Category Archives: African American

Tug-O’-War For Cleopatra Statue

My late father, a history professor at DePaul University, would never have spoken the first words of this article. And a few other particulars of the story are less than accurate, but I am delighted to be able to archive the piece here.

This discovery, which sparked a bit of contention,  led ultimately to a happy conclusion with the Death of Cleopatra restored and displayed at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC. Definitely worth a visit.




By Ron Grossman, 20 June 1988

Don`t be fooled by your textbooks’ silence, Marilyn Richardson`s father used to tell her. Black folks have a history, too. We just have to go out and find it.

Last month Richardson made her dad proud. In a storeroom of the Forest Park Mall, she found a long-lost work of Edmonia Lewis, the first black American to win international renown as an artist. It was, however, a bittersweet discovery.

“The Death of Cleopatra,” a life-sized sculpture commissioned for the Centennial Exhibition of 1876 in Philadelphia, was surrounded by last year`s Christmas decorations and paint cans.

Richardson said Frank Orland, head of the local history society, who had led her to the sculpture, told her that the statue needed “renovating” so it could be put on public view. The Egyptian queen’s white marble face and arms were to be redone in flesh tones, her robe in royal purple, she said Orland told her.

Orland, who also was seeking further information on the work, had taken charge of it two years ago, the latest in a string of caretakers dating to the turn of the century, including a racetrack owner, the Navy, the post office and a Cicero firefighter. None of them, though, knew the sculpture`s full story.

Orland refused to comment on his plans or to allow a photograph of the sculpture to be taken. In a phone interview, he said only, “The Queen is not ready to receive visitors.” He added that he would tell his side of the story in a forthcoming pamphlet, “Cleopatra the Great: Statue of Forest Park.”

“I was excited and heartsick both,” said Richardson, a humanities professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Staring me straight in the face was an important piece of black history which had been missing for 100 years. Only it was …

American Cocktail


Women’s Review of Books 


Here’s a link to the first review, which is mine.

 An African American Prima Donna


 Reynolds at 16 on the cover of the NAACP magazine, The Crisis

American Cocktail: A “Colored Girl” in the World

By Anita Reynolds, with Howard Miller. Edited by George Hutchinson

Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014, 333 pp. $29.95, hardcover

Reviewed by Marilyn Richardson

AnitaReynoldsAnita Reynolds, born in 1901 in Chicago, came of age in Los Angeles, California, during the heyday of silent films. She was a smart, clever, and vivacious teenager, who, as she says, early on “relished the role of prima donna.” She and her brother, Sumner, were encouraged in their interest in the arts by their exuberant family, both the bevy of kinfolk in California and the numerous far-flung peripatetic relatives who circled back to visit from time to time. School dropouts and Harvard graduates, their professions ranged from mail sorter at a post office to well-placed member of the foreign service…


Reynolds models a Chanel gown, 1938 


Wellesley Centers for Women Women’s Review of Books | Women’s Review of Books | Publications


Harry V. Richardson, Atlanta Black Colleges, The Early Days of the Student Movement

So good to see so many aspects of this valuable history being preserved and properly archived. Here is a glimpse into the early thinking of the Black Atlanta college presidents. I admit I feel pleased about the stand taken by my late uncle Harry Richardson. ITC is the Interdenominational Theological Center of which he was the founding president.

Atlanta Student Movement Timeline
Committee on Appeal for Human Rights (COAHR)
by Lonnie King Jr.

Developed for the City of Atlanta Student Movement Commission, 2013

See Atlanta Sit-ins and subsequent articles for background & more information.
See also Atlanta Movement for web links.

February 1, 1960 — Four young students at North Carolina A&T conducted their first sit-in demonstration.

February 3rd, 1960, Lonnie King confers with Joseph Pierce and Julian Bond regarding organizing a Student Movement in the Atlanta University Center. All agree to organize a movement in the Atlanta University Center.

February 5, 1960, first meeting of prospective movement participants met in Sale Hall Annex at Morehouse College. Approximately 15 students attended. The attendees were predominately Morehouse Men, however, James Felder, President of Clark College Student Government attended representing Clark College.

February 12, 1960, Lincoln’s birthday, was set as the date of the first sit-in. Unable to get a sufficient number of students to participate, the initial sit-in was re-scheduled for February 19th.

February 17, 1960, Lonnie King, Julian Bond et al, were summoned to a 3:00 P. M. meeting in the conference room of the Council of College Presidents in Harkness Hall for a meeting with the six college presidents. All college presidents were in attendance, along with elected student government leaders from the six Atlanta University Center schools.

The presidents spoke in turn and expressed their opinions of the proposed sit-in movement which they had heard was forming in Atlanta. Dr. Clement, president of Atlanta University spoke first. He was followed by Dr. Mays of Morehouse, Dr. Manley of Spelman and Dr. Brawley of Clark. All four men discouraged students from participating in the movement. They argued students should focus on their class work and let the NAACP fight the racial battle. However, when Dr. Brawley of Clark spoke, he asserted that he would be embarrassed if the students staged sit-ins in downtown department stores.

