Posts filed under history


I believe Dr. King wanted folk to actively engage in a process of reformulating the way they thought and felt about themselves. In a society where your ancestors had been enslaved, in a society where you couldn’t vote, it’s not hard to see how people might begin to think of themselves as secondclass citizens. It’s not hard to see how people might begin to think of themselves as inferior to other members of society. So I believe the first step in the Civil Rights Movement was revolutionizing the mindset of Black folks. It was about getting people to see and understand themselves in a new light. Therefore, I believe that certain aspects of the Black Power Movement were essential in advancing King’s efforts. What was required was a movement that would raise the consciousness of a generation. Black people needed to see themselves for who they were and not simply for how they were being treated. Black people had to see themselves as people worthy of more, as people who were more, and as people who must not wait, who must not waiver, and who must be willing to sacrifice much. People had to incrementally begin to see their own strength. King, in his own way, but much like the Black Power Movement, had to be the herald of the banner that said “Black is beautiful.” -cm

Published in HOSPITALITY (June 2015) Vol. 34, No. 5 << Click to Download full article

The Open Door Community is a residential community in the Catholic Worker tradition (sometimes called a Protestant Catholic Worker House). We seek to dismantle racism, sexism and heterosexism, abolish the death penalty, and proclaim the Beloved Community through loving relationships with some of the most neglected and outcast of God’s children: the homeless and our sisters and brothers who are in prison.

Posted on January 18, 2016 and filed under activism, blog, history, race, religion and culture.

Black Funk Icon Betty Davis is Finally Getting Her Life Story Told With New Biopic

Unless you're a fan of the deep, hardcore funk, you've likely never heard of a woman named Betty Mabry Davis. Which is a shame because Davis not only was the inspiration behind Miles Davis' 70s jazz-fusion sound, but she was a creative force in her own right and broke ground in music for women to be independent creatives, to be in charge of their sexuality, and to just be in charge of their badassery.

When I first heard of Betty, I was still an undergrad student at Georgia State University and I was rocking out in my parents' kitchen to Joi's "If I'm In Luck I Might Just Get Picked Up" from her amazing Amoeba Cleansing Syndrome album. At the time I thought the hard-rocking, saucy, guitar-fueled sex anthem came directly from the modern funk queen that is Joi herself. But my father, who was cooking up a saucy dish of his own, stopped me mid-song and informed me, to my surprise, that Joi was just the soul daughter of the original queen of funk. "Hey! She copied Betty Davis!" he said. I turned around to him and said "who is that?!" My dad repeated that name that sounded so old and foreign to me and after seeing the look of confusion still on my face, he proceeded to walk me to the hallway closet where he kept his immaculate collection of old records and pulled out Betty's eponymous debut album. 

Listening to her for the first time, I found myself bombarded with a furious feminine roar that I just wasn't used to. Less so of a singer, and more so a creative entity, Betty growled, roared, screeched and seductively sing-talked on the record over 70s funk rhythms and riffs that this late 80s baby just wasn't used to. Betty's voice went against everything I was taught by the media, the radio, and my years of being an R&B fan about what black women should sound like on wax. She seemed like a wild woman whose songs defied the constructs and dams of R&B and Soul and flooded themselves with Rock, Funk and the edgiest of the Blues.  In short, Betty was....different. And I didn't think I was ready for that kind of strange flavor in my ear.

As the days went on though, I found myself seeking out this strange sound from Betty more and more. It got to the point where I was pulling out that old record every day and playing in my parents' living room and my father watched on as he'd converted his youngest son into a fan of one of his musical favs. From that point on, I went on a ferocious search to find out everything I could about Betty and to hear every piece of music of hers that I could get my hands on. I was hooked and I wanted more and I wanted the world around me to know of her too.

What I ended up discovering was that Betty was a small town girl who grew up to become an it-girl and club host in NYC who parlayed her connections into a job as a songwriter in the music world, her first major credit being "Uptown (To Harlem)" for the Chambers Brothers. Betty also became a successful model, posing for the likes of Ebony and Cosmopolitan, and walking the runway for the likes of Halston. After giving up her strut on the runway, Betty befriended the likes of Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix, and she also ended up meeting and marrying Jazz icon Miles Davis. Betty's relationship with Miles was transformative for the icon, whose sound completely changed after meeting. However, the marriage was lasted only a year, thanks to Miles' violent temper, and Betty struck out on her own to follow her musical dreams. 

Betty went on to write and co-produce/produce, something unheard of for women back then, three albums in the early 70s: Betty Davis, They Say I'm Different, and Nasty Gal. Betty quickly became an underground hit and toured the world to packed venues. Her staged shows even gained comparisons to the top male rock stars of the 70s and it seemed like Betty was finally living the life she dreamt of. 

However, things all that glitters isn't gold and Betty's career had its own sufferings. For one, her provocative lyrics and empowered sexual image left her banned from some clubs and radio stations and she even received bomb threats from angry critics. Also, her albums weren't commercial successes and when she sent in a fourth album, Is it Love Or Desire, to her label at the time, they decided to shelve the project (it wouldn't see the light of day till 2009) and pushing for her to soften her image and relinquish control of her writing and production to paid writers and producers. 

After failed studio sessions, Betty quietly walked away from the industry and fans have heard little to nothing from her over the past 30 years. 

But now Betty is finally ready to talk and tell her story. And thanks to filmmakers Phil Cox and Damon Smith, Betty's story can finally be seen by the masses as they're currently working on the first-ever biopic on the reclusive singer-songwriter, Nasty Gal: The Many Lives of Funk Singer Betty Davis. Betty has even decided to share her story rights with the film's production company, Native Voice Films, and will appear on camera for the first time in decades as a part of the project.

“Although I’ve been silent for a long time,” said Davis in a press release for the film, “I feel it’s important to help shape my legacy while I’m alive by returning my story and music to people who will value it and learn from it. I am excited to be a part of this project and hope it finds the support it needs.”

The filmmakers also reveal that the film will use an interesting blend of fiction and nonfiction to tell Betty's story.

"Although substantially based on vital present-day testimonies from Betty's closest confidantes, we will tell this story using never-before-seen archive, interviews, and fact-based, cinematic reconstructions performed by a high-profile actress/music personality and scripted with Betty’s own words. Within the film there will be moments of a large-scale, professionally produced Betty Davis tribute concert in her hometown of Pittsburgh, performed by members of her ’70s bands, legendary contemporary artists, and many of the interviewees in the film. This benefit concert, whose proceeds will go to help Betty herself,  we hope will be the first time that Betty shows herself to the public again," reads the film's indiegogo page.

“We are honoured to be collaborating with Betty on her life story,” said directors Phil Cox and Damon Smith. “She is a larger-than-life global icon whose influence on music and fashion is indelible, from Prince to Erykah Badu, and her celebration onscreen is long overdue. We intend to make this film in the same unapologetically independent spirit in which Betty conducted her professional life, long before it was hip for a woman to be completely in charge.”

