New York airway traffic control center with an annual salary of $1,800 per year. After he accepted the position, the CAA required Holmes to fill out a questionnaire that included a question on race.
Although he got the job and excelled in it, he was denied a promotion due to his race. Frustrated by this, Holmes applied to the U.S. Navy in 1942. The Navy was offering commissions to men who had pilots’ licenses and 100 hours of flying time to train as flight instructors and ferry pilots.
Although he did not have the requisite flying time, Holmes applied and soon had an ensign’s commission. The Navy did not know it had commissioned an African-American because of Holmes’ light complexion (The Navy did not knowingly commission a Black officer until March 1944.)
At Colgate University, where the Navy had enrolled Holmes in the War Training Service Program, newly commissioned officers had to submit, among other things, a birth certificate. At this point, Holmes later explained, “they realized they now had commissioned a Negro in their Navy . . . They didn’t know what to do about it, and I suppose rather than make a fuss . . . and try to get rid of me they said, ‘Oh, we’ve got him now, we’ll just let him stay.’”
Finishing flight instructor training at the New Orleans Naval Air Station, Holmes became the first Black flying officer. The Navy assigned him first to sit on the Aviation Cadet Selection Board and then in 1944 as a ferry pilot for the Naval Air Transport Service, Air Ferry Squadron III. The Navy treated Holmes as any other officer, which was unique at the time since the military was segregated. Black sailors served in the “Black” Navy, and Black aviators in the Army Air Corps served in segregated units and were not allowed in officers’ clubs. As Holmes explained, “The Navy knew I was black, and I knew I was black, but not many other people knew it.”
After the war, Holmes returned to his job at the CAA’s New York airway traffic center, finally receiving his promotion as well as a second promotion six months later. In 1950, he became a senior controller. While at his job in New York, Holmes attended Brooklyn Law School as a part-time student. He graduated with a bachelor of laws (LL.B.) degree in 1954. He earned a master of laws (LL.M.) the following year. Admitted to the New York State bar, he opened a part-time law practice. He gave up his practice when he accepted a position at the Federal Aviation Agency’s headquarters in June 1959. There he advanced his career and retired as a GS-15 hearing officer in 1973.
The Tuskegee Airmen
Due to racial discrimination, African-American servicemen were not allowed to learn to fly until 1941, when African American college graduates were selected for what the Army called “an experiment” – the creation of the segregated 99th Fighter Squadron, which trained at an airfield adjacent to Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute.
The experiment involved training Black pilots and ground support members who originally formed the 99th Pursuit Squadron. The squadron, quickly dubbed the Tuskegee Airmen, was activated on March 22, 1941, and redesignated as the 99th Fighter Squadron on May 15, 1942.
For every Black pilot in the Tuskegee Airmen, there were ten Black civilian, officer and enlisted men and women on ground support duty.
Charles Alfred Anderson, one of the first African-American’s to earn his pilot’s license, became the first flight instructor when the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP) was organized at Tuskegee Institute in October 1939. The army decided to model its training program on the CPTP and hired Anderson to teach the Tuskegee pilots.
When Eleanor Roosevelt visited Tuskegee Army Air Field in 1941, she insisted on taking a ride in an airplane with a Black pilot at the controls. Roosevelt’s pilot was Charles Anderson. She then insisted that her flight with Anderson be photographed and the film developed immediately so that she could take the photographs back to Washington when she left the field. Roosevelt used this photograph as part of her campaign to convince her husband, President F.D. Roosevelt, to activate the participation of the Tuskegee Airmen in North Africa and in the European Theater and in June 1943, the Tuskegee Airmen entered into combat over North Africa.
The Airmen exemplified courage, skill and dedication in combat. They flew P-39-, P-40-, P-47- and P-51-type aircraft in more than 15,000 sorties, completing over 1,500 missions during the war. They never lost an escorted bomber to enemy fighters, a record no other escort unit could claim.
When the war ended, the Tuskegee Airmen returned home with one hundred and fifty Distinguished Flying Crosses, Legions of Merit and the Red Star of Yugoslavia. The group was deactivated in May 1946 but its success would contribute to the eventual integration of the United States military in 1948.
“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.”
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 email@example.com.
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!
DO BLACK PEOPLE REALLY DO THIS STUFF? First, Steamfunk; Now, Rococoa!
During last year’s wildly popular Mahogany Masquerade: An Evening of Steamfunk and Film, I inquired about the era that sits between Sword and Soul – the subgenre of African-inspired epic and heroic fantasy that is usually set before colonization – and Steamfunk, which normally takes place between 1837 and 1901. I asked if anyone had a name for that time because it is a time that fascinates me – a time of revolution (in particular, the Haitian Revolution); a time of pirates and swashbucklers; a time of reverence for art and science.
No one at the event had a name for the era, however, everyone agreed the time possessed that “cool factor” found in Steamfunk and Sword and Soul.
Curious by nature and a researcher by choice, I immediately began my quest of discovery, fueled by my determination to find a name for this era that fascinated me so.
After a brief bit of research, I stumbled upon Rococo…and, to my surprise, Rococopunk.
Rococo is derived from the French word rocaille, originally meaning the bits of rocky decoration sometimes found in 16th-century architectural schemes. It was first used in its modern sense around 1800, at about the same time as baroque, and, like baroque, was initially a pejorative term.
The earliest rococo forms appeared around 1700 at Versailles and its surrounding châteaux as a reaction against the oppressive formality of French classical-baroque in those buildings. In 1701 a suite of rooms at Versailles, including the king’s bedroom, was redecorated in a new, lighter, and more graceful style by the royal designer, Pierre Lepautre (1648-1716).
In the world of painting, Rococo style is characterized by delicate colors, many decorative details, and a graceful and intimate mood. Similarly, music in the Rococo style is homophonic and light in texture, melodic, and elaborately ornamented. In France, the term for this was style galant (gallant or elegant style) and, in Germany, empfindsamer stil (sensitive style). François Couperin, in France, and two of the sons of Johann Sebastian Bach – Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and Johann Christian Bach – in Germany, were important composers of music in the Rococo style.
Rococopunk is – like Dieselpunk – a sibling of Steampunk, set in the earlier Renaissance era, primarily in the high-class French community of the time. Participants in this movement wear outlandish makeup and hairstyles and sport bold, brightly colored clothing. Think Amadeus, Pirates of the Caribbean, or The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. For darker Rococopunk – think Last of the Mohicans, Perfume: The Story of A Murderer, Brotherhood of the Wolf, or Sleepy Hollow.
Okay, I had a name for the era. Now, I needed to come up with a name to define the Black expression of Rococopunk; a name to define the subgenre so that – as author and publisher Milton Davis says of Steamfunk and Sword and Soul – “when you hear or read ‘Steamfunk’ or ‘Sword and Soul’, you know exactly what you’re getting.”
