It began with a workshop for young writers in Nairobi in 2013, organized by the Kwani Trust and the British Council. As Moses Kilolo recalls, he had never attended a writing workshop before. Like so many of his peers, he had been toiling alone: Each day he would haunt his university library, struggling in his own writing to imitate the English-language classics that he found on the shelves. It was a remarkably well-stocked library, as he remembers it, the best a young writer could hope for. Yet while he had produced a few halting efforts at prose, he hadn’t yet “come out” as a writer. He stayed in the stacks. It was only after the three-day workshop with a dozen other young writers, he says, that the brilliance of his peers pulled him out of the library—helped him to realize what he could never accomplish alone. “I wasn’t as good as I thought,” he laughs. “They tore my work apart! It was moving to know that there’s so much more possibility.”
The feeling was general among the workshop’s participants. At first they stayed in touch out of a spontaneous desire to keep the conversations going. But after Okwiri Oduor—who would win the Caine Prize for African Writing later in the year—set up a Google group named Jalada, after the word for library in Kiswahili, the group began to evolve into something more concrete. As the members began writing, and editing each other’s work, they also began talking about what hadn’t been written yet, and what needed to be. They began building their own library: A few months after the workshop, they set up a bare-bones website (jalada.org) where they published an anthology of original work loosely themed around the notion of insanity, Sketch of a Bald Woman in the Semi-Nude and Other Stories.
It had been an easy choice to publish on the Internet: It was free, it was easy, and they had complete control. As the word spread—and as the inaugural anthology did the rounds on social media—they began hearing from writers across the continent, asking if they could submit to the next anthology. Jalada’s editors said yes. The second collection—Sext Me: Poems and Stories, on the intersections of sex and technology, and twice as long as the first—included a handful of participants from outside Kenya, as well as Jalada’s first official call for submissions. Exactly a year after the first anthology, Afrofuture(s)—a three-part shelf-buster of Africanist speculative fiction—had close to a majority of non-Kenyan writers.
As the library has grown from a roomful of young Nairobians to an ongoing conversation that spans the continent—with email, Skype, and social media allowing members in a half-dozen countries to stay in touch—it’s become clear that Jalada is where the future of African literature is being written. A project with a pan-Africanist scope might have drowned under the logistics of communication and distance, or lost its energy in fundraising. Instead, meetings have yielded true mentorships and editorial relationships, and correspondences have blossomed into long-term collaborations, as the contributors to each anthology have become a part of the broader network. The management team remains mostly Kenyan—allowing semi-regular face-to-face meetings—but the structure is as horizontal and outward-looking as possible. Members from Namibia, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Somalia make up the core group, with an even broader network of contributors and collaborators. Richard Ali in Nigeria and Edwige-Renée DRO in Côte d’Ivoire have been crucial to the project’s expanding reach, for example, both for their editorial expertise and for connecting Jalada to new writers in West and Francophone Africa. Building connections with North Africa is the next hurdle.
Jalada’s “about” page is brief and to the point: a “pan-Africanist writers’ collective” whose goal is “to publish literature by African authors regularly by making it as easy as possible for any member to publish anything.” This tautology—their goal is to publish the things they are publishing—tells a story of its own: Jalada is just the work itself, without money, pretensions, or ego. The anthologies don’t have introductions, nor are there mission statements or manifestos; there is only the writing.
As with anything new and experimental, the quality of the writing is uneven: Sometimes raw and incandescent, it’s as likely to be interestingly incoherent as heart-stoppingly precise. But the collective is bigger than the sum of its parts, and the project’s ambitions are transformative. By self-publishing online—and by working in a spirit of collective collaboration—Jalada’s themes in its first year of existence form a checklist of the topics that someone like Moses Kilolo might struggle to find on the shelves of a Nairobi library: insanity, sex, technology, and the future. Because a top-heavy pantheon of (mostly male) writers from the 1960s and ’70s has dominated African literary publishing for decades, African literature has often been backward-looking and history-oriented. Jalada made a clean break, even establishing a commitment to gender parity from the beginning. (Original contributor Anne Moraa was blasé when I asked her about this: “If you are open to the best work, you will achieve gender parity by default,” she said, though she also gave credit to the original workshop for being gender balanced.)