However, production on the film and concert aren't done yet and the filmmakers need help from fans to see the project all the way through. Nasty Gal is seeking to raise $65,000 on Indiegogo by November 10 to cover archive and music licensing and support principal photography for the feature-length film when it goes into production later this fall.

Please help this film to see the light of day and contribute to its indiegogo page. Also visit the film's Facebook page, which like the indiegogo page, features several photos, videos and factoids about Betty.

Nicholas Harbor

Freelance Journalist, storyteller and blogger for 50 Shades of BLACK


Posted on October 25, 2015 and filed under current events, history, music.

BRINGING THE GIFTS: An Exhibit by 50 Shades of Black Creator Reflects on the Hopes and Dreams of Enslaved Africans


January 31, 2015 marked the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America which abolished the forced labor and enslavement of human beings.  On June 19, 1865, known as Junteenth the last remaining slaves in America were declared free. It was a day that many enslaved Africans dreamed of, struggled for, and died for in an effort to obtain…but never saw in person. 

In 1935 the federal government created a program known as The Federal Writers’ Project (FWP). The project employed photographers and writers, who travelled throughout the United States photographing and collecting stories of Americans across a spectrum of society.  Among the FWP projects was the Slave Narrative Collection [Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1938]

The narratives are a collection of over 2,300 personal accounts of rural, southern African-Americans, the last of a dying generation of Africans born into the horrors of North American enslavement.  Though their adult lives were spent in “freedom,” they knew firsthand the limitations of Reconstruction.  Many lived under the harsh conditions of segregation and the debt of the vicious system of sharecropping. Though they had been emancipated from the peculiar and brutal system of chattel slavery, they could still only hope and work tirelessly for equality.

It is their sacrifice, resolve, and relentless commitment to resist any system or ideology that saw them as less than a human being that etched the blueprint for generations to follow. This blueprint is their greatest gift. It would serve as the foundation upon which a future they had faith in would come and would be built. 


In 1978 Maya Angelou penned the now famous poem, “Still I Rise.” The poem was initially popularized by its use in a campaign by the United Negro College Fund and the name Maya Angelou itself became ubiquitous for Black Empowerment Poetry after she delivered the poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at the inauguration of President William Jefferson Clinton in 1993.

The poem “Still I Rise” ends with the refrain: “Bringing the gifts that the ancestors gave… I am the hope and the dream of a slave.”  “BRINGING THE GIFTS,” a series of portraits that pairs historic photographs from the Federal Writers’ Project with the photography of contemporary Atlanta artist Carlton Mackey, is a creative re-imagination of that refrain.

Tiffany Young preserves the history of Butler Island and created the annual homecoming for Butler descendants.

At the invitation of Ms. Tiffany Young, descendant of Africans enslaved on Butler Island and creator of the annual Butler Island Plantation Homecoming,Mackey agreed to conduct an Open Photo Shoot of BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE ™, a movement created by Mackey to celebrate and affirm the beauty found in every human being. The Butler Island Plantation Homecoming is an annual event comprised of Butler Island descendants, friends,and supporters who wish to celebrate and remember the ancestors that lived and toiled upon the former rice plantation of Pierce Mease Butler near Darien, Georgia. At its peak more than 500 enslaved Africans worked the plantation.  Fanny Kemble, an abolitionist and wife of Pierce Butler, wrote of the life and harsh treatment of those enslaved on the island in “Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838-1839”. Her harsh opposition of Butler’s practices ultimately lead to their divorce.  The publication of her journal became an effective tool of the anti-slavery movement and is considered one of the “best primary sources from the point of view of the slave owner of slave life on an early 19th Century plantation” (


Just days before the event was to take place, Mackey began searching the Internet with the hopes of potentially finding images of Africans who were enslaved in the area of the Homecoming events. Instead, he found several images from the Federal Writers’ Project archive.  In the archive he stumbled upon the image of Mr. Henry Brooks.  At that verymoment, Mackey claims to have been spoken directly to by the ancestor in the photograph and given instructions for executing a new photo series in lieu of the traditional BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE ™ Open Photo Shoot. Overcome with emotion,Mackey followed instructions and searched for a digital photo of himself taken earlier in the year by Atlanta photographer Bryan Meltz.  When he placed his photo next to the photograph of Mr. Brooks, the resemblance was uncanny -both in their physical features and the posing of the two in their respective portraits.  The revelation was ultimately clear and the concept for this new series was born.

To create this exhibit, Mackey collected and printed as many photographs taken of Africans formerly enslaved in the state of Georgia as he could from the Federal Writers’ Project and the U.S. Farm Security Administration archives. While at the Butler Island Plantation Homecoming, participants were invited to spend moments in quiet mediation while looking through these photographs.

Each participant was to choose (or be chosen by) one person in the photograph to honor. At various locations on Butler Island itself and throughout the town of Darien, Mackey photographed the participants and invited them to offer written reflections about the process and why they were drawn to a particular image.

The pairing was meant to invoke and awaken the essence of the living participant by creating a direct connection to the ancestor in the photograph.  It was meant to foster a heartfelt acknowledgement that through their living, they were the physical embodiment of someone’s “hopes and dreams.”

This series and the process of creating it are also as much about honoring one’s ancestors as it is about reflecting on the nature and meaning of hope. It challenges us to remember the gifts we’ve been given and dares us to ask: 

  • What are the gifts that we bring to the world?

  • It challenges us to critically reflect on our own hopes for the future and the source of the deep personal longings that reside at the epicenter of these hopes. 

  • What are the responsibilities that we have to make these hopes manifest? 

  • How might our living be a fitting memorial to those who came before us?

BRINGING THE GIFTS was on display at APEX Museum April 25, 2015 

Carlton Mackey was the Healthcare Ethics Consortium artist in residence for the 2015 HEC Annual Conference.  As part of his residency Mackey presented the inaugural display of BRINGING THE GIFTS at the Emory Conference Center Hotel March 19 & 20.

CONTACT US to inquire about displaying this series


Posted on June 18, 2015 and filed under africa, art, education, history, religion and culture.

Amma Asante: Seeing Myself In Belle - Exclusive Interview (Part 2)

Belle Movie Director opens up about the connection of the film to her personal life, her bi-cultural identity, and why art is a power resource for inspiring positive social change in the world in exclusive interview with 50 Shades of Black Co-Director Ross Oscar Knight.

Posted on January 5, 2015 and filed under art, education, film, history, Identity, personal stories, press, race.

50 Shades of Black Invites You to Join Descendants of Enslaved Africans on Butler Island to Create Transforming Portrait Series

Mr. Henry Brooks, ex-slave. Parks Ferry Road, Greene County, Georgia | Photo by Jack Delano;

Mr. Carlton Mackey | Photo by Bryan Meltz

In one week the creator of 50 Shades of Black, Carlton Mackey, will host a transforming photographic encounter as part of the Third Annual Butler Island Plantation Homecoming, --the much anticipated celebration and reunion of the Gullah/Geechee communities of Butler Island.  