The next speaker was Dr. Harry V. Richardson of ITC. He hesitated for approximately 10 seconds before he spoke up. When he did speak, he shocked all by stating that the students were right in challenging segregation directly. He related that he was a highly educated man, president of a college, but because he was a Negro he also could only eat at segregated lunch counters in downtown Atlanta. The next speaker was Dr. Frank Cunningham of Morris Brown College. He strongly backed up Dr. Richardson and re-iterated his support for the student movement that was sweeping the South. These latter comments apparently caught Dr. Clement off guard. However, before he spoke as chairman of the Council, he asked who would speak for the students. At that point, Lonnie King spoke up and argued that the time had come for the Negro community to come together and end segregation in the Atlanta.


As American As…


A few weeks ago I was at a train station standing next to what turned out to be a mother, father, and young child heading off on a trip, and a few friends and family there to see them off. All white. Blue collar I’d guess, a pleasant group of 7-8 folks of various ages.

The group included a couple of charming little girls, around 4 years old. They were dancing around and singing that song from Frozen, occasionally getting a little too exuberant as they do at that age. We all smiled benignly at them from time to time.

Dad reined in one giddy dancer for a quiet moment. She stood for a bit. Looked at me quite seriously, and then turned to her father and said, sort of as a question, as if she wanted to get it right, “stupid nigger.”

He pretended I wasn’t there, but told her not to say that. No raised voice, no shock or dismay on Dad’s part. All matter of fact. We all continued to stand around. Not everyone in their chatting group even heard it.

It took me a few minutes, but I think I know what happened. It occurred to me that she simply repeated, in the everyday tone her father uses, exactly what he says whenever he notices the President on TV — a casual observation. She wasn’t quite sure, because I was not a man.

So much for that little member of the coming enlightened generation. But also, a bit of insight into the Fox TV demographic living room. Most of their viewers are not wild-eyed weirdos. Just folks raising their kids — and passing along their family values.


Ben Richardson Emmy Award



I was dusting this the other day. I’ll admit it, the old man could sometimes be a tough act to follow.

Chicago local Emmy, 1971-72, for an Illinois black history documentary called “Genesis to Jones.” The inscription reads:

Outstanding IndividualAchievement

Ben Richardson

“For a scholar, teacher, writer, social worker, minister, painter and musician, whose script demonstrated an amazing amount of research and a sense of drama.”


Don’t Go To College? WTF?

The American middle class is shrinking. More and more people are falling into poverty. College graduates are weighed down by a millstone of debt that shapes their futures in restrictive ways. And we hear, growing louder, a surprising question: Is College Necessary?

 We have our first African American president. Minorities of color are suffering a slower than average recovery from the Great Recession, unskilled jobs have become dead end jobs, and we hear, growing louder, the increasingly familiar question: Is College Necessary? Sixty years after Brown v. Board of Education, is American historical amnesia so pervasive that anyone in this country can actually suggest narrowing educational options?


Why is the question not: How do we reduce the cost of college? College applicants have always been self-selecting, from those for whom it is assumed from the cradle that of course they would attend college, to those who claw their way up from impossibility to possibility. 

The full cost of that college education at many private institutions has become prohibitive for all but the most rarified reaches of the one percent. So logic dictates that if you can’t afford it, perhaps you should look for alternatives to higher education. And let’s be clear, this is not about the cost of a college degree, this is about the cost of an education, although young people are increasingly encouraged to restrict their choices to fields of study that rank highest on some salary index, foregoing the possibility of discovering work that is both fulfilling and reasonably well paying.


In fact, logic dictates no such choices. Logic calls for examining the reasons why the cost of higher education rises at an unconscionable rate and finding ways to reverse that process. Logic calls us to ask why private institutions are piling up billions in endowment money and offering 24-hour sushi bars as part of the educational experience. Logic leads to questions about the exorbitant cost of a single textbook, about the all but universal practice of hiring part time, outrageously underpaid, adjunct faculty to teach a majority of undergraduate students.

 These eternally junior faculty members receive no job benefits, no job predictability from semester to semester, no increase in pay over the years. They have little say about what they teach, to how many, and on what schedule. They are the highly educated, shamelessly exploited, utterly disillusioned infrastructure of much of American higher education. Many maintain hope of an equitable leg-up in academia long beyond the time such hope is reasonable. And when they give up their chosen vocation and find decent work elsewhere, the next cog is moved in to fill the gap.

 But the solution, we are told, is to encourage middle and working class young people to see college as too rich for their blood, as an inevitable commitment to a level of debt that affects everything from their ability to be homeowners to when they will be able to consider retirement. Beware, they are told, that’s not for you. The unspoken admonition is right there: Remember your place.



54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment

On this day in 1863 the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment marched through Boston to the waterfront where they shipped off for South Carolina.

[Account of departure is from The Liberator, 5 June 1863. Story about Biddle, who enlisted at age 17, is an unidentified clipping, probably from a Boston newspaper.]







Remond Plaque Essay For Women’s Review of Books

Remond Plaque Essay For Women’s Review of Books