In 2015, Jalada began its most ambitious project yet: to go beyond the handful of colonial languages in which most African writers write—English, French, Portuguese, and Arabic—and explore the thousands of mother tongues that the vast majority of the continent’s people speak. With more than 3,000 languages spoken by significant populations, Africa’s everyday polylingualism defies most Western understanding. In Kenya, for example, it’s common to speak one language in the streets, another in school, and another in the family home (Swahili, English, and an ethnic or tribal language like Kamba, Kikuyu, or Luo). But exceptions outweigh even this very rough norm; Nairobi urbanites might speak Sheng more than either Swahili or English (the languages of which it is a patois), while interethnic families tend to speak multiple languages. Anywhere you find immigrant communities (which is everywhere), the linguistic cocktail gets mixed in yet other ways.
The only generalization one can venture is this: If there’s one thing that unites Africa—that nearly all Africans have in common—it’s the same polylingualism that divides it, an irony that has haunted African literature since its beginnings. It has taken a project like Jalada to do something about it.
Before colonization and the imposition of European languages, the continent’s poetics were oral, dispersed across Ewe, Shona, Kiswahili, Luganda, Igbo, and thousands of other languages. When African literature began to be written, published, and read in the early part of the 20th century, it was in the context of imperialist globalization, a Pan-Africanism that was invariably expressed in the languages of the colonizers. Indeed, English, French, Portuguese, and Arabic provided the literary infrastructure that brought writers and readers across Africa into contact with each other, sometimes for the first time in history: Nigerians could read Kenyans in English, Ivorians could read Mauritanians in French, and novels by Tayeb Salih of Sudan (in Arabic) or Pepetela of Angola (Portuguese) could crisscross the continent in translation. But that was where it usually stopped; translations from African languages were rare (and mostly ethnographic), while translations between African languages were almost non-existent.
For most African writers, then and now, the languages of the former colonizers have been the only pragmatic choice. Faced with a nation speaking over 300 languages, for example, Chinua Achebe wrote in English, the only language most Nigerians shared. Rare exceptions prove the rule: When Ngugi wa Thiong’o vowed to write only in his native Gikuyu, in the 1970s, his polemic made waves but few converts. His manifesto, Decolonizing the Mind, has been debated and fought over for decades and remains a lightning rod for controversy in African literary circles. But the cruel irony is that most still read him in English. Without a strong Gikuyu publishing industry—in a country where Gikuyu speakers make up around 20 percent of the population—even Ngugi’s main Kenyan audience will always read him in English translation.
In 2015, Jalada published an anthology of original stories and poems both in the authors’ own respective languages (many of which were African) and in a variety of translations. Kilolo’s “An Empty Wall,” for example, is presented both in English and in Junior Moyo’s Ndebele translation (a language spoken in Zimbabwe). Edwige-Renée DRO wrote “Pneu Secours” in French and translated it into English herself, while Mazhun Idris made the translation into Hausa (spoken in northern Nigeria). But this was just a prelude to the group’s most striking translation project: In the next anthology, they took a story donated by Ngugi wa Thiong’o (“Ituika Ria Murungaru” in Kikuyu, “The Upright Revolution” in English) and translated it into 62 languages (and counting).
While the accomplishment is remarkable, of course, the anthology can’t really be read in the conventional manner at all: Few can read Ngugi’s folkloric parable about why humans walk upright in more than a handful of the languages that the anthology offers. Rather, the point is to imagine a different kind of library. “At a personal level, what Jalada has done is akin to recapturing stolen lands,” as founding editor Richard Oduor Oduku told me. “We have recaptured the authority to imagine our own futures, including what languages we will, or we can, employ.” This sentiment was general among the translators I spoke with; Rwandan Louise Umutoni, for example, described translation into European languages as a kind of brain drain, and explained that, instead of Africa’s literary resources enriching languages like English, Jalada reversed the flow, translating European works into African languages starved for the written literary word.
In November, Jalada staged a reading of the story in Nairobi, in seven languages: Sheng, Kiswahili, Dholuo, Kikuyu, Kiluhya, Kinyarwanda, and English. Few in the audience would have been fluent in more than a few of them. But, as Kilolo recalled, the revelation was seeing seven different languages in the same place, before the same audience, uniting rather than dividing. “People were thrilled to see so many languages at once,” he said. “We have to do away with the notion that speaking a different language divides people.”
Erotica is a real thing, sexual sensual writing that makes you squirm in your seat; scenes that turn a cold lonely night into something steamy; maybe something to keep you company and give you that secret smile whilst waiting for a friend in a restaurant.
Mostly we want things that will turn people on. A lot. No pressure. A little something like this, or this.
We know writing a sex scene is hard so here is an article with some tips.