This conceptual portrait series titled "BRINGING THE GIFTS THAT THE ANCESTORS GAVE..." was inspired by the conclusion of the late Maya Angelou's poem.

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave. - Maya Angelou

Through a process that is as much about honoring the ancestors and spiritual transformation as it is about photography, Mackey will invite participants to spend some moments in quiet meditation while looking through the photographs of former enslaved Africans from various parts of Georgia.  Mackey was doing just this when the idea first "awakened in his spirit".

Mackey states that he saw a photo online that essentially instructed him exactly what to do.  He paired this image with one of himself and was overcome with emotion.

"I knew something powerful was about to take place because I was experiencing anxiety all morning.  I knew I needed to make a post about the fact that we had been invited to host an Open Shoot as part of the Homecoming, but I kept putting it off.  I was experiencing fear about the whole event.  This let me know that something of great magnitude was about to happen.  Virtually every endeavor that I'm about to embark upon of significance is shrouded in fear and doubt.  This is my sign that it must be something that I have to do.  I'm learning to push through it until I have the clarity of knowing what is possible is greater than the fear.  What I didn't know was that my entire plan for hosting a traditional Open Photo Shoot was about to be exchanged for a plan that literally came from "the voice" of an ancestor in a photograph." -carlton mackey

Title: "Grandma" Lawrence, ex-slave on the Mercer Reynolds place in Greene County, Georgia | Delano, Jack photographer | Date Created/Published: 1941 May.

Participants will choose a photo (or be chosen by one) to honor.  At various locations on Butler Island, Mackey will photograph participants in a similar fashion.  This pairing is meant to invoke the essence of the living participant being the embodiment of the "dream and hope of the slave".  The pool of photos will mostly be from the Library of Congress (U.S. Farm Security Administration) and have no restrictions upon use and images from the Emory University's Robert Langmuir African American Photograph Collection.  Mackey hopes to secure funds to create an exhibit of diptychs coupling the historic and the contemporary photos.

Free and Open to the Public

This photo shoot will be part of a much larger Butler Plantation Homecoming.  The Butler Plantation Homecoming pays tribute to those enslaved Africans that lived out their lives as the property of Pierce Mease Butler on Butler Island Plantation, and those that were sold in the nation's largest sale of slaves that took place in 1859.

Please join us as we celebrate the culture and heritage of the enslaved people originating from Ghana, Senegal, Guinea, Angola, Whydah and Igboland areas of Africa.

***Breaking News*** The Butler Island Plantation Slave Cemetery has been discovered! The cemetery is potentially one of the oldest documented in the state. This year's celebration will include a commemoration ceremony in honor of approximately 919 enslaved people buried in the cemetery.

The festival features a presentation by Dr. Teresa Singleton - Archaeology Professor of Syracuse University and expert in Butler Island Plantation slave artifacts; Ancestor Cemetery Commemoration; "50 Shades of Black" Open Photo Shoot; "A Taste of Geechee" food and culture; guided tours; a parade of flags; performances; music; vendors; children's activities; family fun and much more.


50 Shades of Black Creator Connects the Legendary Joyce Bryant to Elementary Kids and History Comes Alive

Was she still alive? The question lingered in the minds of 33 Hardy Elementary School’s fourth graders in San Diego, California after their teacher, Christine Bailey, introduced them to a woman they would not soon forget.

Caption: "Joyce Bryant the first Negro to play a top hotel at America's most popular resort.

Bailey had set out earlier this year to teach her students about lesser known figures in Black History and stumbled upon a woman whose beauty had graced the covers of Jet magazine and held spreads in Life and Time. A woman who was a pioneer, as the first black singer to perform at the Casino Royale in Washington, D.C. and several hotels in Miami Beach during the early 50s. Her nickname became the Black Marilyn Monroe. She is, Joyce Bryant.

“The littler known people were just as instrumental,” Bailey said. “We should pay homage to them and celebrate what they did.”

Bailey and her students became enamored with Bryant’s style — sexy, with a purpose. Bryant’s signature look included a skintight dress and stunning silver hair.

“In those past times, and some would say they still linger, a woman of Joyce Bryant’s color was not automatically considered as beautiful and gorgeous as she was,” said Jim Byers, Bryant’s biographer and producer of an upcoming documentary called Joyce Bryant: The Lost Diva.

Bryant said her flashy style served a higher purpose — to open stage doors previously closed to Black singers at white-only clubs. Although some of her songs were banned from the radio for reasons more complex than their alleged provocative content, Byers said, her vulnerability and effervescent presence transcended all barriers. Bryant was a hit.

Known as the pit bull of research by her colleagues, Bailey had taken to the Web to find out if she was still alive. In all biographies of Bryant, no date of death was listed. She finally came across the 50 Shades of Black blog where director, Carlton Mackey, had recently posted about meeting Joyce Bryant.

After a few emails, Mackey then connected her with Bryant’s niece and caretaker, Robyn LaBeaud. Black History Month for fourth graders at Hardy Elementary got a lot more interesting. Bailey shared her discovery with the class and the children wrote reports and Bryant’s life while her music played in the classroom. Then, with LaBeaud’s blessing, they wrote and sent her letters asking questions about her life.

LaBeaud read each letter out loud to her “auntie,” but was interrupted by Bryant who laughed at questions about her dancing. She clarified, she was not a dancer. A singer and actress, yes. But not a dancer.

“I don’t know where they got that from,” she said.

Shortly after the letters were exchanged, Bailey and a colleague traveled to Los Angeles to meet Bryant in person. Although the students were not allowed to travel beyond city limits, Bailey shared the pictures, music, stories and joy she experienced meeting the celebrity when she returned.

“We felt like we were like little school girls meeting a super star,” Bailey said. “We were standing outside the house making sure we were on time.”

LaBeaud, a professional chef, cooked lunch for the visitors. They were invited to sit and eat on Bryant’s bed and they spoke with her for more than two hours.

“She’s just an absolute kick in the pants,” Bailey said. “She is as lively and wonderful and sassy as you would just imagine her.”

“I’ve taught for twenty-nine and a half years and I have never had history come to life through this whole process — playing her music, writing letters, then sitting on her bed with her.”

Although Bryant now has Alzheimer’s, she hasn’t forgotten her glory days. She shared stories of her years as an elite in the music industry — rubbing shoulders with other stars like Sydney Poitier, and giving voice lessons to Denzel Washington’s wife.

“She asked us a lot of questions, which made us feel just as important as she was,” Bailey said.

“She made you feel so very comfortable. And to hear how sad it was, her whole life how people took advantage. You’d never know those things when you meet her.”

Bailey made the two-hour trip back home listening to nothing but the sound of Bryant’s voice on her car’s stereo. She placed the two portraits she was given on the walls of her classroom. For certain assignments she still plays the music for the children.

On one special occasion, she and all her students stood up, pressing their legs together imitating Bryant’s iconic dress and sang along to her song. It was in that moment Bailey knew the “teaching moment” of a lifetime.

“I hope they learned that you can be what you want to be if you put your mind to it,” LeBeaud said.

