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Woodie King Jr. to produce the late Amiri Baraka’s “The Most Dangerous Man in America”

using KickStarter funds

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by Gloria Dulan-Wilson

Hello All:

Woodie King Jr., one of my personal living heroes, never ceases to amaze me. He’s always ten jumps ahead of whatever is next. So it was no surprise when he announced, last Thursday, January 15, 2015 – the actual birthdate of the fallen Black hero and Civil Rights Leader, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – that he was doing two productions in honor of Brother Amiri Baraka, who just joined the ancestors/angels a year ago on January 9, 2014: DUTCHMAN (which opens February 5th at the Castillo Theatre), and THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN IN AMERICA.

Everything Woodie touches is history, either makes history, or has some historical basis in fact (or all of the above). So selecting the Schomburg Library – a mecca for Black historical research and cultural/ historical events – to launch his first ever KickStarter campaign to raise the necessary funding for the production of Baraka’s THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN IN AMERICA – his last play about the McCarthy-era trials of W.E.B. DuBois – was totally fitting and in keeping with who Woodie King, Jr. is – Woodie King, Jr., producer, founder of the New Federal Theatre; star-maker, activist, creator, writer, and way-maker extraordinaire.

He has enjoyed a nearly fifty-year friendship and business relationship with the late Amiri Baraka, that has seen plays, record albums, poetic readings – collaborations that have expanded the cultural landscape of Black theatre and literature. So, the Kick Starter Campaign to raise the balance of the funds needed – $40,000 – to produce the last play this prolific poet had written: “THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN IN AMERICA,” would be an homage to Baraka; but it is just as much an homage to Woodie as well, for all that he has done and contributed – and continues to do – for us all.

Gathered were media from across the spectrum of the Black media, as well as those of the mainstream press. Having already raised an initial $60,000 of the $100,000 needed to produce the play, which is slated to open at the Castillo Theatre on West 42nd Street, May 28, 2015, the KickStarter fundraiser would offer incentives for those who made contributions of $10.00 or more to underwrite the costs.

According to Bernice Green, publicist for the event, the launch, which took place on Friday, January 16th, has found wide reception already, having raised nearly $13,000 in one day’s time! “It’s so exciting to be a part of this and see how enthusiastic people are about making this happen,” she stated.

Khalil Gibran Muhammad, grandson of Elijah Muhammad, and Executive Director of the Schomburg, spoke glowingly of the historical significance of launching the Kickstarter Campaign at the Schomburg, the largest repository of Black literature and center for research on Black history and culture. “This is an historical moment, and we are proud to be a part of it.”

On hand to show support, was none other than actor, artist, activist Danny Glover (FBM and personal hero of mine as well), who is featured in a clip, along with Glynn Turman, that will be seen by millions, soliciting support for the campaign. The clip and the campaign will run until the financial goal is realized.

Glover – who is always coming from somewhere going to somewhere else, took time out of his schedule to be part of the press conference because of his lifelong friendship and relationship with Baraka. He spoke at his Homegoing Ceremony in Newark, NJ last year. Gover stated that Baraka was the inspiration behind his becoming an actor – as well as the activist he is today: “W.E.B. DuBois wrote a statement that we will live in challenging times at the age of 64, when most people at the age of 64 are already self retired. W.E.B. DuBois was alive all the time – every moment of his lie. To be born 3 yeas after the Civil War, and die on the eve of the March on Washington, and you notice an important period of transformation – your evolution evolving.”

The play pinpoints a time in DuBois’ life, when, at age 81, he was persecuted by US Senator Joseph McCarthy, during the days of the McCarthy era witch hunts, where any one who had any independent thought whatsoever was branded as being a member of the Communist Party, and therefore an enemy of the US.  Among those that McCarthy hauled into Congress and excoriated were DuBois, Paul Robeson (whose passport was suspended and was not allowed to perform in the US or travel outside), Edward G. Robinson, Robert Ryan, and other artists, Black and white. What was particularly heinous was the fact that those who were hauled in to testify against them were often so terrified of experiencing the same fate that they would lie and present false testimony to avoid persecution (by the way neither McCarthy or those of his ilk knew the difference between persecution and prosecution – so if you were hauled in, you were pretty much doomed). Many lives were ruined during this dark period of American History. The House Un-american Activities Committee, was probably more un-American than they people they investigated.

