Monday, February 13, 2012

Black Library Pioneers

Project Assistants Dawn Wing and Mel Nicholas in my department, the School of Library & Information Studies, at the University of Wisconsin - Madison made an exhibit featuring pioneering Black librarians that went up today. Besides a timeline of key events, they included several biographies of key figures including the bibliophile Arturo Schomburg, and librarians Nella Larsen, Audre Lorde and Belle da Costa Greene.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Carl Van Vechten

Photo: Regina is in the front in the middle wearing the lightest colored dress. Louella Tucker is behind her on Regina's left (our right) and Ethel Ray is on our far left behind Langston Hughes. This is on the rooftop of their salon at 580 St. Nicholas Avene. Source: Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in BlackCulture, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.

Regina’s Harlem Renaissance roommate Ethel Ray Nance recorded two oral histories. The following vignette describes a visit by Carl Van Vechten and “the girls” refers to Regina and Louella Tucker:

“I remember Van Vechten coming into our apartment this one evening and inquiring who was the hostess, well, the girls didn’t move, so I moved and he handed me this bottle of some exquisite wine. I took it to the kitchen, which was on the side of the living room and just left it there. Then later on when it was to be served, two of the women…their names escaped me not entirely, but we’ll just skip that, refused it when we passed the wine glasses. And then almost immediately, they came out in the kitchen and asked, ‘may we have some’ and I said ‘no,’ (Laughingly) ‘if you’re not willing to accept it in front of the group, I’m sorry.’"*

* Source: Ethel Ray Nance, interview by Anne Allen Shockley, tape recording, San Francisco, CA., 18 November 1970 and Nashville, TN., 23 December 1970. Black Oral History Collection, Fisk University, Nashville, TN., 32.

Carl Van Vechten

Emily Bernard’s new book, Carl Van Vechten & the Harlem Renaissance: A Portrait in Black & White (Yale University Press, 2012), is about the controversial patron of black artists. Van Vechten visited Regina’s famous salon at 580 St. Nicholas Avenue where attendees included Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston. Some have suggested that Regina was the model for the librarian character Mary Love in his infamous novel, Nigger Heaven. He was banned from their salon after its publication in 1926. Regina’s roommates included Ethel Ray (later Nance) who worked for Charles Johnson at Opportunity magazine but almost nothing is known about the third roommate, Louella Tucker, although Van Vechten’s social diary entry provides one interesting tidbit:

Monday, 26 January 1925
…Then to the James Weldon Johnson’. Walrond brings three girls in, including the wonderful Louella Tucker who dances the Charleston more wonderfully than I’ve ever seen it danced.*

Several months later…

Thursday, 21 May 1925…At 10.30 went to Regina Anderson’s birthday party. Louella Tucker, Eric Walrond, Ethel Ray...*

*Source: Carl Van Vechten, The splendid drunken twenties: Selections from the daybooks, 1922-1930, ed. Bruce Kellner (Chicago, IL.: University of Illinois Press, 2003),72 and 85-86.