“I think what she taught the kids, and what they picked up is you can be what you want to be. The sky is the limit.”

—Danielle B. Douez

Emory University Grad
 Psychology 2013,
Freelance Writer & 50 Shades of Black Contributor

Meeting the Legendary Joyce Bryant by Carlton Mackey

Joyce Bryant: The Most Famous Woman I Never Heard Of by Carlton Mackey

Posted on September 20, 2014 and filed under blog, education, history, sexuality.

The High Five: The Day a Brother Invented the World's Most Famous Salute

high 5-history2.jpg

The High Five - The Day a Brother Invented the World's Most Famous Salute.

Have you ever reached your hand high in the air for an awesome High Five?  Ever wondered who was the "first" to do it?  Well, in this amazing documentary you'll learn a lot more than you ever thought you could in 10 minutes about the high 5, baseball history, and the first openly gay athlete in any major sport...and no he isn't Jason Collins.  

The High Five - The Legacy of Glenn Burke.

50 Shades of Black examines Sexuality and Skin Tone in the Formation of Identity.

Posted on July 28, 2014 and filed under blog, history, Identity, Homophobia, LGBT, personal stories, sexuality.

Finding Myself in Belle: a review by a biracial woman in America

This film is inspired by the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle.

This film is inspired by the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle.

“I don’t know that I find myself anywhere.”

Thus responds Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) in the movie Belle when asked if she finds herself in a book she is reading.

As a biracial woman, I could almost say the same today. I don’t see myself as the subject of many books or movies—which is why 50 Shades of Black is so refreshing, and why I was excited to see Belle in theaters last week.

It tells the true story of a girl born to an enslaved African woman and a white aristocrat in 18th century England. After her mother dies and her father sets out to sea, she is raised lovingly by her father’s uncle and aunt in high society.

The story situates itself around the infamous Zong case brought before Belle’s adoptive great-uncle, Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson), chief justice in Britain’s supreme court. In the case, merchants sued an insurer for monetary compensation for the 143 slaves they purposefully drowned at sea.

Painting attributed to Hohann Zoffany of Dido Belle with her cousin&nbsp; Elizabeth

Painting attributed to Hohann Zoffany of Dido Belle with her cousin Elizabeth

Belle learns of the Zong massacre through her love-interest, an aspiring lawyer named John Davinier (Sam Reid). She shares his convictions about the injustice in treating human beings as property. Together, they attempt to cut away at Lord Mansfield’s inclination to protect the institution of slavery (and his reputation).

This is a story about a woman whose unique position and background created opportunity for the moral advancement of a nation. She seized the opportunity with courage and grace. In that sense I connected strongly with the movie and Belle’s character. Being placed, by God or by chance, at the intersection between divided worlds creates a tremendous opportunity to reexamine unspoken and written rules that dictate the status quo, into which we do not neatly fit.

We are the enigmas that breathe humanity into the people whom hatred, ignorance and bitterness abstract. That is what is captured so well in this movie. Belle’s white family is forced to see black in full human form, with all her intelligence, beauty and virtue. They cannot deny her, as they have already loved her as their own child. What proceeds from this buildup of cognitive dissonance is Lord Manfield’s uplifting and cathartic speech on the immorality of the Zong massacre and the sense that Belle is truly an equal.

That being said, I left the movie wanting more depth and less melodrama.

In one scene Belle desperately rubs her skin, as if trying to remove the color. This was too brief a snapshot of the tumult she must have experienced in coming to terms with the complexity of her identity. Confronting people with the “problem” her existence poses to their beliefs is a scary place to be as a young woman. I expected more attention to the difficult process of developing that sense of self.

That process for me has involved surmounting innumerable seeds of self-doubt planted by subtle gestures and overt comments of “you don’t belong.” My attempts to claim a place in either the white or black communities constantly meet resistance even in the 21st century. It is a back-and-forth dance of asserting myself and retreating in rejection. My parents were open to discussing the issue, yet it is still difficult to navigate. I can only imagine it must’ve been much more difficult in Belle’s conservative upbringing.

It was also difficult to believe Belle was so incensed about equality, yet demonstrated little interest in her black heritage, or developing a connection with the few black people she had contact with. As she grows up, Belle—along with the audience, is sheltered from the harsh realities of the time. Only one other black character enters the screen and Belle’s interaction with her is limited.

Danielle is a writer and special contributor to 50 Shades of Black. &nbsp;Her contribution, "Papa Am I Black?" was featured in  50 Shades of Black Vol 1

Danielle is a writer and special contributor to 50 Shades of Black.  Her contribution, "Papa Am I Black?" was featured in 50 Shades of Black Vol 1

I was disappointed in the predictable and safe delivery of an infinitely complex story. I understand it is too much to ask of a single work of art, and the first of its kind, to tell all aspects of the experience of living between color lines. There is but so much you can explore when taking on historical fiction. At least, it’s a start. I am hopeful more will come in varied forms, and that soon other Belle’s and I will find ourselves more often reflected in the world around us.

—Danielle B. Douez

Emory University Grad
 Psychology 2013,
Freelance Writer & 50 Shades of Black Contributor

Posted on May 22, 2014 and filed under art, blog, family, film, history, personal stories, race, skin tone.

Poet of Choctaw, Coharie, Cherokee & African Heritage asks: "Who's Afraid of Black Indians?"

Bridging the Gap with Shonda Buchanan of Choctaw, Coharie, Cherokee & African heritage. Award-winning poet and fiction writer, author of "Who's Afraid of Black Indians?"

"Trust the first drum, your heart, for all your answers. The ancestors will follow..." ~Shonda Buchanan

POEM: "The Trail" by Shonda Buchanan
(For the Staffords, Roberts, Manuels and Mathews)

These are the holes
That fill you up
A morning after 4th
Of July
The empty hollow
A memory in the fire
The quiet morning
Death of father
Suicide of a nephew
Addiction of sister
Another nephew at war
His brother, prison
Pummeling of a mother and aunts
The breaking of lives without a sound.
No honor in their deaths or mistakes
No memory of them, except here

These are the shimmering calcified minutes
The spotted ghosts of a black Indian’s
Midwest life

Where nothing and everything changed
In the fires that burned your farm houses down
And you wonder how you would
Have been or grown
How you would have loved
Had not this or this happened

I remember another July
Years past, under the glass of time
When we were all together, laughing
Spit-polished by hard love
Smoky with hunger for the future
When memory was a thing
Yet to come

~Shonda Buchanan
Photo: Nottoway pow wow in Surry, VA

BRIDGING THE GAP: Contemporary Realities, Our Ancestral Past, & Our Liberated Future

This is the 11th of a weekly series of posts curated by I Love Ancestry on 50 Shades of BLACK featuring stories of inspiring people and ancestors who contributed to the struggle for freedom.

50 Shades of Black will also be curating a weekly series of stories on I Love Ancestry featuring contemporary stories of people like YOU from around the world.

We personally invite you to join us on this journey of discovery and healing.

Share your stories, find your voice, speak your truths.