This is a call for submission to Dark Juices and Aphrodisiacs: An Erotic Anthology.
The anthology will be available online to download. There will also be hard copies available. And if your piece is selected to be part of the anthology you shall be paid $100 for your service to sexiness.
To submit email: email@example.com
Dark Juices & Afrodisiacs – An Anthology of African queer erotica
“I had a feeling that Pandora’s box contained the mysteries of woman’s sensuality… The language of sex had yet to be invented. The language of the senses was yet to be explored.”
Ever had a sexual fantasy? Ever had something make you so hot under the collar you just had to write about it? Something that had you dripping wet? We want stories about sex, pleasure and coming. We want stories about desire. We want stories about when sex happened and sex did not happen. We want stories of African women experiencing pleasure with other women.
We recognise that sexuality is a complex and wide space, it is not possible to present all forms of representation in one place. For this edition, as women who have sex with women, we recognise that there are not many erotica stories written by women for women on the African continent. We hoped to use this as an opportunity to invite women to write their fantasies, their experiences, they wildest dreams. This is about sexual freedom and imagination and expression.
We are creating an anthology we seek to call Dark Juices & Afrodisiacs for African queer women to contribute erotica.
Contributors will receive an honorarium of $100 for submissions that appear in this anthology, as well as a copy of the awesomely sensually sexy final product.
GUIDELINES FOR ENTRIES
The stories should be:
Please send the submissions double spaced in Times New Roman, 12 point black font in a word document (.doc. rtf or .docx, NO PDFS).
Email submissions to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ends on August 15, 2017
Guest editors include: John W. Bateman, M.A. in English and Innovative Writing, (University at Buffalo) and Emily de Beer, PhD in Creative Writing (University of Louisiana at Lafayette).
We seek papers of any length in manuscript format (double-spaced in Times New Roman font).
We additionally seek images or artwork related to the “[Inter·medi(a)_te]” theme for the second issue. Please review our note on image submissions at the bottom of the call section of our website. There is no fee for submission.
The submission period is May 15th – August 15th, 2017. Announcement is by December 1st.
“The sun is new each day.” – Heraclitus
The meaning of visual beauty has been different in different cultures and geography. It is also based on human experience and history; and it is still transforming. You are invited to show this transformation of beauty: are there elements of Beauty that are universal and eternal for us as humans? Or is the concept of Beauty a subjective concept?
Beauty has been a big factor in visual arts, historically. The transformation of how to perceive and value Beauty has affected what we see as contemporary art all around the world. The factors influencing the notion and comprehension of Beauty are:
Aesthetic and Classical Beauty
Pop Culture Beauty
Beauty in different cultures currently and historically
Conceptual Beauty versus Visual Beauty
Selected artists (from each category) will be invited to participate in the visual art exhibition “Transformation” to take place in Winter 2017-2018, Gallery MC, New York. The project features selected artworks in three categories: Social Transformation, Personal Transformation, Beauty Transformation. The finalists will have an opportunity to give an artist talk, be interviewed and/or featured on the RE:ARTISTE’s website and social media networks.
The art competition is evaluated by Kay Kane, Sheryl Haler, and T.Lawrence Wheatman. Please find out more about the jurors on our Jury page.
The competition is open to everyone, 18 years and older, professional and amateur artists alike.
Entries* must be in JPEG format, no larger than 1400 x 1800 pixels, and under 2MB.
The following media are accepted:
Photography (including documentary)
3D-Art including Ceramic Works
Deadline for submissions: May 31, 2017
The winners will be announced on the RE:ARTISTE website on 08/30/2017. The winner and the finalists will be personally notified via email.
Entry Fee: the entry fee is $35 for the first five images and $10 for every additional image.
*The submitting artist owns the copyright to his/her competition entry as its author. By submitting an entry to the art competition “Transformation: Beauty” the artist gives RE:ARTISTE permission for the entry to be used on the RE:ARTISTE website and its social media channels. The artist gives RE:ARTISTE the right to use his/her name and city of residence for the sole purpose of identifying the artist as the author of the entry. The entry fee is not refundable.
Jazz has inspired a great many things, and a great many things have inspired jazz, and more than a few of the music’s masters have found their aspiration by looking — or listening — to the divine. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they subscribe to traditional religion. As befits this naturally eclectic music that grew from an inherently eclectic country before it internationalized, its players tend to have an eclectic conception of the divine. In some of their interpretations, that conception sounds practically all-encompassing. You can experience the full spectrum of these aural visions, from the deeply personal to the fathomlessly cosmic, in this four-part, twelve-hour playlist of spiritual jazz from London online radio station NTS.
