‘My research across borders’ (repost)

I was interviewed by Katharina Donn for U.S. Studies Online (http://www.baas.ac.uk/usso/my-research-across-borders-lonneke-geerlings/). Read the interview below!

 

My Research across Borders: Lonneke Geerlings

geerlings photoName: Lonneke Geerlings

Research Level: PhD

Institution: Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam

(If current PhD student):

Year Started: 2014

Predicted End Date: 2018

Your Research

You’re in an elevator with a stranger for one minute. They ask you to explain your research, what do you say?

I am researching a forgotten woman in history, called Rosey E. Pool. She a writer, translator, and educator. Born into a Jewish family in Amsterdam, she was one of the few of her family members to survive the Holocaust. After the war she travelled as a Fulbright scholar to Black colleges in the American South, where she saw similarities between the race segregation there and segregation she had experienced herself under Nazi rule. However, her initial ‘claim to fame’ was that one of her former pupils was growing to become somewhat of a celebrity: Anne Frank.

What got you first interested in your research area?

Actually my supervisor approached me with this subject, and I am forever grateful to her for giving me this opportunity. I had done research before on transnational history, often focusing on the Netherlands and the United States, so this was a perfect fit.

Which moment has been your proudest so far?

My research allowed me to go to New York for the first time, which was wonderful and it allowed me to visit some of the places Rosey Pool went to. But actually most of the things I am proud of are difficult to explain to others. Like that time when I had been digging in one particular archive in Amsterdam for days and days, when I finally found what I was looking for: Rosey Pool’s autograph from when she was nineteen years old. Doing research often has those ‘unremarkable proud moments’, I guess.

Would you like to share any ‘blank spots’ in your field – questions which you think are important but which are under-researched?

It is remarkable that a person like Rosey Pool has not yet been researched – even though many of the people in her network (f.e. Langston Hughes, Sterling Brown, Audre Lorde, Amiri Baraka, W.E.B. Du Bois, but also Anne Frank) have been researched extensively.

If you turned your research project into a popular non-fiction bestseller, what would the title be?

I am actually thinking of writing a Dutch version of my dissertation, intended for a general audience. One quote by Pool sums up her goal in life very well: “That piece of yellow cloth became my black skin” – referring to the yellow star she had to wear during the war. I’m thinking of including that in the title.

Which field of research (or whose work) is your greatest inspiration for your project? How does your research stand out from this?

There have been many inspirational works. I just read Gerald Horne’s Race Woman. The Lives of Shirley Graham Du Bois. It is truly admiring how he is able to critical remarks about the racism and sexism that Graham Du Bois encountered. He does not overanalyse stuff but as a reader you’re aware he has read all relevant literature on the subject. That’s what I’m aiming for.

Research Across Borders

Which countries have you worked in so far? Which ones would you like to work in in the future?

I have primarily studied in the Netherlands, but I have been to Dundee (Scotland) as an Erasmus student, and have had a fellowship in London (Eccles/British Library), and in the future I will go to Berlin (EHRI) and the United States (EAAS). I would love to work in the U.K. or the U.S. Research in the U.K. is inspiring and suits my topic quite well.

What is the biggest difference between American Studies in different countries that you have encountered so far?

In most countries a lot of research has a slight of hint of the country of origin – French-Canadian connections, Romania and the U.S. during the Cold War, etc. etc.

What’s the craziest place your research has taken you to so far?

Amongst other places, the former house of Rosey Pool in London, at 23a High Point at Highgate. I try to investigate the place as a contact zone where ironically a lot of Americans met each other. Last year when I was in London, I rang the doorbell and apparently an American couple lived there now. Unfortunately, history wasn’t their cup of tea. But I got to see the place from the inside, which was great. I must admit a felt a historical sensation when I stood on the exact place where Rosey Pool used to live, sleep, and eat.

Your Future

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Hopefully I will be a part-time researcher and part-time lecturer at the university I’m working at currently. But in general – I like to keep all options open. I am very passionate about historical research, and I hope I will be connected to this field some way or another.

 

Archival Report from Lonneke Geerlings, Eccles Centre Postgraduate Fellow 2015

This blog post was previously published on the website of the British Association for American Studies (BAAS). In December 2015 I could do research at the British Library on ‘The role of Dutch mediators and African American actors in the black theatre scene of London in the 1950s’, thanks to a generous grant of BAAS and the Eccles Centre.

Thanks to the support of the Eccles Centre, I was able to examine books on the American and British Black Arts Movements, and support my argument that the London home of Dutch multilingual writer, translator, and anthologist of African American poetry Rosey Pool was a hub for black culture in the 1950s and early 1960s, writes Lonneke Geerlings, Eccles Centre Postgraduate Fellow 2015.