Each week we will feature a story of a historical figure & one of YOUR stories about your ancestors, your heritage, and/or your coming to understand and celebrate your OWN identity.


Posted on April 28, 2014 and filed under activism, africa, art, history, Identity, personal stories.

Wonderroot Podcast: Interview with the Creator of 50 Shades of Black

In this WonderRoot Artist Feature Carlton Mackey, creator of "50 Shades of Black", talks with WR Interactive Media Manager Floyd Hall about the origins of the project, its evolution as a platform for dialogue about race, sexuality, and identity, and why the tag line "Beautiful In Every Shade" is so meaningful.

For more information on 50 Shades of Black, visit:

WonderRoot is an Atlanta-based non-profit arts and service organization with a mission to unite artists and community to inspire positive social change. By providing production facilities to Atlanta-based artists and coordinating arts-based service programs, WonderRoot empowers artists to be proactive in engaging their communities through arts-based service work. For more information, please visit:

African, Native American, Irish, & Italian: I Am Here



My name is Linda Simpson [Bradford] Jenkins. I am the youngest of three siblings, and the only biological child of my parents' union. I grew up in a deeply spiritual family who loved and fought fiercely for what they believed in. 

My father, the great grandson of freed mulatto slaves, was raised by his maternal grandparents. Although my grandparents weren't married, cemetery records and oral accounts from my father's second cousin, reveal a long history of connectedness between both families (Simpson and Bradford). 

The Bradfords (African and Cherokee heritage), and the Simpsons (African, European and Cherokee heritage) have been buried in the same Tennessee cemetery dating back to the 1700s. 

My mother's lineage on her mother's side is Ethiopian and Choctaw. I remember my mother talking about conversations between her mother and grandmother (who she described as Black Indians "with coal black skin and long straight coal black hair that shined as if it was always wet). She said they would "shoo the children outdoors to play" as they talked in the Choctaw language. 

To both my mother's and my dismay, my grandmother's children never fully learned, and ultimately lost the language of their mother because my grandmother was insistent that "You kids must learn to speak English". I always felt "different" as a child--never really feeling as if I "fit it" or "was accepted". At visual appearance, I was African American, but I was always reminded at some point, that I "don't talk like us". I remember being teased by a young classmate who called me "pie face" for years. Almost 50 years later, "it all makes sense". In recent years, I started conducting my ancestry research, and the discovery has been nothing short of "liberating". 

Every child and individual should know and have access to their "culture and heritage". We are a magnificent sum of our parts, and I have much to celebrate, as do we all. I am proudly African Native American, with a dosing of Irish and Italian. I celebrate life and my ancestors each and every day, and I am loving the reddish-brown skin I'm in!

~Linda Simpson Bradford Jenkins
Photo by: Creative Silence and Edited by Carlton Mackey

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BRIDGING THE GAP: Contemporary Realities, Our Ancestral Past, & Our Liberated Future

This is our 10th weekly personal story curated by the creator of 50 Shades of BLACK, Carlton Mackey, in partnership with I Love Ancestry (facebook) called BRIDGING THE GAP featuring contemporary stories of people like YOU from around the world.

Each week we will feature one of YOUR stories about your ancestors, your heritage, and/or your coming to understand/celebrate your OWN identity.

We personally invite you to join us on this journey of discovery and healing. Share your stories, find your voice, speak your truths.



We don't look the same, but our Great (x3) Grandfather was Solomon Northup of 12 years a slave

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My great (x3) grandfather was Solomon Northup. His life was depicted in 12 Years a Slave , last night's Oscar winner for Best  Picture.

50 Shades of Black explores sexuality and skin tone in the formation of identity.

23, 5th great-grandson. The recent college grad has received many queries about Northup’s story and is thankful “people are interested in [my] family’s history.”

23, 5th great-grandson. The recent college grad has received many queries about Northup’s story and is thankful “people are interested in [my] family’s history.”

46, 4th great-granddaughter. “I’m proud I came from that bloodline,” says the real estate agent who read&nbsp;  Twelve Years a Slave  &nbsp;when she was in the military. “I’m glad his story was told.”

46, 4th great-granddaughter. “I’m proud I came from that bloodline,” says the real estate agent who read Twelve Years a Slave when she was in the military. “I’m glad his story was told.”

4, 5th great-granddaughter, daughter of&nbsp;  Justin Gilliam.

4, 5th great-granddaughter, daughter of Justin Gilliam.

Kyle Farr  27, 4th great-grandson

Kyle Farr

27, 4th great-grandson

Allan Scotty Cooper  63, retired, 3rd great-grandson

Allan Scotty Cooper

63, retired, 3rd great-grandson

"Bearing the gifts that the ancestors gave, I am the hope and the dream of a slave" -Maya Angelou

See More of Northup's descendents at

FREDI WASHINGTON: Why Pass for White? I'm Black...and Proud.

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BRIDGING THE GAP: Celebrating Fredi Washington (1903 – 1994) in partnership I LOVE ANCESTRY

You see I’m a mighty proud gal and I can’t for the life of me, find any valid reason why anyone should lie about their origin or anything else for that matter. Frankly, I do not ascribe to the stupid theory of white supremacy and to try to hide the fact that I am a Negro for economic or any other reasons, if I do I would be agreeing to be a Negro makes me inferior and that I have swallowed whole hog all of the propaganda dished out by our fascist-minded white citizens.

I am an American citizen and by God, we all have inalienable rights and whenever and wherever those rights are tampered with, there is nothing left to do but fight...and I fight. How many people do you think there are in this country who do not have mixed blood, there’s very few if any, what makes us who we are are our culture and experience. No matter how white I look, on the inside I feel black. There are many whites who are mixed blood, but still go by white, why such a big deal if I go as Negro, because people can’t believe that I am proud to be a Negro and not white. To prove I don’t buy white superiority I chose to be a Negro.
— --Fredi Washington (1903 – 1994)

Fredi Washington was an accomplished Black American dramatic film actress, one of the first to gain recognition for her work in film and on stage.

She was active during the period known as the Harlem Renaissance (1920s-1930s). She is best known for her role as Peola in the 1934 version of the film Imitation of Life, in which she plays a young mulatto woman.

Throughout her life, Washington was often asked if she ever wanted to "pass" for white. This was a question almost unique to United States society after the American Civil War and Reconstruction. 

It classified people by hypo-descent, that is, mixed-race people were classified as belonging to the race of lower social status, in this case, Black, regardless of appearance and ancestry. Other multiracial countries tended to recognize a wider variety of classes. Washington answered conclusively, "no."

"I don't want to pass because I can't stand insincerities and shams. I am just as much Negro as any of the others identified with the race." --Fredi Washington (Fay M. Jackson, The Pittsburgh Courier (1911-1950), Pittsburgh, Pa.: Apr 14, 1934)

"I have never tried to pass for white and never had any desire, I am proud of my race." In 'Imitation of Life', I was showing how a girl might feel under the circumstances but I am not showing how I felt." --Fredi Washington (The Chicago Defender (National edition) (1921-1967). Chicago, Ill.: Jan 19, 1935)

Washington was fearlessly outspoken about racism faced by Black Americans. She worked closely with Walter White, then president of the NAACP, to address pressing issues facing black people in America.