Before I could come up with a name myself, the brilliant Briaan L. Barron, artist and owner of Bri-Dimensional Images and recent graduate from Sarah Lawrence College, did it for me with her release of the animated documentary, Steamfunk and Rococoa: A Black Victorian Fantasy. While there is not much talk of Rococo or Rococopunk in the documentary – it is mainly about Steampunk and Steamfunk and features Diana Pho of Beyond Victoriana and Yours Truly – the spelling, Rococoa, was perfect!
So, with a smile on my face, I now sit down to write Rococoa stories. Stories I will enjoy writing and hopefully you will enjoy reading.
Steamfunk now has a sibling.
THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY BLACK PEOPLE: Black Folk Heroes in the Age of Steam!
A folk hero is a type of hero who gains this status based on personal achievement or some action which is recognized by others as revolutionary.
The one crucial trait that every folk hero must possess is widespread recognition of the person as being heroic. Many people commit acts of kindness or generosity but that alone does not make them a folk hero. When society is able to recognize an important figure by their name, personality, or deeds – and those deeds are deemed heroic by a large group of people – then that figure has achieved the status of folk hero.
In this post, we continue with the League of Extraordinary Black People Series and explore Black Folk Heroes in the Age of Steam!
High John the Conqueror
John the Conqueror – also known as High John the Conqueror, John de Conquer, John the Conqueroo and John D. Konkeroo – was an African prince who was sold as a slave in the Americas. Despite his enslavement, his spirit was never broken and because of the tricks he played to evade the back breaking labor and punishments inflicted by his cruel masters, he survived, in folklore, as a revered trickster figure.
In the Rite of Passage Steamfunk universe, he is the mayor of the town of Nicodemus, Kansas, an extraordinary little town, which is protected by four extraordinary guardians who possess extraordinary abilities.
In fact, every inhabitant of the town is, in some way extraordinary, however, among the inhabitants, John and the Guardians are the most powerful, feared and revered of them all.
Joel Chandler Harris’s ‘Br’er Rabbit’, of the Uncle Remus stories, is said to be patterned after High John the Conqueror. Zora Neale Hurston wrote of his adventures (“High John de Conquer”) in her collection of folklore, The Sanctified Church. She also makes reference to him in her novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God.
In one traditional John the Conqueror story told by Virginia Hamilton, John falls in love with the Devil’s daughter. The Devil sets John a number of impossible tasks: he must clear sixty acres (25 ha) of land in half a day, and then sow it with corn and reap it in the other half a day. The Devil’s daughter furnishes John with a magical axe and plow that get these impossible tasks done, but warns John that her father the Devil means to kill him even if he performs them. John and the Devil’s daughter steal the Devil’s own horses; the Devil pursues them, but they escape his clutches by shape-shifting.
In High John De Conquer, Zora Neale Hurston reports that: like King Arthur of England, he has served his people. And, like King Arthur, he is not dead. He waits to return when his people shall call him again … High John de Conquer went back to Africa, but he left his power here, which dwells in the root of a certain plant. Possess that root, and he can be summoned at any time.
Clever, strong, and independent, High John the Conqueror is a child of the merging cultures of Africa and America, and – true to his trickster ways – although John is an Afrikan man in bondage, he exhibits all the qualities of an ideal American.
Railroad Bill was an African American outlaw whose action-packed career on the wrong side of the law has been preserved in music, fiction, and theater. He has been variously portrayed as a Robin Hood character, a murderous criminal, a shape shifter, and a nameless victim of the Jim Crow South.
While his identity has never been conclusively identified, it is believed by railroad detectives that he was a man named Morris Slater, but residents of Brewton, Alabama disagree, believing him to be a man named Bill McCoy, who was shot – and erroneously believed killed – by local law enforcement.
In early 1895, an armed vagrant began riding the L&N railroad’s boxcars between Flomaton and Mobile, earning the nickname “Railroad Bill,” or sometimes just “Railroad,” from the trainmen who had trouble detaining the rifle-wielding hitchhiker.
On March 6, 1895, railroad employees attempted to restrain a man they found sleeping on a water tank along the railroad. The man fired on them and escaped into the woods after hijacking a train car. This incident sparked a manhunt by railroad company detectives that led a posse to Bay Minette on April 6, 1895. When detectives confronted an armed man there, he opened fire. Baldwin County Deputy Sheriff James H. Stewart was killed in the ensuing gunfight and Railroad Bill evaded capture again.
Deputy Stewart’s killing by this mysterious, elusive and deadly Black man incurred the full wrath of law enforcement and the media. A notice for a $500 reward posted in Mobile identified him as Morris Slater, a convict-lease worker who in 1893 had fled from a turpentine camp in Bluff Springs, Florida, after killing a lawman. Slater had been nicknamed “Railroad Time” for his rapid work pace. Railroad Bill crossed into Florida where, on July 4, 1895, Brewton Sheriff E. S. McMillan tracked him to a house near Bluff Springs. As the sheriff approached the dwelling, the fugitive opened fire and disappeared into the woods, leaving McMillan fatally wounded.
The killing of Sheriff McMillan marked a turning point and greatly expanded the efforts of both Alabama and Florida in hunting down Railroad Bill.
Despite a massive increase in manpower, the outlaw remained at large, robbing trains and selling goods to impoverished people for prices lower than the local merchant stores and, of course, engaging in an occasional shoot-out with lawmen and L&N Railroad authorities.
And the legend of Railroad Bill grew.
Many Black people admired his courage and audacity. Some people attributed supernatural powers to Railroad Bill, maintaining that he was able to evade capture by changing into animal form and that he was only vulnerable to silver bullets. Other tales said that Railroad Bill had the power to disable the tracking abilities of the bloodhounds on his trail.
The author Carl Carmer, in The Hurricane’s Children: Tales from Your Neck o’ the Woods, describes a lawman chasing Railroad Bill:
So the sheriff decided Railroad Bill must be hiding under the low bushes in the clearing and he began looking around. Pretty soon he started a little red fox that lit out through the woods. The sheriff let go with both barrels of his shotgun, but he missed. After the second shot the little red fox turned about and laughed at him a high, wild, hearty laugh – and the sheriff recognized it. That little fox was Railroad Bill.
By the summer of 1895, the L&N Railroad, the state of Alabama, the state of Florida, the town of Brewton, and Escambia County had pooled together a reward of $1,250 for Railroad Bill’s capture. A host of bounty hunters from places as far away as Texas and Indiana descended on southwestern Alabama and the western swamps of Florida. They were joined by operatives of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, L&N detectives, lawmen, and vigilante posses.
