Posts tagged with "black history"

BHM: Robert Rice Sr. Preserved Black History in Dayton for Future Generations

 

By Greg Lynch

 

Robert Rice was a Dayton school teacher for more than 40 years and was considered an expert on Black history in the area.

A cousin of famed poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, Rice traced his family lineage to a woman bought out of slavery by the Steele family, whose name was on the former Steele High School, in 1839. His father, Lucius Rice, was the city’s second Black police officer. His mother, Dora Rice, was the city’s first female Black police force member.

Rice’s grandfather, Richard Burton, was a Civil War veteran who escaped slavery to join the Union Army in Tennessee before coming to Dayton and opening up the city’s first Black laundry.

After graduating from Stivers High School, Rice attended Fisk and Wilberforce universities.

He returned to Dayton in 1936 and became a teacher at Dunbar High School, the only school that allowed for Black teachers at the time. He stayed there for 35 years.

In 1973, the city asked Black teachers to volunteer for reassignment in order to break down segregated teaching staffs. Rice volunteered and went to Meadowdale. A year later he retired from the Dayton school system and began teaching at Chaminade Julienne “to keep busy.”

Rice spent a lifetime collecting written and oral Black history from the area. A 1974 Dayton Daily News article called Rice a “talking history book.”

Over the years, Rice was interviewed and wrote columns for the Dayton Daily News many times. Here are some of the facts and stories he shared with us.

First Black residents arrive in Dayton

According to Rice, the first Black residents came to Dayton between 1796 and 1798, a year or two after white settlers arrived.

Several thousand people are believed to have made their way into Ohio as squatters prior to the official settlement of the region in the 1790s and there were Black residents — probably escaped slaves — among them.

The name of the very first Black resident is lost to history, but he is described as a servant of the family of Daniel Cooper, proprietor of the town.

In 1803, Cooper brought a second Black person, a girl who worked as a servant, to a farm south of the town. Shortly after arriving, she gave birth to the first Black child here and named him Harry Cooper, taking her employer’s family name.

The earliest Black settlement was downtown and on the East Side, in an area called Seely’s Ditch.

When the village officially became a city in 1841, there were about 400 Black residents out of a total population of 5,000.

Paul Laurence Dunbar

Rice liked to set the record straight on Black history in the city. One common error he cited was the belief that famed poet Paul Laurence Dunbar went to Steele High School. He graduated from Central High School in 1891. Steele High School didn’t open until 1894. When Central closed, all of the records were transferred to Steele, and that is how the error occurred, he explained.

Rice said that “when Paul Laurence Dunbar finished high school he couldn’t get a decent job so he became an elevator operator in the Callahan Building, which later became the Gem City building, making $4 a week.”

Black ‘firsts’ in Dayton

Rice uncovered many milestones through the years.

One of the first marriages of Black people was that of Joe Wheeler and Catherine Sills. They made their home on McLain Street As of 1976, one of their descendants still lived in Dayton.

The town’s first Black church, Wayman African Methodist Episcopal, began meeting in a log cabin on the corner of McLain and Potomac Streets in East Dayton. The congregation later moved to Eaker Street and later to Fifth and Bank Streets in West Dayton. Finally, in the 1920s, they moved to Westwood.

Dayton’s first Black-owned bank, Unity State Bank, opened in 1970.

The city’s first Black doctor had the last name of Burns. His office was located on 5th and Perry Streets, and he was the man that told Paul Laurence Dunbar that he had tuberculosis.

The first Black druggist in the city was LeRoy Cox. The drugstore he owned opened sometime during 1911 or 1912. It was located on Fifth and Charter streets. The drugstore had just opened for business when the Great Flood of 1913 ravaged the region. Cox went to work at the post office carrying mail until 1919, when he reopened for business.

Theaters and restaurants

Up until the early 1920s, Black residents could attend any theater or restaurant in Dayton.

Segregation of public facilities started when the Keith Theatre opened its new building at Fourth and Ludlow streets in 1923, and Black residents were barred from almost all downtown theaters, restaurants and other places. Three restaurants, at Union Station, the bus station and Mose Moore’s on Sixth Street were the only ones still open to Black residents.