DuBois, who was one of the original founders of the NAACP in 1909, had decided in 1931, a major turning point in his career, to resign from their board in realization that Black people were never going to achieve equality and respect in America. After having penned the first sociological study ever – THE PHILADELPHIA NEGRO – which was published in the 1890’s and still considered one of the most definitive, in-depth research pieces of all times – it became more evident that things were not getting better for Black people, but progressively worse, as whites aggressively pursued Jim Crow laws, segregation, lynching and so many other heinous acts against Black people. The founder of Crisis Magazine stepped down and began to more actively research what, if anything, Black people could do to extricate themselves from the stranglehold they found themselves in, in a post-slavery society. It was then that he declared himself a socialist.

Glover continues, “When I think about Dr. DuBois, I think about Amiri who I met for the first time as a 20 year old student in 1967. It was I think at San Francisco State College, spring of 1967. We invited him there to develop a community communications program. That’s what it was about. And the use of art as a means of revolution – and I’m saying for me that period was the beginning of my own process – I didn’t see myself as an artist. I was majoring in economics – but the idea of bringing the community and allowing the community to be the vessel for that expression was an important part of that relationship. And I remember just how his presence not only galvanized artists with in the community, but it also transformed the Black Student Union. The Black Student Union, and I often mention as I talk with fellow members of the Union – it was the catalyst for all the things that happened after that in the Ethnic Studies Program, along with that period of being in the Bay area – with the Black Panther Party, the Black Student Union, remnants of SNCC – the more radical elements of SNCC – for us who were young students at the gime and young citizens; and those who saw themselves as revolutionaries, Amiri’s presence was essential. At the time we were called his protoges. He talked about art and the use of art as a means of revolution. And for me, that period was the beginning of my own process of transformation. I didn’t see myself as an artist. And we all came to believe that it was important to believe that we have the capacity, and that it was important to think as he did. It was essential to understand the dialectics of the movement articulated in 1967. Understand the Newark Riots…”

Glover goes on to say that it was what set off the student strike of 1968, which later established the Ethnic Studies Department, which still exists today at San Francisco State University – the only one remaining in a major university – some 45 years later: “I remember helping him campaign for election to Newark City Council. I remember the last time he called and said ‘Hey, I want you to help my son campaign for mayor.” And I said sure, anything you want me to do.’ And I think somehow in Amiri’s mind he had this picture of this actually happening.”

Ras Baraka, who is now mayor of Newark, NJ had planned to attend the press conference, but had to change schedule at the last minute to handle some municipal issues – Ras, who gave the stirring eulogy at his Dad’s homegoing service, “Have You Ever Seen Black Fire?” is truly the culmination of his father’s vision of Newark becoming a city that work

Glover, who is great for pointing out things most other people tend to overlook, made a profound statement: “The play, THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN IN AMERICA, will reflect that, but I would also pose that Amiri Baraka is the most dangerous man in America too.” The audience exploded in applause.

Woodie chronicled his nearly fifty year friendship/partnership with Amiri Baraka, stating that they had collaborated in one form or another on many major productions over the course of their lives: “Amiri intended to bring the life and spirit of DuBois out of the shadows and onto center stage, sending a message to artists and audiences about the pursuit of truth as a pathway to self- empowerment.”

Beginning in the 60’s, Woodie King, Jr began producing Baraka’s plays, including GREAT GOODNESS OF LIFE (a Coon Show), SLAVESHIP, THE TOILET – and NATIONTIME-BARAKA for Motown Records. States King: “We both looked on W.E.B. DuBois and his words as a major influence on African American scholars.”

The play which takes place in the courtroom, with vignettes from Harlem where people express their opinion at the time, and intercut with footage of what was happening in the streets and the communities around the world at the time, will give a more complete texture to the egregious nature of the redbaiting that was the order of the day in America. It was, in fact, the reason DuBois eventually left the US entirely and settled in Ghana to live out the rest of his days. (In fact, in reality, DuBois made a profound apology to Marcus Garvey’s memory for having opposed his Back to Africa Movement some 40 years prior – ironic isn’t it? I’m just saying, imagine where we’d be if he and Marcus Garvey had united instead of divided?)