Her experiences in the film industry and theatre led her to become a civil rights activist. Together with Noble Sissle, W.C. Handy and Dick Campbell, in 1937 Washington was a founding member with Alan Corelli of the Negro Actors Guild of America (NAG) in New York.

She served as executive secretary, and worked for better opportunities for Black-American actors. She also was active with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and worked to secure better hotel accommodations for Black actors, who were often discriminated against while touring. She promoted less stereotyping and discrimination in roles for black actors.

In 1953, Washington was a film casting consultant for Carmen Jones, which starred Dorothy Dandridge, another pioneering Black-American actress.

Washington died of a stroke, the last of several, on June 28, 1994 in Stamford, Connecticut at the age of 90. According to her sister, Isabel, Fredi never had children.

At her death, Washington was survived by her sisters Isabel Washington, Rosebud Smith of Jamaica, Queens; and Gertrude Penna of Orlando, FL; and a brother, Floyd Washington of Hempstead, New York.

BRIDGING THE GAP: Contemporary Realities, Our Ancestral Past, & Our Liberated Future

This is the fifth of a weekly series of posts curated by I Love Ancestry on 50 Shades of BLACK featuring stories of ancestors that contributed to the struggle for freedom.

50 Shades of Black will also be curating a weekly series of stories on I Love Ancestry featuring contemporary stories of people like YOU from around the world.

We personally invite you to join us on this journey of discovery and healing.

Share your stories, find your voice, speak your truths.

Each week we will feature a story of a historical figure & one of YOUR stories about your ancestors, your heritage, and/or your coming to understand and celebrate your OWN identity.

Would you like your story featured?

Share it now at

Race, Sex, and MLK: 50 Shades of Black Creator to Moderate Conversation at Emory University

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Join Volunteer Emory for a social justice dialogue on overcoming inequality in the 21st century.

Moderated by Carlton Mackey from the Emory Center for Ethics, creator of 50 Shades of Black

Zai Air - Emory's own Davion Ziere


The Loving Story: Screening and Discussion with creators of 50 Shades of Black at Emory University

Photo by Villet Grey

Photo by Villet Grey

The Center for Community Partnerships (CFCP) and the Ethics & Arts Program are hosting a film screening & discussion of The Loving Story on January 20, 2014 from9:30 to noon at the Emory 

Center for Ethics, Room 102. 

Discussion led by Carlton and Kari Mackey.  Carlton is the director of the Ethics & the Arts Program at Emory University and the Creator of 50 Shades of Black.  His wife Kari is the Assistant Project Coordinator of the Access to Information Project at the Carter Center. 

Event will also include a presentation by Dr. Pellom McDaniels on the Robert Langmuir Collection of more than 12,000 photographs depicting African American life from the early 19th century to the mid-20th century. 


Audience will include local high school students and parents from CFCP’s Graduation Generation initiative.

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BRIDGING THE GAP: Celebrating Josephine Baker 50 Shades of Black in partnership with I Love Ancestry


BRIDGING THE GAP: Celebrating Josephine Baker 50 Shades of BLACK in partnership with I Love Ancestry.

"The most sensational woman anyone ever saw." --Ernest Hemingway

Born Freda Josephine McDonald in St. Louis, Missouri, the Extraordinary Josephine Baker was an American-born French dancer, singer, actress, civil rights activist and spy. Baker was the first Black American female to star in a major motion picture, "Zouzou" in 1934, to integrate an American concert hall, and to become a world-famous entertainer. She protested in her own way against racism, adopting 12 multi-ethnic orphans, whom she called the "Rainbow Tribe."

She became a citizen of France in 1937. Fluent in both English and French, Baker became an international musical and political icon. She was given such nicknames as the "Bronze Venus", the "Black Pearl", and the "Créole Goddess".

She is also noted for her contributions to the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. She is remembered also for assisting the French Resistance during World War II, and for being the first American-born woman to receive the French military honor, "La Croix de Guerre".

Baker dropped out of school at the age of 12 and lived as a street child in the slums of St. Louis, sleeping in cardboard shelters and scavenging for food in garbage cans. Her street-corner dancing attracted a lot of attention which eventually got her recruited for the St. Louis Chorus vaudeville show at the age of 15.

She traveled to Paris, France, for a new venture, and opened in La Revue Nègre on October 2, 1925 at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées.

In Paris, she became an instant success for her erotic dancing and for appearing practically nude on stage. After a successful tour of Europe, she reneged on her contract and returned to France to star at the Folies Bergères, setting the standard for her future acts.

She performed the Danse sauvage, wearing a costume consisting of a skirt made of a string of artificial bananas. Her success coincided (1925) with the Exposition des Arts Décoratifs that gave birth to the term "Art Deco", and also with a renewal of interest in ethnic forms of art, including African.

Baker represented one aspect of this fashion. In later shows in Paris she was often accompanied on stage by her pet cheetah, Chiquita, who was adorned with a diamond collar. The cheetah frequently escaped into the orchestra pit, where it terrorized the musicians, adding another element of excitement to the show.

After a short while she was the most successful American entertainer working in France. In addition to being a musical star, Baker also starred in three films that found success only in Europe: the silent film Siren of the Tropics (1927), Zouzou (1934) and Princesse Tam Tam (1935). She also starred in Fausse Alerte in 1940.

At this time she also scored her most successful song, "J'ai deux amours" (1931), and became a muse for contemporary authors, painters, designers and sculptors, including Langston Hughes, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, and Christian Dior.

In the words of Shirley Bassey, who has cited Baker as her primary influence, "…she went from a 'petite danseuse sauvage' with a decent voice to 'la grande diva magnifique'.… I swear in all my life I have never seen, and probably never shall see again, such a spectacular singer and performer."

Despite her popularity in France, Baker never obtained the same reputation in America. Upon a visit to the United States in 1935-36, her performances received poor opening reviews for her starring role in the Ziegfeld Follies and she was replaced by Gypsy Rose Lee later in the run.

Baker returned to Paris in 1937, married a Jewish Frenchman, Jean Lion, and became a French citizen. They were married in the French town of Crèvecœur-le-Grand. The wedding was presided over by the mayor at the time, Jammy Schmidt.

Her affection for France was so great that when World War II broke out, she volunteered to spy for her adopted country. Her agent's brother approached her about working for the French government as an "honorable correspondent"; if she happened to hear any gossip at parties that might be of use to her adopted country, she could report it.

Baker immediately agreed, since she was against the Nazi stand on race, not only because she was black but because her husband was Jewish. Her café-society fame enabled her to rub shoulders with those in the know, from high-ranking Japanese officials to Italian bureaucrats, and to report back what she heard.

She attended parties at the Italian embassy without any suspicion falling on her and gathered information. She helped in the war effort in other ways, such as by sending Christmas presents to French soldiers.

