Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Varnette Patricia Honeywood, 1950-2010

Artist and businesswoman, Varnette Patricia Honeywood, died September 12 in Los Angeles of cancer. Born December 27, 1950, in Los Angeles, she was a graduate of Spelman College and the University of Southern California. She taught art and administered art programs before partnering with her older sister, Stephanie, to establish a series of publishing and distribution companies (Black Lifestyles Today, Black Lifestyles Fine Art, and Black Lifestyles Classics).  Celebrating themes of family, spirituality, and community, her colorful works, depicted cultural traditions and told the stories of the black experience in America.  Her paintings, prints and collages have been exhibited in major galleries and museums, and adorn the covers of several adult and children’s books.

Varnette Honeywood wears an apron, at home with her mother (Center seated) and family on August 30, 2003.

In August of 2003, I visited Varnette and her mother in their Los Angeles home, where I spent an entire afternoon listening to Varnette detail her family’s rich history in Louisiana and Mississippi.  Her parents, Lovie and Stepney Robinson Honeywood, were school teachers who migrated to Los Angeles from Louisiana and Mississippi.  She shared her love for history and the journey of her family through photographs, letters, and documents.  As Varnette described the business operations of her Black Lifestyles Companies, I discovered how she and Stephanie succeeded in getting positive images of black art into small galleries and bookstores.  Attributing much of the business success to Stephanie’s organizational skills, she showed me how they packed and shipped orders for posters and note cards across the country.  I listened, as she recalled Bill Cosby’s request for samples of her work.  After loading her car with paintings and driving to meet with him, she said, “I was so surprised when he purchased everything”.  That was the beginning of their partnership, which introduced her work to TV audiences.  Several of Varnette’s paintings were included in the set decoration for The Cosby Show.  She also partnered with Bill Cosby to illustrate twelve books in his award winning Little Bill Books for Beginning Readers.

On that August afternoon, I experienced authentic southern hospitality alive and well in Los Angeles. Varnette and Lovie prepared the most wonderful meal, and a delicious pastry called monkey bread. At the end of a long day of going through papers and assisting with dinner, Varnette carefully signed posters and inscribed a set of the Little Bill books for the Amistad Research Center. Then, with great care, she selected poems and writings from her sister, Stephanie, a gifted poet and author who died of multiple sclerosis in 2002. We talked of possible educational programs and an exhibition of her work at the Amistad Research Center. The following year, I had the opportunity to treat Varnette to a meal in my home with art historian Dr. Regenia A. Perry, and was introduced to Varnette’s New Orleans’ cousins. The following selection from Stephanie Honeywood’s writings, now preserved in the Varnette Honeywood Papers, highlights the legacy of Varnette Patricia Honeywood.

February, 1988

Legacy:  inheritance of wealth, stature, destiny.

We dedicate this effort to our parents, Lovie Varnette  Allen and Stepney Robinson of Mississippi and Louisiana.

Your love of our family, your integrity, dignity, pride-and
Courage continues to inspire us.

Thank you for cherishing the wealth and traditions passed
to you and diligently guiding us as we learned them.

Ancestor Worship
Africans worship their elders and their ancestors.  Every
Culture, for that matter, does.

The beginning of knowing who we are is to know where we
Came from.  This is the key to knowing where we are, why
we are here and realizing the reality of this moment.

So thru the eyes and words of elders and ancestors, we know our history.

We thank God for you, Varnette.  Thank you  for sharing, for caring, and for continuing the story-telling of our people.  We will all miss you. 

Posted by Brenda Billips Square

(Top image courtesy of Spelman College Archives. Bottom image courtesy of Brenda Billips Square.  Images may not be reproduced without permission.)

Friday, September 17, 2010

50th Anniversary of New Orleans Sit-In Protests

This month marks the 50th anniversary of sit-in protests at the lunch counters of McCrory's and Woolworth's on Canal Street.  As noted in a recent article in The Times-Picayune, and in Kim Lacy Rogers' book Righteous Lives:  Narratives of the New Orleans Civil Rights Movement, though the demonstrators adhered to the nonviolent philosophy of the mainstream Civil Rights Movement, ardent segregationists were often violent in response.  Demonstrators had pepper blown in their faces, coffee and ammonia poured on their heads, and were assaulted in the streets.  New Orleans lunchcounters were slower to desegregate than most Southern cities, and picketing and sit-in demonstrations went on for over two years. 

Posted by Andrew Salinas

(From the Constance B. Harse papers, Amistad Research Center.  Images may not be reproduced without permission.)

Essayists to Discuss Desegregation Movement in New Orleans

Pamphlet issued by the community
organization Save Our Schools in 1960
and returned to the group by an irate
On Tuesday, October 12th, the Amistad Research Center will host two featured essayists during the opening of the exhibition Through a Crowd, Bravely: The 50th Anniversary of Public School Desegregation in New Orleans. The event will begin at 6:00 pm. 

The program will feature essays by Southern University professors Dr. Clarence Holmes and Dr. Cynthia Levy. Dr. Levy's essay will discuss the role of New Orleans' Jewish community in the desegregation movement, especially around the time of the integration of William Frantz and McDonogh No. 19 elementary schools in November 1960. Dr. Holmes' essay provides his personal remembrances of integrating Warren Easton Senior High School in 1968.

The Through a Crowd, Bravely exhibition will run from October 4 - December 22, 2010, in the exhibition gallery of the Amistad Research Center. The exhibition will feature materials from the Center's archival, printed, and art collections that document not only the integration of the William Frantz and McDonogh No. 19 schools by Ruby Bridges, Gail Etienne, Tessie Prevost, and Leona Tate, but the events leading up to and beyond November 14, 1960. 

As part of its commemoration of the anniversary, the Amistad Research Center is partnering with the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, the Louisiana State Museum/Civil Rights Museum Project, the U.S. Marshals Museum, and the Tulane University History Department for additional public events in November. Details on upcoming events are forthcoming. This exhibition and related events are funded in part by a grant from the Keller Family Foundation. 
Posted by Christopher Harter

(From the Save Our Schools records, Amistad Research Center. Image may not be reproduced without permission.)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Processing the Harold R. Battiste Papers

In 1998, the City of New Orleans proclaimed October 28th as Harold Battiste Day in honor of New Orleans composer, musician, educator, and record producer Harold R. Battiste Jr. This recognition is one of many that Mr. Battiste has received throughout his lifetime, and his many honors and accomplishments are well documented in the Harold R. Battiste Papers currently being processed at the Amistad Research Center.

Mr. Battiste’s papers chronicle his career as a musical performer, professor of Jazz Studies at the University of New Orleans, and the founder of All For One (AFO) Records, the first African American musician-owned record label. The collection includes correspondence, family records, photographs, news clippings, business records, and audio recordings. It is especially rich in musical scores composed and arranged by Mr. Battiste and others associated with AFO Records and New Orleans jazz dating from the 1960s onward.

Harold Battiste, Darlene Jones, and student assistant Newton
Hippolyte discuss the arrangement of Mr. Battiste's papers. 
The Battiste papers have been of interest to researchers for a number of years and provided key information for publication of his recent memoir, Unfinished Blues: Memories of a New Orleans Music Man. However, final processing and arrangement of the papers will provide global access with an extensive finding aid posted in Amistad’s online database. The Center will mount an exhibition in honor of Mr. Battiste in early 2011. Stay tuned for more information in the near future.

Posted by Christopher Harter
(Image provided courtesy of Amistad Research Center. May not be reproduced without permission.)