Soon, a small army – numbering over one hundred men loaded for bear – were after the legendary killer / “Black Robin Hood”.
The hunt for Railroad Bill persisted until March 7, 1896, when a man was gunned down by a host of law enforcement officials at Tidmore and Ward’s General Store in Atmore, AL, a depot town along the L&N.
Some say that authorities surprised and killed the man as he sat on an oak barrel eating cheese and crackers. Other accounts say that he engaged the lawmen in a shoot-out in front of the store, and still others contend that he walked into a trap at Tidmore and Ward’s.
Railroad Bill’s body was placed on public view in Brewton, AL and crowds of curious spectators gathered to get a glimpse. Many Brewton residents recognized the man as Bill McCoy, a local man who had threatened local saw-mill owner T. R. Miller with a knife at around the same time Morris Slater was working in the turpentine camp in Florida. Souvenir hunters paid 50 cents for a picture of Constable J. L. McGowan, believed to have fired the fatal shot, standing, rifle in hand, over the corpse of Railroad Bill strapped to a wooden plank. After a few days in Brewton, the body was taken by train to Montgomery and later to Pensacola, Florida, for public display. So many people came to see Railroad Bill in Montgomery that authorities charged an admission fee of 25 cents. His body’s final resting place is unknown.
Railroad Bill was a symbol of the racial and economic divide in the post-Reconstruction Deep South. During this period of increasing legal segregation in Alabama and the rest of the South, the hunt for Railroad Bill became a theatrical saga in local newspapers. The outlaw’s legacy has been passed down through generations in many cultural representations. Railroad Bill blues ballads began circulating in the early twentieth century and several blues singers have used “Railroad Bill” as a stage name. In 1981, the Labor Theater in New York City produced the musical play Railroad Bill by C. R. Portz.
In the Rite of Passage universe, Railroad Bill is a resident of Nicodemus under the guise of mayor John D. Konkeroo’s Chief of Staff, Henry Turnipseed.
The character gained prominence in a comic strip and the Chicago Defender newspaper in the early 1930s.
Bud Billiken is the Black leader of The Billiken family of spirits who are responsible for things as they ought to be; so when Steampunks refer to Steampunk as “Victorian life as it should have been”, they are speaking to life under the guidance of the Billiken.
In the Rite of Passage universe, “Bud Billkens”, along with Harriet Tubman’s pupil, Dorothy Wright, teaches at Nicodemus’ only school.
The Billiken were made into charm dolls, created by American art teacher and illustrator, Florence Pretz of St. Louis, Missouri, who is said to have seen the mysterious figure in a dream. In 1908, she obtained a design patent on the ornamental design of the Billiken, who was elf-like with pointed ears, a mischievous smile and a tuft of hair on his pointed head. His arms were short and he sat with his legs stretched out in front of him. To buy a Billiken was said to give the purchaser luck, but to have one given would be even better luck. The image was copyrighted and a trademark was put on the name.
Today, the Billiken is the official mascot of Saint Louis University and St. Louis University High School, both Jesuit institutions, and both located in St. Louis.
The Billiken is also the official mascot of the Royal Order of Jesters, an invitation only Shriner group, affiliated with Freemasonry.
Every year, on the second Saturday in August, there is a huge parade and picnic held in Chicago in honor of Bud Billiken that focuses on the betterment of Chicago Black youth. The Bud Billiken Parade is the second largest – and largest African American – parade in the United States.
John Henry was born a slave in the 1840s or 1850s in North Carolina or Virginia. He grew to stand 6 feet tall, 200 pounds – a heavily muscled man. He had an immense appetite, and an even greater capacity for work. He carried a beautiful baritone voice, and was a favorite banjo player to all who knew him.
His story, now legendary, was told mostly through ballads and work songs, traveling from coast to coast along with the railroads, which drove west during the 19th Century.
“You speak of John Henry as if he was real!” You say.
That’s because he was.
There are actually two John Henrys – the man and the legend surrounding him.
John Henry was an ex-slave from Holly Springs, Mississippi who took his former master’s surname, Dabney, or Dabner, according to some records.
It is known that a Captain Frederick Yeamans Dabney was Chief Engineer for the Columbus & Western Railway Company during the construction of their line between Goodwater, Alabama, and Birmingham in 1887-88. Dabney was a Rensselaer-educated civil engineer who made a career of railroad design and construction. Captain Dabney’s father owned eight slaves, one named John Henry, born in 1844. He would have been 43 years old when John Henry allegedly died in 1887 – a reasonable age for a champion steel driver.
In addition, there is a strong local tradition among Central of Georgia Railroad employees and around Leeds, Alabama, that a John Henry raced a steam drill and died just outside the east portal of Oak Mountain Tunnel, between Oak and Coosa Mountain Tunnels.
In the anthology Steamfunk, I write John Henry as a prisoner who agrees to work the railroad for a lesser sentence in the story Rite of Passage: Blood & Iron. This is closer to the truth than the notion of John Henry working for his beloved railroad in order to make a better life for himself and his family.
Evidence of this is in the prison songs that sing the praises of the “steel drivin’ man”. These songs are sung to hammer blows. The last verse says: “They took John Henry to the White House, and they buried him in the sand, and every locomotive comes roarin’ by says there lies a steel drivin’ man.”
Strange that a brother was brought to the White House during that era. Stranger still is sand at the White House and locomotives “roarin by”, as there is no railroad near the White House.
Strangest of all, however, is the fact that the term “White House” wasn’t used for the executive office until Teddy Roosevelt became president in 1901.
White House is a term that refers to the penitentiary, which was commonly built near railroads and were often “paved” with sand.
During John Henry’s time, convicts were commonly used to do construction for the railroad; you find steam drills side by side with these convicts and you find that the tunnel they worked on primarily was the Lewis Tunnel.
The real story of John Henry is grimmer than the one in song; uglier.
The C&O railroad wanted to get these tunnels dug; it had to get these tunnels dug by 1872 if it was to be granted the rights to the whole run from Richmond to the Ohio River. So, they bought up all scores of convicts; and they bought up several steam drills.
John Henry and all the other prisoners were forced to work on those tunnels, and nearly everyone who was forced to work on them died in the space of five or six years…not from exertion but from acute silicosis – they inhaled toxic crystalline dust from the rock.
With each breath, the poor workers drew crystalline death into their lungs. So, it probably wasn’t the race that killed John Henry, but the disease he suffered after he was forced to work the tunnels.
The legend says that John Henry was hired as a steel-driver for the C&O Railroad, a wealthy company that extended its line from the Chesapeake Bay to the Ohio Valley. Steel drivers, also known as a hammer man, would spend their workdays driving holes into rock by hitting thick steel drills or spikes.