“During the tumultuous ’60s, there was a religious revolution to accompany the grand societal, sexual, racial, and cultural shifts already afoot,” writes Pitchfork’s Andy Beta. “Concurrently, the era’s primary African-American art form reflected such upheaval in its music, too: Jazz began to push against all constraints, be it chord changes, predetermined tempos, or melodies, so as to best reflect the pursuit of freedom in all of its forms.”
This culminated in John Coltrane’s masterpiece A Love Supreme, which opened the gates for other jazz players seeking the transcendent, using everything from “the sacred sound of the Southern Baptist church in all its ecstatic shouts and yells” to “enlightenment from Southeastern Asian esoteric practices like transcendental meditation and yoga.”
It goes without saying that you can’t talk about spiritual jazz without talking about John Coltrane. Nor can you ignore the distinctive music and theology of Herman Poole Blount, better known as Sun Ra, composer, bandleader, music therapist, Afrofuturist, and teacher of a course called “The Black Man in the Cosmos.” NTS’ expansive mix offers work from both of them and other familiar artists like Alice Coltrane, Earth, Wind & Fire, Herbie Hancock, Gil Scott-Heron, Ornette Coleman, and many more (including players from as far away from the birthplace of jazz as Japan) who, whether or not you’ve heard of them before, can take you to places you’ve never been before. Start listening with the embedded first part of the playlist above; continue on to parts two, three, and four, and maybe — just maybe — you’ll come out of it wanting to found a church of your own.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.
I Do Not Protest, I Resist
Like most writers, figuring out how to economically support myself is a major problem. I have worked as an editor, as an arts administrator, and as the co-owner of a public relations, marketing and advertising firm. I have freelanced on projects ranging from $10 record reviews to commissions from publishers. Economy necessity is a major influence on what I write.
I have written commercials whose messages I personally reject like a radio jingle for a Cajun meat-lovers pizza when I don’t eat red meat. Of course, like many others, while I try to steer clear of major contradictions, I have done my share of hack work.
Doing what one must in order to survive is one major way in which the status quo effectively shapes us. As a writer, money making options are surprisingly limited. We all know and face the wolf of survival. There is no news in that story.
But wolves run in packs, and survival is not the only predator. There is also our own desire to succeed—I remember reading about “the fickle bitch of success” and wondering why was success described as a “bitch.” I have my own ideas, but that’s a different discussion.
Success is a very complicated question. We can easily dismiss “selling out” our ideals for a dollar, but what we can’t easily dismiss either in principle or in fact, is that we all want our work to reach the widest possible audience. On the contemporary literary scene, reaching a wide audience almost requires going through major publishers. Participation in the status quo makes strenuous demands of our art to conform to prevailing standards, one of which is that the only overtly political art worthy of the title art is “protest art”.
Capitalism loves “protest art” because protest is the safety valve that dissipates opposition and can even be used to prove how liberal the system is. You know the line: “aren’t you lucky to be living in a system where you have the right to protest?” Without denying the obvious and hard won political freedoms that exist in the USA, my position is that we must move from protest to resistance if we are to be effective in changing the status quo.
The real question is do we simply want “in” or do we want structural change? Most of us start off wanting in. It is natural to desire both acceptance by as well as success within the society into which one is born. But, in the immortal words of P-funk President George Clinton: “mind your wants because someone wants your mind.” Those of us who by circumstance of birth are located on the outside of the status quo (whether based on ethnicity, gender or class), face an existential question which cuts to the heart: how will I define success and is acceptance by the status quo part of what I want in life?
While it is simple enough to answer in the abstract, in truth, i.e. the day to day living that we do, it’s awfully lonely on the outside, psychologically taxing, and ultimately a very difficult position to maintain. Who wants to be marginalized as an artist and known to only a handful of people? Given the choice between having a book published by a mainstream publisher and not having one published by a mainstream publisher, most writers (regardless of identity) would choose to be published, especially when it seems that one is writing whatever it is one wants to write.
Without ever having to censor you formally—after a few years of rejection slips most writers will censor and change themselves—mainstream publishers shape contemporary literature by applying two criteria: 1. is it commercial, or 2. is it artistically important. Either will get you published at least once, although only the former will get you published twice, thrice and so forth.