Woodie King Jr. has selected Art McFarland – yes, that Art McFarland!! We remember him as co-anchor WABC-TV News in NYC!! – to portray W.E.B. DuBois. Actress Petronia Paley will play his second wife, Shirley Graham DuBois. McFarland’s mellifluous voice fairly filled the room as he spoke of having once been an actor, and having dreamed of once again returning to his first love. After having retired from the news department in 2014, he had initially imagined that he would do some bit parts to get his feet wet. “Never did I imagine that I would be playing the most iconic man in Black history, or that I would be doing it with one of the most important theatre groups in New York City – or the world – the New Federal Theatre; this is a big jump start to my dream. Now the opportunity to work with Petronia Paley, is even more awesome. So here we come with THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN IN AMERICA, and I hope everyone will come along for the ride.”

He later explained that when Woodie King Jr. approached him to play W.E.B. DuBois he thought the was pulling his leg. He didn’t see any resemblance between himself and DuBois. Most photos of DuBois were in black and white or sepia tones and didn’t really indicate the true texture of his skin tone- which almost perfectly matches that of McFarland. William Edward Burghardt DuBois (pronounced du-boyz) was of “French Huguenot” extraction, which meant his skin tone was decidedly lighter than most would be able to detect from the Black and whites. I had met and interviewed his son, David Dubois years ago in Jersey City at Jersey City University, when he came to do a presentation for Black History Month. It was really interesting how much of a resemblance he had with his late father, and how they both bore an uncanny resemblance to Art McFarland – which Woodie King, Jr. also realized in making McFarland the lead in the performance.

Petronia Paley, who had been collaborating with Woodie King for quite some time in bringing this play to the stage spoke briefly of being honored to play Shirley Graham DuBois. An accomplished and award winning actress, she just completed a one-person work entitled ON THE WAY TO TIMBUKTU, which she wrote and produced – and for which she received an AUDELCO AWARD.

Ralph Carter – remember him as Michael from the Norman Lear sitcom, Good Times? – is as engaged in Black cultural expression now as his youthful character in the long running TV show was then. On hand as a supporter, he engaged the audience in an original song “I’M A FIGHTER” and spoke of the absolute necessity of the community coming together to support their own theatre and culture.

For those of you unfamiliar with KICKSTARTER, this is how it works according to Karimah, a fantastic playwright and staff writer for New Federal Theatre: “An organization usually signs up with Kickstarter for fundraising online, whereby a specific dollar amount is set as a goal, along with the delineation of the specific project or use for the funds. Individuals will log on to www.kickstarter.com/New Federal Theatre/The Most Dangerous Man in America(amiribaraka) – and select which amount they care to donate. Along with donation a description of the incentive or gift will be shown. The amounts can range from $10.00 to $2,000.00 – and the gifts are reflective of the amount pledged. Kickstarter can be accessed via the internet or via an app on your cell phone. But it’s an all or nothing situation – if the solicitation does not meet the goal, then your credit card is not charged – there is a specific deadline set for the funding to reach the specific amount – if the individual succeeds, the credit card is charged – and the individual receives a statement that can be used for tax purposes.

“The mission of Kickstarter is to help creative people — artists, musicians, filmmakers, designers and the like — fund their own creative projects. Art, after all, costs money. In fact, in the 15th century, the wealthy Medici family of Florence acted as patron to great artists like Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. Today, creative people are more likely to receive funding from private studios and galleries, non-profit arts organizations or government agencies like the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).” But arts grants like these are very difficult to secure and are rarely available for smaller sums of money. Kickstarter is revolutionary because it turns average Internet users into patrons of the arts — sometimes for $5 or less.Kickstarter is the leading example of an exciting idea called crowdfunding. Crowdfunding is a twist on crowdsourcing, in which an organization uses the talents and time of hundreds, thousands or millions of people to create or improve a product or service,” stated Karimah, thus concluding what she called her ‘Kickstarter for Dummies’ overview.

