by Gloria Dulan-Wilson
Brothers and sisters, I just received this communique from Brothers James McIntosh and Omowale Clay in reference to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. And it looks as though the gauntlet has been thrown down - again.
I probably don’t really have to say anything, because their letter stands for itself. But that would be too easy, particularly when I, myself, as a New Yorker, have some very strong opinions and concerns about the future of one of the greatest repositories of Black Culture ever.
So, prior to my sharing their letter with you, allow me to make some simple statements (and you know that with me, nothing is ever “simple”).
In the first place who tells your story (our story) and who shapes your history (our history) has a great deal of control over you/us. It was for this reason that Arturo Schomburg started the Schomburg library in the first place. Not because he wanted the New York Public Library to control it, but because he wanted to be sure that our truth about us was in our hands and under our control. When he started the Schomburg collection, nobody was telling our story, and when they did it was distorted, full of lies, and as an afterthought.
Secondly, when it came to who would be the lead factor in the continuation of that truth and the flow of information for and about the Black community, we have been more than adequately served by Dr. Howard Dodson from 1982 to the present. Not only was Dodson a scholar, but he had flair, panache and a love of the Black community of New York and the world that could not be denied. And of course, we in turn loved him back. Under Dodson the Schomburg expanded, grew and became the central gathering place for scholars, students, celebrities -- all wanting to be a part of the very rich and live history that is ensconced within those walls.
We, the Black community, was very clear when we stated that Dr. Dodson’s stepping down would leave a hole in the community, and some very big footsteps to follow. Very big indeed. We were also very clear when we stated that in order for the progress that has been made under Dodson to continue unabated, we had already done our research and selected Dr. Molefi Asante, scholar, historian, and lover of Black people and their history to fill those considerable shoes.
As usual, as is their wont, it seems that white folks just can’t refrain from trying those divide and conquer games. They’ve been doing it since slavery, and they have it as a habit somewhere deep in their subconscious minds. Even though they don’t say it, it’s obvious that they still operate under the Plessy v. Ferguson case where Supreme Court (in-)Justice Roger B. Taney stated that a Black man had no rights that a white man was bound to respect.
And the New York Public Library’s ersatz search committee is operating under the same rubric. Even though a panel was held to discuss the upcoming selection of the successor to Dr. Dodson, and the Black community clearly expressed their selection (read choice), under LeClerc, they pretended to work with the Black community, having brought Dr. Asante to New York four (4!!!!!) times for interviews. Then, schizophrenically they turned in another direction and chose a complete and totally different candidate.
Then, adding insult to injury, they had the temerity and the gall to promulgate the announcement under the signature of Henry Louis “skip the truth” Gates!!
Gates of all people, who had the nerves to say that Black did not deserve reparations; followed some inanities stating that African had brought slavery upon themselves. If my memory serves me correctly - and it does - the Black community castigated Gates for not being or acting in the best interest of Black people It was obvious that Gates has drifted to the “white side” (not unlike Darth Vader’s drift to the dark side - same sinister meaning). In fact, I think we, the Black community, made it clear that Gates was not to have anything to do with the selection of our next head of the Schomburg because he had clearly shown his insensitivity to the needs of Black people (Gates defection to the “white side” is a story for another time - check www.gloriadulanwilson.blogspot for additional commentaries on Gates). His involvement in the affairs of Black New Yorkers was not welcome or desired.
Those wishes clearly were not honored either. So, thinking they can play their modern version of “divide and conquer,” the NYPL search committee (and those that back them who are the real culprits) are looking to pit two equally competent scholars (Asante and Muhammad) against each other, with the possibility of the Black community falling on either side of the line.
But the Black community has already spoken. And we did not stutter!! Just as we did not stutter in 1982 when we stood for Howard Dodson over the white selection for the Schomburg!