The work was treacherous. Visibility was negligible and the air inside the developing tunnel was thick with noxious black smoke and dust. Hundreds of men lost their lives to Big Bend, their bodies piled into makeshift, sandy graves just steps outside the mountain. As the story goes, John Henry was the strongest, fastest, most powerful man working on the rails. He used a 14-pound hammer to drill 10 to 20 feet in a 12-hour day – the best of any man on the rails.
One day, a salesman came to camp, boasting that his steam-powered machine could out drill any man. A race was set: man against machine. John Henry won, the legend says, driving 14 feet to the drill’s nine. He died shortly after, some say from exhaustion, some say from a stroke.
In the Rite of Passage universe, John Henry does not die. He lives on as one of the powerful guardians of Nicodemus, Kansas; his mighty twin hammers beating back all – natural, supernatural and mechanical – who would bring harm to the residents and property of his beloved home town.
“If you have ever gone crabbing (which i have), once you begin to put the crabs in the pail you have to not only put a lid on it but a weight on top of the lid because they put a lot of energy into getting out. they do this by assisting each other, by creating a ladder out of each other with the last one being pulled out by the others. “ – Mwalimu K. Bomani Baruti on the ‘Crabs in a barrel’ myth
Recently, on Facebook, I posted this photo of a Steampunk crab as my profile picture. One of my Facebook friends asked what the significance of the photograph was.
I posted the photograph as a joke with my friend, creative partner and one of the Producers of the Steamfunk movie, Rite of Passage author Milton Davis after he and I were unceremoniously booted from a little website for having a “crab-in-the-barrel mentality”, according to the Administrator of that little website.
Since anyone who disagrees with this person is labeled a “crab-in-the-barrel” and because the crab-in-a-barrel mentality among Black people is just another excuse – along with the “White man”; the Illuminati; Satan; the Boule and Hollywood – for our own laziness and / or complacency, I wasn’t bothered by the accusation and really didn’t care one ounce I was removed from that little website, which I rarely frequented anyway.
For those who don’t know, the Crab Mentality is a phrase popular among People of Color – particularly Filipinos and Blacks – and was first coined by Filipino writer and feminist, Ninotchka Rosca. The Crab Mentality describes an “if I can’t have it, neither can you”-way of thinking. The metaphor refers to a pot of crabs. Individually, the crabs could easily escape from the pot, but instead, they grab at each other in a useless “king of the hill” competition that prevents any crab from escaping and ensures their collective demise.
The analogy in human behavior is that members of a group will attempt to “pull down”, or “hate on” – diminish the importance, or negate the efforts, of – any member who achieves success beyond the others, out of envy, self-hate or competitiveness.
While there may, indeed, be others who seek to pull you down, the only one who can keep you down is you.
If you give someone so much power over you that they can prevent your rise and ensure your eventual demise, you are a fool…or were not going anywhere anyway and using that as an excuse.
And we do love our excuses, don’t we?
A student in my martial arts class – a man in his very early twenties, yet possessing the muscle tone of a cup of chocolate pudding wrapped in silk – said to me that he decided he would no longer go to school or work because he wasn’t “plugged in” (initiated) to the Boule (also known as Sigma Pi Phi – believed by many to be the Black branch of Illuminati), so any attempts at success were futile. Since he considers me successful, I took that to mean he felt I was “plugged in”. He went on to say he would get plugged, but he refuses to have “relations” with another man, as the Boule is allegedly required to do, according to him and others. I asked him how he, or whoever his source is, knew this was a requirement unless they are Boule and participated in such “relations”. He paused for a long time and then responded “Damn, I fell for that bullshit.”
Yep. He did. It was easier to sit on his ass and do nothing, with the excuse that, since he wasn’t “plugged in”, anything he tried would fail anyway, than to get up, get out and get something.
Because, God forbid, he might break a sweat…or a nail.
He let himself fall for “that bullshit.”
And many of you have, too.
Many people seek to blame some external force for their lack of success, or wait upon some external force to deliver it. Whatever we call this external force, we should call it by its real names – laziness and/or ignorance, which are both rooted in fear, the very opposite of power.
Furthermore, I am an African traditionalist. As such, reliance on external forces is completely foreign to me, so I do not – I cannot operate from a position of fear. I refuse to wait on some savior to rescue me. I rely on my wits, my skills; my experience and my relationships with others.
And no, I’m not “plugged in” – not to the Illuminati anyway (*insert evil laugh here*).
Okanran-Osa, one of the 256 patterns of life in the ancient binary system of the Yoruba peoples of Nigeria says “Hoes cannot cultivate a farm by themselves; we human beings are the force behind them…cutlasses cannot, by themselves, clear a forest; we human beings are their aids…but what forces are working as aids to humanity, other than Olorun (the source of creation; the essence of evolution) and human beings themselves?”
Simply put, you are the catalyst for your own growth; for your own success; for your own failure. Others may assist you, but it is you who is ultimately responsible.
So, get off your ass, claw your way out of that barrel and get to work…or prepare to get eaten… with a buttery garlic sauce and some cheddar biscuits.
ORGANIZED NOISE: Prison Songs in the Age of Steam & Beyond
Prison – a form of political organization for the United States, at least since the beginning of the 19th century – has, in all its cold, hard cruelty, produced its own form of music (or “organized noise”). This music – all of its songs from, or about, prisons and prison life – helps trace the history of human containment sonically. Prison music awakens us to the possibilities of sonic and political escape from incarceration.
The beginnings of prison music in the United States can be traced to the War of 1812. A poet named Francis Scott Key met with British officers aboard a ship off the coast of Maryland to negotiate the release of American prisoners. He was detained and from his dank cell on that ship, Key watched the Battle of Baltimore at Fort McHenry and reported at dawn to the prisoners below deck that he was still able to see the American flag waving.
He chronicled the experience in a poem titled, In Defence of Fort McHenry, which he later put to music. Eventually, the song came to be known as The Star-Spangled Banner. In 1889, the Secretary of the Navy designated “The Star Spangled Banner” as the official tune to be played at the raising of the U.S. flag, and in 1916 the song was declared the national anthem of the United States.
The relationship between prison and music in the United States can be heard most clearly through Black soundings of voice, tools, instruments and technology. It is a sonic protest against imprisonment, even as prison labor is being performed. It is simultaneous containment and escape.
Prison is a necessary function of white supremacist patriarchal capitalism – a warehousing of surplus bodies for exploitation or elimination. Prison music is a documentation of this process. Listening to, and perhaps playing, prison music is our attempt to hear ourselves survive within these dehumanizing systems.