Thanks to the support of the Eccles Centre, I have been able to visit the British Library for three weeks in December 2015. The research that I have been able to do has been a vital part of my PhD research entitled “The Role of Dutch Mediators and African American Actors in the Black Theatre Scene of London in the 1950s”. My PhD thesis focuses on Rosey E. Pool (1905-1971), a Dutch multilingual writer, translator, and anthologist of African American poetry, of Jewish descent. During the Second World War she worked as a teacher (Anne Frank was amongst her pupils), was a member of a German-Jewish resistance

group, and escaped from the Westerbork Nazi transit camp. Her experiences during the war transformed her interest in Black Poetry into a political strive, and she became involved in the American and British Black Arts Movements. Pool moved to Highgate, London, in 1949, and frequently visited the United States. At the British Library, I have focused on her period in London.

I have compared Pool to Paul Breman (1931-2008), another Dutch anthologist of African American poetry, also living in London. Both Rosey Pool and Paul Breman contributed to making London a contact zone (Pratt 1991) for African Americans, especially in the field of literature and theatre. Here, I will focus on Rosey Pool. Pool was one of the few people of her family to survive the Holocaust. In London she felt at home again, she wrote in her autobiography: ‘London has gained warmth through the presence of decolonized immigrants. […] [T]he great capital has gained colour, tone, and relaxation.’ Through correspondence and her travels, Rosey Pool formed a life line between her London home and various African American celebrities, such as Langston Hughes, W.E.B. Du Bois and his wife Shirley Graham, Owen Dodson, and many others. Pool maintained contact with various organisations in London, such as the West African Arts Club (with Seth Cudjoe and Ben Enwonwu), the Negro Theatre Workshop (with Pearl Connor and Edric Connor), the Royal Court Theatre (Wole Soyinka, Oscar Lewenstein, and George Devine).

As these names suggest, this research touches many histories. In the 1950s and early 1960s London was an ‘in-between space’ (Homi Bhabha 1994:1-2) for both immigrants and temporary citizens. London often served as a training ground of political education. Writing transnational histories such as these always provides a challenge. You have to get acquainted with multiple historiographies that are often written within national contexts. Much of the sources I needed were not available in the Netherlands. Therefore I am very grateful for the Eccles Centre, BAAS, and the British Library. My time at the BL was spent examining books on the American and British Black Arts Movements, with Rosey Pool’s London home as a hub for black culture in the 1950s and early 1960s.

Rosey Pool’s contact were often not just friendships, but also formed the foundation for cultural and political mobilisation. Both Pool and Breman actively pursued both their own careers and the careers of others, while simultaneously creating political awareness. They both edited poetry anthologies, organised poetry recitals, and Pool also participated in theatre performances. As Paul Gilroy has pointed out (Gilroy in: Ugwu 1995:12), the link between black cultural practice and political aspirations has been a long tradition. Cultural practices have been highly significant in the ‘claiming of voice’ (bell hooks in: Ugwu 1995:212) for people in the Black Diaspora, and often a first step in emancipating – both in the U.S. and the U.K.

The 1947 performance of the American social protest play Deep Are the Roots is a good example. Set in the spring of 1945 in the parlour of a retired U.S. Senator, the play revolves around the deep-rooted (hence the title) racism and prejudice in the Deep South. In 1945 and 1946 the African American actor Gordon Heath (1918-1991) played the leading role in the Broadway adaption of the play, turning him into a Broadway star. Following its success, the play came to the Wyndham’s Theatre in London with the same cast. The theatre magazine The Stage noted in an article – simply called ‘Negro’ – that the presence of African Americans in the British theatres made ‘us feel more kindly towards them, it is obvious that we respect them as artists and are pleased to see them in our midst.’ Perhaps somewhat naively the writer emphasised that the ‘colour-bar’ was not an issue at all: ‘Both are artists and that is all that matters.’ Heath himself wryly remarked that when he came to Britain in 1947, ‘the “colour problem” was considered in England as someone else’s business’, reflecting the dominant, white voice. But to the black community in London performances such as Deep Are the Roots  meant much more. The American ‘race problem’ was used as a by-proxy way of raising political consciousness amongst the existing of colonial students, non-white immigrants, and even to African Americans themselves, passing through London. The period before the Nottingham/ Notting Hill riots of 1958 is often perceived as an ‘age of innocence’ in British historiography. As James Procter has argued, Britain’s early post-war black communities were in no sense ‘pre-political’ (Procter 2000:15).