However, we are not going to play diversionary tactics with the vapid New York Public Library, either. The Schomburg Library is one of Harlem’s finest centers for Black History and Research. It was not designed by the NYPL. It will not be mismanaged by the NYPL, or those who only deign to show up and make decisions that are not in our best interest when it pleases them.
The Black community is solidly behind Dr. Asante, and will back up the Save the Schomburg Coalition in ensuring that our selection for head of the Schomburg, Dr. Molefi Asante, is the one who is hired. It’s our library; it’s our research center; it‘s our community. And Dr. Asante is our choice.
Stay Blessed &
THE LETTER FROM THE COALITION FOLLOWS:
As many of you might know, The Save the Schomburg Coalition is engaged with the New York City Library in a battle for who will direct the Schomburg. Because we stepped to the library with a candidate of indisputable credentials of the highest order, Dr. Molefi Asante, they choose the familiar course of divide and conquer. After giving Dr. Asante four interviews the New York Library Administration (led by President Paul LeClerc) announced this past week the selection of Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, who they (the library) made great efforts to point out is the Great Grandson of Elijah Muhammad.
Although we can appreciate this young developing scholar, we thought it necessary to engage him in the context of what is at stake in Harlem today and the role WE must play in its defense and development.
The letter to our young brother follows - we will not be divided in this battle to Save The Schomburg. Please Forward far and wide, inclusive of whatever press contacts you know. A Luta Continua
Subject: SAVE THE SCHOMBURG: A CONVERSATION AMONG BROTHERS
November 24, 2010
Greetings Dr. Muhammad,
We know you are a person of quick understanding so we will be as brief as we can. In 1982, the NYC Public Library announced the appointment of a white curator of The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. We of the Schomburg Coalition let them know that this was unacceptable.
Demonstrations were held at the home of the appointee. Two of our members, Charles Barron who is currently a NYC Councilman, and Preston Wilcox, now an ancestor were arrested during that struggle. A lawsuit was filed against the Library by Attorney Alton Maddox and after a protracted struggle, the Library was forced to appoint Dr. Howard Dodson, selected by the Schomburg Coalition from the resumes that the City had previously thrown in the garbage.
When it was announced this year, that this position would soon again become open, we sent an open letter to Paul LeClerc, NYPL Board Chair. We informed Mr. LeClerc that America's foremost scholar in African/African-American History was making himself available for the Directorship of the Schomburg. A coalition once again formed (Save the Schomburg Coalition) to demand Dr. Molefi Asante's appointment.
The (New York Public Library) engaged in a public relations battle --writing letters to the Amsterdam News, New York City’s largest Black secular newspaper, claiming that some members of the Black community were responding to rumors that whites wanted to move the Library and dismantle it etc. They hired the foremost Black PR firm in the city to hold a community forum to assuage these concerns and the Coalition’s alleged response to “rumors”.
All of this was done to avoid dealing with a united effort to support Dr. Asante's selection. At that community forum, the coalition showed up in numbers and made the same demand. A few days after that a small meeting was held between NYPL Board Chair Paul LeClerc, officials from the library, the Mellon Foundation and 5 representatives of the Schomburg Coalition-- Dr. Adelaide Sanford, Charles Barron, Camille Yarbrough, and the two of us whose signatures appear at the end of this letter. Board Chair Paul LeClerc was given Dr. Asante's sixty page curriculum vitae, which documented his scholarship, administrative experience and teaching credentials; all evidence of a history of professionalism that has encompassed the publication of seventy books, over 400 published papers and being named by an international conference of African scholars as "one of the top ten greatest minds in the African world today”.
At that meeting, Mr. LeClerc was again informed that the Black community was poised to fight if Dr. Asante was not invited to apply for this position. Within 48 hours, Dr. Asante was invited to an interview - and so began an amended search process which involved Dr. Asante being interviewed a total of four times.