Unless one is very, very clear about one’s commitment to socially relevant writing, even the most revolutionary writer can become embittered after thirty or forty years of toiling in obscurity. As a forty-seven-year-old (this essay was written in 1994) African American writer, I know that if you do not publish with establishment publishers, be they commercial, academic or small independents, then you will have very little chance of achieving “success” as a writer.
I sat on an NEA panel considering audience develop applications. One grant listed Haki Madhubuti as one of the poets they wanted to present. I was the only person there who knew Madhubuti’s work. I was expected to be conversant with the work of contemporary writers across the board. But how is it that a contemporary African American poet with over three million books in print who is also the head of Third World Press, one of this country’s oldest Black publishing companies, was unknown to my colleagues? The answer is simple: Madhubuti is not published by the status quo. He started off self publishing, came of age in the 60s/70s Black Arts Movement and is one of the most widely read poets among African Americans but all of his books have been published by small, independent Black publishers.
Too often success is measured by acceptance within the status quo rather than by the quality of one’s literary work. That is why we witness authors proclaimed as “major Black writers” when they have only published one or two books (albeit with major publishers) within a five year period. There is no surprise here. My assumption is that as long as the big house stands, “success” will continue to be measured by whether one gets to sleep in big house beds.
This brings me to the subject of protest art. The reason I do not believe in protest art is because I have no desire to bed down with the status quo nor do I have a desire to be legitimized by the status quo. Instead, my struggle is to change the status quo. For me protest art is not an option precisely because in reality protest art is simply a knock on the door of the big house.
There is a long tradition of African American protest art, especially in literature. As a genre, the slave narrative emerged as an integral part of the white led 19th century abolitionist movement. One major purpose of the slave narratives was to address Christian senses of charity and guilt—charity toward the less fortunate and guilt for the “sin” of supporting slavery.
But even at that time there was a major distinction to be made between abolitionist sentiments and charity work on the one hand, and, on the other hand, active participation in the armed struggle against slavery, which included participation in the illegal activity of the underground railroad and support of clandestine armed opposition. This meant fighting with the John Browns of that era or joining the throng of insurgents storming court rooms to “liberate” detained African Americans who had escaped from the south and were then ensnared in the web of the Northern criminal justice system which continued to recognize the “property rights” of Southern slave owners.
While the issues of today are no longer revolve around slavery, the distinction between protest and resistance, between charity and solidarity, remains the heart of the matter at hand. To protest is implicitly to accept the authority of the existing system and to appeal for a change of mind on the part of those in power and those who make up the body politic. To resist on the other hand is to fight against the system of authority while seeking to win over those who make up the body politic. “Winning over” is more than simply asking someone to change their mind, it is also convincing someone to change their way of living.
In the 50s and 60s a debate raged among Black intellectuals about “protest art”. Ironically, one of the chief opponents of protest art was James Baldwin—”ironically” because over the years the bulk of Baldwin’s essays, fiction and drama can be read as a “protest” against bigotry and inhumanity, as a plea to his fellow human beings to change their hearts, minds and lives.
When Baldwin started out he wanted to be “free” and to be accepted as the equal of any other human being. He did not want to be saddled with the “albatross” of racial (or sexual) themes as the defining factor of his work. Yet, as he lived, he changed and began to voluntarily take up these issues. I believe life changed him.
The reality is that we can not continue to live in America with the social deterioration, mean spiritedness, and crass materialism which is polluting our individual and collective lives. We are literally a nation of drug addicts (alcohol and tobacco chief among our drugs of choice, with over-the-counter pain killers and headache remedies running a close third). We are suffering horrendous rates of violence and disease. There is a widening economic gap at a time when many of our major urban centers teeter on the brink of implosion: aging physical infrastructures such as bridges, sewer systems, housing; corrupt political administration; and increasing ethnic conflict. Something has got to give.
My position is simple, we live in a period of transition. We can protest the current conditions and/or we can struggle to envision and create alternatives. We can plead for relief or we can work to inspire and incite our fellow citizens to resist. As artists, we have a choice to make. Indeed, there is always a choice to make.
Protest art always ends up being trendy precisely because the art necessarily struggles to be accepted by the very people the art should oppose. Ultimately, protest artists are, by definition, more interested in relating to the enemy than relating to the potential insurgents. This is why we have protest artists whose cutting edge work is rejected by neighborhood people.
Yes, neighborhood people have tastes which have been shaped by the consumer society. Yes, neighborhood people are parochial and not very deep intellectually. Yes, neighborhood people are unsophisticated when it comes to the arts. But the very purpose of resistance art is to confront and change every negative yes of submission into a powerful and positive no of resistance! Our job as committed artists is to raise consciousness by starting where our neighborhoods are and moving up from there.