Theater segregation remained until 1941, when a group of Black businessmen and clergy fought for an end to the policy. In 1951, similar pressure was applied the the restaurant industry, ending segregation there as well.

In 1926, Black businessmen Carl Anderson and Augustus Giles built the Classic Theater at 817 W. Third St. The Classic Theater opened the next year, in 1927. Rice said silent movies were the first productions at the theater. Entertainers such as Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Count Bassie, Billy Eckstine and the Mills Brothers performed there.

The Palace Theater on the corner of Fifth and Williams streets was founded in 1929 by Dr. Lloyd Cox (who was Black) and Valentine Winters. In 1933, the theater was converted to a nightclub.

Politics

The first Black person elected to office in the Dayton area was Frederick Bowers, a Jefferson Twp. real estate broker who was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives as a Republican in 1949 and again in 1951.

David Albritton, a former Golden Gloves boxer and Olympic athlete, won election to the Ohio House from the same district a short time later. C.J. McLin Jr. was elected to the state legislature in 1967 and served until 1988.

Important homes and places

At 205 Dunbar Ave., the first Black-owned taxicab company, West Side Taxi Co., was started by Jack Spicer.

The Mallory Building, at the corner of Fifth Street and Horace Avenue, was once the home of Robert Mallory, a captain in the Army during World War I. The Queen Anne-style home was built by Black contractors.

A home at 59 Horace Ave. was owned by Mose Moore, who was once the wealthiest Black person in Dayton before the turn of the century. Moore owned a combined restaurant, pool room, hotel and barbershop in downtown Dayton. He died in 1927.

A home on Shannon Street is where Hallie Q. Brown once lived. In the early 1900s, Brown founded the first school for Black adults in Dayton. She later was a professor at Wilberforce University. She died in 1930.

 

Radcliffe Bailey, Artist Who Found Black History in the Everyday, Dies at 55

From ARTnews, Alex Greenberger

Radcliffe Bailey, an artist whose sculptural assemblages and paintings elegantly summoned the past, present, and future of Black Americans through ready-made objects and images, died at 55 on Tuesday in Atlanta.

His brother Roy confirmed his passing, saying that the artist had been battling brain cancer.

Over the past three decades, Bailey assembled an influential body of work that located objects he collected within a continuum of Black history. Tintypes from his family’s archive, Georgian red clay, shipping tarp, and African figurines were among the many elements that appeared in his art, which primarily took the form of sculptural installations, some of which were monumental in scale.

His 2009–11 installation Windward Coast, featuring 35,000 piano keys set on the floor with a Black man’s head peeking out of the pile, is among his most well-known works. With a rumbling soundtrack emitting from a conch shell, the piece evokes the precariousness of Black life, the deeply felt pain resulting from slavery that resounds across the centuries, and the impact that sound and music have held for Bailey and other members of his community.

RADCLIFFE BAILEY, WINDWARD COAST, 2009–11. BOSTON GLOBE VIA GETTY IMAGES

“An ocean is something that divides people,” Bailey told the New York Times in 2011, the year a survey of his work was staged at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. (The show also traveled to the Wellesley College museum in Massachusetts and the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas.) “Music is something that connects people. Duke Ellington or Thelonious Monk—it’s a different sound that takes you somewhere else. It’s also about being at peace.”

Michael Rooks, a curator of modern and contemporary art at that museum, told the Times in the same profile that Bailey was “probably the most prominent living artist here in Atlanta.”

Within Georgia’s capital, Bailey’s art was widely seen and well-loved. For the Cascade Nature Preserve, he created a concrete amphitheater that has been used to mount plays and concerts. For the city’s airport, he made Saints, a 40-foot-long commission that features photographs of his relatives that are set within an abstract patterning and among a Kongo cosmogram, a symbol that recurs in the Bakongo religion and signifies a circular transference between this world and spiritual realms.

