Opinion: Laguna Beach Reflects on Black History Month

Rebecca Washington-Lindsey. File photo

By Rebecca Washington-Lindsey

February, a short month, leaves little time to celebrate, honor, reflect or reminisce about African American/Black history. The 2024 national theme was African and African Americans in Cultural Arts. We All Matter, Inc. chose to reflect and reminisce on African Americans as sculptures, fine art, literature and their distinctive place during the Harlem Renaissance era.  

Sculptures were a vibrant part of the art circle during the Harlem Renaissance era. Augusta Savage began sculpturing in the early 1900s, and her works spread across New York, Chicago, and Detroit. The Honarker Foundation for Arts and Culture welcomed the sculptures of Gerard Basil, a long-time local respected artist. 

Gerard’s theme, Innocence Lost, Freedom Fading: America’s Wake Up Call, captured the attention of those observing his sculptures. They also brought back memories. Each of us has a childhood story connected to Gerald’s sculptures. 

I overheard visitors comment, “I remember when…,” or “My wagon was red,” or “I remember my friend hitched a ride on the back of my bicycle.” What fun. We need to hold onto such precious memories, for they become a significant part of our beliefs and history and are not ethnically connected. According to Gerald, our childhood stories represent the “spirit of being a child in America.” They are healthy, and we need more positive stories that will channel the trajectory of our community and nation. Thank you, Gerard, for your inspiration. 

Meanwhile, reflections of African Americans in arts continued with a book talk about “The Personal Librarian.” The book takes us back to a time when our country faced racial inequity, a construct deeply connected to the fabric of our country. It is still in the advancing stage of taking steps toward social equity. “The Personal Librarian” depicts how one individual dealt with racism during the Harlem Renaissance era. Belle, the main character, became iconic in New York society. She was powerful and renowned for purchasing fine arts and physical books in the cultural arts world. She was also strong, assertive, and confident, even in a men-filled room, something other women might have feared. This book overwhelmingly became an opportunity for various conversation pieces to evolve, such as women in the workplace, discrimination, and equity. I sought to answer why Sunday is the most segregated day of the week. African American artwork became the backdrop for our literary conversation.     

If only the artists had been present as we showcased their artworks: Archibald J. Motley, Aaron Douglas, and Augusta Savage in our first studio-turned-gallery opening. Onlookers stood fixed-eyed on artworks by various artists from the Harlem Renaissance era. The 14 art pieces were placed according to their historical importance. Each piece carried a Harlem Renaissance narrative along with the art description. Archibald Motley’s works and rendition of Tongues (Holy Rollers) were significant as they explained the church’s importance during slavery and this era. Our visitors were amazed at the Harlem musicians’ exhibits accompanied by jazz music in the background. Many gazed at two African American sculptures as some stated, “I have never seen an African American sculpture, such beautiful work.” There was not one piece that reminded us of the negative or ugly side of the Renaissance, as we wanted to draw from the happy, good, hopeful aspects of the Harlem Renaissance era.     

February 2024 became very special to our organization. We All Matter, Inc. showcasing became a real challenge, but doors were suddenly opened for us to bring something of integrity and impact to our community and beyond. My thank you goes out to The Honarkar Foundation for Arts & Culture, Wayland Gallery, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Little Church By the Sea, Laguna Playhouse, Laguna Festival of the Arts, and Rivian Automotive. 

Rebecca is a Laguna Beach resident and former adjunct professor at University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

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