Resistance art requires internalizing by an audience of the sufferers in order to be successful. The horrible truth is that every successful social struggle requires immense sacrifices, and the committed artist must also sacrifice—not simply suffer temporary poverty until one is discovered by the status quo, but sacrifice the potential wealth associated with a status quo career to work in solidarity with those who too often are born, live, struggle and die in anonymous poverty.
We think nothing of the millions of people in this society who live and die without ever achieving even one tenth of the material wealth that many of us take for granted. We think nothing of those who are literally maimed and deformed as a result of the military and economic war waged against peoples in far away lands in order to insure profit for American based billionaires. Somehow, while the vast majority of our fellow citizens are never recognized by name, we artists think it ignoble to live and die without being lauded in the New York Times.
But if we remember nothing else, we should remember this. Ultimately, the true “nobility of our humanity” will be judged not by the status quo but by the people of the future—the people who will look back on our age and wonder what in the world could we have had on our minds. Protest is not enough, we must resist.
—kalamu ya salaam
When Jackie Robinson broke the Major League color barrier seventy years ago, it was a triumphant step forward. It also meant the inevitable end of the proud Negro Leagues, sending hundreds of African American players looking for new opportunities across the border.
It’s mid-September and a championship is on the line. Through seventeen innings, game five of this best-of-seven series has offered high baseball drama for the shoulder-to-shoulder fans in attendance. On the mound, a jelly-armed Leon Day – the future Hall of Fame pitcher who started the game and is still going – just saw his team, an enviably skilled squadron of black players, take a tenuous 1-0 lead in the top of the inning. Leftfielder Robert Lomax “Butch” Davis scored on a hard single and now Day has his mind set on finishing things. He’s already worked out of a bases-loaded crisis in the eighth, then in the fourteenth inning, a sharp throw home from second base, nailing a speeding runner, bailed Day out. After all that, Day doesn’t want to let down his manager Willie Wells, who was ejected from the game in the tenth inning for relentlessly arguing a call at first base. Another future Hall-of-Famer, Wells departed the field with a police escort, and only after the chief umpire finally threatened him with forfeiture.
But in the bottom half of the seventeenth inning, Day notches three more outs to secure the championship. After jolly handshakes and hugs on the field, there’s a party at the team hotel a few hours later.
This all happened in 1950, three years after Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers. That landmark moment gave black ballplayers a chance to join the Majors, but it also meant the inevitable decline of the Negro Leagues in the United States. Founded in 1920, the Negro Leagues were an association of teams owned and managed by blacks. Rosters featured black players, as well as Latinos with skin complexions too dark for Major League team owners to tolerate. Once Robinson was ushered into the Majors, those same owners began plucking the Negro Leagues’ best talent for their own teams – though only a select few, top-notch black ballplayers were chosen, so as not to deny work to an excessive number of whites.
“The Negro Leagues were employing a lot of guys,” says Bob Kendrick, President of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, “but with the integration of our game, a lot of older players lost their jobs.”
Black fans followed their stars, attending an increasing number of Major League games. The Negro Leagues toiled, and though the last teams held out until the mid-1960s, many baseball historians and former players consider 1950 – when the Negro National League folded – to be the last year of high-quality play in the league’s proud history. However, that last great Negro Leagues season of 1950 did not include slick pitching from All-Star Leon Day or shrewd strategizing out of Willie Wells. Instead, the two celebrated a championship that mid-September evening with the Winnipeg Buffaloes of Manitoba, Canada.
“People don’t really think about what happened after Jackie Robinson integrated baseball, beyond that the race barrier disappeared and the Negro Leagues started to decline,” says Leslie Heaphy, a history professor at Kent State University who has written and edited six books on baseball. “Well, what were all those players doing? They didn’t get a chance to play in the Majors, so many of them – way more than people think – went up to Canada.”
Most Americans know little about the rich baseball history of Canada. The first-ever recorded baseball game played on North American soil may have actually occurred in the small village of Beachville, Ontario in 1838 – one year before Abner Doubleday purportedly formalized baseball’s rules in Cooperstown, New York, and nearly forty years before the first organized indoor ice hockey game took place in Canada. Over the next few decades, amateur and professional baseball leagues popped up around Eastern Canada. (In 1914, a nineteen-year-old Babe Ruth hit his first professional home run while playing a road game in Toronto.)