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Rosey E. Pool with actors of Langston Hughes’ play Black Nativity, during a tour through England (ca. 1965). The picture includes Frances Steadman, Marion Williams, Alberta Carter (together ‘The Stars of Faith’), Rosey E. Pool, Vinnette Carroll, Alex Bradford and his Bradford Singers, and Madeleine Bell. Source: Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam.

Throughout the late 1940s and 1950s, London served as an eye-opener for African Americans who visited the city. Gordon Heath for example, grew accustomed to the liberal climate in the London theatres. When he occasionally revisited his home country, it always shocked him to be treated as a second-class citizen (Bourne 2001:103). Pool and Heath met in Heath’s dressing room in Wyndham’s Theatre in London 1947. He was amazed by her knowledge: ‘How did this roly-poly Dutch lady who had never set foot in America come by her firmly-held opinions, her acute perceptions, her formidable intuitions, her informed passions?’ They soon became friends and kept in touch. In 1958, they both appeared on Dutch TV, in a Dutch translation of the BBC TV drama For the Defence (Stanley Mann, 1956). Heath played the role of a lawyer assigned to defend a white teenager who was accused of starting a race riot. For the performance Heath learned Dutch, and Pool taught him the correct pronunciation. Through theatre performances the Dutch audience was informed about racial issues abroad, and also making them aware of racial issues at home.

Rosey Pool, herself a victim of racial persecution by the Nazis, made the fight against racism her life mission. Her international activities show the intersectional scope of this research. Pool held several jobs at the BBC: between 1954 and 1957 she was involved in the BBC’s Dutch programmes. She also presented programmes on African American poetry, simply called ‘Negro Poetry’. In October 1952 Pool wrote to her friend Langston Hughes:

‘Did I or didn’t I tell you that our cherished child the Negro Poetry Programme in the BBC Third is coming off at last? This BBC is the strangest of broadcasting organisations I ever met and the Third Programme although a wonderful thing is rather Bohemian in its administration. This means that programmes are recorded and filed and just do as good English people do: they take their place in the queue. Well, at last we have reached our turn. We shall go on the air on two consecutive nights Thursday 13th November [1952] … and Friday 14th… Now keep your fingers crossed for all of us.’ (Anneke Buys 1986, n.p.)

In the years that followed Pool organised a variety of activities in London, all focusing on black poetry and black theatre. In September 1958 a poetry recital was held at the Royal Court Theatre, with poetry selected by Rosey Pool and Harlem Renaissance celebrity Eric Walrond. When Langston Hughes’ play Black Nativity was performed in the United Kingdom in 1962 (and again in 1965), Pool served as his ‘eyes on the ground’. She collected all the reviews of the play and sent them to Hughes.

The ‘invasion’ of African American actors on the British stage in this period was also an important reason for black British actors to organise themselves as well (Chambers 2011:112). On the one hand the references to American segregation made British actors more aware of the colour bar. In 1947 the play Anna Lucasta was performed with an all African American cast at His Majesty’s Theatre. Shortly afterwards the Negro Theatre Company was founded by Edric Connor. A somewhat similar organisation, Negro Theatre Workshop, was founded in 1961 by Pearl Connor. Rosey Pool was named as one of its patrons (‘Letters. The Negro Theatre Workshop Trust’, The Stage and Television Today, 2 December 1965, p. 11). On the other hand, African American actors were sometimes met with hostility, especially when they were more successful than their British peers. The Trinidadian playwright Errol John (1924-1988), for example, felt that his plays couldn’t succeed without having Americans in the cast of his stage productions (Stephen Bourne 2001:64).

The findings from my time at the British Library are a fundamental part of my doctoral work, and I therefore wish to thank the BAAS/Eccles Centre for their generous support.

‘Monday: White Only’ at a North Carolina launderette in 1962

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This picture above went viral a few weeks ago: ‘The only thing that should be separated by color is LAUNDRY.’ It reminded me of a piece that Rosey Pool wrote back in 1962, when racial segregation was still in full swing in the American South.[1] Pool just visited the South, visiting colleges, universities, and schools in Tennessee, North Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia, Virginia, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida. The following incident probably took place in Concord, North Carolina – one of the few places where Pool had a few days off. Since Pool was a gifted writer, I will quote the short piece in its entirety:

Take that morning when I went for an early walk through ‘the’ street of a small North Carolina town. That was at the beginning of my tour of the South and I was still in my sane European mind. They had one of those shops there which we call ‘launderettes’ in London. There the washing-machine institution was called ‘washeteria’. Nice word, I thought. Then I saw the other words on the window: MONDAY: WHITE ONLY.

Well, that’s funny, my uncorrupted mind told me. Why should one have to wash just white things on the Monday….
Then it dawned upon me that the sign did not mean that. Down there the word white of course meant… well… white. 