NOTE TO THOSE WHO DON’T KNOW: {Of course, truth be told Kermit Eady’s Black United Fund of New York (BUFNY) started raising funds for Black people using the same principles and was to exclusively underwrite Black organizations, businesses, scholarships, homes, etc. nearly 30 years ago, after having won a lawsuit against the United Way who didn’t want Black people to have their own fundraising program. The difference being, that instead of BUFNY being just project based, it was an ongoing microfunding resource in which thousands of donors (primarily Black) utilized their regular payroll deductions, and pledged to contribute as little as $1.00 to as high as they wanted to go on an ongoing basis for each pay period, into a mutual fund. BUFNY had managed to raise $111 million a year which was then turned back into the Black community via grant programs, homes, community improvement, etc. They also utilized incentives to reward donors – the funds were all tax deductible as part of a contribution to a charitable organization. It was demolished by persecutor/and former governor Elliott Spitzer, who falsely alleged there was misappropriation of funds because Eady did not take federal dollars. He wanted to be able to help any and all Black concerns that needed it. Spitzer deliberately set out to destroy the organization rather than allow it to continue to help the thousands of Black New Yorkers who had been served well by this great program! Now they call it “Crowd funding…go figure.}

One of the great things about the concept of utilizing KickStarter to fund the program is that it also raises awareness of the greatness of DuBois, Woodie King, Art McFarland and the New Federal Theatre, and gives the community “ownership” or involvement – so to speak – in the successful production of a play that has as much to do with unity in the community and support for the Black Theatre as it does with the production itself.

Amsterdam News columnist/reporter/friend and colleague, Herb Boyd, urged the media to read the script from THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN IN AMERICA themselves, if they weren’t familiar with Baraka’s take on this homage to what is called Baraka’s “Third World Marxist Period.” Baraka wrote the play so that others could also become more integrally involved with the ideas and philosophy that made DuBois a target, “…and the character assassination of DuBois, with the purpose of discrediting him and everything he stood for. For the most part the play provides an aperture to the heat and intensity of the Cold War of the fifties, McCarthyism (witch hunts and persecution of anyone affiliated with the Communist party), and the unflagging determination and commitment of DuBois and his consort, and later wife, Shirly Graham Dubois, and the incomparable Paul Robeson, and their struggle for world peace,” stated Boyd.

While I totally agree with Herb, I would also take it beyond that and urge the media and my readers to read everything DuBois has ever written – including SOULS OF BLACK FOLK, THE PHILADELPHIA NEGRO, THE NEGRO, BLACK RECONSTRUCTION, DARK PRINCESS, SUPPRESSION OF THE AFRICAN SLAVE TRADE, JOHN BROWN, AFRICA…There are many of us who either never had the pleasure of reading DuBois, or were never really taught about his true impact during your formative education. And there are those of us who need to “refresh our recollection of who and how impactful DuBois was and is. (I’m guilty of this – time to relearn what I’ve forgotten too).

The fact that he was just as sharp at 81 as he was at 40 or 50; the fact that he still had the moxy to get up and leave the US, relocate to Ghana where he lived out the rest of his days in peace, when most would have resigned themselves to their fate and stayed in the US under hostile circumstances, speaks volumes about what kind of man he was, and his intrepid spirit even in the face of blatant racism. He existed at a time when there were no cell phones, social media, limited TV coverage in the home, and little to no favorable newspaper coverage, save that of the Black Press – but he prevailed.

Something we need to borrow from in our current circumstances, with police brutality, repuglycon dominated congress, blatant economic and educational deprivation – right?

That said, I know you are definitely going to want to be part of the KickStarter campaign to bring THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN IN AMERICA’s production to fruition. So log on to www.kickstarter.com/NEW FEDERAL THEATRE, and start supporting now – today.

Stay Blessed &
ECLECTICALLY BLACK

bullet Columnist Gloria Dulan-Wilson Is a veteran New York City Journalist. Her experiences, perspective & sense of history are an invaluable combination. “check out my blog:” www.gloria-dulan-wilson.blogspot.com

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