Meanwhile, the western prairie region of Canada was gradually being settled, spurred on by the Dominion Lands Act, which, similarly to the United States’ Homestead Act, provided land to settlers for a small fee if they agreed to develop and improve upon it. U.S. citizens – both black and white – caught wind of the deal and flocked to the region. Jay-Dell Mah, who co-wrote a book with Barry Swanton titled Black Baseball Players in Canada, says, “Tons of baseball leagues started to form, just about everywhere you went, all through the prairies.”
Canada’s black population was still miniscule, but as Western Canadians became baseball-crazy over the next few decades, African American ballplayers went north during Negro League off-seasons to play in exhibition games and tournaments – a practice called “barnstorming” – usually against all-white local teams. Years before Jackie Robinson joined the Dodgers, Canadian team owners would pay extra to Negro League stars like Hall-of-Famer Satchel Paige, who pitched in Canada several times, to join their teams for high-stakes tournaments.
Mah, who remembers no black families in his hometown when he was growing up in Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, says, “Canadians got used to integrated play pretty quickly.”
Back east in 1946, Jackie Robinson played one season for the Dodgers’ minor-league affiliate, the Royals, based in Montreal, leading the league in batting. The Montreal fans’ love for the sporting trailblazer was most apparent after the last game of the year, when the Royals won the league championship. A hoard of gleeful fans chased Robinson through the Montreal streets, from the ballpark to the team hotel. “It was probably the only day in history that a black man ran from a white mob with love instead of lynching on its mind,” Robinson’s friend Sam Maltin wrote the next day in the Pittsburgh Courier.
Four years later, Willie Wells’ Winnipeg Buffaloes reveled in their own championship, the first in the history of the ManDak League. Short for “Manitoba and Dakota,” the ManDak League was founded in 1950, and was initially comprised of five teams: the Buffaloes, the Brandon Greys, Elmwood Giants and Carman Cardinals, all from Manitoba, and the Minot Mallards out of North Dakota.
The Buffaloes’ party, thrown at a deluxe hotel in Downtown Winnipeg, on the dime of their cigar-chomping, white owner Stanley Zeed, saw nine aging Negro League veterans – averaging 35 years old – celebrate with black up-and-comer teammates, taking advantage of the opportunity for baseball seasoning up north. The only other white folks directly involved with the team’s day-to-day operations were two trainers, the secretary and the batboy.
The Buffaloes’ youthful players “Butch” Davis and John Irvin Kennedy were eventually signed by the MLB’s St. Louis Browns organization, finding spots on minor league teams. Kennedy later became the Philadelphia Phillies’ first-ever African American player in 1957. Twenty-four-year-old Buffaloes outfielder Joe Taylor also played four seasons in Major League Baseball, breaking in with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1954.
With home games at Osborne Stadium in Winnipeg, which according to Barry Swanton had vast enough wood-plank stands to seat about five thousand, Zeed saw to it that the Buffaloes made a good living. Like the other Canadian team owners, he had to if he was going to lure the players north. According to Barry Swanton’s The ManDak League: A Haven for Former Negro League Ballplayers, 1950-1957, players earned between $300 and $1,000 a month, comparable to what they would earn in America. “Like in the States, Canadian owners simply wanted to put the best team forward,” Leslie Heaphy says, “and they were very willing to look anywhere.” Dr. Layton Revel of the Center for Negro League Baseball Research says during this era about five hundred African American ballplayers found their way up to Canada, where teams like the Buffaloes were so well-funded that – in contrast to the Negro Leagues at that time – players above the border “didn’t have to worry about their team folding or getting their paychecks on time. They just worried about playing baseball.”
Author Kyle McNary, who wrote a biography on Negro League and ManDak League star Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe, says his now departed subject told him the ManDak schedule, with four or five games a week, was far less taxing than that of the Negro Leagues, where players were expected to don their spikes seven or eight times a week. In his late forties and early fifties during his time in Canada, Radcliffe appreciated the lighter workload. “He got extra money as player/manager in Canada, too,” adds McNary.
Ron Teasley, a Detroit native who played for the Dodgers organization in the minor leagues, and the New York Cubans of the Negro Leagues, says he earned some of the best money of his career with the Carman Cardinals in the Great White North. “With the Dodgers I think I was paid $150 a month,” he says. “With the Cubans it went up to maybe $300, but I came up to Canada and it was $600.” That’s nearly $6,000in today’s money. Teasley adds that he also enjoyed free home-cooked meals at a boarding house.