When the Germans invaded France, Baker left Paris and went to the Château des Milandes, her home in the south of France, where she had Belgian refugees living with her and others who were eager to help the Free French effort led from England by Charles de Gaulle.

As an entertainer, Baker had an excuse for moving around Europe, visiting neutral nations such as Portugal, and returning to France. Baker assisted the French Resistance by smuggling secrets written in invisible ink on her sheet music.

Later in 1941, she and her entourage went to the French colonies in North Africa to continue helping the Resistance. From a base in Morocco, she made tours of Spain and pinned notes with the information she gathered inside her underwear counting on her celebrity status to avoid a strip search. She then started touring to entertain Allied soldiers in North Africa. She even persuaded Egypt's King Farouk to make a public appearance at one of her concerts, a subtle indication of which side his officially neutral country leaned toward.

After the war, for her underground activity, Baker received the Croix de guerre and the Rosette de la Résistance, and was made a Chevalier of the Légion d'honneur by General Charles de Gaulle.

Although based in France, Baker supported the American Civil Rights Movement during the 1950s. She protested in her own way against racism, adopting 12 multi-ethnic orphans, whom she called the "Rainbow Tribe."

In addition, she refused to perform for segregated audiences in the United States. Her insistence on mixed audiences helped to integrate shows in Las Vegas, Nevada.

In 1951, Baker made charges of racism against Sherman Billingsley's Stork Club in Manhattan, where she alleged that she had been refused service. Actress Grace Kelly, who was at the club at the time, rushed over to Baker, took her by the arm and stormed out with her entire party, vowing never to return. The two women became close friends after the incident.

Testament to this was made evident when Baker was near bankruptcy and was offered a villa and financial assistance by Kelly (who by then was princess consort of Rainier III of Monaco).

Baker worked with the NAACP. In 1963, she spoke at the March on Washington at the side of Martin Luther King, Jr. Baker was the only official female speaker and while wearing her Free French uniform emblazoned with her medal of the Légion d'honneur she introduced the "Negro Women for Civil Rights." Rosa Parks and Daisy Bates were among those she acknowledged and both gave brief speeches.

On April 8, 1975, Baker starred in a retrospective revue at the Bobino in Paris, Joséphine à Bobino 1975, celebrating her 50 years in show business. The revue, financed by Prince Rainier, Princess Grace, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, opened to rave reviews. Demand for seating was such that fold-out chairs had to be added to accommodate spectators. The opening-night audience included Sophia Loren, Mick Jagger, Shirley Bassey, Diana Ross and Liza Minnelli.

Baker died from a cerebral hemorrhage at aged 68, on April 12, 1975. Her funeral was held at L'Église de la Madeleine. The first American-born woman to receive full French military honors at her funeral, Baker locked up the streets of Paris one last time. She was interred at the Cimetière de Monaco in Monte Carlo.

BRIDGING THE GAP: Contemporary Realities, Our Ancestral Past, & Our Liberated Future.

This is the first of a weekly series of posts curated by I Love Ancestry on 50 Shades of Black featuring stories of ancestors that contributed to the struggle for freedom.

50 Shades of Black will also be curating a weekly series of stories on I Love Ancestry featuring contemporary stories of people like YOU from around the world.

We personally invite you to join us on this journey of discovery and healing.

Share your stories, find your voice, speak your truths.

Each week we will feature a story of a historical figure & one of YOUR stories about your ancestors, your heritage, and/or your coming to understand and celebrate your OWN identity.

Want your story featured?  Share it with us.

Some stories will make us cry, some will make us laugh...but they will all bring us closer to ourselves and to each other.


Posted on January 10, 2014 and filed under history.

Zora Neale Hurston Honored with Google Doodle on her Birthday


Today’s Google Doodle honors the American novelist, activist and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston, who was born on Jan. 7, 1891.

Read more: Zora Neale Hurston: Cultural Giant Is Today's Google Doogle |

Posted on January 7, 2014 and filed under art, history, press.

Let Jesus Walk (Part 2)


*I put a very challenging image into the universe two days ago to start a conversation not to shut down one.

Images are important to all of us.  This is part of the reason I believe in the power of art to change the world.  The fact is it already has.

The fact that the most reproduced image in history is a piece of art created in 1940 is testimony of that. Therefore, that piece of art not only has to bear accountability but also comes with a huge responsibility.  I believe that now that responsibility is ours: those of us who spread it, those of us who believe in it, and those of us who consume it...and there are consequences for us all.

The images we consume in media and art where the Lone Ranger, Tarzan, Superman, John Wayne, Mel Gibson, or Sandra Bullock comes in to save the day are infinite.  This troubles the identity forming process for all: for those who always look like the savior and those who look like the ones who always need saving or defending against.  It impacts all of our religious, charitable, philanthropic, personal lives, and relationships.  It plays a role in shaping the way we see ourselves and the way we see others.  That is in essence what art does and why it is so powerful.

It is super hard for all of us to grapple with the fact that this is the reality...particularly if we are well meaning and good hearted.  But we must if we wish to change it.  The fight to rebel against this narrative belongs to all of us and it starts with acknowledging not only its existence but its deadly consequences.

If for those who believe that the First Century Palestinian Jew named Jesus is the Savior of the world...who was born to be a liberator, a healer, a revolutionary, and the one who is to reconcile relationships between all of humanity and God, then the way the teachings, message, and images of him are understood, spread, and interpreted...and the consequences of all of the above have to be taken seriously.

If Jesus is the savior of the world and IF human beings must see images of Jesus to truly worship him and IF who he was/is does not have to match a fixed point on a historical timeline AND therefore we are allowed to create images in a way that help us relate to make him personal for make him the embodiment of our hopes and make him one's personal savior, then Sallman's Head of Christ may, in all fairness, may be one of those images.

But IF all of the above exist, then it can't be the only one.  The fact is that Sallman's rendition is an imaginative, historically inaccurate, personally suiting, reflection of Jesus from the perspective of the artist. Since this is true, then there can (and always have been) others...and the others should not be seen as any less valid.  The problem is that in a context of Western dominated, classist, patriarchal world, this is a tough sell...and they are hard to seen as anything but "alternatives".  Although they were all created by artists just like Sallman, they are often hard to be taken (by people who they are created in the image of or by others) as legitimate options.  (Selah)

But nevertheless they do exist.  Folks who understand Christ as the "suffering servant" of varying ethnic and gender groups have created images of Christ in (maybe/maybe not) the same way Sallman did.

Just like those of us -all of us who are committed to justice have reached across the aisle to break down segregation and have done everything in our power to erase hate and love our neighbor as ourselves we can continue to do so.  Let us challenge ourselves to do just that.

None of these images are sacred simply because they were created.  The only thing sacred about any of them is what or who they point us to.  What is your image of Jesus?  What/Who is it pointing you to?  

Your ideal?   

A transcendent, resurrected savior?  

The suffering in the world? 
The people you most need to be reconciled to?
Does it call you to action...or does it make you complacent?

