[Blackstudies-l] Gerald Early at the U of R TODAY

Maria Lima lima at geneseo.edu
Thu Sep 24 12:24:40 EDT 2015

His talk, “Noon in the City: Race, Neighborhood and an African-American
Festival,” is open to the public and starts at 5 p.m., in the
Hawkins-Carlson Room of Rush Rhees Library on UR’s River Campus.
*Democrat and Chronicle 09/24/2015, Page A06*

* Noted cultural critic to speak at UR*

* Opening lecture for new center*



Gerald Early is not one to shy away from controversy, using the power of
the pen to write about American culture and issues of race.

After the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager, in
August 2014 in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Early wrote an essay for*
Time* magazine about the city’s racial divisions and concluded that there
“remains in St. Louis a sense that African-Americans are strangers in a
strange land.”

Early, who has been on the faculty of Washington University in St. Louis
since 1982, will be speaking at the University of Rochester on Thursday,
giving the inaugural lecture for UR’s new Humanities Center.

His talk, “Noon in the City: Race, Neighborhood and an African-American
Festival,” is open to the public and starts at 5 p.m., in the
Hawkins-Carlson Room of Rush Rhees Library on UR’s River Campus.

“He’s incredibly versatile. He has investigated many facets of American
culture and many activities that touch the lives of ordinary people,” said
Joan Shelley Rubin, who is a UR history professor and interim director of
the Humanities Center. Early, 63, who is a professor of English and African
and African-American studies, was the founding director of the Center for
Humanities at Washington University.

He will be drawing from a book that he is writing with his youngest
daughter, Rosalind, who is a journalist, about the clash of cultures in
South Philadelphia. Upscale white residents, who moved in and gentrified
this part of the city, wanted an annual festival with African roots —
Odunde — moved out of South Philadelphia.

“So my talk is about the history of this festival. Your gentrifiers have
one idea and for other people this is part of the history they lived in the
neighborhood,” said Early in a recent interview.

The festival, which continues to be held in South Philadelphia, where Early
grew up, provides a lens for Early to look at race relations. Two years
ago, President Barack Obama appointed Early to the National Council on the
Humanities, which is part of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Members of the council meet to review and approve grants. Early, who did
his undergraduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania and earned his
master’s and doctorate at Cornell University, describes himself as a
humanist. He emerged as a major cultural critic in 1989, with the
publication of his first book,* Tuxedo Junction: Essays on American

which gives his take on everything from boxing and jazz to literature and
Jesse Jackson.

The title of the book comes from a song by a black band leader, Erskine
Hawkins. It was initially recorded in 1939 and became a hit with black
dancers but became a much bigger hit with whites when Glenn Miller’s
orchestra recorded it a year later The integration of African- Americans
into the mainstream is what Early calls “crossing over.”

In* The Sammy Davis, Jr. Reader,* Early tells how Davis emerged as a star
during the early 1950s as part of a generation of stars. “These performers
wanted to be accepted by whites for what they themselves thought they were
and not what whites wanted them to be,” wrote Early. As Davis put it,
“They’ll like me even if they hate my guts!” Early’s 1994 book,* The
Culture of Bruising: Essays on Prizefighting, Literature and Modern
American Culture,* won the National Book Critics Circle

Award. The book shows Early’s ability to delve into a topic in all its
complexities. He described modern prizefighting as “a remarkable metaphor
for the philosophical and racial condition of men (and sometimes women) in
modern mass society.”

The sport, Early noted, was launched in 18th-century England, largely as a
form of entertainment for the British upper class who placed bets “to amuse
themselves at the expense of low-class ruffians.” But Early also noted that
boxing was the one sport that had a significant black presence in the late
19th century and that in the 1960s the defiant Muhammad Ali was described
by Eldridge Cleaver of the Black Panthers as “the first ‘free black’
champion ever to confront white America.”

Early’s deep knowledge of sports and music led to him serving as a
consultant to Ken Burns’* Baseball* and* Jazz* documentaries.

In 1994, Early also published* Daughters: On Family and Fatherhood,*

which, as Early explained in the book’s preface, “is the story of a faith
struggle, of how members of a family come to believe in each other and,
through this, I think, to believe in that which not only makes belief in
ourselves possible but makes it matter.”

He quotes his oldest daughter, Linnet, asking him if he liked being a

Early replied with a definite “yes” and said; “It’s like dancing with a
partner. It takes a lot of effort to do it well. But when it’s done well,
it’s a beautiful thing to see.”

This memoir includes a chapter about an incident in 1991 that made national
news. It happened in the town of Frontenac, an upscale suburb of St. Louis
where Early and his wife, Ida, took their children to a Christmas bazaar at
Le Chateau Mall. While Ida Early took their two daughters to look at the
Christmas displays, Early walked around the mall — and found himself
questioned by a police officer, who told Early that he had received a call
with a description of someone “lurking” who looked like Early. “Something
in me snapped,” wrote Early. “There I was, I immediately thought, about to
be humiliated before the whites coming in and out of the building.” Early
flung his wallet at the officer and said, “Here’s mountains of
identification. Take your pick.”

JGOODMAN@* Gannett.com*


* Gerald Early will be speaking at 5 p.m. Thursday in the Hawkins-Carlson
Room of the Rush Rhees Library.*


* “He has investigated many facets of American culture and many activities
that touch the lives of ordinary people.”*



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*Copyright © 2015 Democrat and Chronicle 09/24/2015*
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