Though not many ballplayers of that era are still living, author Jay-Dell Mah, who served as a batboy for teams in Saskatchewan before publishing the definitive website of Western Canadian baseball history, says Teasley’s memories of acceptance and inclusion were echoed by virtually all his fellow players of color. (During this era, Latino players with both light and dark complexions signed with Canadian teams as well.)
Nat Bates, who played two seasons in Western Canada before embarking on an extensive career in California politics, wrote in an email that Canadian fans were “very friendly and receptive to American athletes.”
Mah says black players, sometimes seven or eight at once, would pile into a sizable car and drive hundreds, even thousands of miles into Canada to play. On other occasions, all-black teams from the U.S. would go north as a group to play. Revel and Mah recount the time that one team, the Eagles of Jacksonville, Florida, boarded a bus to the small Saskatchewan town of Indian Head, where they became the Rockets. In the summer of 1950, they took home a $9,000 purse after winning a tournament there.
“They loved it,” Mah says of the black ballplayers’ trips north. “They felt it was a breath of fresh air because they didn’t have to sneak into the back door through the kitchen to get something to eat at a restaurant.”
“The race issue was so very different,” Heaphy says of America’s northern neighbor. “They didn’t have the history of slavery like the U.S., so they saw [blacks] simply as ballplayers.”
Some of the Canadian locals even treated the players as virtual extended family. In a letter to author Barry Swanton, Lyman Bostock – the first baseman for that 1950 Buffaloes championship team, who was good enough to also go barnstorming on a team organized by Jackie Robinson – recalled the hospitality of a woman they both only remember as “Mrs. Whiteside,” who would have players stay in her Winnipeg home. She’d wash their clothes and bake them pies to eat on road trips. “They couldn’t believe that this white lady did all that,” Swanton says of the black players. “She was a real sweetheart.” Modie Risher, who before he passed told Mah that the one season he played in Lloydminster was “the nicest year I ever had in baseball,” also said he remained lifelong friends with a local family, the McLeans, after meeting them while shopping. As the story goes, Rod McLean, then a little boy, was standing next to his mother, staring at Risher. Suddenly Rod said, “Momma, look at that black man. Doesn’t he have a beautiful tan?” “His mother was a little halfway embarrassed,” Risher continued. “The next thing I knew the father called me and they had me over for dinner that Sunday, and from then on [we were] in contact every year.”
Ron Teasley says the people of Carman, Manitoba “were just wonderful,” although much more reserved than their American counterparts. He recalls one game in which he was manning third base, and after an opponent smacked a base hit with runners on first and second, he corralled a relay throw from the outfield, just as the lead runner crossed third. Teasley quickly turned around and tagged him out, but the trailing runner hadn’t stopped. Teasley flipped around again and nabbed the second runner too. “I thought, Wow, what a play,” Teasley recalls, “and I looked at the crowd and…nothing. There was no applause.”
“Double Duty” Radcliffe told McNary that their reception wasn’t always so welcoming. “Anytime you’re the only black person in town,” McNary says, “you ran into some stuff. Was it like Jackie Robinson [with the Dodgers] with forty thousand people screaming at you? No. But 3,500 screaming at you is still pretty bad.”
Still, McNary says Radcliffe told him that Winnipeg, where he played for the Elmwood Giants, “was better than most places” in the U.S. when it came to how fans treated black players.
As team owners looked to outdo their rivals, the level of play in Canada soared. “You may be a professional team from the United States, but you didn’t just go up to there and beat the crap out of everybody you played,” Revel says. “It was competitive baseball.”
By most accounts, the quality of play in Canada at this time was roughly equal to the high levels of America’s minor leagues. But after the 1957 season the ManDak league folded, and soon so did the majority of Canada’s modest baseball organizations. Mah thinks this occurred because of a loss of interest as, like in the U.S., more people acquired cars, TVs and radios, offering Canadians more options for entertainment.
Despite all the attention Jackie Robinson drew, the Major Leagues in America lagged far behind the Canadian leagues when it came to integration. It was 1959 before each Major League Baseball team boasted even one black player. That year, Elijah Jerry “Pumpsie” Greene suited up for the Boston Red Sox.
Back in 1951, the season after Leon Day and Willie Wells each raised a glass in victory at a Winnipeg hotel, a seventeen-year-old “Pumpsie” Greene wore the uniform of the Medicine Hat Mohawks in the Western Canada League.
“People don’t realize just how extensive the ball-playing by African Americans up in Canada was,” Leslie Heaphy says, “and how important it was for them to have a place to go.”