Prison inmates were put to work in the various institutions where they were housed. Working in the cotton or tobacco fields, road and chain gangs, or clearing forests, there were different types of songs for each type of labor. A team would choose a leader as their singer, usually a man with a clear voice who could easily be heard. Proper singing wasn’t necessary but the volume of the voice was. Sometimes, teams or crews of as many as eight men were put to work cutting a tree down, with each member of that team supplied an axe. The reason the work song was so important to the team was simple; with eight men swinging individual axes at the same target, without a rhythm to work by, havoc would be the natural outcome. In an eight man team, four men would follow the lead voice on the downbeat, swinging their axes into the base of a tree, the opposite team would strike the tree on the next downbeat.
These songs were often sang in coded language and expressed the prisoners’ – many of them former slaves – feelings of re-enslavement after Emancipation. These songs of the Steam Age and beyond represent testimonials about the injustice of the criminal legal system for Black people.
Take, for instance, these lines from the haunting prison song Early in the Mornin’, which lament the rape of prisoners by the Caucasian guards:
Boy, the peckerwood a-peck-in on the,
On the schoolhouse door, sugar
Well the peckerwood a-peck-in on the,
On the schoolhouse door,
Well the peckerwood a-peckin on the,
On the schoolhouse door, Lordy, sugar,
Well he peck so hard, Lordy, baby, until his pecker got sore
The theme of wrongful imprisonment and mistreatment of prisoners permeates many prison songs, which have become the foundation of what we now know as the Blues and even today, songs about the hardships of prison life are commonly found in Hip-Hop. R&B / Hip-Hop star, Akon, had written for mega stars, including the King of Pop – Michael Jackson – but his own career as a performer did not take off until the release of Locked Up, his song about his time behind bars.
What type of music provides escape for you? Which songs set you free?
THE LOWDOWN ON THE THROWDOWN
This past weekend, I participated in the A-Town Throw Down, a revered and popular stage combat workshop held at Kennesaw State University (near Atlanta, GA) every year. The Throw Down – sanctioned by the Society of American Fight Directors – is three grueling days of full-day training in everything from 300-esque spear and shield combat to bar fighting.
On day one, after a brief warm-up, I went to my first class – Q Stick (Quarterstaff) – in which we learned and executed choreography with the quarterstaff at full speed, only breaking once for water…I knew then that I was in for a world of hurt and that these Stage Combat folks were as serious about their craft as any other combatant. I was filled with an odd feeling of eagerness mixed with dread.
After the Q Stick class, I had a great time in the Throwing Knives class and was the first to hit the target with four of six blades. I was happy about that, but after nearly two hours of throwing heavy steel in the blazing sun, happy turned to “damn” and “where in the hell is my Tiger Balm?”
After a lunch of Chai Tea (only Chik-Fil-A was open on Kennesaw State’s campus and I don’t eat chicken), I headed to my Knife Class, where we had a grand old time “cutting” (the blades were dull aluminum) and disarming each other and then ended my day with some Unarmed Fight Choreography that left me sore, but eager to return the next day.
The second day (Saturday), I began with some Instinctual Knife training and learned some things that will really enhance the blade fights in my films, then it was on to the Fighting and Music class, wherein I had to perform some of the fastest and most intricate choreography known to man. Thankfully, I was able to pick it up and execute it well; more thankfully, the teacher is a foremost master of Stage Combat and she was able to pull the fight out of us while maintaining absolute safety on a stage of about thirty people going at it simultaneously with swords. From there, I headed to what has to be the most physically demanding course on earth – the Shield and Spear class. First, I made the mistake of grabbing a big thirty pound shield and a heavy spear. Granted, I looked cool leaping through the air with such heavy weaponry, but after about a half hour of full speed choreography with the damned things, I was smacking myself in the forehead for not picking the much lighter small shield and one of the spears made of a wood half as heavy as mine. Everyone left the spear and shield class with a lot of knowledge and a WHOLE LOT of hurt. I finally ended my day with the Whip class. I had to block out the pain in my hips, feet, back and hamstrings in order to stand up and wield the damned thing, but it came naturally and I was cracking that whip from all sorts of directions. At one point, I thought about how my ancestors were probably beaten with such a weapon, which strikes at 900 miles per hour on average (that “crack” you hear is the sound of the end of the whip breaking the sound barrier) and I got nauseous and no longer had a desire to hold the weapon, so I sat down for a breather and to center myself. After a few minutes, I (slowly and with great and painful effort) got up and returned to the floor for more whip-crackin’ goodness.
On the final day, I started off with the Ground-N-Pound Class, where we choreographed our own ground fight after a few falling and rolling drills and drills to get us to commit to “the moment”. Some of the fights were cheesy. Most were exciting. I was working with one of the instructors and he gave me permission to push the envelope, so we did a brutal fight that ended in me catching him in a toe hold and snapping his ankle and knee (it was safe – no joints were harmed in the making of this fight). After that class, I went to the Single Sword Class, where we learned and executed some swashbuckling choreography. Spatial awareness and control are essential when two people are whipping steel rapiers all over the place.
Finally, I ended my day with what had to be the funniest, silliest class I have ever taken, yet it was brilliant. The class was entitled Roadhouse! (yes, the exclamation point is part of it) and it was an exercise in controlled mayhem. Fifty people on stage having a bar fight with mugs of beer, waitress trays, tables, chairs, a bar, bartenders and all – however, it is a bar fight in the Roadhouse universe – see the movie if you haven’t already and if you have seen it, watch it again – so things were nuttier than squirrel poop. A punch to the stomach caused you not to bend over in pain, but to stand straight up…a waitress holding a tray was invisible, but if she hit you with her tray, you were knocked out…the only place thrown chairs ever landed was the bar and paper and cups were constantly flying through the air – even if it was unconscious people tossing them.
Like I said…squirrel poop. After that hilarious and surprisingly fun class, which taught me how NOT to choreograph (one of the points of the seeming madness), I headed home for some much needed sleep.
When I awakened I reflected on the weekend…all the education I received…all the fun…but the discomfort I felt at being the only Black person at the event (well, there was one other, but he spent so much time trying to point out to everyone how Black he wasn’t – “I’m Panamanian and Filipino and yeah, there’s white in me too…I promise”) and the fact that many people avoided being my partner (“I don’t stink…I promise”) made me uncomfortable. I wondered why there weren’t any other Black people at the event, nor are there any Black instructors – let alone Masters or Directors – in the entire Society of American Fight Directors. Granted, there aren’t many Black people in theater, but there are many trying to break into film. Since you almost can’t make a movie without a fight scene nowadays, such training is essential if you are serious about your craft as an actor and certainly as a fight choreographer.