When you look at it, does it make you want to love more?  Does it make you want to fight against injustice? Does it make you forgive?

Whatever it is, let it be a choice...a conscious choice...a well thought out conscious choice...even if you decide that it is better to not have one at all.

...and may it lead to all of our collective liberation.


Carlton Mackey

Creator of 50 Shades of Black
Exploring Sexuality & Skin Tone in the Formation of Identity

Let Jesus Walk (Part 1)

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Images of the first century Palestinian Jewish man named Jesus are more prevalent this time of year than any other.  Depictions rendered by artists (namely by or inspired by an artist named Warner Sallman) are resurrected and pervade our social consciousness.  Images grace the covers of popular magazines that otherwise would never have a religious figure on the cover.  They often have phrases under then like “The Real Jesus” (US News and World Report) or “Uncovering Jesus”.  They seek to offer readers some historical context for understanding the life and times of arguably the most influential person in human history.

Art is a powerful tool.  It can convey emotion, express complex ideas, offer hope, present mystery, and point to things beyond our present reality.

Among the most popular pieces of art (or sets of art) in the world are depictions of Jesus created in the 40’s by an artist named Warner Sallman.  Sallman was originally commissioned to create a more masculine image of Christ by Dr. E O Sellers (1924ish).  The set of images presented to the world up to that time (as thought by Sellers and members of the institute he was dean of) were too passive.  Jesus looked to him too effeminate, too gauntly, and too non-American.  [This was 1920’s America]. Sallman woke up the day of the deadline for the submission with an idea and sketched it in charcoal.  Sallman integrated other features that had become more and more popular every since the spread of Christianity in medieval Europe to distinguish Biblical characters worthy of veneration from depictions of the “negative” characters like King Herod and Judas who were depicted to have more “Jewish” features.  This tradition was inherited in order to perpetuate and solidify the message that it was the “Jews”…a group somehow distinct from “Christians” that crucified Christ.  [This was 1920’s America...the height of Anti-Semitism in America].

Sallman’s paintings captured the heart of America.  By the 1940’s his pieces began to spread like wild fire.  In 1940, based on his earlier sketches, he created what has become the most duplicated piece of art in the world, Sallman’s Head of Christ.  His pieces were something unlike other images at the time in that they reflected the deepest held views of America about what the person they would worship should look like.  [This was 1940’s America].  Sallman had captured an ideal.  For a decade, between 1940 and 1950 pieces that would become as American as apple pie (maybe more so) were created by the same artist who had mastered the formula for what America wanted in their Jesus.  To Sallman belongs not only the famous Head of Christ, but the ubiquitous painting of Jesus knocking at the door, and many others.

But 1940s America was a very significant time in American and global history.  The ideal figure that Sallman had created or based his images off of held a certain place in American and global society.  To that ideal was granted certain rights and privileges not afforded to others.  Sallman had created an exceptionally tall, strong looking, beautiful man who could be easily seen as strong enough to fight off attacks from a Japanese enemy, but gentle enough to open the door for a lady.  He was John Wayne and George Washington combined!  He was perfect! [This is 1940s America]

The nation, or those in power, were complicit with the state of things.  There was enough other mess going on.  Good Christian folks may not have “supported” the segregation of the day but they weren’t making too much fuss about it.  The Civil Rights Movement wasn’t at its peak.  That wouldn’t be for another 20 or so years.  The country had “enough on its plate”.  We were trying to emerge from the Great Depression and FDR was president.  Anti-Semitism was not as high as it was in the 20’s and 30’s but it was high.

To white Christians (non-Jews), to Sallman, and to the Jesus he had created (to be a perfected image of their ideals, hopes, and dreams) this was the time some historians call the Golden Age of America.

[OK…enough with the history]

During this season of Christmas, where we are bombarded with images, I created (manipulated) an image to provoke thought and to engage in discussion.  The work that I am committed to doing right now in my life as an artist is centered around exploring the role of sexuality and skin tone in the formation of identity.  It is impossible for me in doing this work to not take seriously the function of the art that unlike any other time of the year is all around us, its history, and how it shapes all of our lives.

People aren’t born thinking they are ugly, or inferior, or not good enough, or too black or too white or not strong enough or too fat or too gay or too feminine or too masculine.  These things are constructed…slowly over time…with unbelievable precision.  Us, our institutions, our art, our lack of understanding of history, our fear, and our hesitancy to deconstruct these things keep us here.

I’m one of you.  I’m afraid of what I don’t know.  I afraid of being rejected.  I’m afraid of being judged. I hate the thought of being isolated and unliked.  I was afraid to post this image.  I was afraid of what you might say or think of me. I did it.

This is not an attempt to make people think that Jesus was black.  That doesn’t do anything for us.  I do, in this season of mass consumption: of food, of stuff, of images of a first century Jew from Palestine named Jesus to take a moment to think about what all of it means.  In this time of great discovery, of birth, of mystery, let’s be as imaginative and as hungry to meet Jesus as the Magi.

…to ask ourselves where it all comes from, to ask why is it presented this way, to not be complicit, to think anew about what a Jesus who would have fought against segregation, who would have refused to drink, swim, or be baptized in a segregated pool.  To think anew about a Jesus who may have been, on the flip side, not allowed to drink, swim, or be baptized with others.  To think anew about maybe emphasizing less the images of any figure that has been dictated to us of any particular race and try to discover the essence of the truth within the teachings.

…to fight against the structures: institutional, mental, personal, that separate us…to think boldly but with passion about how to do so…through thought provoking art, through conversations, through how we spend our resources, etc…to think about what we can do to not be a religion/group that performs our holiest of actions on the holiest of days in ways that don’t scream for _________________ only but instead all are welcome.




Carlton Mackey

Creator of 50 Shades of Black

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Posted on December 10, 2013 and filed under activism, art, current events, education, faith, history, Identity, race.

Double Consciousness: Soul, Black Folks, Creative Silence

Chris Charles ( Creative Silence ), Self Portrait

Chris Charles (Creative Silence), Self Portrait

Double Consciousness

(Definition from the Duboisopedia) (Photo from the mind of Chris Charles)

Double Consciousness is a term coined by W. E. B. Du Bois to describe an individual whose identity is divided into several facets. As a theoretical tool, “double consciousness” reveals the psycho-social divisions in American society and allows for a full understanding of those divisions. Du Bois’ focus on the specificity of black experience allows for challenging injustice in national and world systems.

The term was first used in an Atlantic Monthly article titled “Strivings of the Negro People” in 1897. It was later republished with minor edits under the title “Of Our Spiritual Strivings” in 1903 book The Souls of Black Folk. Du Bois describes “double consciousness” as follows: “It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness, an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife- this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He does not wish to Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He wouldn’t bleach his Negro blood in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of opportunity closed roughly in his face” (2-3).


Du Bois, W. E. B. (1903). The Souls of Black Folk. New York: Dover Publications.


Chris Charles is the founder of Creative Silence
& a Featured Artist / Special Contributor to 50 Shades of Black