It was ludicrous. Idiotic. Maddening. Filthy. The South hit me good and hard. 

The washeteria had just switched on its lights and electric fans. Its White Monday could begin. I went in.

A kind, motherly looking woman received me. “Can I help you, honey?”

On the spur of the moment I gave myself a heavy Dutch accent.

“Please”,  I stammered as demurely naive as I possibly could.

“Please, I am from Europe, from Holland. There are many things I cannot understand in America.”

“O, you speak English so well”, she praised me.

“Thank you”, I acknowledged the compliment. “We have washing-machines too at home and we always hear that American machinery is better than ours. Then why can you not wash coloured things on Mondays?”

The washeteriana’s face brightened in a sympathetic smile. “O, honey – child, you don’t understand… This don’t mean that you cain’t [sic] wash coloureds, it means that coloured cain’t wash.”

“But I don’t understand”, this thick-headed Dutchwoman insisted. I think I dropped the fake accent at that moment but she didn’t notice it.

“You say that coloured can’t wash. I think you mean coloured people, yes?” She just stared at me, so I argued on.

“But that is not true. Many people I know have coloured ladies that wash for them. They do it beautifully. And iron too. Now at the College here…”

“Are you a professor?”, the lady asked.

“Sort of.”

“What College did you mean?”

I named the school. A College for Negroes [sic]. Her mouth fell open. Then she had a brain-wave.

“Are you the lady that knew Anne Frank?”

I am that lady. So the washeteria manager does read the local paper, I concluded.

I drew her into a conversation that lasted over thirty minutes. About races and people who are different, about Jews and Negroes and Greeks and Italians, about Hitler and the Southern way of life, about the child Anne Frank, one of six million victims of race mania. And also about why Monday is the day for white only.

“Well, the coloured can wash all the other days, honey. But we have some white families in our city that can’t afford someone to wash for them and have to do their own washing. So… naturally they don’t want to [do] that when there’s coloured around.”

Naturally?”, I asked, “why should that be so natural?”

“Look, honey that is our way of life… perhaps it isn’t quite right. I’ve never thought about these things before…

I’d seen tears in her eyes when I told her some of the things that I had witnessed during Hitler’s reign of race-madness. I had to go back to my duties at that College and took my farewells: “I enjoyed talking to you”, I said truthfully.

“And I sure enjoyed meeting you, honey”, she said, “See you some more, some time.”

I had to leave the town before the next WHITE MONDAY. I often wonder whether our meeting made her think of ‘these things’ some more… some time…

All legally-enforced public segregation was abolished by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But segregation, without sanction of law, exists to this very day.

ohio
‘White Only’ Sign On Pool In Ohio

[1] University of Sussex, The Keep, Special Collections, Rosey Pool Collection, SxMs19/11/3/18, 16-8, ‘White Monday’ [1962], p. 1-3.

Rosey Pool’s miraculous escape from Westerbork (1943)

Rosey Pool is mentioned in a recent publication by the Dutch historian and journalist Ben Braber. Braber has published on Jewish resistance during the war, and also on the ‘group Van Dien’, of which Rosey Pool was a member. His book, Waren mijn ogen een bron van tranen. Een joods echtpaar in het verzet, 1940-1945, includes a short part on Rosey Pool’s escape from Westerbork.

In May 1943, Pool, her parents, and her brother and sister-in-law were arrested during a razzia. They were sent to the Westerbork transit camp, in the eastern part of the Netherlands. In there, she witnessed how her family members were deported ‘to the East’ (all four of them were deported to Sobibór, none of them survived). Within the Westerbork camp (and the rest of the Netherlands), there were some rumours about gas chambers. But it was hard to imagine that the majority of Jews were killed instantly as part of an intentional annihilation, what we know now as the Holocaust.[1]

Pool had been a member of the German-Dutch Jewish resistance group Van Dien, and had helped to forge passports and supported German Jewish immigrants. She had been involved in antifascist activities before the war during her time in Berlin (between 1927 and 1939).

Jonge Strijders 1932
‘Anti-oorlogsavond “Jonge Strijders”, Het Volk, Dagblad voor de arbeiderspartij, 3 September 1932, p. 3. URL: http://resolver.kb.nl/resolve?urn=ddd:011117034:mpeg21:a0079

Perhaps Rosey Pool was more aware of the dangers when she was also listed on Tuesday 7 September 1943 to be deported to Auschwitz. She sent a message to a member of her resistance group, asking for Die Eisenbahn.[1] The members of the group understood she wasn’t asking for sheet music. Pool referred to the underground railroad of the American Civil War, which had helped slaves to escape to the North.