Wait do you think there aren’t any Black film fight choreographers? Don’t let the lack of Black faces in the Society of American Fight Directors fool or discourage you. Let’s examine a few:
Seeking to use his renown as a world and international champion in fighting, weapons and forms (kata) to break into Hollywood, Larnell Stovall moved from New Orleans to California to pursue a career as an actor and fight choreographer in February 2001.
Stovall quickly established himself as one of the best in the business with his work on the popular duo of web series – Mortal Kombat: Rebirth and Mortal Kombat: Legacy, as well as the films Undisputed III, Never Back Down II, Blood and Bone and Bunraku.
Style: versatile and dynamic; incorporates high and jump kicks and acrobatics, thus he works best with quick flexible and agile performers.
Washington, D.C. native William Charles Jeffreys, III – Chuck Jeffreys – began his training in the martial arts at the age of eight, starting with Western Boxing and Tae Kwon Do. He began training in Tien Shan Pai Shaolin Kung Fu in the early 70s and began teaching kung fu in 1974.
Over the decades, Jeffreys learned and mastered other martial arts styles and systems, such as Kali, Indonesian Silat and Shoot Boxing.
Jeffreys put his skills to use in Hollywood, becoming a stunt double for the actors Eddie Murphy and Ving Rhames.
He then went on to assist in the fight choreography – and to train actor and martial artist Wesley Snipes with the sword – for Blade. He has also choreographed fights for the blockbusters, Spider-Man and Freddy vs. Jason. He returned to the Blade franchise in 2004 to train Wesley Snipes and the rest of the cast for Blade: Trinity.
Style: efficient, realistic hand-to-hand combat, with occasional high and low spinning kicks for flare.
R.L. Scott was born in America, raised in Salvador Bahia Brazil until the age of 16 when he returned to the United States. It was then that he began writing and one year later, he made his first short film. He has since gone on to involvement in over fifty shorts and feature films in many capacities including writing, directing, fight choreography, cinematography, post production work, and editing.
In 2007 Scott did the fight choreography for Champion Road, a popular feature film he wrote, directed and produced and in 2008, took on the same roles for its sequel, Champion Road: Arena.
In 2012, Scott choreographed the fight scenes for the feature film entitled Call Me King, which stars international superstar Bai Ling (Red Corner). Call Me King is scheduled to be released early 2014.
Style: probably closer to Chinese cinema than any other non-Chinese fight choreographer in the business. The beauty, power and stylistic fights of films such as Fearless, Dragon-Tiger Gate, Ip Man and Sha Po Lang – aka Kill Zone – is Scott’s signature.
After performing stunts and fights in several films, plays and demonstrations, Balogun – a master of indigenous African martial arts – went on to choreograph fights for the stage and for the independent films Reynolds’ War, A Single Link, Equalizers and Rite of Passage: Initiation.
Style: brutal, efficient and unique, combining the smooth, rhythmic, yet viciously effective African martial arts with such “exotic” martial arts as Savate, Bartitsu, La Canne, Capoeira Angola and Catch Wrestling.
I attended the A-Town Throw Down because I want to hone and enhance my craft so that I can create the very best films…so that I can bring you eye-popping fight choreography that you enjoy and that I am proud of.
Nothing less than excellent is expected of me or acceptable to me.
That’s my motto. Please, adopt a similar one (or just use mine) if you haven’t already and let’s make some great movies, y’all!
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.
Creativity is defined as the process of generating new and original ideas. Creativity is the basic force for all invention, the bringing of a thing from concept to actualization and the determining of unique solutions to problems.
The creative person is marked by traits of originality, nonconformity and high levels of knowledge. When you bring forth a unique and effective solution to a problem; a solution that has not been thought of before in the way you thought of it, you are being creative.
Psychologists have tried to explain creativity with many theories. Among these are cognitive (creativity as a process that uses mental constructs and structures), behaviorist (the environmental and associative nature of creative ideas), psychoanalytic (creativity as a mental or personality disturbance), social (creativity as developed by schools and family) and personality (the possession – and manifestation – of personal creative traits).
Creativity is believed by many to be the ability to solve issues and find solutions by “accident” – while you’re trying out several methods, the best method or a solution to your issue arises out of “nowhere” and “by chance”, you discover something totally unique.
As a person who does not believe in coincidence or happenstance, I would suggest that the creative process is more a discovery of new relations between older known concepts and methodologies – using common things in uncommon ways – thus, the more experienced you are in a particular subject area, the more likely you are to consider creative solutions. In music, acting and in the indigenous African martial arts, we call this “improvisation”.
Some mistakenly believe the creative process is all about insight, a “sudden flash” – a moment of serendipity or divine intervention. The insight seems like a “sudden flash” because thought travels at a speed of twenty-four billion miles per second – you have accessed your experience at over one-hundred thousand times the speed of light, so of course it seems “sudden”, or as if the Creator hurled the idea down from heaven and deposited it in your head (would the creator, overseer, mother and father of every single organism in the multiverse have the time, or the inclination, to do such a thing?).
Is the speed of thought of all humans the same? No. Those who have suffered brain damage or who may have developmental issues – who are often described as “slow” or “delayed”, by the way (now you know why) – may think considerably slower, however, most of us think at close to the same rate.
Yes, there is a well-defined creative personality. Highly creative individuals and geniuses have marked similar traits and although every human being is creative in one way or the other, some individuals actually develop their creativity to such a high level that they are recognized as creative geniuses. All highly creative individuals possess certain common personality traits.
Highly creative people love to challenge themselves with complex situations and problems as this allows them to contemplate several possible solutions on their journey to discovering the best solution.
Highly creative people are open-minded and receptive to new ideas and possibilities; especially those that help them to move beyond traditional modes of thinking.
Creative geniuses are confident and possess strong leadership qualities – traits necessary to pioneer new possibilities and guide others along new paths of discovery.
Highly creative individuals are non-conformists, unconventional and consistently think “outside the box”.
Highly creative people are extremely intuitive and often seem to possess the ability to read minds. In actuality, they are simply in tune with – and knowledgeable of – the order of things and are thus able to predict people’s responses to various stimuli.
Creative geniuses are extremely sensitive, for without a well-developed sensitivity, it is not possible to feel and portray emotions through a creative work. A novelist must feel as his characters feel in order to write characters that feel real to the reader.
Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it gives verve to the creative genius. Highly creative people want to discover and learn new things and persistently ask questions, which is the fuel for creative growth.
Highly creative people have a broad and deep general knowledge, which they use in their creative pursuits. Most creative people are knowledgeable in several spheres of interest.
Marry a creative genius’ leadership qualities to his or her nonconformist personality and you will witness the birth of a person who possesses an intense independence of thought. Creative geniuses commonly move beyond norms and often have a distaste for anything they deem “the mainstream.”