History informs our firm belief that the selection of Dr. Asante for the position of Director of the Schomburg Center, backed by an united Black community, inclusive of a united front of his colleagues (who declined their own consideration for the directorship in support of Dr. Asante’s candidacy), presented a formidable dilemma to the New York City Public Library System and the Bloomberg administration. Those candidates that had an inside track to the directorship, now had to compete with a Black man whose life’s work presented an insurmountable hurdle to overcome.
The NYPL eventually settled on a course of action they felt would divide our community by selecting a young Black man, with a blood linkage to a historic figure (Elijah Muhammad) of the Black Nationalist Movement in this country. We recognize you as a young and gifted African historian. As such, we thought it critical to put your selection to the Directorship of the Schomburg in the context of the history that has defined our struggle for community control over this valuable institution. In this context we would ask that you carefully review and evaluate the Schomburg struggle.
Most importantly, it is our hope that you understand that outside of the context of a Black community demand, Library officials such as, Mr. LeClerc, Henry "Skip the truth" Gates and their associates, would have attempted to choose a non-Black, as they did the last time this position became open. This letter is an open communication between the Schomburg Coalition and you. It is our request that you discuss with us the way forward in this situation, having been informed of the process that occurred before your appointment.
We recognize that you have been placed in a difficult situation. Let’s have a conversation that puts the integrity of our community first. We plan on sending an open letter to Paul LeClerc which will reflect the Coalition’s position on this critical community issue. We hope that at that time we/you will have a better insight into the history and direction of this fight to Save the Schomburg. Respectfully, James C. McIntosh, M.D. and Omowale Clay Co - Chairs, Coalition to Save the Schomburg(Formerly known as Schomburg Coalition)
FootNote from GDW:
Now that you’ve read the letter, there are several things that we must consider going forward. Both Dr. Asante and Dr. Muhammad are wonderfully talented, intelligent, empowered Black men. So we are not trying to set up any sort of situation that would dignify one while denigrating the other. We likewise are no longer willing to allow others to make key decisions for us, when we are perfectly capable of making them for ourselves.
When they purport to make these decisions it becomes “his-story” not history - or their story, not our story. When they try to keep us off balance, playing keep away with our rights, we have every right not to adhere to their edicts.
In case you haven’t been watching the international (world) news lately, it may be of interest to note that the rest of the world is likewise finding this out for themselves. In London, where there have been proposed massive cutbacks in education, the student, from elementary to college level have turned out enmass on the steps of Buckingham Palace to let it be know that “they’re mad as hell and aren’t going to take it any more. The surrounded the police, turned over a few police cars, and got the message across.
Not only are we facing the Schomburg leadership issue; Bloomberg is trying to foist Kathie Black on the community as the next Chancellor, even though the community has made it clear that she is patently unqualified. In New York we’re facing cutbacks in education, including public, charter and head start programs. We’re witnessing massive layoffs in our schools on both the public and charter school levels; and threatened job layoff at the city and state level, while at the same time they increase MTA and Transit costs; water bills, utilities, all increasing, while the needs of the people, of those who truly make up the communities are ignored. Why aren’t we as mad as hell like they are in other parts of the world. While Wall Street gets bonuses, we are getting banged. It’s time to do some “banging” back; make some national headlines.
Make it known that we are not sheep to be herded about while they take liberties with our liberty. So, after reading this, make sure you pass it on.
More importantly, though, get in touch with Dr. McIntosh and Omowale Clay to find out what you can do to help bring Molefi Asante on board as head of the Schomburg; and beyond that what do we need to do to shape our the Black community into a viable, supportive, empowered environment for us and our families.
In fact, if we can get the various groups who are objecting to the way things are being run (read, ruined) around here, to gather and not only protest, but shut down the city and the state simultaneously, we too might get some national and international attention.
The time for side lining, half stepping, fence sitting, or sending long distance support is past. It’s really time for visibility and viability.
The Schomburg is only emblematic of so many egregious acts perpetrated by the infrastructure against the Black community. It has to stop NOW. We not only have to stop it, but we have to make sure that we get what we want NOW.
Stay blessed &