The group managed to get a dispensation for Pool, last minute. She was taken off the carriage just minutes for departure on 7 September. The train left without her. Only 2 people on that train surived the Nazi death camps. (The famous Dutch writer Etty Hillesum was on the same train. She died in Auschwitz on 20 November 1943.)

In the following weeks, members of the resistance group within and outside of the Westerbork camp set up Pool’s escape. On Tuesday 21 September, she received dispensation to go to Amsterdam to buy books for the camp library. She never returned. Philip Mechanicus (1889-1944), an eyewitness in the camp, wrote in his diary:

‘Wednesday, 22 September [1943]. Mrs. P., who had received dispensation for buying books in Amsterdam – for the punished Arians who will be accommodated in the camp – did not return to barrack 83 yesterday evening on the specified time. Turmoil in the barrack. The lady was supposed to be put on transport 14 days ago [7 September 1943], but was taken off the train at the very last moment.’[2]

I’m still trying to find out how she escaped exactly. After her escape, Rosey Pool went into hiding in Baarn until May 1945.

Source: http://ro-online.robeheer.nl/1731/0BBB5A19-75CC-45B0-803D-EF0DFAED90DB/i_NL.IMRO.1731.KampWesterbork-VO01_0004.jpg
Source: http://ro-online.robeheer.nl/1731/0BBB5A19-75CC-45B0-803D-EF0DFAED90DB/i_NL.IMRO.1731.KampWesterbork-VO01_0004.jpg

[1] Ben Braber, Waren mijn ogen een bron van tranen. Een joods echtpaar in het verzet 1940-1945, Amsterdam, Amsterdam University Press, 2015, p. 103

[2] Philip Mechanicus, In Depot, dagboek uit Westerbork, Polak & Van Gennep, 1964, p. 168. URL: http://www.joodsebibliotheek.nl/auteur/TEo/Philip-Mechanicus/boek/izo/In-Depot/168/txt/

[1] Eva Moraal, Als ik morgen niet op transport ga… Kamp Westerbork in beleving en herinnering, Amsterdam, De Bezige Bij, 2014.

Rosey E. Pool and Nina Simone in Nigeria with AMSAC (1961)

In June 1957, the American Society of African Culture (AMSAC) was founded by five African American intellectuals.[1] During its heyday in the early 1960s, AMSAC had around four hundred members. One of the main goals of the organisation was to expose African Americans to their African heritage. This aim was pursued through organising exhibitions, lectures, music performances, and conferences in the United States (primarily New York) and Africa (occasionally).

‘Leading personalities attending celebration in Lagos’, probably a newspaper clipping. Randy Weston is pictured on the bottom row, second from the right. Source: Rosey Pool Collection, University of Sussex, The Keep Special Collections, SxMs19/14/1/6 Scrapbook 1961-63, n.p.
‘Leading personalities attending celebration in Lagos’, probably a newspaper clipping. Source: Rosey Pool Collection, University of Sussex, The Keep Special Collections, SxMs19/14/1/6 Scrapbook 1961-63, n.p.

The Lagos Festival of December 1961 was one of the major events of AMSAC, and was the first event on African soil. The Festival, which included the opening of a Cultural Center, symbolically coincided with the one-year celebration of Nigeria’s independence. It included music and dance performances, panel sessions, and lectures. Highlights of the festival were two public concerts in the King George V Stadium in Lagos. Joint African and African-American shows were performed in this outdoor amphitheatre that included performances by Nina Simone, Brock Peters, local Atilogu dancers, folk singer Odetta, Natalie Hinderas, and Lionel Hampton.

The political opportunities[2] for this Festival were created by an interplay of the Cold War, the American Civil Rights Movement, the decolonisation of the sub-Saharan Africa, which all coincided in the late 1950s and 1960s. The Lagos trip of 1961 was in the middle of the decolonisation of the African continent, which served as a source of inspiration for the American Civil Rights Movement.

The opening of an AMSAC office, 18-19 December 1961, Lagos, Nigeria. Rosey E. Pool stands on the left.  Source: Rosey Pool Collection, University of Sussex, The Keep Special Collections, SxMs19/14/1/6 Scrapbook 1961-63, n.p.
The opening of an AMSAC office, 18-19 December 1961, Lagos, Nigeria. Rosey E. Pool stands on the left. Source: Rosey Pool Collection, University of Sussex, The Keep Special Collections, SxMs19/14/1/6 Scrapbook 1961-63, n.p.