RADCLIFFE BAILEY, LOW-LYING, 2016. COURTESY THE ARTIST AND JACK SHAINMAN GALLERY, NEW YORK

Saints, like other of Bailey’s works, situates his own family within lineages that extend across millennia. “For me, it’s helpful to remember your tracks,” Bailey told ARTnews earlier this year. Bailey meant this both literally and figuratively, given that railroads formed a recurring element in his family history.

Radcliffe Bailey was born in 1968 in Bridgetown, New Jersey, and moved to Atlanta when he was young. His father was a railroad engineer, and his family had been involved with the Underground Railroad that helped secretly transport Southern enslaved people to the North. An interest in travel remained with Bailey. “I’ve always been fascinated by different forms of travel—by sea, by train, or into outer space and other realms,” he told Art in America in 2021.

During his childhood, Bailey visited the High Museum, where he once met the artist Jacob Lawrence; he also drew inspiration from his grandfather, a deacon at a Virginia church who built birdcages in his spare time. Bailey pursued baseball as a teenager, even playing semipro at one point, but he realized he did not have the right body type for the sport in the long-term and chose art instead. He attended the Atlanta College of Art as an undergraduate, but unlike most practicing artists in the US today, he did not seek a master’s degree.

As he was thinking about grad school, he visited Abstract Expressionist painter Grace Hartigan at the Maryland Institute, where he considered enrolling. “What the hell do you want to come here for?” Bailey recalled her telling him. “You need to go do your work!” He went back to Atlanta and remained there.

RADCLIFFE BAILEY, NOMMO, 2019. COURTESY THE ARTIST AND JACK SHAINMAN GALLERY, NEW YORK

In college, Bailey trained as a sculptor, with the idea of producing large outdoor works: he even acted as assistant to sculptor Melvin Edwards. Still, he initially produced paintings. “It was easier to move painting than sculpture, and my work has always fallen between the two,” he explained in BOMB interview. “Some people see me as a painter, but I don’t see myself as a painter or a sculptor, just an artist.”

The works for which Bailey first became known during the ’90s incorporate tintypes from family albums he inherited from his grandmother. These works point toward historical connections that extend far beyond his own lineage. Strangest Fruit (1997), for example, features an aged photograph of a seated man holding a cane; its title alludes to the 1939 Billie Holiday song that refers to lynchings.

Later works would grow more and more expansive. Nommo (2019), an installation that he produced for the 2019 Istanbul Biennial, is a reconstruction of the hull of the Clotilda, the last ship to transport enslaved West Africans to Alabama, 52 years after the practice was outlawed in the United States. Casts of a plaster bust that Bailey purchased from a Belgian dealer rest on wooden plinths and bases. As in other Bailey works, it has sound elements: jazz music plays from one source, and from another, the sounds of shipbuilders at work and ocean waves recorded in the Bay of Soumbédioune, in Dakar, Senegal. The title refers to a deity associated with the Dogon religion.

RADCLIFFE BAILEY, ASCENT, 2021. COURTESY THE ARTIST AND JACK SHAINMAN GALLERY, NEW YORK

The last few years saw Bailey transition back to painting, producing abstractions that obliquely alluded to some of his prior themes, with tracks crossing stretched tarps. “I always thought the surreal was real to Black people, and in that way, I wanted to represent these two different worlds,” he said in the Art in America interview. “The abstraction in the paintings now—that was always a layer that existed in the earlier work, but I may have covered it up with a photograph. Now I’ve peeled back the layers, and I’m figuring out how to work in several different ways, as opposed to having the photograph as an anchor.”

Bailey is survived by his wife Leslie Parks Bailey, his daughter Olivia, his son Coles, and his parents Radcliffe Sr. and Brenda.

“Radcliffe was a true force, creating work that resonated with so many on a profoundly intellectual and emotional level,” Jack Shainman Gallery, the New York enterprise that had long represented him, said in a statement. “We could not be more appreciative of the years we’ve spent collaborating as colleagues, though above all, we are beyond grateful for the friendship that has blossomed from our time together.”