The highly creative person commonly engages in world-building and cosplay. Creative people often engage in daydreaming and even if well-grounded, thrive on fantasies.
Highly creative people are often extremely critical – of themselves and of others.
The highly creative person has a prolific range of ideas.
Highly creative individuals are often selfish, possessing a “me first” attitude. Many are narcissists or possess an extreme egoism, although they can be very generous and may not reveal their egoism for social reasons. Many even transcend the Self and work for greater causes and the common good.
Creative individuals have a love for the new and the unique and move beyond established ideas to find something radically different.
Most creative geniuses quickly grow bored with order or any predictable course of events – a reason why many creative adults were rebellious as children in school and / or at home. They have a love for disorder, unpredictability and the unknown.
As individuals for whom freedom of thought and expression is paramount, highly creative people often have a love for the ambiguous – when there are two or more ways to explain a problem.
Creative geniuses are often driven by a sense of higher purpose. They are self-aware and enlightened and many believe there is a divine purpose for their existence.
The ‘Thin Line’ Myth
One belief that permeates Black communities throughout the United States – and used to be one of my pet peeves – is that there is the existence of “the Thin Line”. When the discussion of genius comes up among a group of Black people, more often than not, someone will proclaim “You know, there’s a thin line between genius and insanity.” I used to become furious when I heard this because it seemed to be an attack on – and discouragement of – genius. After all, who the hell wants to be insane? Many brilliant and creative Black youth I went to school with would deny their genius or dumb themselves down around others who were not quite as intelligent as them.
Fortunately, the people in my neighborhood – from the gangbangers to the respected business owners – encouraged me to embrace my creativity and intelligence. Even the nicknames they gave me – “Professor”; “Mr. Spock”; “Braniac” – were complimentary of my intelligence and creativity. Once, however, the leader of one of the local gangs decided to give me a warning – “You’re smart as hell, Professor. I love that about you. Stay smart…but don’t get too smart, or you’ll end up in Bobby Wright (a mental health facility in Chicago).” “Why would I end up there?” I inquired. His answer? You guessed it – “Because there’s a thin line between genius and insanity.”
That was not the first time I heard that statement and it certainly would not be the last.
While I grew up rejecting that statement as total male bovine poop (i.e. bulls**t, for those whose thoughts travel at a substantially slower speed than 24 billion miles per second), my study of personality, cognizance and creativity has revealed that highly creative individuals are, indeed, prone to mental disorders. In fact all creative geniuses may be vulnerable to bipolar disorder or schizophrenia and creativity itself is now considered by psychologists to be a sort of neuroticism.
However, even though creative geniuses have a propensity towards mental illness, their creative outlets are powerful tools that help to maintain sanity. Thus, considering the inbuilt defense mechanisms that most Steampunks, Steamfunkateers and other highly creative people have, it is most unlikely that such people would actually go stark raving mad.
Because, in most cases, creative geniuses are not afraid to stretch their minds, thoughts and behavior beyond limits that the less creative can fathom, they are branded as “weird” or “eccentric”. Such brilliant people, however, are extremely strong-minded due to their self-awareness and independence.
In fact, the creative genius exercises his or her creativity and exorcises madness, as he or she continually stretches mental limits to maintain creative pursuits.
So keep up that cosplay…keep on telling those Steamfunk tales…keep killing those orcs, leopard men and oga’koikoi…
Claim your genius…proclaim your brilliance…own your creativity…
Because the mind is a terrible thing to waste.
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!
STEAMFUNK WILD WEST: Black Lawmen and Outlaws in the Age of Steam!
We continue our League of Extraordinary Black People Series with an in-depth look at those who enforced – and those who gave the finger to – the law and carved a trail of tears, blood and bullets across the Wild West.
The son of a Black Chickasaw Freedman father, and a Black Creek Freedman mother, Grant Johnson was born in northern Texas during the Civil War and raised in Indian Territory. This same territory is where Johnson would become renowned as one of the greatest U.S. Deputy Marshals in history.
Serving under Judge Isaac Parker for at least 14 years, his career as a U.S. Deputy Marshal began in 1887. His contribution was invaluable and in high demand as he was well-versed and proficient in the customs and language of the Muskogee Creek nation. Johnson often worked with Bass Reeves, the man considered by many to be the greatest lawman in history. Together, they captured one of the most notorious outlaws in the territory – Abner Brasfield. Johnson also captured the noted counterfeiter, Amos Hill; Choctaw outlaw Chahenegee; the murderers, John Pierce and Bill Davis; the Cherokee outlaw, Columbus Rose; train robber, Wade Chamberlee and dozens of others.
One of the most noted peace officers in the history of the Indian Territory, Judge Isaac C. Parker mentioned him as one of the best deputies that ever worked for his court.
In 1898, Johnson transferred to the Northern District, which was headquartered at Muskogee. For many years, Johnson worked alone, patrolling in and around Eufaula, Creek Nation. He developed one of the best arrest records of any of the deputies that worked the Northern District under Marshal Leo Bennett.
Johnson became a policeman for Eufaula in 1906, primarily patrolling the African American section of town. He died in Eufaula on April 9, 1929.
The Buck Gang
The gang had a total of five members – Creek First Nation natives, Sam Sampson and Maoma July and brothers, Lewis and Lucky Davis, who were Creek Freedmen. All of them had been apprehended on minor offenses and served time in the Fort Smith jail prior to their crime spree that summer.
It is rumored that the spree came about as a result of Buck boasting that his “outfit would make a record that would sweep all the other gangs of the territory into insignificance.” However, it is more likely that the spree – driven by Buck’s rage, poverty and desperation – was in response to the horrific and tragic event in which Creeks and Cherokees, along with the escaped slaves who married into those nations, were forced, by the U.S. government, to march over 1,000 miles during the infamous Trail of Tears. Many died along the way and the First Nation and Black people forced to settle in the region dubbed the Indian Territory struggled in that bleak region for fifty years, but finally carved out a decent living for themselves. The government’s attempts to take back that land and give it to Caucasians who now desired to settle in the Southwest was met with outrage, which – in the case of the Buck Gang – became, simply, rage.
On July 28, 1895, the gang shot and killed another Black Deputy U.S. Marshal, John Garrett, near Okmulgee. On their way from that murder, they allegedly abducted and raped a white woman known only as Mrs. Wilson. They killed horse rancher, Gus Chambers when he resisted the gang’s theft of his horses and then robbed a stockman of his clothing and boots, firing a hail of bullets just past his head as he fled naked to safety. Two days later, the gang raped a white woman, Mrs. Rosetta Hansen, while they held her husband at bay with Winchesters.
The gang was finally apprehended, brought to Fort Smith and convicted in a rape trial. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court which upheld the verdict, and the gang died together at the gallows on July 1, 1896.