Rosey E. Pool (1905-1971)

One morning in Lagos, press photos of the day before were displayed in the hotel lobby. Rosey E. Pool describes how Nina Simone, by 1968 a major recording artist, stormed into Pool’s hotel room and urged to come see the photos. ‘You look one hell of a lot of funny!’ Pool saw her over-exposed white face on the photos. She said – with her British accent – while laughing: ‘I look like a spook.’ This aroused laughter across the group, since ‘spook’ was a curse word for African Americans. ‘With us’, Pool protested, ‘spooks are originally white.’[3]

‘2 a.m. Arrival Airport Lagos’. Source: Sussex, SxMs19/14/1/6 Scrapbook AMSAC 1961-1963, n.p.
‘2 a.m. Arrival Airport Lagos’. Source:  Rosey Pool Collection, University of Sussex, The Keep Special Collections, SxMs19/14/1/6 Scrapbook AMSAC 1961-1963, n.p.
'Nina Simone with Babatunde Olantunji arriving at the Lagos Airport from New York, December 14, 1961, for the AMSAC Arts Festival on December 18th and 19th, 1961.' Source: Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
‘Nina Simone with Babatunde Olantunji arriving at the Lagos Airport from New York, December 14, 1961, for the AMSAC Arts Festival on December 18th and 19th, 1961.’ Source: Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Nina Simone (1933-2003)

To Nina Simone, who just became famous with ‘I Loves You Porgy’, the Festival had another meaning. In her 1991 autobiography, Simone wrote:

‘All around us were black faces, and I felt for the first time the spiritual relaxation any Afro-American feels on reaching Africa. I didn’t feel like I’d come home when I arrived in Lagos, but I knew I’d arrived somewhere important and that Africa mattered to me […]. [I]t wasn’t Nigeria I arrived in – it was AFRICA.’[4]

Figure 4 shows Simone arriving in Lagos. To us it seems that Africa is somewhat romanticised in this quote. However, historian Ruth Feldstein remarks that Simone’s perspective ‘rejected then-dominant conceptions of Africa as backward or undeveloped’ in the early 1960s.[5] Simone’s comment shows that she was proud of her African heritage. The trip to Lagos served as a turning point in the career.

'Singer Nina Simone and host shake hands while other luncheon guests look on. U.S. university-trained Dr. Azikiwe was Nigeria's foremost leader during his country's fight for independence, is first African to hold post of Nigerian governor-general.' Source: 'African-American Cultural Exchange. Nigerian and U.S. Negro artists blend talents at AMSAC Festival in LAGOS', Ebony, March 1962, p. 87-94:92. URL: https://books.google.nl/books?id=RNcDAAAAMBAJ&lpg=PA87&dq=amsac%20lagos&hl=nl&pg=PA88#v=onepage&q=weston&f=false
‘Singer Nina Simone and host shake hands while other luncheon guests look on. U.S. university-trained Dr. Azikiwe was Nigeria’s foremost leader during his country’s fight for independence, is first African to hold post of Nigerian governor-general.’ Source: ‘African-American Cultural Exchange. Nigerian and U.S. Negro artists blend talents at AMSAC Festival in LAGOS’, Ebony, March 1962, p. 87-94:92. URL: https://books.google.nl/books?id=RNcDAAAAMBAJ&lpg=PA87&dq=amsac%20lagos&hl=nl&pg=PA88#v=onepage&q=weston&f=false

In the following years she became more politically active and involved in the Civil Rights Movement.[6] The year 1961 was a catalyst in her political views, Simone wrote in her autobiography: ‘I started to think about myself as a black person in a country run by white people and a woman in a world run by men.’[7] In a video interview, probably from the late 1960s, she urges African Americans to become more interested in their roots:

‘we have a culture that is surpassed by no other civilization but we don’t know anything about it. (…) [M]y job is to somehow make [African Americans] curious enough or persuade them by hook or crook to get more aware of themselves and where they came from and what they are (…). This is what compels me to compel them. And I will do it by whatever means necessary.’[8]

Group (left to right) Godwin Mbadiwe Ewelaku, Dr. Horace Mann Bond, Rosey Pool, Langston Hughes, outside Randdek Hall, Lagos, Nigeria (18 December 1961). Source: Langston Hughes papers, call number JWJ MSS 26. URL: http://brbl-dl.library.yale.edu/vufind/Record/3528056
Group (left to right) Godwin Mbadiwe Ewelaku, Dr. Horace Mann Bond, Rosey Pool, Langston Hughes, outside Randdek Hall, Lagos, Nigeria (18 December 1961). Source: Langston Hughes papers, call number JWJ MSS 26. URL: http://brbl-dl.library.yale.edu/vufind/Record/3528056

There were some notable close individual connections as well. President Nnamdi Azikiwe (1904-1996) had studied at Lincoln University (Pennsylvania) together with Langston Hughes in the 1930s. Azikiwe has been described as ‘a bridge between African thought and American ideas.’[11] Azikiwe’s role has been very important in this event, but little can be found on the role Nigerians played in the festival. (NIGERIASAC, the Nigerian version of AMSAC, was kept out of the organisation for unclear reasons.)

The picture of the AMSAC delegates with President Azikiwe in 1961 (figure 7) was also a political statement. It did not only show a familiarity with Nigeria (and Africa at large), but it can also be read as an anti-Soviet statement. Azikiwe’s government was responsible overtly anti-communist, and hindered the opening of a Soviet Union embassy in Lagos until 1962.[12]

The AMSAC delegation with President Nnamdi Azikiwe (in the middle, dressed in white with a black hat), Nigeria 1961. Rosey E. Pool is partially visible, second from the right, top row. Langston Hughes stands in the front, fourth from the left. Nina Simone is partially visible on the left side of Azikiwe, in the middle of the picture. Source: Weston, African Rhythms, p. 148. Courtesy of Moorland-Spingarn Library, Howard University.
The AMSAC delegation with President Nnamdi Azikiwe (in the middle, dressed in white with a black hat), Nigeria 1961. Rosey E. Pool is partially visible, second from the right, top row. Langston Hughes stands in the front, fourth from the left. Nina Simone is partially visible on the left side of Azikiwe, in the middle of the picture. Source: Randy Weston, African Rhythms. The Autobiography of Randy Weston (Durham, NC, Duke University Press, 2010), p. 148. Courtesy of Moorland-Spingarn Library, Howard University.

After 1967, AMSAC’s membership sharply declined after it was named as one of the organisations that was funded by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).[9] AMAC ceased to exist in 1969. However, to many of its members the organisation had a huge significance. Especially to the visitors of the 1961 Lagos Festival, AMSAC provided opportunities to go ‘back to the motherland’.[10] 


[1] The founders were political scientist and civil rights activist John A. Davis, historian and social scientist Horace Mann Bond (1904-1972), professor of French and future American ambassador Will Mercer Cook (1903-1987), philosopher William T. Fontaine (1909-1968) and James Ivy, editor of the NAACP’s Crisis.

[2] S. Tarrow, Power in Movement. Social Movements, Collective Action and Politics (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1994), p. 18.

[3] Rosey E. Pool, Lachen om niet te huilen (Rotterdam, Lemniscaat, 1968), p. 51.

[4] N. Simone, I Put a Spell On You (1991), p. 80-81.

[5] R. Feldstein, “I Don’t Trust You Anymore”: Nina Simone, Culture, and Black Activism in the 1960s’, The Journal of American History March 2005, p. 1349-1379:1371.

[6] What Happened, Miss Simone? (101 minutes, documentary directed by Liz Garbus, 2015)

[7] Feldstein, ‘I Don’t Trust You Anymore’, p. 1375.

[8] What Happened, Miss Simone? (101 minutes, documentary directed by Liz Garbus, 2015)

[9] Alistair Cooke, ‘More Organisations Find They Are On CIA’s Fund List, The Guardian, 18 February 1967, p. 9; Neil Sheehan, ‘5 New Groups Tied To C.I.A. Conduits’, The New York Times, 17 February 1967, p. 1,16 and Richard Harwood, ‘8 More Groups Linked to CIA’s Fund Activities’, The Washington Post, Times Herald, 21 February 1967, p. A6; Hugh Wilford , The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008); Wilford in: Dongen, Transnational Anti-Communism and the Cold War: Agents, Activities, and Networks, p. 30.

[10] Randy Weston, African rhythms. The autobiography of Randy Weston (Durham, NC, Duke University Press, 2010), p. 104.

[11] Obiwu, ‘The Pan-African Brotherhood of Langston Hughes and Nnamdi Azikiwe’, p. 144.

[12] H.I. Tijani, ‘Britain and the Foundation of Anti-Communist Policies in Nigeria, 1945-1960’, African and Asian studies, vol. 8, no. 1/2, p. 47-66:64.

Other blog posts on Rosey E. Pool

Lately I have come across some other blogs writing on Rosey E. Pool – so I have decided to make a list of them which I will update once in a while!

2015/03/13: ‘International Women’s Day: Rosey Pool, cultural anthropologist and teacher’
Blog by Jo Baines (Special Collections Archive Assistant, TheKeep, University of Sussex, Brighton, United Kingdom)
Jo Baines gives a nice overview of Pool’s life and some great scans of pages from Pool’s scrapbooks. ‘Rosey also created several scrapbooks relating to her work and visits to America, providing a fascinating insight into her life’s passions. However, what I find most interesting about the Rosey Pool Collection is the woman herself. Evidently well admired, hard-working and respected throughout her lifetime, more is known about who Rosey associated with than about the woman who experienced a crucial time of change in both European and American society.’