After Buck’s death, a photograph of his mother was found in his cell. On the back, Buck had written a poem:
I dreamt I was in heaven
Among the angels fair;
I’d near seen none so handsome,
That twine in golden hair;
They looked so neat and sang so sweet
And play’d the golden harp.
I was about to pick an angel out
And take her to my heart;
But the moment I began to plea
I thought of you my love.
There was none I’d seen so beautifull
On earth or heaven above.
Good by my dear wife and mother
All so my sisters
Crawford Goldsby, an Oklahoma outlaw better known as Cherokee Bill, was born at Fort Concho, Texas, on February 8, 1876, the son of St. George and Ellen (Beck) Goldsby. He had three siblings – a sister named Georgia and brothers Luther and Clarence.
Bill’s father – a man of Black, Sioux, Mexican, and Caucasian heritage – was a highly decorated Buffalo Soldier – a Sergeant Major in the 10th U.S. Cavalry; however, because of a fracas in Texas, St. George went AWOL and escaped to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma).
Bill’s mother was reportedly half black, one-fourth white, and one-fourth Cherokee. She had been born in the Cherokee nation, Delaware District. Her parents had been owned as slaves at one time by a Cherokee, Jefferey Beck.
After St. George left his family in Texas, Ellen moved with the all the children to Fort Gibson, Indian Territory, except for Crawford (Bill) – who was too young to travel – whom she left behind in the care of a Black woman, Amanda Foster. Ms. Foster took care of Bill until the age of seven when he moved with his mother to Fort Gibson and then on to Cherokee, Kansas, where he attended Indian school for three years. He then attended the Carlisle Industrial School for Indians in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, for two years.
After leaving school at the age of twelve, he returned to Oklahoma.
His mother remarried when Bill was thirteen. He did not get along well with his new stepfather and started hanging around with a rough crowd, drinking liquor and rebelling against authority.
At fifteen, he went to live with his sister, Georgia, and her husband.
At seventeen, he worked on a ranch where it was said he was well liked by all.
At eighteen, while attending a dance at Fort Gibson, Texas, Crawford shot a man named Jake Lewis twice when Lewis refused to stop beating his own little brother. Crawford then headed for the Creek and Seminole Nations (now Oklahoma) where he met Jim and Bill Cook, a couple of outlaws.
In the summer of 1894, the Cooks and Crawford convinced the owner of a restaurant – a Caucasian woman – to collect some money due to each of them as a payment share for some Indian land called the Cherokee Strip. The government had bought the land. The woman did as she was told, collecting the money for all three, but upon her return, was followed by a sheriff’s posse trying to catch up with the Cooks. There was a gunfight, ending with a posse member dead, one wounded and Crawford and the Cook brothers in the wind. The owner of the restaurant was questioned about the gunfight and was asked if Crawford was among the group. She replied no, but that among them was “the Cherokee Kid”. This, apparently, was where Crawford gained his nickname.
The famous Cook gang made itself known across the Cherokee and Seminole Nations (in what is now Oklahoma) in July, 1894 with train and bank robberies and murder.
Cherokee Bill murdered at least seven people and may have killed as many as thirteen, later forming his own gang and riding with such well-known outlaws as Henry Starr and Billy the Kid.
With the assistance of acquaintances who hoped to receive part of a $1,500 reward, federal authorities finally captured Cherokee Bill and transported him to the federal district court in Fort Smith, Arkansas. There, he was convicted of murder of an unarmed man who happened to witness Bill’s participation in a robbery and sentenced to hang. After an unsuccessful escape attempt in which he killed a jail guard at Fort Smith, Bill received a second murder conviction.
When the United States Supreme Court rejected his appeal of his first conviction, federal officials hanged him before hundreds of onlookers, on March 17, 1896. When asked if he had any last words, his response was, “I came here to die, not to make a speech.”
After his death, Cherokee Bill’s mother took his body to the Fort Gibson area (Oklahoma), where he was buried.
Bass Reeves was born a slave in Arkansas in 1838. His slavemaster, William S. Reeves, moved the household to Paris, Texas in 1846, where he became a prominent politician in the region as well as a farmer. Bass worked as a water boy in the cotton fields of the Reeves farm, where other enslaved Blacks regaled him with stories of adventure featuring Black heroes
When the Civil War broke out, William Reeves’ son, George, was commissioned as a colonel in the Confederate army and took Bass to war with him. Although he was supposedly George Reeves’ servant, Bass fought in several battles during the conflict. However, after a dispute with George over a card game which led to fisticuffs and the large and powerful Bass opening a can of whoop-ass on the colonel, Bass escaped and fled into the Indian Territory (which we now know as Oklahoma) as a fugitive slave. There, he lived among First Nation peoples from the Creek and Seminole, developing an understanding and appreciation of their languages, cultures and customs. During this time, Bass served in the Union’s first Indian Home Guard regiment under an assumed name.
Bass eventually moved to Arkansas where he acquired property near Van Buren. He met a young woman named Nellie Jennie and in 1870, the two were married and settled into Bass’ farm, where they raised five boys and five girls.
By 1875, however, he had found a new profession – as a U.S. Deputy Marshal, under the direction of Judge Isaac C. Parker. Bass’ family continued to reside in Van Buren during these years.
This change, from farmer to lawman, began the most colorful, noteworthy, and successful careers of all the western frontier marshals. Bass worked in the Parker court at the time of the execution of James Diggs, a notorious criminal, who had been wanted for years. He assisted in the capture of deadly outlaws Bob Dozier and Johnson Jacks and in 1884, he is noted for bringing a caravan load of prisoners from Indian Territory.
Bass served as a Deputy U.S. Marshal in Indian Territory for 32 years and was the only one to serve from Judge Parker’s appointment until Oklahoma’s statehood. He became one of the most successful lawmen in American history, arresting more than 3,000 fugitives. Bass’ work as a Deputy U.S. Marshal ended in 1907 when Oklahoma was granted statehood. He then went on to work for the Muskogee Police Department for two years until he was diagnosed with Bright’s disease. He died on January 12, 1910.
Bass Reeves has been immortalized in literature and in film. We continue this tradition in the Steamfunk movie, Rite of Passage, in which Bass Reeves – one of the guardians of the town of Nicodemus, Kansas – is the possessor of a pair of pistols and a rifle that gives him extraordinary powers and enhances his already formidable skills. Veteran film director and actor, Omar Sean Anderson is tasked with bringing this amazing character to life and you are sure to love how we – and Omar – envision the legendary Bass Reeves.
Following is a complete list of Black Deputy U.S. Marshals who worked in the Ft. Smith, Arkansas region. Their numbers – and their stories – are quite amazing.
Jefferson, Edward D.
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.