2015/02/09: ‘Monday Missive. Black History Month’
Blog by Mark West (Professor, Chair, Department of English, The University of North Carolina at Charlotte, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences)
Talks about Jeffrey Leak’s research on the longstanding and mutually supportive relationship between African Americans and Jews – with a focus on Rosey E. Pool and Robert Hayden. Jeffrey’s research relates to a larger story with intriguing ties to the Charlotte area.

Ted Joans was already a hipster back in 1961 – before it was cool

Ted Joans, The Hipsters (New York, NY: Corinth Books Inc. 1961) The cover says: ‘The funny, wild, hilarious and witty world of the hipsters from Greenwich Village to Paris, A mixture of Dali, Ernst and Kerouac stirred up in a surrealist stew by America's only true "insider" and "outsider"- Ted Joans, a young Negro painter and coffee shop poet who has been featured in Holiday, Life and The Beat Scene.’
Ted Joans, The Hipsters (New York, NY: Corinth Books Inc. 1961) The cover says: ‘The funny, wild, hilarious and witty world of the hipsters from Greenwich Village to Paris, A mixture of Dali, Ernst and Kerouac stirred up in a surrealist stew by America’s only true “insider” and “outsider”- Ted Joans, a young Negro painter and coffee shop poet who has been featured in Holiday, Life and The Beat Scene.’

Ted Joans (1927-2003) was an American jazz poet, surrealist, trumpeter, and painter. Two of his poems are featured in Rosey Pool’s book Beyond the Blues. New poems by American Negroes. Selected and introduced by Rosey E. Pool (The Hand and Flower Press, Kent, 1962). Joans had just released his book The Hipsters one year before (now considered a Beat classic). The title sounds familiar to us now, but also the font on the cover looks pretty punk rock avant la lettre I would say!

Beyond the Blues

Rosey Pool first used a poem by Ted Joans in her anthology Beyond the Blues (The Hand and Flower Press, Kent, 1962). Soon after the publishing of Beyond the Blues, the contacts between Joans and Pool sadly enough went sour over a misunderstanding about royalties.[1]

Ik ben de nieuwe neger

Still, Pool included one of his poems in her Dutch book Ik ben de nieuwe neger (Bert Bakker Daamen N.V., Den Haag, 1965). Rosey Pool gives in her book a short biographical sketch which I will just cite in total, since it perfectly illustrates Joans’ motto ‘Jazz is my religion, and Surrealism is my point of view’:

[Ted Joans] was born ‘on a “showboat” in Cairo, Illinois. Exactly 12 years later, Joans says, his father, a variety artist, put a trumpet in his hands and put him ashore in Memphis, Tennessee. Ted Joans is a wanderer, painter, poet; according to himself he is “the original Greenwich Village beatnik”.

He reads poetry with jazz support in cafes and nightclubs in Rome, Amsterdam, and Copenhagen and he feels at home everywhere. He now wants to focus on the visual arts, because he finds writing “too easy”.’[2]

So… Even in the early 1960s it was hard to see: hipster, or homeless? 😉

To conclude: here’s a great piece of film of Dutch filmmaker Louis van Gasteren showing Ted Joans reciting some of his poetry in an Amsterdam nightclub in 1964.

Louis van Gasteren, Jazz and poetry, 14 min (Amsterdam, 1964) [Ted Joans reads his poetry, music by Piet Kuiters Modern Jazzgroup, featuring Piet Kuiters (piano), Herman Schoonderwalt (sax), Ruud Jacobs (bass guitar), Cees See (drums). Location: Jazzclub Sheherazade, Wagenstraat, Amsterdam]. Tune in at 1:56min to see Dutch poet Simon Vinkenoog (and is that Jan Cremer at 2:06min?) ‘I dig the Amsterdam people, you’re something else. You swing (…). Even though you don’t wear klompen… You still swing.’


Notes

[1] It wouldn’t be the only time Joans spoiled a friendship with his impulsive behaviour. It is rumoured that he became close to his childhood hero Salvador Dalí, before breaking with him soon afterwards.

[2] Rosey E. Pool, Ik ben de nieuwe neger. Gedichten, rijmen, liedjes en dokumenten uit 300 jaar verzet van de Amerikaanse neger, bijeengebracht, ingeleid en van vertalingen voorzien door Rosey E. Pool met een woord vooraf van dr. J.W. Schulte Nordholt (Bert Bakker Daamen N.V., Den Haag, Netherlands, 1965), p. 237

Travelling Translator